Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Shadow Minister for Social Services
Shadow Minister for the NDIS
Shadow Minister for Housing
Shadow Minister for Homelessness
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Adjournment: Australian humanitarian assistance to Myanmar following Cyclone Komen

Mr Speaker, it is wonderful to see you in the chair. I rise this evening to draw attention to a humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in our region and continuing to cause untold damage to an already impoverished and slowly-developing part of the world. Since June of this year, nearly one million people have been affected by widespread flooding and landslides in Myanmar, following Cyclone Komen. Tragically, up to 100 people have lost their lives and more than 1.2 million acres of rice fields have been destroyed, absolutely devastating local communities. As I said, this is a country with a developing economy that has been throttled for many years, in many cases due to poor government policy. So a natural disaster of this scale is ultimately the last thing the people of this long-suffering nation need.

I have said many times in this House that I am very proud of my very diverse electorate of Deakin and its various ethnic and cultural groups. One of the most active and engaged of these groups—and one with which I probably have one of the best relationships—is my local Chin community, an ethnic subgroup within Myanmar. Recently, in response to the devastation in that country, I attended an urgent meeting convened by leaders of local Chin community groups, which allowed me to get an appreciation of the on-the-ground situation in Myanmar based on the reports that they have received from family and friends. Frankly, the message was quite grim. They did, though, express gratitude, on behalf of those friends and families in Myanmar, for the assistance that has been announced by the Australian government. Indeed, when word of the disaster came out, I received SMSs, emails and Facebook messages at about 11.30 at night.

I want to pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I got on the phone with her within about 15 minutes of SMSing her to see if she could speak at such an unsociable time. She was able to do so, and we were, therefore, able to expedite additional aid to assist with the relief efforts. The foreign minister announced that Australia would immediately provide $2 million to the relief effort to help rebuild the devastated country. Additionally, we have since announced that we will work with the Myanmar government, NGOs on the ground and the United Nations to provide family kits comprising kitchen sets, bedding, clothing, mosquito nets, hygiene kits and school supplies to those affected. The feedback that I received from my Chin community leaders assisted us in identifying what it was that was needed on the ground. We have also announced that we will work with Save the Children, CARE Australia and UN partners to provide 300,000 people with temporary shelter, safe drinking water and health care. These additional contributions bring the total level of assistance provided generously by Australia to $3 million, as requested by the government of Myanmar.

As I said earlier, I have a very close relationship with the Chin community in my electorate. I appreciate how active they are within my community and what wonderful Australian citizens they have become. I appreciate all of their advocacy to me. I want to thank the foreign minister for acting so quickly and for being so responsive to their calls. I want to name each of the groups that have been speaking to me, meeting with me and giving me a very good understanding of what is happening on the ground. They are the Chin Community Victoria, the Melbourne Mizo Association, the Australian Zo Organization, the Apostolic Pentecostal Church in the area, the Emmanuel Christian Church, the Falam Chin Christian Church, the Chin Evangelical Church and the Myanmar Christian Brethren Assembly. They have all done an outstanding job in advocating for the interests of their friends, families and loved ones who are suffering in Myanmar. I can assure them and I can assure the Australian public that this government will continue to do everything it can to help them on the ground in Myanmar.

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