House debates

Monday, 20 August 2012

Private Members' Business

Australia-Serbia Relations

1:02 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I wish to speak about Australia's relationship with the Republic of Serbia and the contribution that people of Serbian origin make to our vibrant multicultural community. Serbia's good relationship with Australia has been facilitated by a significant migration of people from Serbian origin to Australia. They have made a tremendous contribution and great inroads to our society. The Serbian community primarily started arriving in Australia at the conclusion of the Second World War. Currently, there are over 100,000 people of Serbian origin living in Australia. Interestingly, five per cent of the Serbian population in Australia live in my electorate of Fowler. Serbian is one of the top five languages spoken in my electorate, following Vietnamese, Arabic, Cantonese and Khmer.

Members of the Serbian community throughout my electorate make a significant and valued contribution in a range of areas. Serbian people are often very keen sportsmen and women, which is evident in the national success in respect of tennis, basketball, water polo and many other sports. As a result of their passion for sport and physical activity, a number of Serbian sporting organisations presently operate with strength in my electorate.

The Bonnyrigg Sports Club is one of the largest sports clubs in my electorate, with entertainment facilities and two sports clubs operating within it. There is the Bonnyrigg White Eagles Football Club, with President Jovan Prlic, and the Bonnyrigg FC, which is the juniors club, with President Dragan Mandic. The Bonnyrigg White Eagles currently play in the NSW Telechoice Premier League, while the junior FC is a very successful part of the Southern Districts Junior Soccer Association.

I have had the opportunity on a number of occasions to meet with the general manager of the club, Jason Woods, and with the club president, Jovan Cubrilo. I am aware of the very positive contribution that members of the Bonnyrigg Sports Club, particularly the Serbian youth of my area, make to our community.

Only recently I attended the 26th Serbian Folkloric Festival held at the club. The festival is a very large three-day event that celebrates Serbian tradition through food, song and dance and various other forms of entertainment for young and old to enjoy. More than 1,000 children from all around Australia and overseas participated in the folkloric dancing, proudly displaying the traditions of their parents and grandparents. The event was attended by a number of members of the Serbian community as well as their guests, including the Serbian Orthodox Bishop for Australia and New Zealand, His Grace the Right Reverend Irinej; the Serbian Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Neda Maletic, who is actually sitting in the gallery today; and a number of state members of parliament, including the member for Cabramatta, Mr Nick Lalich, himself a Serbian immigrant to this country. We were all highly impressed by the hospitality which was shown to us as well as the colour, vibrancy and positive spirit displayed by the Serbian community, showcasing their culture and their traditions.

The Obilic Basketball Club was founded in 1999, consisting of players from across my electorate. The name is derived from the famous medieval Serbian hero Milos Obilic, who was renowned for his heroic actions during the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Many local members of the Obilic Basketball Club are former or current players in the New South Wales basketball league or the Australian basketball association. I want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Stevan Sipka, the club president, for establishing and leading the Obilic Basketball Club. The management committee members—including my very good friend Alex Glumac, the club's media officer, as well as Zoran Salipur, Aleks Kuzmanovic, Sveto Gavrilovic, Milos Prlic and Milan Vasiljevic—need to be commended for the hard work they do in providing opportunities for the young people in my area who want to engage in basketball. The Obilic club will be hosting the 2012 Draza Mihailovic Cup, a Serbian diaspora basketball tournament played annually in cities throughout Australia. I wish the Obilic club all the very best in this very competitive event.

Besides sport, food and dance, religion and the preservation of culture are very important to Serbian Australians. I need to say how active this community is. There are two Serbian Orthodox churches in my electorate: the Serbian Orthodox Mission of St Luke the Apostle in Liverpool, led by Reverend Father Aleksandar Milutinovic, and the Serbian Orthodox Church of St George in Cabramatta with Father Djuro Djurdjevic. I have had the opportunity of visiting both of these churches for masses and seeing how very significant they are in shepherding the needs of the Serbian community.

I also recently attended the Orthodox saint's day celebration of St Nikolaja Zickog organised by the Serbian National Defence Council in Canley Vale. I appreciated being invited to attend such a significant day in the calendar of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and enjoyed immensely participating in a very, very large traditional Serbian banquet. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge my very good friend Milovan—'Misha', as we know him—Karajcic and his supportive wife Boja. Misha is the President of the Serbian National Defence Council, a Serbian community organisation in my electorate. I wish him well in the next council elections in a couple of weeks' time.

I thank him for keeping me up to date about the local Serbian community and making me feel welcome on each occasion I attend.

