When I was at school way back in the 1930’s, Sri Lanka was a colony that the British called Ceylon.
Its role in the Empire was to keep us all supplied with top quality tea. They did that well.
Significantly for Australia, it was a major stopover place for boats and planes making the then long journey to and from Britain.
It won its independence just after World War 2 ended and changed its name back to Sri Lanka, as it was known as before the colonists from Britain arrived centuries earlier. The new nation became a republic while remaining within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
But the British, having dominated and plundered them for so long, had neglected to educate and train anywhere near enough leaders of government and industry to create and sustain a new nation and this caused constant political instability, resulting in the nation’s first President being assassinated. Since then, Sri Lanka has only occasionally enjoyed stable government for long periods.
A prime factor of internal politics has been the constant tension between the Tamils in the north and the rest of the nation which is predominantly Buddhist. The Tamils were natives of Southern India and were, irresponsibly, brought to the island as slaves by the British, in the same manner as happened in Fiji. They worked in the tea plantations and their status is now not much higher than that of slavery. This eventually lead to Civil War which the Tamils lost after huge bloodshed.
It actually was pure genocide and it was ruthlessly organised and brutally carried by President Rajapaksa who last week was forced to leave and resign. He and his family have dominated the government for far too many years and ensured that they personally prospered mightily, stashing it away in many bank accounts in tax havens. Wherever they finally settle, they will live splendidly.
Meanwhile, 22 million Sri Lankans are in poverty, the Tamils suffering more than others. However, they have enjoyed the pleasure of having forced a tyrant to leave in disgrace.
I am a person who never ever participates in marches for reasons far too plentiful to spell out in this article, but it is undeniable that the success gained from a month of marching by so many Sri Lankans is massively impressive. They brought down a President who, supposedly, had the total support of the army and police. Sadly, this caused the economy of the nation, which was already tottering badly, to almost totally collapse. Dark days of widespread misery lie ahead as new leadership is elected, hopefully competent.
I am sure that the Albanese Government here in Australia will come to the aid of Sri Lanka, but it would be morally wrong for Australia to just give them token help and say its not our prime business. We can go the extra mile in these appalling circumstances as it is possible for us to:
- Send significant food supplies every month for a year with our governments paying our farmers to supply it free.
- Make financial grants to help their hospitals remain open and medical services operating.
- Encourage Australians to invest in the revival of their industries and the expansion of trade.
- Help rebuild homes in Tamil communities still suffering from the ravages of war.
- Foster the quality of their democratic institutions as they have had authoritarian governments control and plunder their nation for far too long.
- Welcome more immigrants from Sri Lanka who have skills we lack here in Australia ,with an insistence that the first ten years of their new life here must be spent in rural Australia, similarly to our famous Biloela refugees. This will help revive and renew some of our rural villages where population is ageing.
- Use our imagination to create other economic and cultural partnerships with Sri Lanka while urging the rest of the world to do likewise.
I can assure you that Sri Lankan refugees become good citizens.
The Aspley Uniting Church, where I am a long standing Elder, adopted 2 families from Sri Lanka a decade ago and they have established themselves well through sheer hard work, even though our government disgracefully and constantly threatened them with deportation, restricted their access to jobs and denied them Medicare etc. I am proud to have them as friends as they are now good Aussies even though they are not yet citizens.
In the final analysis, our involvement in Sri Lanka will prove to the world that Australia is restoring its reputation as a responsible regional partner. We have just begun to do this in the Pacific and we can repeat it in the Indian Ocean also.
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