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Monday, 18 June 2007
Page: 46

Senator ALLISON (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:37 PM) —I present the explanatory memorandum and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Democrats consider it to be a major shortcoming that there is no Act of Parliament that establishes peace and non-violence as an objective and responsibility of national government and that there is no statutory body in Australia that has that specific objective.  The humanitarian, environmental and economic cost of war and violence is great and there are enormous advantages in peaceful co-existence, whether for individual relationships, the family, in schools, in the community or internationally.

The last ten years has been marred by too much violence and there is every reason to find a better way. 

Conflicts in the Middle East, in Africa, Cosovo and Timor Leste, terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, London and Bali and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and have all had serious consequences for Australians and the peace we enjoy.

The race-based riots at Cronulla and the backlash against Muslim Australians following 9/11, has shattered our claim to be a tolerant, fair society.  Extreme violence fuelled by alcohol has left Indigenous communities in crisis.  Domestic violence has not abated and too many children die from violent abuse.

The Howard Government’s preparedness to ignore international humanitarian and refugee law in detaining innocent people, including children and the mentally ill, and the violence and riots that resulted are a blot on our copybook of leadership in the past on such laws.  Australia has turned a blind eye to torture at the hands of our allies at Abu Graib and at Guantanamo Bay prisons and in countries to which suspects have been taken for such purposes.

Restrictions on gun ownership following the horrific shooting at Port Arthur were welcome but could go further.  The small arms trade to developing countries alone has reached more than $1 trillion. 

27,000 nuclear weapons are still in existence, despite nuclear weapons states undertaking to disarm as their part in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty bargain whereby non-nuclear weapons states would not take up nuclear weapons.  Now India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT.

And the latest potential theatre of war is outer space.  Militarism and missile defence is now dominating what should be space reserved for common good and peaceful purposes, heightening tensions world wide.

There is therefore a case for a different, more effective approach.

I have pleasure in introducing, on behalf of the Democrats, a Bill for an Act to establish a Peace and Non Violence Commission in Australia that will promote the pursuit of peace and non-violence as an objective and a responsibility of national government. 

This Commission will also work to align Commonwealth government activity with United Nations policy in the promotion of peace and advance Australia’s obligations under international humanitarian law.

It will take a proactive and strategic approach in the development of policies that promote national and international conflict prevention, non-violent intervention, mediation and peaceful resolution of conflict.

It will consist of a Commissioner and seven Assistant Commissioners of Peace, Education and Training; Domestic Peace Initiatives; International Peace Activities; Technology for Peace; Arms Control and Disarmament; Peaceful Coexistence and Non-Violent Conflict Resolution; and Human Rights and Economic Rights.

There is a growing push internationally to establish statutory bodies of this kind - in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan and Italy and, I am pleased to say there are peace groups, longstanding and emerging, in Australia, like the Conflict Resolution Network, the Peace Organisation of Australia, Ministry for Peace, Australia, and Global Citizens for Peace which are behind the move.

Commonwealth governments of Australia once played a leading role in the promotion of peace internationally.  Australia set up the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.  It was disbanded soon after reporting in 1996 and little progress has been made on its recommendations in the intervening ten years.

The PNVC will make recommendations for reductions in weapons of mass destruction and provide advice on Australia’s obligations, responsibilities and negotiations in relation to treaties and international agreements and matters relating to defence and security.  It will attend negotiations on treaties such as the NPT.

Australia’s spending on defence has climbed to $22 billion and, for the first time in our history, exceeds that spent on education.  The case has not been made for such a shift in priorities and the defence budget appears more geared to war fighting capability than peacekeeping. This Peace and Non Violence Commission will be an authoritative voice and counter-point to those who would have us go down the path of violence.

The PNVC will forecast the comparative costs of violent and non-violent solutions as a basis for advice.  A Peace Institute will be established and the Office of International Peace Activities will provide training and deployment of graduates and other non-military conflict prevention and peacemaking personnel.

The PNVC will have a commissioner of arms control and disarmament and will make annual reports to the Prime Minister on the sale of arms and munitions from Australia to other nations and how such sales affect peace.

One of the missions of the PNVC is to work to divert from armed conflict and develop new structures for the resolution of disputes by non-violent means. 

Anti terror laws have been enacted but not enough effort made to counter the factors that give rise to terrorist acts or to build social cohesion and foster peaceful conflict resolution.  The Office of Domestic Peace Activities will have a role in developing domestic policy to address these and other problems within in Australia.

Universities offer fewer courses in peace studies than in the past and peace education in schools has all but disappeared.  Bullying remains a big problem in schools despite good progress in sadly too few schools.  The Office of Peace Education and Training will develop a peace education curriculum that will include the civil rights movement, peace agreements and circumstances in which peaceful intervention has worked to stop conflict.  It will impart communicative peace skills and non-violent conflict resolution skills.

The PNVC will develop policy alternatives for the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse and for the prevention of crime.

The Office of Arms Control and Disarmament will advise on the reduction and elimination of weapons of mass destruction, develop strategies for deterring testing of nuclear weapons and provide assistance in the implementation of international agreements on arms and nuclear weapon control.

Human rights abuse has been perpetrated by countries with which Australia has trading and military cooperation agreements, including Indonesia, China and the United States yet it is rare for such agreements to leverage improvements in human rights protection.  The trade dollar has become more important than human rights.

The Office of Human Rights and Economic Rights will assist in incorporating the principles of human rights into all agreements between Australia and other nations.  It will conduct economic analyses of the scarcity of human and natural resources as a source of conflict, whether due to armed conflict, mal-distribution of resources or natural causes.  It will develop strategies regarding the sustainability and management of aid funds and the impact of conditions set by funding agencies on peace and stability in the countries in receipt of such funds.

The PNVC will advise the relevant Ministers on all matters to do with national security and international conflict and to promote the peaceful resolution of such conflicts.

Peace and Non-Violence Commissioners will be appointed on merit and will have expertise in peacekeeping and peace studies, international humanitarian law, conflict resolution and mediation; non-proliferation and disarmament; civil rights; international law and treaty making and obligations.

A review of the operation, impact and effectiveness of the PNVC will be conducted by the end of 2011 and there is a sunset provision, effective 30 June 2012.

I commend this bill to the Senate.  I suggest it has the potential to change the way we do things, to change attitudes and behaviour, to save lives and to start the process of making the world a more peaceful, safer, more just place.

Senator ALLISON —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.