Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Adjournment - Beirut Explosion

August 24, 2020

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (19:47): We stand in solidarity with the Lebanese people and offer our sincere condolences with regard to the catastrophic devastation arising out of the blast that occurred in Beirut on Tuesday 4 August this year. My heart goes out to the people of Lebanon and all those who are affected by the loss of family and friends as a result of this extremely devastating incident.

Australia, as you know, has shared a very strong relationship with Lebanon. Our community ties are great. As a matter of fact, we have over 230,000 Australians with Lebanese heritage. I am privileged to share, along with many Members here, a large vibrant Lebanese constituency who've always displayed a strong national spirit despite adversity and have never forgotten their homeland.

This tragedy will affect many people in Lebanon, in Australia and around the globe as they grieve for family and friends. Unfortunately, I understand that more than 200 people have been confirmed dead, over 6,000 people injured and 300,000 people have been declared homeless as a result of this explosion.

To the parents and family of Isaac Oehlers, the young Australian who was tragically killed in the Beirut explosion that ripped through the Lebanese capital, I can't begin to comprehend the grief that you're experiencing at the loss of your little boy. As a nation, we want you to know that we mourn with you through this most difficult time.

The explosion has no doubt added to the ongoing turmoil in Lebanon: a dire economy on the brink of collapse; widespread corruption; homelessness, poverty and starvation, with many people not able to afford the basic necessities. Despite this, Lebanon is still an extremely generous country, caring for the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. Lebanon is now home to over a million people who have fled the decade-long civil war of Syria and Iraq.

Added to these issues, Lebanon has also had to grapple with an unprecedented health crisis as its healthcare system certainly struggles to provide care and support to those impacted by the coronavirus. The number of people now seen to be leaving Beirut and heading towards regional areas is only going to exacerbate the coronavirus implications for Lebanon and, no doubt, cause further issues and anxiety for already struggling families.

If these aren't reasons enough to command the attention of the international community, we must question our collective humanity. While the Lebanese people are known for their resilience and strength, given the magnitude of this catastrophic event and the significant hardship it has caused, it will be a long road ahead for Lebanon. This cannot be achieved without the support of the international community.

I'm pleased that the Australian government has committed humanitarian support for Lebanon to help with the disaster and to support its recovery. However, we must go further and ensure ongoing support and enduring commitment to Lebanon not only to help it repair from this disaster but to support the establishment of a stable, independent government that focuses on its people and their welfare.

As a signatory to various international conventions on the rights of refugees, we share with them a moral if not legal obligation to ensure refugees are given adequate support and protection around the globe. Quite frankly, it is clear that Lebanon is now struggling to provide that level of protection for the refugees it hosts. As a member of the international community, we must be willing to share some of that responsibility.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank a number of remarkable organisations in my community and across the nation for their tireless support and recovery efforts in Beirut, including AusRelief, Steps of Hope, Human Appeal Australia, Penny Appeal Australia and the MATW Project. Once again, I offer my sincere condolences to the people of Lebanon and trust that their strength and resilience will overcome this catastrophe.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST