My questions to the Attorney-General were on the issue of the cessation of hostilities in the Syrian civil war that may open up space on the ground for an actual peace process, in a serious way that we have not seen in the full five years of horror in which the Syrian civil war has unfolded. I was interested in knowing specifically what resourcing, what kind of commitments and what diplomatic energies the government was expending on bringing peace to that war-torn region.
Now, whatever your views on the Australian government's intervention in Iraq in 2003 that ripped that country apart and laid the groundwork for the emergence of Islamic State, Australia's role in the Syrian civil war is much more ambiguous. We deployed the Royal Australian Air Force into that conflict. Senator Brandis was careful to make the distinction that we are not intervening in the Syrian civil war; we are attacking Islamic State positions in the western part of Syria. But Islamic State actually is a participant in the Syrian civil war, which gives rise to the question: is Australia now an additional combatant in that war-torn country?
Former Prime Minister Abbott and his former defence minister, Mr Andrews, rushed to stand in front of a dozen flags and cheer on the deployment of the Australian Defence Force into that war-torn region. But where is the announcement now that it appears at long last that the agony of that country may be brought to an end? Instead of energy expended in military hardware, is there energy being expended in the kind of diplomatic effort that would be required to actually get this to take hold on the ground?
Yesterday I was honoured to meet two Syrian refugees who have made new lives for themselves. Bassam al-Ahmad has made a life for himself now in Istanbul, Turkey; and Reem Zaitouneh—apologies if I have pronounced either of your names incorrectly—is now resident in Ottawa, Canada.
Both of them work for an organisation called the Violations Documentation Center—the VDC. They both gave a snapshot of the extraordinary energy and work that is going to be required to end the violence that has torn that country apart.
Where is the Australian government? We were first in line when it came to military deployment, but where are we now? Some of Senator Brandis's words were reassuring, but at no point did he outline any of the actions that are being taken. One thing that we could do, and one thing that the government could have done, is clarify exactly why it is that Canada has rescued 800 times more refugees than the Australian government. The 12,000 refugee intake commitment of last September was welcomed across the political spectrum, and it changed the debate. Now we find that only 26 individuals have been resettled and only 200 people have been interviewed. That is 800 times less than the Canadian authorities have taken in. It is time we stepped up.