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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15657

Mr EDWARDS (6:47 PM) —I first want to place on the record and recognise a matter which I know is close to your own heart, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie; that is, the tremendous win that Perth Glory Soccer had in Perth over the weekend. I think it is a great reflection of the team and the tremendous amount of work, dedication and professionalism which have emerged from that club—which have come about only after perseverance and a number of blues and problems. I do not think there is a sports lover anywhere in Australia who would deny Perth Glory their success.

A crowd in the vicinity of 40,000 was there to see the victory, and I think that is a great tribute to Western Australian sports followers and to the sport of soccer—a sport which I know, as a past minister for sport in Western Australia, has gone a fairly long and tortuous route. It was tremendous to see Perth Glory gain the Grail over the weekend. I hope that their win and the profile it has given soccer will benefit all the young kids who love the game and all the soccer followers who want to see the game thrive in Australia. It was a tremendous effort which should be noted in this place. We talk about all sorts of things here—for example, politics and wars—and it is pretty easy to get stuck into each other but, as I think someone else remarked, this is much more important than life and death; this is about sport. I think sometimes that should help to put things into proper perspective—particularly after listening to the previous speech.

I do not want to go down the route of politics too much tonight. I want to talk about an issue which has interested me for some time: anti-personnel mines. I was fortunate enough to be invited by a group called MIVAC—the Mines Victims and Clearance Trust—to address a lunch in Tasmania on Friday and then to speak at a public meeting. MIVAC is an initiative of Australian Vietnam veterans who cleared landmines there and who have seen firsthand the devastation caused by these indiscriminate weapons. The group has broadened to include humanitarian aid workers, members of peacekeeping forces and also many interested civilians.

While MIVAC have started off in Tasmania, they have members from many other states and it is their intention to establish a chapter of MIVAC in each state and territory in Australia. I encourage Vietnam veterans from all states and territories to have a look at the tremendous work that this Tasmanian group is doing to see whether it can be emulated in other parts of Australia.

Primarily, the aim of MIVAC is to be a fundraiser. Money raised will be allocated to projects identified to the trustees by Australian de-miners and other non-government organisations or federal government agencies which are, or have been, involved with de-mining, health or education projects overseas. A few examples of the projects they are looking at include medical assistance to individuals affected by mine warfare; farming equipment supplied to communities, enabling them to hopefully become self-sufficient; assistance for Australian mine-clearing operations; provision of artificial limbs through an Australian medical team for those injured by landmines; and support to schoolchildren whose communities have been affected by landmines.

Secondly, MIVAC wants to undertake to communicate these projects to all parts of Australian society, including schools, clubs, the media and the general public, by giving talks, holding awareness meetings and giving interviews. MIVAC is a voluntary organisation and this will ensure that 80 or 90 per cent of funds collected will be effectively delivered to reach the people in need around the identified projects. The concept of MIVAC is not only to bring relief to those people living in areas affected by mine warfare, it also provides a positive focus to those who served overseas in any capacity and who are concerned about what has been left behind on their return to Australia. I want to congratulate this group of Vietnam veterans, and the others who have come around them to support them. I want to wish MIVAC well. They are a dedicated group of community minded people and I know that, given some of them have had the experience of laying mines, putting them in situ and training with them, they know the devastation that these things cause.

We attended a lunch at Parliament House in Hobart last Friday and there was a good roll-up of people. We then had a public meeting that was attended by about 25 to 30 people. There was a good representation from the community, including members of Soroptimist International. This group has just raised over $1 million worldwide for the provision of prosthetics for landmine survivors in their Limbs for Life campaign. Other groups there were the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, the Quakers' peace and social justice committee, the Women in Black, the RAE Association, the Peace Coalition of Vietnam Veterans and a few others. I know the MIVAC group were very pleased to have tremendous support down there from Lara Giddings, who is the member for Franklin. I am told that she is happy to cross over her electoral boundaries in support of this group.

The issue of landmines is a big one. I have read a lot of statistics and facts. Sometimes you have to weave your way through them and try to interpret them, but there are estimations, for instance, that every year there are something like 25,000 mine incidents, mainly involving civilians. Of that 25,000, approximately half are killed and half are injured. Virtually all of those who survive require an amputation. Most of the children, young people and kids at play who stand on or activate landmines—I understand about 80 per cent of them—die. That is a horrific number. Even if people want to argue whether 25,000 is right or whether it should be 20,000 or 23,000, the fact is this: if the same number of people were dying every year as a result of, say, the SARS epidemic, there would be tremendous focus and support going into such an area. But because they are landmine victims and because they do not impact on the big dollars that are generated through tourism, and because the landmines campaign now does not have someone as high profile as Princess Diana was—who gave a tremendous profile and support to those people who were injured as a result of landmines—the focus and the profile is just not there, and it needs to be. As I said, if as many people died or were as seriously injured each year through a SARS virus then the tremendous amount of focus, media space and hysteria almost that we have seen in relation to SARS would bring tremendous focus to the other issues about which I am talking. I guess the reason that there is such a difference in the focus is that with SARS a lot of big international companies around the world are losing money because of the impact on tourism. Because that does not happen in the area of landmine victims, it just does not get that focus.

