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Campbell, Sen Ian
ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT, The
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Bishop, Sen Mark
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Thursday, 20 March 2003
Senator MARK BISHOP (12:12 PM) —I thought long and hard before choosing to participate in this debate. Being so far down the list of speakers, I doubt that I can shed any new light on the merits of the case for or against the war in Iraq and there is little point in being repetitive for the sake of being repetitive. Hence my reason for contributing to this debate revolves around the analysis of principle that social democrats like those on this side bring to bear on issues such as this and examining those perspectives which help us to understand the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
Social democrats join and participate in Labor parties for various reasons. They are aware of and accept the primacy of the mixed economy, the utility of markets, the efficient use of resources and the need to create and distribute—and indeed redistribute—wealth. They are persuaded to contain and limit the excesses of the democratic capitalist system and they are never persuaded to the forceful and illegitimate overthrow of properly constituted authority. Social democratic roots go back hundreds of years to the development of parliamentary democracy in Britain and to the development of modern social theories deriving from various European experiences. Social democrats are interested in efficiency but prefer to see productivity gain directed not to the self or to the individual but to considerations of common good and equity which sustain harmony within and between social groups, cities and indeed nations.
In the last 50 years, social democrats of the current generation have struggled with topical philosophical debates on many issues that have arisen since the end of World War II in particular. From that struggle developed a structure of analysis and reflection which provoked massive change and the achievement of many goals in a short period of time, particularly in the 10 years after World War II when the modern internationalist system was first created.
As part of the analysis, foreign policy has been paramount as the world opened up and the relative isolation and remoteness of many countries disappeared forever. Within that has been our relationship with the United States and the authority and leadership that the United States has given to the world, funded to the value of hundreds of billions of dollars courtesy of the American taxpayer. While it would seem we are experiencing a flood of support for the United Nations—and that is both remarkable and encouraging, perhaps convenient also—we are also seeing sharp criticism of the United States, with doubts about the costs and benefits of our relationship.
The analysis of US foreign policy cannot but lead social democrats like us on this side to the conclusion that to a large degree US hegemony has been benign, worth while, practical, useful, generally selfless and almost always beneficial to the world community. Now, for the first time since 1941, Australian social democrats are required to consider the utility of long-term relationships between old friends and in particular the nature of the ongoing relationship with the United States. In that context we are damned if we support the relationship and damned if we do not. It is a terrible quandary because we know that US motivation and US action have resulted in the creation of worldwide markets, just as they have for the British before, and in the growth of freedom as guaranteed by the democratic process, the development of rules based trade and the accepted resolution of sometimes intractable issues within the United Nations fora.
Now we find our philosophy and attitude sorely tested by the actions of old world administrations like France, by a different conservative administration in the US, by a fascist administration in Iraq and by backward terrorists in parts of the world who seek to destroy what they hate and refuse to understand. That disturbance to our framework, that questioning of our analysis, is reflected in our community as we enter into this debate on the Howard government's commitment of our youth to a conflict at the other end of the world.
Looking more broadly at the community, which I believe largely subscribes to a social democratic view, we have a confusion of thought between those on the one extreme who are opposed to war per se in any and all circumstances and those on the other who support the use of immediate force as the cleanest and most practical solution. In between are those views of, I suspect, a significant majority whose basic instincts are idealistic and nonviolent but who are concerned at the elements of truth, where they can be found. They are concerned about the real threat posed to our national safety and security by changing circumstances in the world. They know the world is changing in a post Cold War environment from the balance of power once existing between large alliances East and West to a world of uncertainty and changing alliances, of weaker multilateral commitment and one sole remaining power of influence, the United States.
At the same time they are distrustful of decision makers. They remember the rhetoric of Vietnam, the frustrated trust and pointless loss of hundreds of thousands of lives on all sides, with no outcome to match the rhetoric. Here, sadly, they think they are hearing it all over again. The domino theory has been transferred from the Viet Cong and communists to terrorists and their supporters. The images of September 11 and Bali are still fresh in their minds so they half believe the connection between terrorism and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. They are bombarded by the public relations machine of the government and the Prime Minister asserting the risks of the terrorist link and therefore the justification of military action. But they see little hard evidence. They find the sudden shift in values of the White House a threat to their own understanding of established values and the ready acceptance of that shift as a sell-out of our independence. Yet they know in their hearts, as we all do, that the world would be a much better place without Saddam Hussein.