Last week I spoke on the customs tariff amendment bill in this place, which will allow Serbia to have preferential treatment when it comes to trade with Australia. This amendment to the Customs Act will undoubtedly facilitate growth in trade and greater cooperation between our two countries. Despite being worth just over $14 million, trade between Australia and the Republic of Serbia has grown rapidly. It rose by almost 24 per cent over the last 12 months alone.

The cooperation between Australia and Serbia extends well beyond economic and people relationships. Increasingly, there has been significant collaboration between Australia and Serbia in the area of law enforcement and fighting transnational crime. This cooperation was furthered earlier this year with a visit by the then Serbian Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Ivica Dacic. I had the opportunity to meet with him personally and see the product of his work. His visit resulted in the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Australian Federal Police and the Serbian Police on cooperation in tackling transnational crime, particularly in relation to drug trafficking.

The Republic of Serbia has certainly done a great deal to develop into a modern, democratic society with positive and expanding relationships not only in its own immediate region but throughout Europe and the world and, very fortunately, with us here in Australia. Through the enthusiastic efforts of the hardworking Serbian Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Neda Maletic, the other representatives of her mission and the Serbian representatives in our community, the relationship between Australia and the Republic of Serbia is not only great but it is developing on a daily basis.

Serbia has an ancient culture and traditions observed by the young and by the young at heart. The Ambassador is a very strong and compassionate voice for the Serbian community across Australia. As well as furthering the good relationships between Australia and the Serbian Republic, you are not only fostering people's culture and retention of their traditions but positively developing the relationships between our two great nations. (Time expired)

1:12 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the presence in the gallery today of the Serbian Ambassador to Australia, Neda Maletic. Ambassador, thank you for coming here today, and congratulations on the fine work you are doing with the Serbian community here in Australian which, as the good member for Fowler said, now numbers almost 100,000 people. I know that you have your hands full, and we hope that you continue enjoying your time as the Serbian Ambassador here in Australia for many years to come.

Going to school here in Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s, I, like most Australians, learnt very little about the long and proud history of the Serbian nation other than the history of the start of World War I with the assassination of the Austrian Archduke. I did not learn that Serbia was our ally in both World War I and World War II. But in the 1990s, when I was working as the export manager for my parents lighting business, I had the privilege of travelling to Dubai, where I met a gentleman named Voja Djordevic. Voja was a Serbian who lived in Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded. Afterwards, he moved to Dubai, where he set up a business. He was our business partner in Dubai. I had the great privilege of staying with Voja at his family villa in Dubai and enjoying his hospitality on my many visits there. I also enjoyed his wife's Serbian home cooking and had the pleasure of indulging in one or two of the fine Serbian wines and cognacs that they served.

I was also staying with him during the NATO bombing in Belgrade. That was a very distressing time for all Serbian people. I sat up one night with Voja and I asked him to explain the history of Serbia and the Serbian people, because here in Australia we were simply not taught about it. We sat up talking all night, and it gave me a much greater appreciation of the difficulties and the struggles that Serbia as a nation has had over many centuries.

I commend the motion moved by the member for Fowler. I support it 100 per cent. Member for Fowler, I know that you have a very large Serbian population in your electorate. I do not think I have as many, but I do have many good Serbian people in my electorate. One thing I have found is that, although sometimes Serbians might seem a little gruff on the outside—like my good friend Voja—inside they have a heart of gold. I know that our Serbian-Australians today are fiercely proud of being Australian. They are patriotic and they are hardworking. They have made strong contributions to our nation and that will continue in the years to come. Today they are a valued thread of the fabric which makes Australia the great nation that it is.

Last week I spoke on the motion about the change to our tariff regime, which gave Serbian firms greater opportunity to export their goods here to Australia. I thought it would be interesting to have a look at how small our trade with Serbia actually is. Our two-way trade with Serbia at the moment is only around $14 million. Serbia actually ranks as only Australia's 134th largest trading partner. So the increase that we have had is coming off a low base and it is very welcome. I am sure that in the years to come the two-way trade between our nations will continue to increase and the relationship between our countries will continue to grow over the years.

As part of that two-way trade, Australian companies should look at opportunities to export to Serbia. In the entire financial year of 2011, exports to Serbia were only a little over $2.7 million, which places us as one of the smallest trading nations with them. Those exports were made up of $500,000 worth of hand and machine tools; $479,000 worth of prams, toys, games and sporting goods; $335,000 worth of medical equipment; and $195,000 worth of specialised machinery and parts. So not only does opening our trade relationship further with Serbia give Serbian countries a greater opportunity to export to Australia; many Australian companies should also benefit from the improved two-way trade.

