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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Page: 764

Mr NEUMANN (6:19 PM) —I speak in support of the Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008. As a number of speakers have mentioned during the debate, the bill has three purposes, the first being changes to the symbolism that we accept and which is internationally recognised—and this relates to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the Criminal Code Act 1995—to include the third protocol to the Geneva conventions, which formally recognised the red crystal as a tripartite emblem of the international Red Cross. The red crystal is a very distinctive symbol. It looks more like a diamond to me, but it is called a crystal, and it has been recognised alongside the red cross and the red crescent. On 8 March 2006 Australia signed the third protocol, which came into force on 14 January 2007. The second aspect of the bill relates to changes to the Defence Act 1903 in relation to dealing with pharmaceuticals by Australian Defence Force medical staff. The third deals with changes in relation to the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 to make certain that the Pine Gap facility is properly protected against unauthorised access—and that relates to a decision made by the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal in the case of The Queen v Law and others in 2008. There are deficiencies. We can look at the legislation, and it was a very clever argument put by the QC representing the defendants in that case in relation to a very technical aspect of the law. There are legislative deficiencies which were shown up in that case against the four Christian pacifists arising from their actions in 2005.

The first aspect of the bill relates to the red crystal. I think just about any adult in Australia, and even children, would recognise the red cross emblem, and even the red crescent emblem, which is so recognised across the Muslim world. They are universally recognised and can be found in humanitarian and medical crises, in places of war and conflict—on buildings, on unarmed personnel vehicles, on the sleeves of medical staff and in all kinds of places. There is universal agreement that people using these emblems are to be protected because—as so many people have said today—they express our common humanity and care for the sick, the frail, the aged and those who are in need.

The red cross emblem dates back to 1863 internationally. It was recognised following warfare in Italy in 1859. In Australia it dates back to World War I and the first days after the declaration of war. There is some conjecture about what the red cross actually means. It is usually accepted that it is the inverse of the Swiss flag. But it is a recognised symbol and people jealously guard it, as an almost religious icon. That is the problem, because the red cross, for those of the Christian faith, has a connotation. The cross is worn by Christians throughout the world, around their necks, and the cross is held dear in the Christian faith. It has that religious connotation. It is the same with the red crescent in the Muslim world. The red crescent was first recognised during military conflict between Russia and Turkey in the 1870s, but it was officially recognised in 1929 and adopted by Islamic nations worldwide.

The red crystal is really the compromise. Ian Piper of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has said, regarding the red crystal: ‘It was not an easy birth.’ That is right. Achieving consensus was a very difficult process—long and laborious. Finally the third protocol was achieved, but only by a majority, on 8 December 2005. The decision to add the red crescent in 1929 did not prove to be the final chapter. As Ian Piper said, it did not prove to be definitive. Using the symbol of the Islamic world, the crescent, and the symbol of the Christian world, the cross, did have connotations, particularly in places where animism or Judaism were prevalent.

We recognise that there is a dominant religious belief in our country, as there is in many Middle Eastern countries. Even though we are a multicultural and pluralistic society, there is a recognition throughout our country of our Christian heritage. It is reflected in the great work that the churches do. As the Prime Minister eloquently put it today, we see at this particular moment the great work that the churches do in times of crisis and difficulty. We are seeing it in Victoria and in Queensland—along with the work of the Red Cross, of course.

Coming up with a symbol which is different was very important. Israel’s own relief society, Magen David Adom, is a really wonderful organisation, which serves the same purpose as the Red Cross in Australia, but the red star of David has some really significant connotations for those in the Muslim world. Even though the red star was adopted in the 1930s, before the birth of the state of Israel, it is almost understandable that the Islamic world would have some problems with it.

So the red crystal is a compromise achieved after decades of controversy. Even after the Palestinian red crescent and the Israeli red star of David were recognised internationally in 2006, that really was not the end of it, and a neutral symbol was important to achieve. As I said, only two-thirds of the 192 signatories to the Geneva conventions supported the red crystal in December 2005. It is possible now for countries in conflicts in Africa where Christianity and Islam are not prevalent to use that symbol as well. I think there will be a universal recognition of the red crystal not only across Africa but also in countries elsewhere.

I want to take this time to applaud the Red Cross for their wonderful work. When I was a boy living in Ipswich, my parents’ house was eight foot underneath the water in 1974. We lost almost everything. The Army were terrific in those days in Ipswich. South-East Queensland was devastated by Cyclone Wanda. As it came in from the north, a lot of Brisbane and Ipswich were under flood. Those who lived through that time will remember with a great deal of appreciation not just the work of the Army—who saved what little remained of my parents’ furniture—but also the work done by the Red Cross, who came round with such tremendous compassion to care for the people in my area. I will always be thankful personally to the Red Cross for what they did.

I want to pay tribute to what the Red Cross are doing at the moment, particularly in Victoria. According to the website, as at 3 pm on 10 February, they had raised, in the Victorian bushfire appeal, $25.7 million from over 139,000 website and phone donations, with the federal and state governments additionally pledging sums of money. And the donations keep pouring in as the Australian people open their hearts.

The Red Cross, which is the subject of this bill, along with the red crystal, has done tremendous work in this country. I urge all Australians, particularly in my electorate of Blair, to donate to the Victorian bushfire appeal as well as to the work done by the Red Cross in North Queensland. I come from South-East Queensland, but we feel it, because Queenslanders across our state are prone to experiencing floods. So the work done by the Red Cross is highly valued, as is the work done by the Salvos, Anglicare and a whole host of other community organisations which show great humanitarian spirit. We thank them for the wonderful work that they do in our community.

