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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4242


Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (18:53): Next Sunday, 29 May, will be the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. This day is to recognise and celebrate the work of United Nations peacekeepers across the globe. There are currently 122,000 UN peacekeepers involved in 15 separate UN peacekeeping operations. The United Nations continues to represent an evolving and necessary model of global cooperation that takes human endeavour, progress and problem solving beyond the confines of the nation state.

There are a few things about the United Nations that I hope every high school graduate in Australia would know. One would be its historical context—in other words, the fact that it was created in the aftermath of the worst conflict the human race has suffered and as a result of what that conflict implied. The second would be its purpose, which is to be something larger and wiser than a single nation state can be and, therefore, to represent a set of universal values and to bind and coordinate countries in their pursuit of those values. The third would be to recognise Australia's role as an early and active supporter of the United Nations. Australians should be proud that we, an island nation with perhaps more geographical cause to be isolationist than some countries, have been a key player for a country of our size. That is certainly true when it comes to our contribution to United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Since the end of the Second World War, somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 Australian military personnel and police have been part of more than 50 peacekeeping missions in relation to over 27 separate conflicts. For those members interested, I encourage you to read Australian Peacekeeping: Sixty Years in the Field, edited by David Horner, Peter Londey, and Jean Bou, which is a fantastic collection of essays on this subject collected from papers given at a conference in 2007 at the Australian War Memorial held to mark those 60 years.

I want to express my thanks and support for those Australians who are currently part of our contribution to seven UN peacekeeping operations, namely UNMIS in Sudan, UNAMID in Darfur, UNTSO in the Middle East, UNAMI in Iraq, UNAMA in Afghanistan, UNMIT in Timor-Leste and UNFICYP in Cyprus. I have a number of friends working in these missions from Australia and elsewhere.

The work of a United Nations peacekeeper draws on one's best qualities and one's deepest reservoirs of energy. And if you take on that calling, it puts you shoulder to shoulder with people from around the world who share a commitment to peace and a commitment to fairness and equality through the fellowship of men and women, irrespective of nation, religion, language or gender. It can break your heart—it almost certainly will break your heart—but its lasting personal legacy will be to have shown you, against the background of fear and violence and deprivation, against the background sometimes of humanity at its worst, the infinite potential goodness in people; the shining possibility of people at their best.

The value of Australia's efforts in this area, and of peacekeeping in general, has only increased in the last 20 years. I was pleased to note, courtesy of a typically intelligent and well-referenced essay entitled 'Five Steps to Becoming a More Effective UN Member' by John Langmore, a former member of this place and former President of the United Nations Association of Australia, that in the early 1990s there were more than 50 conflicts causing at least 1,000 annual battle deaths, whereas there were only 36 at the end of 2010. That is progress—and it is progress that diplomacy and peacekeeping have played a large part in achieving.

In Australia, a country that has participated in UN operations since the very beginning, we have made progress and improvements in our approach to peacekeeping. In 1993, following recognition by the Hawke-Keating government that peace operations had special requirements and were of increasing complexity, the ADF Peace Operations Training Centre was established, and it remains the headquarters for developing and managing peace operations policy and training. It was also in 1993 that the Australian War Memorial presented its first exhibition on peacekeeping—with financial input from the three services and also from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That exhibition marked a turning point in the recognition of peacekeeping within the wider ambit of Australian Defence Force deployments. I am pleased to note that the WA Army Museum located in Fremantle, which is the most significant war museum in Australia outside of Canberra, has a fantastic new post-1945 gallery which contains a comprehensive exhibition on Australian peacekeeping.

Today, when people think about the Australian Defence Force, they often conjure up images of service men and women at work on peacekeeping missions. The armed services are promoted as a vocation that may well involve a substantial amount of work without weapons; that may involve building a bridge or a school or repairing a well or even—as I saw in a picture from last Christmas—making a visit from Father Christmas and his camouflage-wearing elves to the Dominican orphanage in Dili, Timor-Leste, courtesy of an International Stabilisation Force helicopter.

