Ministerial Statement on Burma

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AusAID media release: Ministerial Statement on Burma Source: Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID); Government of Australia Date: 08 Feb 2010 MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS STEPHEN SMITH Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish to update the House on developments in Burma.

On 4 January, Burma's Independence Day, Burmese Senior General Than Shwe announced that pla

Elections have long been foreshadowed under the Burmese military's so-called 'Roadmap to De If elections do take place, they will be the first in Burma in 20 years.

This year will, therefore, be an important one for Burma, and an important one for the inte

Australia has long been appalled both by the Burmese military's suppression of the democrat It is worthwhile recalling some important events in this longstanding suppression. A military regime, in some form, has ruled Burma since 1962, nearly 50 years. We recall the bloody put down of pro-democracy protests in 1988, just over 20 years ago.

Since 1988 Australia has had in place visa restrictions against senior members of the Burme

Following the failure to implement the outcome of the 1990 elections, in 1991 Australia int

This is a ban on the export to Burma of controlled goods as listed on the Defence and Strat

In October 2007, financial sanctions were introduced in response to the violent crackdown o

These various sanctions - travel sanctions, defence sanctions and financial sanctions - hav

At the same time, Australia has recognised that engaging the Burmese authorities serves imp

We live in the same region. Through regional forums like the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Confere

As well, Australia has for many years sought to help the Burmese people through a program o

This program, now worth nearly $30 million in 2009-10, assists with fighting infectious dis

ASEAN, through its humanitarian work in Burma after Cyclone Nargis, has been vital in facil

Common membership of regional organisations also allows us at Ministerial level to directly Mr Deputy Speaker.

On 12 August 2009 I addressed the House on Burma after Aung San Suu Kyi's conviction on spu

I set out then that Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence effectively removed the prospect of her par

Since that time, there have been a number of important developments both within Burma and i

On 17 September 2009 the Burmese authorities released 128 political prisoners in an amnesty

Repression however continues.

On 31 December, 15 activists were sentenced to up to 71 years imprisonment each. There regr Australia again calls on Burma's authorities to release them and allow them to participate

In September 2009, in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, I joined ten othe

The participation in this meeting was evidence both of the international community's desire

At the meeting, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon identified three areas for future unity of pu

First, to urge Burma to work with the United Nations to ensure an inclusive process of dial Second, to uphold the role of the United Nations in Burma.

And third, to signal the international community's willingness to help the people of Burma,

My visit to New York for the General Assembly coincided with the announcement of the United The United States Administration concluded that a sanctions-only policy to isolate Burma's

US Secretary of State Clinton said that any debate that pits sanctions against engagement c Australia has welcomed this approach, as has the international community generally.

As to developments within Burma, on 25 September 2009 Aung San Suu Kyi wrote to Senior Gene

The fact that Australia was one of these three was significant and reflects the longstandin The authorities agreed to this request.

On 9 October 2009 Australia's Chargé d'Affaires, together with the UK Ambassador and the U

The meeting was the first opportunity for a substantive discussion between an Australian re Australia's Chargé conveyed a message from the Prime Minister which expressed the support This was warmly welcomed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Australia welcomed the subsequent visit to Burma in early November by United States Assista

Aung San Suu Kyi wrote further to Senior General Than Shwe on 11 November 2009 requesting c

In response to her request, she was permitted to meet three of the Central Executive Commit Australia hopes that a meeting with the full Executive will take place soon.

This is the first substantial contact which Aung San Suu Kyi has had with the leadership of

Australia hopes these initial engagements between Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese authorities Elections Mr Deputy Speaker.

The Burmese authorities have embarked on the so-called 'Roadmap to Democracy', a strictly c

It was a matter of great regret that they pushed ahead with a constitutional referendum, th

That referendum was a regrettable sham. Not surprisingly, political parties in Burma, including the National League for Democracy,

Burma's authorities have an opportunity to engage the people, to ensure the full and free p

For Burma's longer-term stability and security, the coming political process needs to addre

While, of course, given the history of these matters, there are long standing reservations,

Australia urges Burma's authorities to seize this opportunity to genuinely move their count Development Assistance Mr Deputy Speaker. Australia has long provided humanitarian assistance to Burma.

