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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10485

Mr SCHULTZ (1:25 PM) —I, like many members in this House, have seen some of my constituents go to make up the peacekeeping force in East Timor. I will say from the outset that the Australian Defence Force is at the highest point of military readiness since the Vietnam War. The creation of INTERFET is the first time Australia has been given the task of building and leading a multinational force on behalf of the United Nations. The United Nations Security Council's resolution 1264, which was adopted unanimously on 15 September, gave a mandate to restore peace and security in East Timor and to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations because the Security Council determined that the present situation in East Timor constituted a threat to peace and security.

Australia faces a difficult task in East Timor but our personnel are there with a clear objective: to help restore peace in East Timor. The rules of engagement for the Australian contingent authorised the force not only to defend themselves but to use appropriate levels of force to fulfil the mandate given by the United Nations. Our troops are in East Timor in the knowledge that they have the full support of the Australian government and the Australian people.

Months ago we made ready an additional brigade of the Australian Army in case Australian forces were needed for peacekeeping operations in East Timor. As a result, we were able to respond immediately to the United Nations request, not only to participate but also to lead the multinational force. The defence force follows in the footsteps of other Australians: the Federal Police, military liaison officers, consular officials and United Nations workers who have done so much in East Timor in past weeks to help its people.

Although the goal of our forces will be the restoration of peace and stability, the conditions they encounter could well be violent and disruptive. Any operation of this kind is dangerous. There is a risk of casualties. Our troops, however, are highly trained and totally professional. We should not only feel proud of them but also have every confidence in their ability to do the job. Our soldiers go to East Timor as part of a great Australian military tradition which has never sought to impose the will of this country on others but only to defend what is right.

It galls me, as a member of this House, to hear members of the Australian Labor Party—when we as a nation face this serious conflict that puts our young men and women at risk—running ideological arguments as to the way in which the peacekeeping force was put together and the actions of the Australian government in sending it to East Timor. That in itself gives an indication of just how shallow some members of the Australian Labor Party are in their commitment to this nation. As a parliamentarian I would have thought that, at this time of this commitment by this nation to our neighbours, we could have joined in a bipartisan way to wish well to the people who have gone over there on our behalf and at their risk to assist others. Whilst I can understand what drives some of the comments that have come out of this place in the last two or three days, I just question the motives behind them.

We are committed, as part of the United Nations, to assisting our allies when we are requested to do so. Nobody should have the gall to say that we should have gone into East Timor when to do so without permission from the Indonesian government would have placed us on a war footing and created massive problems for the people in East Timor today. It is irresponsible of people to be pushing that line. I take this opportunity to praise the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, for the very statesmanlike and professional way in which he has handled this matter at all times, keeping in mind—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Order! It being 1.30 p.m. the time allowed for debate has expired.

Main Committee adjourned at 1.30 p.m.