They also see and hear major conflicts by commentators, experts, academics and politicians—all persons normally given some respect—all of whom are trying to shape public opinion. Confusion and chaos is the result in their minds. They also see and hear dissention between the major nations of the world which, in the short time since the Cold War, have acted with some unanimity for the first time in modern history. There was a successful outcome in Yugoslavia, where there was a similar problem—ironically, without the United Nations. Yet the ideal UN solution was forthcoming in Afghanistan, so they quite reasonably ask: why not in Iraq as well? They also see the growth of international markets and the world economy, European unification, growing multilateralism and international interdependence.
But none of it exists on this occasion. It seems to me that there has been a major reversion to national self-interest and hence the accusations of narrow economic interest, whether it be trade, reconstruction contracts or oil. This is not to mention what they suspect are phoney pretexts for action and a mass of rhetoric which they are simply unable to test. They are then naturally and rightly suspicious. Put simply, there is a lack of trust. I believe that people clearly want a concerted international consensus of the kind they have experienced in the last decade and, more importantly, of the kind promised by the ideals of the United Nations. It is not perfect but, to paraphrase Churchill, it is better than any other alternative.
That too is the position of the Australian Labor Party. Indeed, that has long been our national interest, without question. Yet we also know that, despite our ideals, it is unrealistic to expect the United Nations to resolve all these issues, particularly where any one member of the Security Council has a vested interest. This is not a criticism of the UN, nor does it detract from our ideals and motives for a more effective UN. It simply is the real world. That is certainly the case here, except that the processes of the last 12 years, while unproductive in terms of the outcomes set, have succeeded in neutralising the threat of Iraq but not in removing it. It is equally realistic to accept that the unsatisfactory process, frustrating as it may be on this occasion with Iraq, is better than no process and is certainly better than war and the associated massive loss of life. That is why we on this side have arrived at the position we have. It is not an entirely satisfactory outcome, but it also remains a challenge to those on the Security Council to realise the ideals of the UN and to put aside their vested interests and take decisive action. Until and unless we do, we will continue to be faced with this awful dilemma of inaction and procrastination on the part of some European nations in particular, frustrating those who are committed to a more harmonious world community and who realistically know that from time to time a show of force from the international community is the only language that miscreants understand.
This brings me back to the role of the United States, with whom we in Australia have had a longstanding, mature relationship originating from this side of politics in World War II, when the ties of the Old World were cut through sheer necessity. In coming to grips with this crisis on Iraq, it is very important, as I have mentioned before in this place, that we do not lose sight of the strengths of that relationship. It is not one of sycophancy, which is what the Prime Minister has apparently turned it into; it is one of mutual respect between two new nations with common origins and bonds, similar histories and common ideals and values. We are both peoples of the New World. We are firm friends and allies—the American people know and understand that—yet we ought to be mature enough to recognise the differences and to be able to live with them. For us, it is simply not good enough to resort to the anti-American sentiment that has been quite common in the press in recent times.
It is a very complex issue and it is one which goes to the very heart of international affairs over the last 50 years. Just as we ought to worry about the failure of support for the United Nations, so too should we be concerned at our failure to understand the motives of the United States. Put bluntly, the current figures in the White House are not representative of the broader American ethos which has permeated their foreign relations over 200 years. We are entitled to be critical of this administration because their behaviour is atypical of the approach taken by the United States over the last half-century in particular. Their behaviour is a complete contradiction, because, as we know, the UN has its origins in the international stance taken by the US people, as was the case with the League of Nations. The UN in fact has depended on US commitment, support and funding for its entire existence.
