Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (19:40): In April this year, at the invitation of the Turkish ambassador, I had the privilege of leading a parliamentary delegation to the Republic of Turkey. The trip was particularly significant as it also commemorated the last Anzac Day of the centenary as well as marking 50 years of assisted Turkish migration to Australia. The Australian Turkish community has come a long way since the first arrival to Australia on a chartered Qantas flight 50 years ago. The Turkish Australians have established themselves as hardworking, proud, dedicated members of our multicultural community. Leading the delegation to Turkey was an uplifting and emotional experience, particularly the journey to Gallipoli and Anzac Cove, where we attended the Anzac Day dawn service. While I have attended many Anzac service commemorations in my community, walking in the footsteps of those brave men was an extremely humbling experience—and one which is really hard to describe.
Though the initial relationship between Australia and Turkey was born out of hostility, the envious friendship that has been forged between our two countries is a hallmark of our visit. This is best encapsulated in the words of the founder of modern-day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, when he said:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
I can gladly say that these famous words are still well and truly alive in modern-day Turkey as Australians are very highly regarded.
As I visited a number of organisations, households and popular attractions, I noticed that many locals had connections with Australia, whether by relatives or friends or simply through the words of Kemal Ataturk. The hospitality, friendship and warmth that were shown to me by many of the locals were unparalleled. During the trip, I also had the opportunity of meeting a number of organisations providing humanitarian relief, particularly in the Middle East crisis. The Turkish Red Crescent, a number of the Christian support agencies, Small Projects Istanbul—which I can proudly say is also founded and led by a fellow Australian, Karyn Thomas—and UNHCR, who do a fantastic job administering humanitarian assistance across the nation.
It is significant to note that Turkey plays host to a disproportionate number of displaced persons, having taken in around about 3½ million refugees fleeing persecution and neighbouring conflicts in the Middle East, predominantly in Syria and Iraq. Turkey is the second-biggest provider of humanitarian aid in the world, a ranking that they should be justifiably proud of, having spent $6 billion on humanitarian assistance last year alone. This is the figure which you can expect will continue to rise despite the number of economic and political challenges the country currently faces. There is currently an ongoing struggle for Turkey to uphold peace and protect its borders whilst respecting the plight of refugees. Currently, there are issues amongst the Turkish community in relation to job security, with many locals viewing themselves in competition with refugees in terms of the availability of jobs.
Keeping in mind that Turkey is a country with a population of 80 million people, whilst the domestic economy is growing around seven per cent, it is nevertheless experiencing double-digit unemployment as well as inflation. It comes at a time of a snap election, with unprecedented spending sending the Turkish currency to record lows that have fallen by almost two per cent. With an election now just days away and the move away from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system, it is clear that Turkey is a country in transition. The delegation examined Turkey's responses to calls for humanitarian assistance and its position on the global scale, particularly given its strategic location, and the governance and current economic and political issues that it is currently dealing with.
While Turkey faces many challenges, its people are proud and patriotic and share a strong belief in humanitarian goodwill. I take the opportunity to thank the Australian Turkish alliance and the many people involved in organising this invaluable, historic and culturally rich experience.