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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4248

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (19:15): Australia has a long and proud history of contributing to peacekeeping missions around the world. Our peacekeepers were in fact part of the very first United Nations peacekeeping mission, and the first four Australian military officers who were part of that mission were indeed the first in the field. That is one reason why it is particularly important for us to celebrate the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on Sunday, 29 May. I am honoured to be attending the Brisbane ceremony this weekend at Anzac Square.

Since the very first United Nations peacekeeping mission in 1947, to Indonesia, Australia has had active peacekeepers deployed non-stop in 64 countries around the world. We have come a long way since those first four peacekeepers in 1947. Sixty-six thousand Australians, members of the ADF and the AFP, have been part of 73 different peacekeeping operations, making a real difference to the regions in which they served. When looking at the difference they have made in Bougainville, it becomes clear that peacekeepers play a vital role in bringing about, as their name suggests, world peace. In Bougainville, Australia was at the forefront of the international peacekeeping effort which facilitated the security for what was to become a successful peace process. It is important to note how Australia's independent role in the Bougainville negotiations helped not only the success of the peacemaking but also to build Australia's standing in the Pacific region. It also says something of the courage and understanding of the troops from Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu and Fiji that the peacekeeping force, the troops and later the peace monitoring group were not harmed, even though the combatants held their arms until the institution of a weapons disposal program.

In East Timor and the Solomon Islands, Australian troops were at the forefront of the peacekeeping process. Managing peace, protecting civilians and building a base for lasting peace is not an easy process, particularly when the combatants retain their arms. There is generally a real lack of trust on all sides, and these operations demand not only a combat capacity but also the capacity to talk, to engage groups with often diametrically opposed views as to the future of their country and then to help build a consensus. That takes a broad range of skills and community engagement. Australia's achievements to date are a credit to our armed forces and to the many civilian advisers who are inevitably involved—from AusAID to NGOs, they all deserve our gratitude.

Building peace is as important as fighting a war, if not more so, and it is important that we acknowledge the success of brave Australians in building peace. It is important that our peacekeepers are recognised and their values upheld now and in the future. We must ensure that the honouring of their bravery, courage and integrity is long lived, and I commend the Australian War Memorial for dedicating itself to building a living memory of all military service.

As we honour our soldiers, sailors and airmen, it is timely to remind this government that we must not undervalue the War Memorial and the important role it plays. The history of peacekeeping is indeed a history of Australians striving to make the world a better place. The values of responsibility, trustworthiness and a higher regard for humanity that our peacekeepers carry should be instilled and implemented into society at home and around the world as they let us take a further step towards a peaceful world. One way that we can do this is to teach our younger generations about the sacrifices our service men and women have made, ensuring that they learn of the dedication of our military personnel and police forces to a better world through peacekeeping.

Our peacekeepers are courageous. It is important to acknowledge the 1,100 United Nations peacekeepers who have lost their lives in service over the past decade and the 13 Australians who have fallen since 1966. The nature of peacekeeping and all military service is unique, and our peacekeepers face risks and trauma that can haunt them for the rest of their lives. Indeed, as we honour the men and women who have fallen in service, we must also not forget that 31 Defence personnel have or are believed to have committed suicide since 2005. The horrors of peacekeeping are spelt out in Ian McPhedran's book Soldiers Without Borders, a book about the SAS but which describes the horrors confronting Australian troops in Rwanda as part of the Australian Defence Force medical support force with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. The horrors that our service men and women face do not leave them, and we are losing young men and women not only in service but also after they return home. While we honour peacekeepers today, we must look at what we are doing to support our personnel returning from wars and from peacekeeping. They have served and supported their country, and we must ensure that our country serves and supports them. I commend this motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.