Equally, we ought to condemn particular European countries for their self-interest and lack of commitment, because it has been their behaviour more than any other over the last 100 years which has caused others like the US and Australia to form such a body, with peace between nations as its No. 1 objective. It needs to be realised what a parlous position this puts us in, because there is the real threat that the major powers, including the US on this rare occasion, have failed to support the one body created by the international community to fix these problems. This will provide security and comfort to terrorists and others who work best in an environment of division and anarchy. That failure, including by our own Prime Minister, deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
At the same time, however, we must not allow the aberrant behaviour of the current White House to colour our view of the importance of the US internationally as the only substantial peacekeeper. Combined with their long history of internationalism, with only a few years of isolationism, this has resulted in a de facto role of international policeman, which is an awesome responsibility, at considerable cost and risk. To be realistic, we must ask ourselves, `What are the alternatives?' How else are we to ensure that the deviants of Iraq and North Korea or the likes of Milosevic or Osama bin Laden are kept in check? How are we to keep traditional enemies like Pakistan and India from engaging in warfare? Who can be the effective broker between China and Taiwan? Who will mediate the peace between enemies of thousands of years in Japan, China and Korea? Who do all Middle Eastern nations seek out to mediate between Israel and Palestine? We are again seeing that, no matter how hard we try, the UN simply keeps failing the big tests. Is it any wonder that the patience of the US has snapped? I also draw the attention of those who continually pillory the US for its foreign policy and its role as world policeman to the alternative. I ask them to reflect on the fate of the League of Nations, where the people of the United States, so sick of the bickering and futility of their international engagement, withdrew into themselves in a period which saw the growth of the world's greatest monsters—Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Hirohito.
In closing, I will make also some comments on the nature of Australia's foreign policy and refer with complete support to speeches made by my colleague the member for Griffith on this matter on a number of occasions. The commitment to war in Iraq by the Howard government is a complete sell-out of everything we have achieved in the last 50 years in shaping our own destiny in the world. We have sacrificed our independence and the maturity of our longstanding relationship with the US. We have completely lost our reputation of tolerance and respect for differences of race and religion and we have turned the clock back to a time of an isolated Australia, riding on the coat-tails of the mighty, willing to do their bidding without question. That is why we support the amendment to the government's motion moved by Senator Faulkner, which supports a return to the multilateralism of the United Nations which we in the Labor Party initiated so long ago. We do not resile in any way from the objective of disarming Iraq, but we want it done through the United Nations with the full support of the Security Council and its members. Let there be no doubt about my position on this: Saddam Hussein must be removed, the Iraqi people should be given their freedom and the Gulf needs a resolution to the senseless ongoing conflict.
The question is whether the government's action should be supported at this time. The unequivocal answer is: not now. In the final analysis, France and its quiescent supporters in China and Russia would not have been able to withhold consent for another three, six or nine months. Sooner or later, the elites in those countries would have come to understand that their desire to confront and frustrate the US to retain their minor colonial empire would be seen for the myopic self-interest that shapes their current attitude that it is. They are indeed emperors without clothes. The European public are not fools. Given time, they would have accommodated themselves to the world community to resolve the situation, as they did in the last decade at their own back door in Kosovo. This is the mistake that the Prime Minister has made—the government committed too early.
Senator Ian Campbell —You've got your head up your own back door!
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Order! I direct Senator Campbell to withdraw that last statement. It is unparliamentary and he knows it.
Senator Ian Campbell —I withdraw.
Senator MARK BISHOP —Likewise, for President Bush, the mission was allowed to determine the outcome. In the final analysis it did not matter if the invasion was in 2003 or 2004. The critical point was the need for overwhelming support for forced disarmament. In my mind, the vision and the goal are correct; the current means are precipitate and destructive. Governments—particularly this government—must learn to take the public into their trust. Sometimes caution and a slower pace pay off in the longer term. Specifically, the five-paragraph amendment moved by Senator Faulkner accurately reflects the position of the Australian Labor Party. His amendment is entirely proper and appropriate at this time. It warrants the support of the Senate. It warrants that support as it is a principled and consistent response to a dire situation, and it is one that no social democrat would have any hesitation in supporting. Accordingly, I support the amendment moved by Senator Faulkner on behalf of the Australian Labor Party.