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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11826


Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services) (1:35 PM) —The pattern of debate has very thoroughly covered the issues of Iraq's history of noncompliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction, with its dragging of its feet and deliberate obstruction and obfuscation. I accept that there are people of good faith on both sides of the argument. Indeed, a significant number of Australians are yet to be convinced of the merit of the course which the government has adopted. I regard that as a positive aspect of the Australian psyche. We are a pacific people; we are not a belligerent people. We do not share the instinct of Alexander the Great, who wept because there were no worlds left to conquer. We are weighing up here a difficult, complex and morally hazardous decision and one which we have to make a clear-cut judgment on one way or the other. As one commentator suggested, this is not the time for a middle-of-the-road outcome; the middle of the road is a place for yellow lines and squashed armadillos. While we Australians are not necessarily familiar with the armadillo, we are familiar with the yellow line and the squashed marsupial.

I endorse the government's position, but I do so with a great deal of soul-searching. The previous speaker, the member for Bruce—newly elevated to Labor's frontbench—observed that we are on the threshold of endorsing the use of military force—either with the unequivocal endorsement of the United Nations Security Council, as sought by the member for Calare, or, potentially, without it—in a conflict in which it is probable that unarmed civilians will lose their lives. I accept that. Today, I rise with a kind of fear and trembling at the prospect of sharing in some measure the culpability and responsibility for a series of decisions which will place the lives of innocent civilians at risk. I do so because I believe we have been elected to make difficult decisions. Even though I am on the periphery of this decision, I nonetheless have the opportunity to speak today, and do so as a matter of conviction to defend the series of positions which my Prime Minister and government have adopted.

I do this without any hostility to the country of Iraq. Indeed, I do it with a sense of considerable indebtedness to Iraq. In the midst of all of the argument about what has taken place under the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, we can obscure the great contribution which the Iraqi people have made to civilisation unless we cast our minds back more than the last couple of decades. Most archaeologists agree that Iraq was the place where human beings first gathered together cooperatively in urban clusters which we would today call towns or villages. Certainly Iraq produced the world's first city, the city of Ur. Iraq produced the world's first beer, the world's first cold storehouse and the world's first hotel. It also produced the patriarch of the world's three great religions, Abraham. He was an Iraqi.

Iraq produced many of the core ideas which have become central to Western civilisation. The creation myth which we observe from the book of Genesis was heavily adumbrated by people of the Iraqi culture—the Sumerians, who first produced a creation myth very similar to that which Jews, Christians and, indeed, Muslims look to in the book of Genesis. The epic of Gilgamesh, likewise, was a precursor to the Noahic story of flood and forgiveness. Critically, we would say the rule of law is one of the defining characteristics of a Western liberal democracy. The first culture ever governed by a comprehensive civil and criminal code was in Iraq, the culture of the Babylonian king of Hammurabi, who produced Hammurabi's code, now contained in a pillar, I think, in the Louvre in Paris, setting out a clear-cut code of behaviour, with crimes and punishment for civil and criminal law. That was 400 years before Moses and the Ten Commandments.

We can look to Iraq for inspiration and with much gratitude. Some say that the greatest symbol of civilisation is the printing press, because of its power to push knowledge out from the centre, from the elites, to the masses. I know this is a great concern of the member for Werriwa, who is at the table. We would not have had the printing press had we not had the alphabet, and the alphabet was first conceived in the form of stamps. These were agreed symbols for the conveyance of meaning between citizens that were used by the Sumerians and later developed and refined by the Phoenicians.

All of those great achievements come to us from Iraq. There is a sense in which I see the government's movements in recent weeks as an attempt to rescue the high peaks of culture and civility which Iraq gave as a gift to the world when human beings first began to cooperate under what we would today call the rubric of civilisation.

A lot of the debate goes to this question: when is it appropriate to employ violence for the sake of a political outcome? There is a school of thought which says it is never acceptable to use violence to achieve a political goal. Indeed, our principal denunciation of terrorists around the world is their willingness to use violence to achieve political purposes. In my view, there are two schools of thought among those opposed to war under any circumstances. One is the less noble; it is what I call self-serving and is often the timid or cowardly view. In effect, this is the defence of the status quo school of peace. It says, `Don't challenge the status quo, no matter how evil it is, no matter how oppressive, no matter how many are dying, no matter what other consequences will flow from leaving the status quo in place—it must not be challenged.' People who hold that view are the cowardly advocates of peace, and I have no regard or respect for them.

Then you have what I regard as the robust bona fide peace advocates who follow in the tradition of people like Jesus of Nazareth, St Francis of Assisi, M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who took the doctrine of non-violence and combined it with resistance. They made non-violent resistance—what Ghandi called Satyagraha—an active doctrine of engagement and challenge to oppression wherever it existed. It was employed to great success to expel the British Raj from India and to advance the rights of African Americans in the civil rights movement. Some would say that the crucifixion of Christ was the single most emblematic act of non-violent resistance in the history of our culture.

Nonviolence is a doctrine that involves courage. It says that you must have every bit as much courage as the voluntary soldier bearing arms because you must be prepared to put yourself in harm's way in order to attack not the military capability but the conscience of your opponent. That is an entirely respectable philosophy; indeed, I find it a very challenging and engaging philosophy of nonviolence and peace. I have great respect for those who are prepared not just to advocate it but to live it. But I do not regard those describing themselves as human shields as being in that tradition. They are going to Iraq to defend the status quo and to seek to preserve the regime of Saddam Hussein. The opposition and Iraqi dissidents around the world have denounced the so-called human shield for precisely that reason.

But that proposal is not really the proposal on the table. There are those who are saying we should allow more time for weapons inspections. We have had 12 years of sanctions. We have had four years of weapons inspections. We have had Dr Hans Blix say:

Unlike South Africa, which decided on its own to eliminate its nuclear weapons and welcomed the inspection as a means of creating confidence in its disarmament, Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today—

that was 20 January—

of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.

Unlike South Africa, unlike Kazakhstan—which destroyed 25 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons with the collaboration of United Nations weapons inspectors—we have here a regime which has continually obstructed those measures.

I am here reluctantly, having come to the same view I think the American administration did. There was a view after September 11 that patience had worn out with the United Nations and with Iraq, and that the United States should simply go in, with or without its allies. Under the influence of advocates like John Howard and Tony Blair, and supported by Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush agreed to put the proposition to the Security Council that Iraq should be given one last chance. That one last chance became resolution 1441. It was in relation to that resolution that Hans Blix said that Iraq had not come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of its obligation to disarm.

Therefore, I believe we have no alternative. There are no bona fide cards in our hand left to play. The choice is either to allow the status quo to remain or to challenge it by force. We would prefer that that force came with the sanction and blessing of the United Nations, but we are not prepared, as the member for Calare proposes, to place the most vital and difficult strategic decisions of the sovereign nation of Australia in the hands of Russia, China, France or any other power. I endorse the government's decision and the government's policy. I conclude with a thought from John Stuart Mill, who said:

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.