The Members of Parliament from Australia’s State of Victoria met President Mahinda yesterday at Temple Trees had two clear messages – that the transformation Sri Lanka has undergone since the end of the war is “highly impressive” and that there will always be bipartisan support for Sri Lanka in Australia.
Members of the Parliament of Victoria Ms. Elizabeth (Liz) Jean Beattie, Mr. John Pandazopoulos and Ms. Marsha Rose Thomson are currently visiting Sri Lanka after having last visited in 2009, shortly after the war ended. They talked at length with President Rajapaksa about the changes they have seen in the country. The delegation had the opportunity to travel island wide, including to Jaffna, Kandy, Galle and Trincomalee.
“All throughout Sri Lanka, no restrictions were placed on us,” said Ms. Beattie. “We have been free to speak to anyone we wanted to. We had the freedom to do so.”
Noting how important it was to see and hear for themselves the ground situation in Sri Lanka, Ms. Beattie said a lot has changed in a short time.
“It’s been an absolutely amazing achievement,” Ms. Thomson said.
Upon returning to Australia, the delegation will prepare a report on what they have seen during their visit to the island nation and of their impressions. This report will then be tabled at the Australian Parliament and become public record.
“We’re very encouraged by what we see,” Ms. Beattie said. “Anyone can start a war, but it takes men of courage to end a war.”
President Rajapaksa briefed the parliamentarians on post-war developments in Sri Lanka and what a challenge it was to demine the war-affected areas, resettle the displaced populations and to rebuild nearly all infrastructure after it was all destroyed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Mr. Pandazopoulos said that the reconstruction Sri Lanka has undergone since the end of the war is “highly impressive” compared to other countries that have had similar experiences with war. “You need to be commended,” he said to the President. “You have made some hard decisions.” He further said that much of the Sri Lankans living in Australia see and acknowledge the transformations in Sri Lanka after the war.
President Rajapaksa thanked Australia for the continuous support it has extended to Sri Lanka, including during the tsunami in 2004 and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 last year. Sri Lanka and Australia are also discussing the possibility of resuming direct flights between the two countries, further promoting Ceylon tea and also promoting coconut products for export. The delegation pointed out that Australians and others around the world are now beginning to turn to coconut products such as its water and oil as healthy alternatives.
The delegation also spoke of the historical links and common heritage the two countries share. It’s a “direct fit” Mr. Pandazopoulos said of Sri Lanka for Australian tourists because “it feels very welcoming.”