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Wednesday, 25 November 1998
Page: 668


Dr THEOPHANOUS (6:29 PM) —Madam Deputy Speaker Gash, I congratulate you and, since this is my first speech in the 39th Parliament, could you also pass my congratulations on to the Speaker. I am very pleased to join other members in supporting the Anti-Personnel Mines Convention Bill 1998 . In particular, one of our new colleagues, the member for Cowan, who is obviously an expert in these matters, has made a very good contribution, ensuring that all details are raised with respect to questions of this kind.

I want to make some brief comments because we have been asked to limit our comments so that many people who wish to speak on the record in relation to this matter are able to do so. I think it is very important that we discuss the two aspects of this issue: the first aspect is to do with trying to prevent new landmines being put down—these bombs are put in place, explode and kill people, the vast majority of whom are innocent people. The second aspect is to try to remove those landmines that are already in place.

These two issues need to be confronted by the international community—and that the conference in Ottawa made a very substantial start in doing so is very heartening. But we need to ask ourselves: how did we get into this terrible, dreadful situation where so many people around the world have been and are being killed by these mines?

The answer to that question requires us to reflect on the terrible history of the world over this century. Although this century started off with great ambitions for peace and tranquillity for humanity, it has been the most bloody century certainly for more than a thousand years. As a result of that fact, we have developed weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, those weapons include antipersonnel mines—and in some ways they are probably the most vicious of all. Of course, the most horrific weapons are the atomic ones. But the point about atomic weapons is that, even during the balance of terror situation—with the exception of what happened during the Second World War to Japan—they have not been used. The problem with antipersonnel mines is that they have been used extensively and they have maimed and killed many, many people throughout the world in many, many conflicts.

It is interesting that nowadays we tend to say, `Well, the enlightened nations wish to sign this treaty.' But we would not have been put in the position of having to sign this treaty if not for the fact that many nations in the world participated, sometimes unthinkingly, in that dreadful conflict known as the Cold War. The conflict over the Cold War was one of the most unnecessary in human history. Even though it did not lead to a world war, having come close a few times, it nevertheless led to many localised wars and many civil conflicts and civil wars within countries.

For example, in Mozambique there was a dreadful civil war which was based essentially on Cold War ideologies. As a result of that conflict, many of these antipersonnel mines were put into place, as was mentioned by the previous speaker. The unfortunate situation now is that we are still desperately trying to remove those mines from Mozambique and, even though there now is relative peace in that country, we still have a situation where innocent people are being killed.

That raises the question of whether, in fact, we can do something as a civilisation to ensure that in the future, irrespective of the nature of our conflicts, whatever they may be—even if they lead to civil war or war between nations—we can be in a situation in which we are able to say, `We will not have these weapons; we will not use these weapons.' That is the situation that we need to put into place. That is why the Ottawa agreement was very important—but it needs to be signed by all governments, and it needs to be enforced.

This is where we are extremely disappointed with the position taken by some of the great powers—the United States, Russia, China, India and several others. Although Australia certainly has taken very important initiatives—and both parties in this parliament can take credit for these initiatives—and has a proud record in recent times in relation to this issue, we need to put it to our allies with whom we have good relations, such as the United States and others, that it is very important for them to sign this agreement.

Of course, the military in every country, especially in the big countries, will always have excuses for wanting to have all sorts of equipment and hardware available. It is one thing to have military hardware for use in an honourable conflict—to the extent that such conflicts can possibly exist, and I do not believe that they can in the long term; but let us say that we can at least talk about a relatively honourable conflict—but there is nothing honourable about these mines. It is the most dishonourable thing to put these into the ground and kill innocent people, civilians, on whatever side. These weapons should be banned. We therefore need to proceed to do everything that we can at an international level to push along the process that has been initiated by the Ottawa agreement.

Let me make it clear: we are doing some good things in Australia, but we need to use our international muscle in relation to this matter. As I have said, we are facing the 21st century and we need at least to ask ourselves: do we want a repetition of the disasters of the 20th century through resorting to weapons which were found to be unacceptable, such as biological weapons of warfare, chemical weapons of warfare and these terrible mines? The answer is that we do not. Irrespective of whatever differences we have, irrespective of whatever conflicts may arise in the future, we should never resort again to these sorts of actions.

That leaves us with the question: how are we going to achieve such an agreement with the big powers? I think that an initiative needs to be taken to push the Ottawa process further—perhaps an initiative at the United Nations General Assembly, even at the level of the Security Council. Why not raise this issue at the highest levels of the United Nations, including in the Security Council, and say, `Look, as an act of showing that we are committed to the universal declaration of human rights, that we are committed to a peaceful world, that we are committed to positive developments in international relations in the 21st century, why don't we, as a very important symbolic act, before the end of this century, put a ban on these weapons that is universal and accepted by all nations?'

I think that is a worthy goal that Australia with other nations ought to pursue at the United Nations—and I am sure that Canada would be very, very interested in also pursuing such an initiative. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has done worthy work in this area, as has the parliamentary secretary, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and other people who have been involved; they ought to be congratulated for what they have done up to this point. But we can do more and we should do more; and we should raise the matter at the United Nations and try to use our influence in raising it with the great powers.

There is the question of what we are going to do with those dreadful weapons that are in the ground already. There are an estimated 20 million landmines in so many different countries. What is required is a cooperative effort with those countries that have signed the agreement. They all need to be prepared to put in something to help in this process. Some of them are poor countries, so they may be excused. But those countries which belong to the OECD or the so-called First World countries ought to use their finances to help to clear those mines. Because, while those mines remain, children and innocent people are going to be killed.

I am not a particular fan of the royalty, but I have to say that Princess Diana was a very honourable woman for taking up this cause. What she did in making this cause known to the world community was very important. But we have to follow through with the kind of work that she initiated through governments and through organisations in our community, including Australian non-government organisations that are wanting to pursue this work. It is very important in the final analysis to do everything that we can to clear these mines and to ensure that people can live in relative peace. It must be a dreadful phenomenon to think that most of your land is covered with these awful weapons.

I want to make a point about the situation in Afghanistan. The conflict in Afghanistan has become one of those forgotten wars where people are killed every day. We have been talking about clearing mines, but mines are being put in place in Afghanistan because of the struggle that is going on there. It is time the international community took more of an interest in the conflict in Afghanistan and in other conflicts where people are using these weapons. It is not enough to say, `We should not have them, and we have signed an agreement saying that we do not want to have them.' What about doing something about those conflicts in the world where these weapons are being used here today? I think we need to take in interest in the situation in Afghanistan. The international community needs to take an interest in it. The same is true of those areas of the world where there are regional conflicts of this kind.

I am very proud that this parliament has introduced this legislation and that we have taken a bipartisan position on it. I believe it shows that Australia is an honourable country in relation to this matter. Our example needs to be followed by others. We need, as I said at the beginning, to put some pressure on our friends who have not signed the agreement to do so. As I also mentioned, we need to focus on those areas of the world where these weapons are being used today to try to ensure that we get peace in those places and to stop those weapons being used in the future.