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Wednesday, 25 November 1998
Page: 677


Mrs IRWIN (7:17 PM) —When I decided to speak on this private member's bill initiated by the member for Cowan, I felt some apprehension. I must admit that I did not know a great deal about this issue, bar what I had read in some of the newspapers. Since I have had the chance to investigate this subject some more, I have found that it is not simply an important issue; it is a vital issue.

I take this time to thank the member for Cowan for his assistance in providing me with some of the information about this subject. I know that the member has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of this issue and bring about a change not just in this country but overseas on the issue of landmines. It is rare in this House that a new member can bring such an important piece of legislation forward as one of his first acts.

It is also important to mention the work of the shadow minister for foreign affairs, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. This issue is one that the member has taken up on a number of occasions, not just in this parliament but also in the 38th Parliament. He was one of the first in this House to call for the complete destruction of this nation's stockpile of landmines and to campaign from this House to ban these weapons globally. The member for Kingsford-Smith has led the debate in this House, and I am pleased that the member for Cowan joins him.

In 1966, I joined the Labor Party during the Vietnam War. I joined because I saw young men go to war at 18 years of age at a time when they could not vote. They paid a price for a decision they did not have a choice about. I was angry then and I am angry now at the kind of wanton destruction caused by these inhumane weapons that have brought suffering to all but one continent on this planet. These weapons do not discriminate. These weapons do not stop once a war is over. These weapons do not care whether they kill or injure civilians or combatants. A former ICRC delegate made a very apt quote on this:

Mines may be described as fighters that never miss, strike blindly, do not carry weapons openly, and go on killing after hostilities are ended. In short, they are the greatest violators of international humanitarian law, practising blind terrorism.

These weapons need to be stopped, removed and destroyed.

I was moved at the speech by my honourable colleague the member for Cowan. I was proud to think that, instead of debating partisan issues, this House can debate an honourable, decent issue about trying to end the horrific toll that these weapons cause. It is a shame that a piece of legislation this important has had to be brought before this House by a member rather than a government. There are members of the government who are reluctant to fully support this legislation because of how it will affect our armed forces. This legislation is not about disarming our armed forces. We are not replacing guns with flowers. We are asking that antipersonnel landmines be destroyed and not manufactured by this country.

The Labor Party has fully supported the process undertaken by the Ottawa Convention. That process, which led to the Ottawa treaty, has only recently had enough countries willing to sign to the agreement to ratify and bring it into operation. Countries such as the United States dragged their heels on this agreement and countries such as Pakistan and China have been very vocal in their opposition. I must sympathise with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I am sure that the minister fully supports the convention and wished to be one of the leading countries in the debate. It is a pity that this government could not have been as forthright as the British government's stance and leadership on this issue.

The Labor Party is so strong on this issue that it has even made the banning of these weapons part of our platform. I quote:

In response to the global humanitarian crisis arising from the anti-personnel landmines, Labor is committed to working in all available forums to secure a global and legally binding ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines, and to supporting those efforts through ratification of the Ottawa landmines ban treaty and the destruction of Australia's landmine stockpile, with the exception of the minimum stocks required for mine clearance and awareness training by the Australian Defence Force.

I am proud to be a member of a party that makes an issue of such a global nature part of its platform and policy. The more I look at the figures involved and the more I consider the implications of this problem, the more alarmed I think I become. I can understand why there are so many people worldwide who are fighting to have these weapons destroyed. These weapons go on killing and maiming long after wars have ended. There are people in Europe today still being injured by mines laid during the Second World War—more than 50 years after hostilities ended.

Like many others, I cannot help but quote some figures on the problems that are before us with this issue: 110 million landmines in 70 countries; the cost to remove those is currently at around $33 billion, and it would take about 1,000 years at the current rate if no more are laid; 2,000 people a month are killed or maimed; for every mine cleared, 20 are laid; landmines are one of the most cost-effective ways of poisoning an area as they cost between $3 and $30 a unit; more medical care is needed for each victim than for someone injured by a bullet or fragments, they require more blood transfusions and operations which are not available in many countries; and the cost of an artificial limb is $3,000 per amputee, or $750 million for all the 250,000 amputees registered worldwide.

Time delays in many countries mean that people injured by landmines spend long periods travelling for treatment. It has been estimated that 24.6 per cent are treated within six hours, 69.4 per cent within 24 hours, 84 per cent within 72 hours, and 16 per cent take more than three days—more than three days to receive medical treatment! The Geneva conventions have listed very clearly how wars should be fought. In Protocol 1, Article 48 states:

In order to respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations against military objectives.

These weapons do not distinguish or attack military targets. They attack everything: friend, foe, military, civilian, men, women and children. Article 51 of that same convention states that civilians shall not be the object of attack. It prohibits indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population. But these weapons do not discriminate.

I must acknowledge that both sides of this House have dedicated a great deal of resources and funding to assist the worldwide clearance and education programs. It does this House great honour that all sides believe in this service to our neighbours and other nations around the world. While many in our community take time to denigrate the work of this House—and sometimes they might be justified—it is unlikely that there are many who will witness this debate or report on it and congratulate the work done here today by the members of both sides of the chamber.

There are many Australians from many different areas of our armed services and aid organisations that have worked to rid the world of these devices and to educate people to prevent further deaths and injuries. They never receive the recognition they deserve, and I would like to thank them in my speech for that work. I hope that what the member for Cowan has brought before this chamber can help them in the job they have ahead of them. Yet the struggle goes on. It is a crime that this horror should continue. It is a crime that the world allows this to continue, and it is a crime that innocent victims continue to suffer because of greed, envy and ideology.

I would like to take some time now to read some quotes from people involved in this debate worldwide. Their words are far better than mine in this debate, and I think they are more important to place on the record of the House than mine. I quote from a young lady, who said:

Sometimes I dream that I have two legs again. Hello! . . . I am a little girl—

from a village in Cambodia—

. . . and I am twelve years old. Years ago, when I was very small, I went to play with my friends close to my house. All of a sudden "BOOM", cries, terror. The whole of my right leg was blown off. My other friends were injured too. We were taken by ox-cart and then by motorcycle cart to a hospital. There they did surgery. Until two years ago, I walked on one leg with crutches. One day a car visited my village and they told me they could give me an artificial leg. They took me with many, many other amputees to a prosthetic centre and there we received our new legs. I feel more comfortable with my friend the crutch, so sometimes I leave my leg at home.

I have one last quote from the address of Pope John Paul II at St Peter's Square, the Vatican. He said:

I feel the need to direct a heart-felt appeal to all of those responsible: renounce these weapons of death, and decide on a definitive ban on their production, trade and use.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.