In the 2009-10 Budget, the Government allocated nearly $30 million in humanitarian assistan This will help address the pressing needs of the Burmese people. Half of Burma's almost 50 million people live in extreme poverty. Child mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Decades of military rule have eroded civil society and civilian institutions. Skills have been lost and infrastructure has deteriorated.

At some stage into the future, Burma will have a civilian Government, which will face great

At some stage into the future, the regional and international community will be asked to he

Australia's view therefore is that the international community help prepare Burma for the f

Burma's capacity cannot be allowed to completely atrophy to the ultimate disadvantage and c The international community needs to start the rebuilding now.

This is not a reward for Burma's military, but a recognition of the immense task faced by c

At around $4 per head per annum, international aid to Burma is less than a tenth of that re

Australia will accordingly increase its assistance to Burma over the next three years to ar

Alleviating humanitarian needs will remain an important goal and focus of this expenditure.

But the Government has decided that Australia's program will also include capacity building

This will involve carefully targeted interaction in areas of great need like health, educat

Our assistance will continue to be delivered in partnership with international organisation

We will expand existing initiatives in basic health care, including child and maternal heal At the village level, we will assist primary health care workers, including midwives, with

We will continue to support the delivery of vital treatment, prevention and screening servi

We will also address critical water, sanitation and hygiene needs through: the construction and rehabilitation of ponds and wells; building latrines for community schools and rural health centres; and working to provide equitable access to clean water.

In 2008-09 Australia's assistance contributed to the basic education of over 400,000 childr

Australian assistance will improve teaching and mentoring skills, both in the classroom and

We will also continue to support vulnerable communities in the Irrawaddy Delta to restore t

Australia will provide $20 million over the next four years to assist poor communities in B improve access to credit, seeds, and tools; provide training in small enterprise; help farmers diversify their production and gain access to markets.

I have also asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and AusAID to explore a schol

Australia will liaise with partners such as the European Union, Germany, Japan, New Zealand

It is proposed that a new scholarship scheme will target Burmese with the potential to buil

As a start, 10 postgraduate scholarships and short term professional development placements We will work with the UN to carefully identify suitable candidates. This assistance will be in addition to Australia's significant contribution for relief and Australia's post-Nargis assistance continues to be delivered through effective and trusted

agricultural inputs to help farmers restore their crops and livestock; helping fishermen by providing nets and repairing boats; repairing over 1,200 damaged schools and providing books and materials for over 360,000 chi reducing disease risk by constructing 50,000 latrines and providing one million mosquito ne supplies and shelter for vulnerable communities.

Burma is a difficult operating environment, but the collective experience in Burma over man Sanctions Mr Deputy Speaker.

Australia urges Burma's military to respond positively to Aung San Suu Kyi's recent offer t

Such a positive response would help make meaningful progress towards democratic reform, res

Until we see significant change from Burma's authorities, the Australian Government will ma

We agree with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's observation that to lift sanctions no However, an expansion of sanctions at this time would send a confusing signal.

In view of the nascent discussions between the authorities and Aung San Suu Kyi, I have dec

As a result, the sanctions list I announced in October 2008 will remain in operation for th

Diplomacy Mr Speaker. I earlier referred to my discussions on Burma in New York in September 2009.

These discussions again revealed the region's and the international community's great frust

My discussions also revealed that the international community is increasingly prepared to d

Neither Australia nor the international community should however have any illusions that pr

Australia will continue to work closely with ASEAN and its member countries, including by c

We will cooperate closely with the United States as it pursues greater engagement with Burm We will also continue to support the work of the United Nations and the Secretary General.

We endorse UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's call for the international community to suppo

Australia strongly supported the role of Ibrahim Gambari as the UN Secretary-General's Spec Conclusion Mr Deputy Speaker. Australia and the international community stand ready to assist Burma. But it is not a one way street.

Australia urges the Burmese authorities to respond in good faith both to international enga

In moving towards dialogue and genuine national reconciliation, Burma's authorities can end Australia has always considered the Burmese people our friends.

When Cyclone Nargis struck, Australia responded generously, despite our political differenc

That was the right decision then, and it is the right decision now, together with the inter

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