Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022



5:19 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the government, and Minister Payne in particular, for moving this motion, and I am pleased to join with Senator Wong and the rest of my Labor Senate colleagues in supporting it. I also had two motions on today's Notice Paper, one regarding the war in Ukraine and the second regarding the downing of flight MH17. I have already spoken earlier today during senators' statements in regard to the issue in Ukraine. I was telling people that my father-in-law immigrated from Ukraine, so my husband, Robert, is of Ukrainian descent and still has relatives in Ukraine. As you can imagine, this makes the situation in Ukraine very deeply personal for both me and my family.

As a Tasmanian of Ukrainian descent, Robert is an active member of the Tasmanian Ukrainian community. The community has been holding regular rallies since the invasion, calling for peace, and I've had the privilege of being able to speak at some of the rallies in both Hobart and Launceston. Speaking to the Ukrainians at these rallies, I understand that their only desire for their country and for their families and friends back home is peace. Many of them hold grave concerns about loved ones in Ukraine, and we've heard that more than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Many cities are in ruin. Even the safer areas, like Lviv in Ukraine's west, aren't immune to attack. Ukrainian people are deeply patriotic and they're courageous. They rightly want the future of their democratic country to be determined by Ukrainians.

Ukraine has its own unique history, culture and identity, and the people there are a resilient people. This was the case when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and it remains the case now that Ukraine has celebrated 30 years of independence. But it seems that the Russian government, particularly under the leadership of Mr Putin, has never truly accepted that. Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity have been under threat from Russia ever since they declared their independence. Russia's leadership was suspected of poisoning a pro-independence Ukrainian presidential candidate. They later installed a Russian puppet as President of Ukraine, who was then removed by the popular uprising known as the Revolution of Dignity. They illegally annexed Crimea and gave support to Donbas separatist rebels.

The invasion of Ukraine is a further illegal act by the Russian Federation. It's an international crime. It's unjustified and it's unprovoked. But, in addition to this crime, Russia has committed further crimes through their actions during the invasion. The motion currently before the Senate mentions 3,000 dead or wounded civilians, in accordance with the United Nations' official figures, but Ukrainian authorities estimate that around 6,000 civilians may have been killed. Part of the reason for the high civilian death toll, as we've heard, is the deliberate targeting of civilians by Russian forces.

I mentioned in my senators' statements speech earlier the stories of family and friends of Ukrainians in Tasmania. I was saying that there was a group of friends from Irpin who were tortured after being captured by Russian soldiers, and one of the friends was executed. Then there is the woman who fled with a seven-year-old son after their apartment building came under rocket attack, only to suffer a further attack on the bus they were escaping on, which was full of civilians. There are the residents of Russian occupied Kherson who have been fired on after protesting the invasion. These are just a few of the tragic stories I've heard, in addition to those that we've all heard on the news. These include a Russian air strike on a maternity hospital—an attack that injured 17 people, including pregnant women and children. For me, the most shocking was the air strike on the Donetsk regional theatre in Mariupol, where thousands of Ukrainian civilians were sheltering. Large signs clearly indicated that there were children sheltering there, yet the Russians still bombed it. The death toll from the theatre attack could be as high as 300.

There have also been reports of Russian soldiers firing on civilians who were trying to escape Kyiv. These attacks achieved no military objective. The deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime for which Russia must be held to account, and Labor stands shoulder to shoulder with the government, as Senator Wong said, in condemning Russia's illegal actions and making them accountable. This includes support for economic sanctions against Russia, including targeted sanctions against Mr Putin and those officials responsible for the invasion. It includes the provision of humanitarian aid to the suffering citizens of Ukraine and assistance in the form of military weaponry and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself. It also includes support for actions in the International Criminal Court and United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of humanitarian crimes committed by Russia.

Furthermore, Labor continues to offer our support for all efforts by the Australian government to bring to justice the perpetrators of the illegal attack on Malaysia Airlines MH17 by Russian backed rebels, which led to the murder of 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.

There are at least three good reasons, as I've said before, why Australia should be part of the global effort to pressure Russia to stop the invasion and withdraw its troops. Firstly, it is our responsibility to Australian citizens who are members of the Ukrainian diaspora who are scared for the safety of their family members and close friends back in their home country. The second is because it's Australia's responsibility as a good global citizen to join its allies in upholding the rules based order that keeps the world relatively peaceful and stable. The third reason this invasion concerns Australia is that if it can happen to Ukraine it can happen to any other sovereign nation. Russia's attack must have real consequences. We must send a signal to the world that an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation will not be tolerated and that the world will respond accordingly. The global community knows that this attack is unjustified, and so does Mr Putin, despite his ridiculous claims.

Through internet and broadcast media censorship, as well as a steady stream of Russian government propaganda, we know that Russian citizens are being kept in the dark as to their government's actions and agenda. Sadly, many Russians honestly believe that there is a need to de-Nazify Ukraine, or that civilians have been spared and their military greeted as liberators, because that is what the Russian state propaganda machine is telling them. Whatever excuse Mr Putin has given for the invasion, it is an act of megalomania by an autocratic despot. As we've heard, it is Mr Putin and his regime that will bear the responsibility for the bloodshed and suffering that has followed and will continue to follow.

