Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Ministerial Statements


12:02 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I start by extending my thoughts and the thoughts of all those in this place to the people of Sudan and to the Sudanese-Australian community. What is taking place in Sudan is deeply troubling. Hundreds of innocent people have been killed and thousands more injured. Despite the reported ceasefire, heavy fighting continues across Sudan. I reiterate Australia's call for all parties to return to negotiations and agree to a permanent cessation of hostilities.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Australia has worked to assist Australians and their families to leave Sudan. Without an embassy in Sudan, we have worked closely with our friends and partners who have a presence on the ground, just as we support our friends and partners in the event of a crisis in our region. I have been in close contact with my counterparts on this effort, including with Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the UAE.

More than 240 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officers have worked on Australia's response: making calls to more than 400 Australian citizens, permanent residents and family members in Sudan, as well as hundreds of their concerned family and friends here in Australia; organising departure options; remotely arranging travel for Australians across disrupted cities; engaging diplomatically to push for ceasefires to inform our understanding and our decisions; and working around the clock in our crisis centre.

We have deployed additional consular staff to Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and Egypt to support Australians arriving from Sudan. We've prioritised visa applications for those impacted by the conflict and embedded Australian officials in the United Kingdom's crisis centre as part of our efforts. We facilitated the departure of more than 230 Australians from Sudan via more than 20 flights, ferries and convoys, and more than 130 of these Australians are now in Australia. As part of our contribution to international efforts we sent ADF assets, a DFAT crisis response team and members of the Australian Border Force to assist, and, across two Australian flights, 153 people were evacuated: 57 Australians and their families, as well as 96 foreign nationals from 10 partner countries. So in this Senate I wish to thank on behalf of the government all those officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who have worked as part of the crisis response, as well as members of the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force deployed to assist in the evacuation effort.

Some Australians remain in Sudan because they have chosen to or because they are not in a position to leave, and they do so for many reasons. Family is often one of those; security is another. We remain in direct contact with registered Australians and their families in Sudan, and I again reiterate my request that those who have not registered should do so. There are still departure options available from Port Sudan; however, any travel routes should of course be assessed carefully, as the situation remains volatile and it remains dangerous.

This conflict has exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan, which was already suffering high levels of food insecurity, with large numbers of displaced people. In response, the government will provide an initial $6 million in humanitarian assistance; $1 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is still operating in Sudan, which provides much-needed medical supplies, food, water, sanitation, emergency shelter and protection for the most vulnerable; and $5 million to Australia's international partners delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance in the region, and this is of course on top of the flexible core funding that Australia provides to our humanitarian partners and UN agencies.

We again call on all parties to the conflict to uphold international law and protect civilians, including health and humanitarian aid workers, and I have no doubt all in this chamber would support that call. The Sudanese people deserve a chance for peace and a pathway to civilian led government. I thank the Senate.

12:06 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—The coalition join the government in expressing our concerns at the ongoing violence in Sudan, a conflict and a humanitarian crisis which now, in the latest element of this ongoing tragedy, is in its fourth week of more intense conflict and battle. We join the government in calling for the parties, the national army, the Rapid Support Forces and others engaged in the conflict to urgently cease hostilities, to return to negotiations and also to settle arrangements to protect the humanitarian assistance that people across Sudan desperately need and deserve. We also urge them to continue to work to provide safe passage for those who want to leave areas where fighting is taking place, including the capital, Khartoum, and Darfur.

More than 100,000 people have reportedly fled Sudan into neighbouring South Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, sparking further humanitarian crises in parts of the world already struggling with such challenges. At least 700 are estimated to have been killed, although those estimates may be far too understated. According to humanitarian groups, the majority of those killed have been civilians.

The opposition welcomes the government's initial contribution of $6 million in humanitarian assistance, including the provision of $1 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross for immediate relief such as medical supplies, food, water and sanitation, emergency shelter and protection. We welcome also the provision of $5 million to Australia's international partners who are leading the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

I join the minister in acknowledging publicly the work of the members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular and crisis management team in their efforts, alongside those of the Australian Defence Force, other officials and NGO supporters, who have all helped to ensure the safe evacuation of Australians who are in Sudan, and indeed nationals of other partner countries who are in Sudan. Their evacuation required intense effort, negotiation and assistance. I also thank on the record the numerous partner nations who helped to provide for the early evacuation of Australians and ensure their safety. Often unheralded, these officials in our consular and crisis management team deal with Australians and their loved ones, often at their very worst and in the most difficult of circumstances, and this event demonstrates yet again the worth of their tireless efforts right around the clock each and every day of the year.

The coalition joins with members of the Australian Sudanese community who remain concerned about loved ones still in Sudan and about the future of their country. We urge the Australian government and all nations to continue to provide support to ongoing efforts with partners and allies to evacuate Australian citizens and others who need to leave, and to continue to support efforts towards peaceful resolution. We urge the parties within Sudan and their supporters to use any and every opportunity to pursue a peaceful end to this conflict, including through the current talks occurring in Saudi Arabia. I thank the Senate.

12:10 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—The outbreak of violence in Sudan has been nothing short of a tragedy. With thousands of people having been killed over the past weeks and millions trapped without access to food, water or electricity, this is an emergence of a humanitarian crisis of the most severe nature. Whilst countries around the world have rushed to evacuate their citizens, the Australian Greens want to extend our solidarity to the people of Sudan left behind, desperately seeking an exit route towards democracy in the nation itself. We also extend our thoughts to the families of the diaspora community here in Australia, painfully waiting to hear news of their families in Sudan.

The capital of Sudan, Khartoum, has been the centre of violence and outbreaks of the most horrific nature of conflict in recent weeks, with a 100,000-strong force of the Rapid Support Forces, the relevant paramilitary group to the conflict, fighting for control and power. This follows four years of Sudan's attempt to build a civilian led government arising from decades of military rule. Plans for civilian rule have been jeopardised as ceasefires across the country are repeatedly breached.

The two clashing forces have been linked to war crimes across the nation, including ethnic cleansing in regions such as Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. The battle follows on from killings of over 2,000 peaceful protesters in front of military headquarters on 3 June 2019. This is a continual battle that the people of Sudan have been in for democracy in their nation. Sudanese people in the country and across the diaspora have repeated their wish to remove the military dictatorship and to see democracy come to Sudan. They wish to see a reckoning with the reality that many nations through the world have failed to engage as diligently and as continually as they should have in relation to the promotion of democracy in Sudan, and fear now that there is the potential for a broader, more global conflict within the particular region, involving external powers.

The Australian Greens join with the government and are pleased to see the actions that have been taken by the government in relation to the provision of humanitarian assistance. But we continue to call on the Australian government broadly and the Australian foreign ministry specifically to engage ahead of time in regions beyond the Asia-Pacific to ensure that Australia's engagement is truly global and we play a full role as a responsible actor in that global community.