Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (16:08): I recently visited Lebanon and Cyprus where I held meetings with senior government officials to discuss transport infrastructure, joint business opportunities, and to further improve what are very good bilateral relations between Australia and Lebanon and Cyprus.
My visit to Lebanon was the first by an Australian government minister since 2001 and followed the first ever visit of a Lebanese President to Australia in April this year.
Australia and Lebanon share a warm and productive bilateral relationship that is underpinned by strong community and people-to-people links. There are approximately 350,000 Australians of Lebanese descent that have made a significant contribution to Australian society in all walks of life.
In my meetings with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Miqati, and Speaker of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, I was given an update on the economic, social and political challenges facing the Lebanese people. In these meetings we discussed further strengthening two-way economic trade in cooperation between our nations.
I also met and was hosted by the Lebanese Minister for Public Works, Mr Ghazi Aridi, who welcomed me on my arrival and hosted a lunch with other business community leaders, and the Minister of Energy and Water, Gebran Bassil, to discuss infrastructure issues. This is the second time this year that I have met with Minister Aridi and we committed to strengthening maritime search and rescue operations at the Port of Tripoli with AMSA to provide their technical expertise.
Australia and Cyprus also share a close and longstanding relationship. There are over 80,000 Cypriot-born migrants and their families in Australia, making it the second largest Cypriot community outside Cyprus.
My visit to Cyprus was the second by an Australian government minister since 2007 and is my second visit to Cyprus since I entered parliament.
Australian peacekeepers have been in Cyprus since 1964. I had the honour of meeting with the men and women of the Australian Federal Police who are part of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. I was given a tour of the buffer zone by the commander of our force, Superintendent Peter Bond. Our presence in Cyprus is greatly appreciated, and our men and women are covering themselves with distinction. As a long-term advocate of justice for Cyprus, I believe it is important that Australia retain our presence as part of the UN peacekeeping efforts.
During my visit I also met with the Minister of Communications and Works, Efthemios Flourentzou; the Secretary-General of AKEL, Andros Kyprianou; the Mayor of Limassol, Mr Andreas Christou; and the Mayor of Larnaca, Mr Andreas Louroutziatis. I also had the great honour of meeting His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus. Larnaca is one of the biggest cities in Cyprus and has been a sister city to Marrickville since 2005.
I was pleased that my visit helped to extend the friendship between our two countries.