It is not the time to make highly political speeches. I feel inclined to do so in responding to what the member for Tangney had to say, but I will let it pass through to the keeper, as they say in cricket, and deal with the second aspect of the bill. The member for Tangney made some quite amazing statements in relation to the second aspect of the bill. In the provision of medical and dental care for defence families, the Rudd government has not only done what it announced in the budget but also gone beyond that in terms of the pilot programs for the health and welfare of defence families. That is more than was done by the coalition during their nearly 12 years in office. The second aspect of this bill will amend section 124 of the Defence Act 1903, ensuring regulations can be made to cover the provision of medical and dental treatment, including pharmaceuticals, to an Australian Defence Force member or cadet or a member of the family of an ADF member. Currently the regulations relate only to members of the ADF to ensure their health for the purpose of discharging their military duties and relating to cost recovery.

I want to praise the military personnel of Blair in Queensland. We have the biggest military base in the country at RAAF Amberley. I was privileged last year to serve in the ADF parliamentary program and to experience first hand the wonderful competency, effectiveness and commitment of the people of the ADF, particularly at the RAAF base at Amberley. This government is pouring $1.1 billion into the expansion of that base, and there will be a greater need to provide medical treatment not just for the Defence personnel serving there but also for their families.

About 80,000 people cross state borders each year to live in other areas, and getting access to GPs and dentists is a very difficult process. I have talked to many defence personnel in my area and this is an ongoing problem. We have a shortage of doctors in my area. We have one GP for 1,609 people across the Ipswich and West Moreton area. The Rudd Labor government is making a big effort to increase the number of GP training places and is making great strides to ensure that we have more allied health professionals and nursing staff in my area. I applaud the commitment to a GP Superclinic in my area, which the Minister for Health and Ageing made when she was the shadow minister. I know that a number of stakeholders are interested and I know that a number of military personnel and their families will avail themselves of those services in my area.

The third aspect of this bill relates to the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 to include specific provisions for the joint facility at Pine Gap. In the 1960s Pine Gap, which is located about 20 kilometres from Alice Springs, was established. It plays an important role in the security of our nation and of our allies. Part of the Labor Party’s platform is its commitment to Pine Gap. We say in chapter 14 of our national platform—a platform that I have voted for on a number of occasions as a national conference delegate—that we believe the Pine Gap joint facility makes an important contribution to our alliance with our most important ally, the United States of America. We require that this facility continue to be managed and operated on a joint basis, as it is, and only with the Australian government’s full knowledge of and concurrence with the facility’s activities. We have said that we will ensure the operations of the joint facility are consistent with our national security, disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. It is our constitutional requirement that the Australian government provide not just for the welfare of our people but for their security, and that we are doing. Our national platform says that Labor requires the facility at Pine Gap to continue to be managed and operated as a joint Australian-US facility within the full knowledge and concurrence arrangements to ensure the protection of Australian sovereignty.

There are three aspects to our national security that we hold dear in the Labor Party and in the Rudd Labor government. They are, firstly, our alliance with the United States of America, which the Curtin Labor government turned to in the darkest days of World War II, a full 10 years before the ANZUS treaty was signed by the conservative government subsequent to the Chifley Labor government. The second aspect is our constructive engagement with Asia, and we have been taking great strides to improve our relationship there. The Rudd Labor government has a good relationship with many Asian countries—historically, Labor governments have. The third aspect of our national security is our membership of the United Nations. We strongly believe that the United Nations plays a vital role in our national security. We are a middle power and we must play our part in relieving poverty and helping other countries in our region in a quasi good Samaritan way. But we must also play a constructive role in terms of national and international security.

This particular legislative amendment arises out of a particular criminal case concerning a number of self-styled Christian pacifists who sought to advance the proposition that the Pine Gap facility was not a prohibited area on the basis that it was primarily used for the purposes of aggression rather than defence. Therefore, the continuation of the ministerial declaration was not necessary for defence purposes. I really cannot understand how they can argue that. The judge, at first instance, ruled the evidence concerning that was inadmissible. But, on appeal, their very clever counsel managed to convince the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal that they were deprived of a possible defence in the circumstances and Law and others had their convictions overturned in February 2008.

We believe that, in our kind of democracy, it is appropriate for people to protest. They are entitled to turn out on election day and overturn governments—replace them. We believe that they are entitled to write letters to the editor, that they are entitled to protest on the streets lawfully and to engage in all manner of civil disobedience, if I can put it like that. But to threaten the security of this country, to engage in illegal protests, simply on the basis that they are anti the United States, anti nuclear or have green, left-style credentials and want to protest like that is simply unacceptable to the average Australian. It is certainly unacceptable to my electors and unacceptable to the Rudd Labor government. We need to protect Pine Gap. As the Minister for Defence said in his second reading speech, ‘Pine Gap has the function of collecting intelligence which is sensitive.’ In relation to what goes on at Pine Gap, he said that it:

… could threaten their effectiveness and thereby diminish their contribution to national security. It is therefore important that the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is protected with effective legislation to deter unauthorised access to the facility.

The amendments in this particular bill will ensure that Pine Gap is a special defence undertaking and prohibited area for the purposes of the act. So the very clever argument put by counsel for the defendants in the Queen v Law & Ors would be unsuccessful. This bill serves a very good purpose for the protection and security of our country. It is a great initiative of the Rudd Labor government in terms of the security of our country, and I commend the bill to the House.