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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1882


Senator MacGIBBON ((3.13 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray), to a question without notice asked by Senator MacGibbon this day, relating to Australian Defence Force involvement in Rwanda.

There are two key fundamentals in understanding the Rwandan situation. The first is that it is a matter of enormous complexity, both militarily and politically. There is a great humanitarian imperative because there are appalling atrocities being carried out in that country in what is a very brutal civil war that probably has origins that go back centuries.

  It is a small and poor country. The majority of the population, the Hutu, make up 70 or 80 per cent of the population, and the Tutsi around nine to 14 per cent. The Tutsis, which are the RPF, seem to be winning the war. They say that they can conquer the country without any outside help. They seem to have every intention of doing so.

  There is no sign of any peace treaty being negotiated between the two parties. If there is no peace treaty, there is no role for the United Nations to go in as a peace-keeping force; because they need the cooperation of the community to do that.

  The larger issue of enforcing peace militarily is quite out of the question in the circumstances. Both parties have declared that they are quite opposed to any outside interference, including by the United Nations. There have probably been over half a million Rwandans killed in this bloody civil war and there are many hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them in appalling conditions in refugee camps on the borders.

  There has been no United Nations plan put in place to resolve this problem and, if there is no political plan, then there cannot be any military supporting plan. One does not commit troops and put their lives at risk for no purpose at all. On a lesser scale, one does not get involved in military campaigns that are open-ended and have no time schedule for their completion.

  Militarily it is a very high risk situation. The Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Ray, is properly very concerned about safety. It is not a matter of arguing for absolute safety to commit forces but a matter of managed risk. There is a huge difference between being foolhardy or irresponsible on one hand and doing difficult and dangerous tasks, which the members of the ADF are prepared to do and which the parliament of Australia is prepared to accept the responsibility for committing those troops to do, when there is a realistic and attainable goal. This is a land-locked country. There is no seaport that can be secured. There is no airhead that can be secured. To move around a hostile countryside on indifferent roads and with poor communications means that the troops are exposed to considerable risk.

  There is no suggestion at all that there is any prospect of a peace treaty in the immediate future, so armed conflict within the country will continue. There is no suggestion even that the warring factions will respect the refugee camps, that they will agree to make them safe havens, and that refugees in those camps will not be murdered by insurgents from either side.

  I have an open mind on this. I want to help because I think this is an appalling situation. I am quite sure that the majority of the Australian community wants to help too. The humanitarian imperatives here are pressing, the atrocities are enormous, and something needs to be done; but as yet the United Nations has not been able to come up with a plan. My proposition is that Australia must redouble its efforts diplomatically within the United Nations to get some brokered agreement between the warring parties. In the meantime, we should maintain our aid programs, mainly through NGOs, into the refugee camps, where conditions are appalling, until some sort of political settlement can be put in place. But I warn the government that until there is a plan that is workable, that is attainable, it has to think very seriously about putting Australian troops into that country.