Recently, according to the United Nations, angry Turkish Cypriots punched and kicked a group of international peacekeepers who in accordance with their duties, legally obstructed crews working on a road that would encroach on a U.N.-controlled buffer zone in Cyprus.
Around about the same time, angry members of Greek-Cypriot origin Labor State MP for Northcote Kat Theophanous’ state party faction, who, voted to have her suspended indefinitely, for having the temerity to make a speech in parliament, in which she spoke about a recent resolution passed by the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association’s general assembly:
“We condemned the illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkey, which contravenes international law and UN resolutions, and we called for the right of return for Cypriot refugees to their ancestral homelands. The resolution appeals to all parliaments, including this one, to fully support the UN-led efforts for a peaceful, just and viable Cyprus settlement.”
It has widely been reported that the motion to suspend Kat Theophanous, was heavily supported by parliamentary colleagues and faction members that are of ethnic Turkish origin. Melbourne Turkish News has suggested in a social media post that her suspension comes as a result of “Turkish community pressure.” If this is accurate, it should not surprise us. Unlike Greeks and the rest of the world, who see the events of 1974 as an invasion, and the subsequent occupation of the island and the enforcement of an apartheid regime as illegal, Turks see the same event as a “peacekeeping operation.”
What should surprise us however, is that while Kat Theophanous is being censured by her particular state faction of the Australian Labor Party, the language and contents of her speech are eerily similar to official positions on the issue published by the Australian Labor Party, which has always formally supported the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.
For example, at the ALP National Conference in Hobart, in 1994, the Conference voted to adopt the following position:
“Conference condemns the continued presence of foreign armed forces and foreign military personnel other than UN forces on the territory of the Republic of Cyprus and the fact that 37% of its territory is still under foreign military occupation. Accordingly, Conference :
a) commends the policy pursued, so far, by the Australian Government and urges continued involvement until a fair, just and viable solution is secured;
b) calls for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and settlers from the Republic of Cyprus and for the repeal of the secessionist declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an act which Conference considers illegal and invalid;
c) calls upon all concerned parties to resolve the Cyprus problem which would guarantee to all its citizens the three freedoms of movement, settlement and ownership, and a unified, independent and non-aligned Cyprus, and the right of all refugees to return to their homelands in safety; and 160 calls on the Australian Government to use its influence to have the relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions effectively implemented, including Security Council resolutions 939 (1994), 550(1984) and 541(1983).
In July of 2000, a resolution was passed which stated: “Labor reaffirms its longstanding and unequivocal support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.”
In a news release on 15 November 1983, then Foreign Minister of the Australian Labor Federal Government Bill Hayden condemned “the establishment of a so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and a declaration of independence,” going so far as to state that “Australia will be taking immediate steps to urge upon the government of Turkey to use whatever influence it may have… to withdraw this declaration.”
On 16 November 1983, the Labor Prime Minister of Australia Bob Hawke stated in Parliament: “The Australian Government has no intention of recognising the illegal State declared by the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus. We continue to recognise only the legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus.”
That this position has not changed can be evidenced by a cursory glance at the relevant webpage of the Department of Foreign Affairs of Trade, headed by Australian Labor Federal Minister, Penny Wong. On that page we find the following declaration:
“Australia supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus and recognises the Republic as the only legitimate authority on the island. Australia does not recognise the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.”
Given the ALP’s unswerving and continuous support for the Republic of Cyprus and a just solution to the Cyprus problem in accordance with International Law, it clearly makes no sense that Kat Theophanous should be punished by a Labor Party faction (not by the ALP itself), for basically reiterating a position that the ALP has held since 1974.
Indeed, the suspension of Kat Theophanous from her faction is highly problematic because it raises questions as to whether:
a) The members of her faction are actually acquainted with ALP National Policy; and if so whether
b) The members of her faction actually respect ALP National Policy (considering that there have been no substantive efforts made to alter that policy);
c) The members of her faction appreciate that Kat Theophanous occupies a marginal seat that she just managed to win for Labor at the last state election after a superhuman effort;
d) The members of her faction appreciate the “optics” of their suspension of Kat Theophanous.
The question of optics is a pertinent one, for there exist other precedents of articulate and passionate Greek-Australian State members of Parliament being censured over public stands they have taken on issues pertinent to the Greek-Australian community. I would submit however, that the issue of Cyprus, its sovereignty and its illegal occupation are not issues pertaining to the Greek-Australian community per se, nor are they seen as such by the ALP.
Australia’s steadfast support for Cyprus, in place ever since the time of Australian Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, is based upon principle, and in particular, the necessity of upholding International Law and it is Australia’s contribution to that cause, ever since Labor luminary Dr Evatt was elected President of the General Assembly and presided over the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This mind you, is the same Dr Evatt who in Parliament in 1956, called upon the government of the day to push the British to moderate their stance on Cypriots fighting for independence.
Kat Theophanous, in condemning the illegal invasion and continued occupation of Cyprus, calling upon a just solution of the Cyprus problem and drawing upon her own family background in order to highlight the enormity of the problem, is not playing ethnic politics. Indeed, anyone who knows anything about the Greek-Australian community knows that far from being directed or manipulated by the diplomats of our countries of origin, as some other communities may be, we are constantly at odds with them, for our interests lie in Australia, and we approach international issues as Australians, seeking to uphold Australian values of decency, fairness and adherence to International Law, rather than slavishly following the dictates of others.
Far from being censured, Kat Theophanous should be commended for remaining true to Labor principles and practice, ensuring in the words of the great Australian Labor Prime Minister Ben Chiefly, that she never loses sight of: “the great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.”
Again, in the words of Chiefly:
“If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.”