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AFL star praised by Turnbull at UN

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The PM says countries need to show strength and compassion to deal with the global refugee crisis.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has struck a sombre note on his final day in New York. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has used his first United Nations speech to share the remarkable story of Sydney Swans defender Aliir Aliir.

His excited wife, Lucy, and deputy leader Julie Bishop were among a tiny audience that turned out for Mr Turnbull’s late-night address, which touched on refugees, North Korea, a pitch for a seat on the UN’s human rights council and the legendary Sydney Swans defender.

Mr Turnbull described Aliir Aliir as a “role model in Australia’s multicultural society”.

“Tall, fast, agile Aliir was a natural for Australian Rules Football and once he took up the game hasn’t looked back,” he said.

Aliir, 21, was seven when he arrived in Australia with his Sudanese-born parents and family.

The defender grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya where he used to play soccer with a balloon, improvising with whatever they could scrape together.

“One childhood memory that will stay with me for a long time was playing soccer with a balloon,” he said.

“We would blow it up, get some old clothes and wrap them around it until it was like a soccer ball that would bounce.”

Sydney Swans defender Aliir Aliir featured in the Prime Minister’s first speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Sydney Swans defender Aliir Aliir featured in the Prime Minister’s first speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Picture: Phil HillyardSource:News Corp Australia

The Prime Minister talked Australia up as “one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world” during his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

During his speech, Mr Turnbull said Australia was “not defined by race, religion or culture” but by “shared political values of democracy, the rule of war, and equality of opportunity”.

“We have a long experience of and commitment to settlement services to ensure our immigrants, especially refugees, become successfully integrated into our society,” Mr Turnbull said.

“We are indeed an immigration nation, and our immigrants are as diverse as the society in which they have joined.”

His deputy Julie Bishop, standing out in a shiny jacket, sat on the assembly floor with Turnbull’s advisers, including national security adviser Greg Moriarty and departmental head Martin Parkinson.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Russia needs to work with the US to achieve peace in Syria. Picture: AP

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says Russia needs to work with the US to achieve peace in Syria. Picture: APSource:AP

The Prime Minister struck a sombre note on his final day in New York, saying he thinks the chances of peace in Syria have lengthened in the past year, with the conflict there developing into a proxy war between Russia and United States.

Speaking ahead of his address to the United Nations General Assembly this evening, the Prime Minister said the conflict was of “immense complexity” and it is vital the major players to reach resolution.

Malcolm Turnbull speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Malcolm Turnbull speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)Source:AP

But after several days of talks with world leaders attending the UN this week, Mr Turnbull said there was little cause for optimism that Syria’s civil war — now in its sixth year — would end any time soon.

He said that in the past few days he had discussed several times “the developing and I regret to say worsening situation in Syria” with President Barack Obama.

“I don’t want to go into a lengthy commentary on it … but I have to say casting my mind back a year ago when I met with a number of the same leaders talking about the prospects of settlement in Syria, I’d have to say that at the moment the prospects seem bleaker,” he said.

The only optimistic note Mr Turnbull could strike on the conflict, which has devastated the country and risks embroiling the United States and Russia in conflict, was that often “it is darkest just before the dawn so hopefully there is a possibility of a breakthrough.”

Mr Turnbull said he had been particularly seeking to learn as much from the countries in the region about ways the war could be ended.

“It is going to require really a major step by the Russians to come together with the United States, this conflict in Syria cannot continue to develop in effect into a proxy war. There’s got to be a recognition that this continued conflict is serving absolutely nobody’s interest and doing untold harm and the loss of life and injury to millions,” he said.

Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble following air strikes in the al-Sakhour neighbourhood of the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP

Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble following air strikes in the al-Sakhour neighbourhood of the rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via APSource:AP

He said a political settlement “is going to require all parties warring with each other within Syria — but also the major players outside Syria — and that includes Russia and the United States, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, that’s going to require everybody to come together and compel a settlement because the consequences of this war only get worse and worse and worse.”

Mr Turnbull was asked if Australia shared American suspicions that the Russians were involved the air strike on the UN aid convoy earlier this week or if the government had received any independent verification on the alleged killing of up to 80 Syrian soldiers.

“I can’t add any more to those matters that I haven’t said before,” he said.