Ironically, the greater public focus on and recognition of ADF peacekeeping that occurred during the 1990s and peaked with our very substantial involvement in East Timor in 1999 actually fell away during the first decade of this century, at least partly because Australia in that time has again been involved in fighting wars. In any case, Australia's participation in both UN and non-UN peacekeeping is ongoing and of course continues to be of great value and impact, especially in those countries in our region where we take a leading role, such as Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands.

A further welcome development on the civilian side is the establishment of the Australian Civilian Corps, a select group of civilian specialists who will deploy to countries experiencing or emerging from natural disaster or conflict in order to support stabilisation, recovery and development planning. It is intended that by 2014 there will be 500 Australians on the Civilian Corps register. This program is managed by AusAID, and I congratulate Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd on this important initiative.

That Australia continues to be one of the 20 highest contributors to UN peacekeeping is and should be a matter of pride. Our financial contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations amount to some $160 million annually. However it needs to be said that the United Nations current annual peacekeeping budget, at US$7.8 billion, is equivalent to half of one per cent of annual global military spending. The US defence budget alone is 100 times the global peacekeeping budget, and even Australia's defence budget is nearly 3½ times as large. I look forward to the day the resources we devote to peacemaking and peacekeeping are within touching distance of the resources we pour into weapons and war. In their introduction to the book I mentioned earlier,Australian Peacekeeping: Sixty Years in the Field, in the context of how peacekeepers are regarded vis-a-vis personnel deployed for combat, the editors note:

Peacekeeping was less straightforward. Peacekeepers, regardless of the worth of their cause, were not fighting the nation's wars; they were trying to sort out someone else's.

This comparison between fighting a war and trying to settle the aftermath of one clearly points towards a third kind of involvement, which is the active work, or peacemaking, that might be done to anticipate and prevent wars from starting in the first place. As John Langmore points out in his article:

the first and principal requirement of UN Member States which is to attempt by all reasonable means to avoid the threat or use of force and to seek non-violent means of minimising and resolving conflict.

Of course, diplomatic efforts to prevent war have existed since diplomacy itself, yet the dedicated structures and resources that would constitute peacemaking that springs from a multilateral and humanitarian impetus, rather than from the sovereign self-interest which has been the predominant motivation for seeking peace in the past, do not exist to any great degree.

Norway is a counter example and, as John Langmore points out, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs now includes a Peace and Reconciliation Section, with an annual budget of US$100 million and a mandate to work in collaboration with the new United Nations Mediation Support Unit. As an example of the value of global community effort in resolving a conflict, Langmore notes the international efforts to resolve the conflict between the Luos and the Kikuyu after the presidential election in Kenya, in December 2007, which involved concerted engagement by several countries and international NGOs, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In relation to the Australian situation, Langmore says:

As far as I know, not a single Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officer is working full-time on peaceful conflict resolution. The department would have to build its capacity in the field by, for example, establishing a branch of professional staff trained in mediation and the other means suggested in the UN Charter for peaceful settlement of disputes

I agree with John Langmore that Australia is well placed and well suited to consider being even more proactive in the cause of peace and cooperation in the way he suggests—for instance, if modest resources could be found from the defence budget.

Only today the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade inquiry into the 2009-10 DFAT annual report canvassed the enormous disparity in budgetary terms between defence and diplomacy: roughly $27 billion versus $1 billion. In my view, there is no reason why we should not invest in preventative defence in the same way as we do in preventative health.

One of my favourite cartoons from the New Yorker magazine features a man talking to a highly decorated general at a reception, and he is saying to the general: 'Our real first line of defence, wouldn't you agree, is our capacity to reason.' I think that all peacekeepers would agree.

I thank my colleagues for joining me in speaking to this motion. Most importantly, I thank all the UN peacekeepers for their efforts and courage, those from Australia and from all the other contributing nations. I particularly honour those peacekeepers who have lost their lives, and I express here my sorrow and my gratitude to their families.