I also want to commend the bravery and the resilience of the Ukrainian people. Despite the material advantages of Russia's forces, Ukraine's military have not only been able to hold them back from capturing a major Ukrainian city but they have reportedly even regained some ground in recent days. We also hear stories like that of the 13 Ukrainian soldiers defending an island in the Black Sea, who responded with a defiant profanity—which I won't repeat here, because it's unparliamentary—to the Russian navy, who were demanding that they surrender.

Ukrainian civilians have also demonstrated their courage and solidarity in the face of Russia's aggression. Who could not be inspired by the images of Ukrainian civilians standing in the path of advancing Russian troops and tanks? I mentioned earlier the citizens protesting in Russian occupied towns. The President of Ukraine has demonstrated solidarity with his citizens by remaining in the capital. What a great leader! The patriotic refrain of 'Heroiam slava!' or 'Glory to the heroes!' that I've heard uttered at the rallies in Tasmania, has a particular resonance during these awful times. I and the whole world were moved to tears when we saw the viral video of seven-year-old Amelia singing 'Let it Go' in a Kyiv bomb shelter and then singing the Ukrainian national anthem in front of a crowd of thousands at a stadium in parliament—in fact I've got goosebumps just remembering that now.

As I have said, Ukrainians are a truly remarkable people. They are resilient, and they will rebuild. Let's continue to stand together, as Australians amid the global community, in solidarity with Ukraine to end this atrocious war. Slava Ukraini! Glory to Ukraine!

I seek leave to have Senator Farrell's speech on Ukraine incorporated into Hansard. It has been agreed with the Government Whip.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

Labor stands united with the people of Ukraine and with our allies in expressing our condemnation of Russia's shameful acts of continuing aggression.

We stand united in expressing our strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty.

There is no justification for Russia's attacks.

The world has witnessed horrific scenes in recent weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Hopes that Putin's manoeuvres would remain nothing more than aggressive posturing were dashed on 22 February.

Things have gone from bad to worse since Vladimir Putin first ordered his forces into Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia alone is the aggressor and bears responsibility for the bloodshed and suffering occurring in Ukraine.

Australia must continue to be in lockstep with our allies in holding Russia to account.

Back in 20 February, when Russian forces were building up along the border with Ukraine, I joined Peter Malinauskas as the only South Australian politicians at the time to speak in support of Ukraine.

Peter, of course, is of Lithuanian heritage, and is well aware of the full horror of Russia's historical occupation of Eastern Europe.

Friends, colleagues, and members of Adelaide's Ukrainian community—led by Frank Fursenko—met on the steps of the South Australian Parliament in a sign of solidarity.

All countries should show solidarity in condemning Russia's illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.

And any country aiding and abetting this war should face consequences.

Australia must continue to work with the international community to ensure the people of Ukraine are supported.

Labor supports assistance for Ukraine including coal, and humanitarian and military assistance.

We also support strong and comprehensive measures to support Ukraine's resistance against Russia's invasion.

Labor has encouraged the Government to impose the most comprehensive sanctions available.

Australia should continue to work cooperatively with our international partners to ratchet up the pressure on Vladimir Putin.

Specific measures are decision for the Government, but Labor stands ready to work in a bipartisan way.

The Prime Minister has announced a visa and·refugee response to the Ukraine crisis, but it is crucial that he follows it up with actions.

People fleeing from and displaced by Russia's attacks on Ukraine need Australia's help now.

The unfolding security and humanitarian crisis is devastating for the people of Ukraine and for the Ukrainian-Australian community.

That community has its roots way back in the 1800s.

But it grew significantly after World War 11, when significant numbers of Ukrainians migrated to Australia as displaced persons.

The first Ukrainian association in my home state of South Australia was formed in 1949 and I believe it might have been one of the first in Australia.

There is a rich Ukrainian-Australian cultural history in South Australia, and in other states.

The suburb of Hindmarsh, in Adelaide, is home to South Australia's Ukrainian Hall, which house the national museum of the Ukrainian scouting movement - known as Plast.

There is still a strong and proud Ukrainian-Australian community in South Australia today.

Earlier this month I again joined Mr Frank Fursenko, President of the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia at a prayer event for the people of Ukraine.

Peter Malinauskas, now Premier of South Australia, and some of my Federal and State Labor colleagues—including Senator Marielle Smith and the Member for Adelaide, Steve Georganas—also took part in the Pray for Ukraine event.

It is important that we should tell Ukrainians in Australia, and those dealing with the terrible situation in Ukraine that Australia and its parliament supports them.

Australia must stand for peace.

As US President John F Kennedy once said:

"Let us, if we can, step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace."

It is not in Australia's interests for any country to think they can threaten another's sovereignty, or change the status quo by force.

Our Parliament must work in a bipartisan manner to support the people of Ukraine and apply every measure we can to pressure Russia into ending its unprovoked, illegal, and immoral of Ukraine.

I'd especially like to congratulate Mr Lawrence Ben—a South Australian of Ukrainian heritage—for his tireless work to promote the cause of Ukrainian independence and convince Australian companies to ban the sale of Russian products.


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