The other thing mentioned in the motion is that the Serbian nation has recently gained European Union candidacy status, which would suggest, correctly, that there is a greatly increased potential for Serbia to become part of the European Union and increase the trade and prosperity for Serbia's people. I note that Serbia is hoping that they will have ascension to the EU by 2015. We hope that will come true. I think the sooner the better for Serbia to be part of the European Union. We hope for all the people in Serbia that comes true very quickly.

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of attending with the ambassador a dinner for the association of camp inmates of Republika Srpska, which I was very proud to attend and speak at. Another thing I learnt about Serbia was that at Bonnyrigg they had a commemoration to Draza Mihailovic, who was a Serb general during World War II. Another thing not taught to our kids during school—it was one thing I never learnt—is how the Serbs were our staunch allies during World War II. General Draza Mihailovic was a Yugoslav Serb general who, after the Nazis invaded Belgrade, retreated to the mountains and worked with bands of guerrillas. In fact, his groups are credited with rescuing more than 500 Allied airmen who were downed in Nazi occupied territory.

In 1948, President Harry Truman issued him with the American Legion of Merit, which is the highest order that a foreign national can be awarded by the American government.

I would also like to take this time to mention the Liverpool council elections which are coming up. The Liberal Party are very proud to have a local Australian of Serbian heritage—a proud local, a local small-business man working in the design sector, a proud father of two—Vladimir Skataric, standing for Liverpool council for us. We as Liberals are very proud to have a Serbian standing for Liverpool council and we wish him all the best.

The Serbian nation, as I said, has been through a very difficult period of time. Although we greatly welcome this motion, one thing that is raised with me by many Serbian people is that they were disappointed with an earlier motion brought to this parliament with regard to Srebrenica. We hope that all people of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and the Balkan regions can put those differences behind them, move on and realise that there were crimes and atrocities committed by both sides. No one side was completely guilty; no one side was completely innocent. It was a very difficult war. Rather than continue to bring up in this parliament things like the Srebrenica events, it would be far better to put those events behind us and look forward to the future where all people from the Balkan regions can move together, integrate as part of the European Union and be a vital part of our world economy.

Again, congratulations to Ambassador Maletic. I hope that you are here for many more years. I hope that you continue your good work and that the Serbian community here in Australia continue the great work that they have done in integrating in our society and making a valuable contribution.

1:21 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too would like to acknowledge the presence of Serbian Ambassador Neda Maletic, who has been serving Serbia extremely well and has been informing the community here as well, including members of parliament. I also welcome the opportunity to be able to speak on this very important motion today, even though I only have a few minutes and there is much more that I could say. I would like to congratulate the member for Fowler for bringing this motion to this House. It helps us focus on the resilience of the Serbian people—in Serbia, their forefathers, those around the world and especially those in communities in our electorates all around Australia. I am sure that every member of parliament here has a Serbian community. I certainly have quite a few members of the Serbian community, as well as two Serbian Orthodox churches, in my electorate.

Many people around Australia are somewhat aware of the very deep difficulties experienced in the former Yugoslavia in the later years of the 20th century. Fewer people, though, would fully appreciate what happened in those years. Much of what people may think when they think of that time may have been devised and processed through the US government's media machine under the then Clinton administration. Our knowledge of those times and our understanding of Serbia and its people more generally can only improve and become deeper from a renewed focus with an open mind. Since those tragic days, Serbia has become an important part of Europe and has ensured that they have a dynamic democracy, are involved in all international scales of international talks on international issues and are part of the greater international community.

If we look at the issues of Serbia, they go back to the early 19th century, to the days of the Ottoman Turk occupation of their land and then that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, through to the devastation of World War I and World War II. Serbian people suffered greatly during those wars. Of course, there were the great allies of Australia and the Allied forces. We hear many heroic stories of the partisans and those who continued to fight the Nazi oppression, even after the Nazi occupation. There are many heroic stories about where they fought side by side with many members of the Allied forces. Subsequently, there was the takeover by the communists, whose Baltic peoples only started to emerge through the horrors of the 1990s.

I note that in 2000, after the decade of political troubles that so affected the former Yugoslavia, Serbia's economy improved and was on the way up. Since that time, in possibly the first decade of peace and democracy Serbians have enjoyed for many years—I go back to the Ottoman Empire and onwards—people are now confronted by the worst global financial crisis, which has hit all nations, especially European nations.

