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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 6067

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (17:10): When I think back to what got me into politics or set me on my path into politics it was the Iraq war, which I totally opposed. I have never felt so strongly about anything in my life as I did about Australia being involved in the coalition of the willing and going back to Iraq. Call me a sceptic or cynical but just about everything I have heard in the chamber here today reminds me of 2003, 10 years ago, where we were going into a country where there was an 'evil' dictator—and, no doubt, in many ways he was—taking human lives and threatening all of us and our national security with weapons of mass destruction. But, thinking about it simply, what really annoyed me was the level of mediocrity around the debate and all the spin and obvious BS that went into sending our troops over to Iraq.

In the last week, we have been hearing a lot about 'evil'—'unspeakable evil', 'unfathomable evil' and 'pure evil'. What I and, I think, a lot of Australians would like to see is some truth, honesty and perspective around that word. While it might be the case that in many people's minds the atrocious and despicable acts we have seen on social media are evil, that evil did not just spring out of the ground. It did not just happen overnight. The radicalisation of people such as we have seen with the ISIL group and other groups around the world has taken a while to build. It is like a disease that needs the right conditions. What are those conditions that lead to people going into foreign countries and beheading westerners? We could probably argue this for at least the eight minutes I have left. But certainly I would put down things such as hate, revenge, a common unifying enemy, religion, ignorance, stupidity and of course things of a broader perspective such as regional instability.

There are some differences today to what there was back in 2003, but there are also a lot of similarities. When we invaded Iraq we had no long-term plan for keeping the peace. No doubt many wars have been fought by men and women who have wanted to win the peace, but what actually puts them there in harm's way in the first place is what I am interested in—the decisions that we make in places like this one. Why do we go to war? We are about to commemorate 100 years of Anzac. Looking at the Great War, or 'the war to end all wars', we know it certainly did not end all wars. Something we need to focus on a lot more clearly is the strategic objective in Iraq and how we can actually have peace in that region. If we do not ask the simple question, 'What caused this and how did we get to this?' and understand the evil that has been created in the Middle East and answer that question now, we are not going to be able to answer that question in the future. That is what we need to answer to have stability and a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Senator Wong said in her speech that the difference this time is that we have widespread international support—at least, I am pretty sure that is what she said. It is my understanding, as Senator Milne has eloquently pointed out today, that we do not have widespread international support for this and nor do we have a vote or a resolution from the United Nations. If we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. I think most Australians would agree that invading Iraq over 10 years ago was a mistake. I do not think there would be anyone, even in this room, who would not agree that the region is in much worse condition than it was before we invaded Iraq. As Senator Ludlam mentioned earlier today, I would like to see truth and honesty in this debate about our role and our culpability. It would be good to see some recognition that we have been part of the problem that we are now having to face. If we do not find a long-term solution, there is no doubt our children will also face this problem in generations to come.

I think we need to find better words than 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' because, to me, this implies a very one-sided view of the world. Often our forces could be seen by Iraqi civilians as being terrorists. 'Terrorist' is a word that is very commonly used against us by those same people in Iraq who have been radicalised—anything that creates terror is, by definition, terrorism. We use that word because it is a very simple word to use and it demonises people.

I also agree with Senator Ludlam that the reason these awful acts are being put on social media—appalling acts that are almost incomprehensible to a lot of people—is to influence debate in the west. I cannot help feeling that they want us to come over there and continue the holy war of the jihad that we so easily got ourselves into almost a decade ago and that has spread right across the Middle East in the past 10 years.

It has been noted by one journalist today that, by questioning or criticising Australia going back to war in Iraq, which is what we are doing without a proper parliamentary debate and without a vote of parliament—a separate issue but just as important—we are somehow playing politics with national security. Apart from the threat that the government has tried to portray, that these people will pose a threat to national security, we still have do not have a compelling answer to why this is in Australia's national interest. Machiavelli once wrote:

Never do your enemy a small harm.

I wonder what the long-term plan is here and what the next ask will be in Iraq.

We have heard from the US Department of State and we have heard in this parliament that the ISIL threat is unlike other threats that we have seen in the past. If we think back to that disease and the conditions that you need for radicalisation and groups like this to emerge, how is it that they got to this stage? What could we do to effectively cut off the conditions of that disease? You do not get an army, and the capability to do what they are doing, without funding. How is it that this group has come to be so well funded, so well organised and so full of recruits who are full of hate over such a period of time? That is something we could focus on and something we have hardly heard anything about. That is another part of the debate that we need to enter into.

I am also very interested in Senator Dastyari's comments about Australia being a medium-sized power that should project its conscience overseas. I have only been in the veterans' affairs portfolio for a short period of time, I acknowledge, and no doubt my colleagues Senator Wright and Senator Lambie could talk more expertly about the problems that our soldiers are currently having with their deployment and the amount of time they are being deployed to places like Afghanistan and, previously, Iraq. Do we really have the resources to commit ourselves to more troops on the ground and to more resources in these countries? When will it end? These are the things that we need to debate. How is it possible to ring-fence a conflict like this? How is it possible to influence outcomes through peaceful means, through negotiations, through cutting off the financing of organisations like ISIL rather than going in—undebated, using the power of the executive?

This is the same political party that made the decision to send us into Iraq in the first place, the same political party that ignored the experts and that ignored tens of thousands of Australians who marched in the streets—and I was one of them—saying: 'Don't go into this country and do this without a full UN resolution. Don't go in at the behest of the US.' What was the plan? Was it to secure oil fields? Was it to allow multinationals to open up business in Iraq? What was the purpose of it? Was it to get rid of a dictator who had weapons of mass destruction—which turned out, as many people had suspected, to be a total fabrication? I am happy to be proven wrong, but I am sceptical and cynical of this government's desire to get so readily and so eagerly involved in this conflict without a long-term plan, without a strategic exit and without an explanation to the Australian people of where the risks lie should this conflict to continue and how long it will take.

Senator Fawcett: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I wanted to do Senator Whish-Wilson the courtesy of being able to get to the end of his speech, but I want to draw your attention to a remark he made that imputed that Australian soldiers could have been seen as terrorists in Iraq. I trust that was not his intention, but I ask you to ask him to withdraw that and to clarify it for the record—because I think that would be a dreadfully unfair and untrue imputation upon the servicemen and women of Australia.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: On the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: that is not what I imputed. You are now playing politics with my speech, Senator Fawcett. I said any soldier in any country can be seen as a terrorist by their enemy, and that the word 'terrorism' is a word we should consider not using—that we should come up with a better explanation. Now that you have deliberately put that on the record, you will probably want to take it out of this chamber and give it to the media and say that I have called our soldiers terrorists. That is neither what I said nor is it the context of what I said, Senator. I do not believe that I have to withdraw that comment and you should go back and have a look at the Hansard. (Time expired)

Senator Seselja: There is no point of order.