DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Three weeks ago, the lives of millions of people in Lebanon and hundreds of thousands in Australia were changed when a devastating explosion ripped through the port of Beirut. The explosion sent shockwaves throughout the city and could be felt as far away as Cyprus. Some two million people live in Beirut, and 300,000 were immediately displaced by the blast.
Like so many Lebanese Australian families, my husband and I woke to the distressing footage and headlines. We spent the morning messaging family in Beirut to check they were okay. We were fortunate that our family were all safe, but so many others, devastatingly, were not. Some 6,000 people were injured and 160 people were killed, including one Australian, innocent and beautiful two-year-old Isaac Oehlers. I extend my deepest condolences to Isaac's family during this incredibly difficult time. I cannot begin to fathom the despair of those who have lost loved ones: the mother waiting for a child who never came home, the father who will never meet his newborn, the children who will live without their parents and the spouses who will live apart as one of them is embraced in God's love and light. My heart breaks for the people of Lebanon. They and the entire international Lebanese diaspora are in mourning, as one of my extended family members described so movingly—mourning the people, the innocence, the city, the heritage and the culture. It is a constant state of hope and despair. My heart aches for the families who have lost loved ones or are suffering mental or physical trauma, and I commit to doing all I can to support the half a million people in need of immediate assistance.
Australians are a compassionate people. We have a proud history of supporting those in desperate need of our help. So I say that, for a country as rich as ours, as generous as ours, as compassionate as ours and as safe as ours, a $5 million relief package from Australia is just not enough. This is a nation struggling with the triple whammy of political instability, economic ruin and COVID-19 and now with a tragic incident that has crippled Lebanese import capacity and left so many without homes or jobs to which they can return. The financial toll of the blast is expected to surpass $3 billion, yet Australia's taxpayer contribution to the mother nation of so many of our proud citizens is only half what was found in recent weeks for Fox Sports. In addition to this aid, there are a number of measures Australia can initiate to support the Lebanese people. As suggested by Father Sami Chaaya, my cousin in Beirut, the urgent reconstruction of one of the five hospitals destroyed in the blast or the sponsorship of some students in affected areas to finish their university studies in Australia would go a long way to support the quality of life of the Lebanese people.
So how can Australians help? Some NGOs in both Lebanon and Australia are providing emergency relief to those in need. The Lebanese Red Cross is the main provider of ambulance services in Lebanon and is playing a critical role in treating people affected by the blast. In some parts of Beirut, access to food is becoming increasingly difficult. The Lebanese Food Bank distributes dry food parcels to needy families and has done so for some time. Steps of Hope is an Australian based charity providing foods and medicines to vulnerable Lebanese families. It works to address the specific causes of poverty in Lebanon. In recent weeks it has launched a specific Beirut blast fund intended to support those displaced by the explosion. All of these organisations rely on financial support from members of the public, so, if anyone watching or listening has the capacity, please consider making a donation. You would literally be saving lives by doing so.
Since meeting and marrying my husband, Michael Chaaya, I have fallen in love with all things Lebanese—the food, the music and Lebanon's people. I proudly wear the Australian and Lebanese flags today. So today I say to the people of Lebanon and Lebanese Australians right across this country: we pray with you and we stand with you.