There has been some tremendous work done by governments in recent years, including the Australian government. But there has also been some tremendous work done by individuals, groups and people in the community—those people, for instance, who came together to fight the landmines issue with the international campaign to ban landmines. It has been a tremendous reflection of what can be done to address such serious issues when people from all over the world can come together, stand shoulder to shoulder and pull on some of the big corporations and governments across the world and demand that some action be taken.

There are and have been some tremendous things done, as I said, but it is true to say that the focus has come off this issue. It has been covered over by the talk of terrorism and some of the international things that we have seen happen in the last couple of years. As a result, this very deserving issue has lost some traction. An example of that occurred with the previous American administration. The US budget for 2000 included something like $60 million for research into finding alternatives to landmines—that is, finding other military equipment or strategies that could replace landmines. The US had a policy that, by the year 2006, it would have signed up to and moved to ratify the Ottawa convention. America is a country of great influence and leadership in these areas. It is a pity that it has now changed its policy. The current administration is reviewing that policy and saying that it will not be able to sign up by the year 2006 and it will not be spending as much money. It is not going to spend that amount of $60 million on trying to find alternatives to landmines.

It is not just America. China and Russia are a couple of the other countries which have yet to sign up to this agreement. Here is a list of some of the countries that have not yet signed up to ban landmines: China, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, Kuwait, Myanmar or Burma—where, unfortunately, we have just seen that Aung San Suu Kyi has been taken into `protective' custody again. Also on the list are Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, our fairly close neighbour Singapore, Sri Lanka—although Sri Lanka earlier this year did give a commitment that, as soon as it was able to, it would join the ban on landmines—Turkey and, as I said, the United States. A lot of work remains to be done. A lot of countries are yet to confront and deal with this issue. I know that America would say that it has a special problem on the Korean Peninsula. It does have a problem there and we recognise that, but ignoring landmines and turning its back on them will not help resolve the very serious issues confronting civilians when it comes to landmines.

In January this year, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Landmine Monitor regional meeting held in Colombo, Sri Lanka expressed a number of concerns. Among them were that 19 countries of the region remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty, including eight of the 14 mine producers remaining in the world: China, India, North Korea, South Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam. They also noted that five countries of the region—Brunei, the Cook Islands, Indonesia, the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu—signed the Mine Ban Treaty in December 1997 but have not yet ratified it. They also noted that China has the world's largest stockpile of antipersonnel mines—calculated at something like 110 million. Pakistan, the fourth largest, has six million mines; India, the fifth largest, has four to five million; and South Korea has two million in stock. They also noted that since December 2001 India and Pakistan have laid more mines than has been the case anywhere else in the world.

They called on a number of nations to accept a challenge in relation to these things and they called on all the countries of this region to support efforts to achieve that. The media release from the regional meeting states:

All governments of the region to support efforts to achieve a total antipersonnel mine ban by non-state actors by, among other measures, allowing NGOs to safely engage non-state actors on this issue and by humanitarian mine action by non-state actors ...

Further, they called for ASEAN and other regional and subregional bodies to develop a concrete and comprehensive program of mine action in the region, including advocacy and support of the Mine Ban Treaty. They called on all governments of the region to enhance their cooperation, coordination and transparency in all aspects of mine action between themselves and with Asian members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, including its Landmine Monitor researchers. They also called on donor governments to provide adequate resources to support comprehensive mine clearance, mine risk education and survivor assistance programs in all mine affected countries in the Asia-Pacific. The last call was for all relevant stakeholders to continue to vigorously work towards the creation of a mine-free Asia-Pacific.

It is my strong view that every child in this world should have a birthright which includes the right to go out and play—to play with their friends without the fear of stepping on landmines. They have the right to go about the things that kids in countries do, such as collecting firewood or herding sheep, goats or cattle. As part of their birthright, every child should be able to do those sorts of things in safety. As long as there are these landmines and as long as countries continue to produce them, sell them, stockpile them and use them indiscriminately, that birthright will never be realised.

One doctor said recently that we are clearing this planet limb by limb of landmines. The great tragedy is that so many of those limbs belong to young kids and that, once they have stood on a mine and lost a limb, they are condemned to an incredible life of poverty and misery because of the social nature of these countries. We in this world can do better than that, and it is only through the leadership of countries such as Australia that we will be able to do that. I know that Australia has played a good, strong role. I support that, but I think that there is more that we can all do. I commend the bill.