The 21st century has been a new dawn for the Serbian people, a new century in which they have had an opportunity to rebuild their economy—rebuild their nation and succeed in building a vibrant democracy, which will continue for many years. Much work has been done and much work continues to be done. They have a market economy, which has largely been rolled out and nurtured. Renewed membership of the International Monetary Fund in 2000 was followed by rejoining the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Trade liberalisation, enterprise restructuring and privatisation was followed by the signing of the stabilisation and association agreement with Brussels in 2008 and the full implementation of the international trade agreement with the EU in 2010. That set the path toward possible EU membership in the months or years ahead after an economic contraction due to the GFC that many countries are experiencing. Serbia experienced growth of 1.7 per cent in 2010 and 3.1 per cent in 2011. Serbia is doing much better than some of its neighbouring countries in the region but there is still a long, hard road ahead as we all battle through this economic crisis that has hit the world.

As I said from the outset, Serbs are resilient. I know this to be true from the communities in my electorate. We have over 100,000 people of Serbian background who have made Australia their home. Serbian migrants have brought with them a culture which is rich and dynamic. Historically, Serbia is a literary and artistic nation that has produced many great authors, poets and artists. Of note was Ivo Andric, the 1961 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In my own electorate I have many Serbian migrants who are now fully fledged members of the Australian community. The Serbian community is serviced by the Serbian Orthodox Parish Community of Sveti Sava located in Mary Street, Hindmarsh, serviced by the Very Reverend Father Zoran Ivanic, who does a great job, and the Serbian Orthodox Church of Sveti Sava of Woodville Park. (Time expired)

1:27 pm

Photo of Luke SimpkinsLuke Simpkins (Cowan, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

To my constituents of Serbian origin and to the ambassador I say: dobar dan. I welcome the opportunity to speak today about a country that has over the last number of decades changed, advanced and developed immensely. I had an opportunity to visit Serbia in 1985 and experienced firsthand the lively capital city of Belgrade and its surrounds, Avala and Sava River, and even visited Marshal Tito's tomb. Coming from Australia at that time, when the shops closed at midday on Saturday, to a city where the shops remained open until 10 pm was quite an experience. There are well over 100,000 people of Serbian origin currently living in Australia. A number of my constituents are from Serbia, or are of Serbian origin, arriving in Australia from all parts of Eastern Europe, including Croatia and Bosnia.

Serbia has recently undergone changes that have helped see the country progress. Under the former president, Boris Tadic, Serbia applied for European Union membership in 2009. The European Commission delivered its opinion on the application in October 2011, and early this year Serbia was accepted as an official European Union candidate. While European Union membership is yet to be officially awarded to Serbia, once achieved it will provide the country with a voice in interstate decision making and will continue the cooperation initiated in December 2009 with the abolishment of visa requirements for Serbian passport holders wishing to travel to existing EU member states. This move is a positive step forward for a country that has been greatly damaged by war.

A significant number of Serbians came to Australia during the 1990s from the then Yugoslavia; and while respecting and taking on the Australian way of life, they, nevertheless have kept their traditions, customs and values alive. The most prominent Western Australian Serbian community landmarks include the two churches in North Perth. Every year on 7 January they are filled by hundreds of people for the Orthodox Christmas. Two other landmarks in Western Australian include the Serbian Community Centre in Maddington and the home of Dianella White Eagles, formed in 1978 under the name of Dianella Serbia.

Serbia's rich and extensive culture has contributed to our nation by expanding on the existing multicultural traits that our nation is built on. Apart from contributions such as food and cuisine, which are enjoyed by many, there are a number of Serbians who are well known in Australia and worldwide. Although we cannot claim him for Australia, in the sporting arena perhaps the best known Serb is tennis great Novak Djokovic. In Australia we should also acknowledge Australians of Serbian origin such as national soccer team players Milan Ivanovic and Milan Blagojevic. There are also well-known media personalities of Serbian origin such as Karl Stefanovic of the Today program, and how can we forget media personality and Australian 'lambassador' Sam Kekovich.

In the light of improving relations between Serbia and Australia, the Australian Federal Police and the Serbian police have signed an MOU with the aim of working together closely to combat transnational crime. While the MOU is the first formal agreement between the two countries, it does represent a continuation of the longstanding, solid relations established with Serbia during postwar years.

There has been a tendency by some in this country to malign Serbia and those of Serbian heritage for what happened in the civil wars and with Kosovo. I would suggest that there is always more than one side to a story and one should always be very careful in taking a populist view on such issues. Before one criticises Serbia and Serbs, prior to making any form of judgement they should research history and the actions of all sides.

In conclusion, I thank the member for Fowler for putting this motion forward. A number of Cowan constituents are originally from Serbia or are of such descent. One of my staff members is of Serbian origin; a refugee from the wars. Serbs in my area form a significant part of the electorate community, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank them for their positive contribution and for working with me as their federal representative in making Cowan such a great place to live and work. With those constituents, I look forward to an ever increasing and strengthening relationship between Australia and Serbia in the future.

Sitting suspended from 13:32 to 16:01