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Peace and Non-Violence Commission Bill 2007 [2008]

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Peace and Non-Violence Commission Bill 2007


Explanatory Memorandum


Senator Lyn Allison


The purpose of this Bill is to create 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.  The 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.


The PNVC 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.


The PNVC 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.


Background and outline


There is a growing push internationally to establish statutory bodies charged with promoting peace, particularly in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Japan and Italy and there are peace groups, longstanding and emerging, in Australia behind the move.  The Bill has been available as an exposure draft to these groups and a number of individuals with an interest in the subject.


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 which reported to the Prime Minister in August 1996.  That report said:


Nuclear weapons posed an intolerable threat to all humanity and its habitat advice that if the peoples of the world were more fully aware of the inherent danger of nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use, they would reject them, and not permit their continued possession or acquisition on their behalf by their governments even for an alleged need for self-defence.


These facts are obvious but their implications have been blurred. There is no doubt that, if the peoples of the world were more fully aware of the inherent danger of nuclear weapons and the consequences of their use, they would reject them, and not permit their continued possession or acquisition on their behalf by their governments, even for an alleged need for self-defence.


The Canberra Commission was disbanded after making its report and little progress has been made on its recommendations in the intervening ten years.  Indeed 27,000 nuclear warheads are still in existence, states that have nuclear weapons and are not party to the NPT have increased in number and outer space has emerged as a new theatre of war.


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. 


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.


Australia was drawn into an invasion of Iraq with neither the approval of the Parliament nor the support of populace.  The justification for this war turned out to be false and, according to high level intelligence reports, increased the threat of terrorism. 


Records are not kept with any reliability but it is estimated that civilian casualties have reached many hundreds of thousands during and after the attack on Iraq.  

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.  Had such a body been in place to study the impact of war and non-violent alternatives, then at least Australia's contribution to this foolhardy exercise might have been avoided.


Little headway has been made in Australia on family violence and child abuse.  Incarceration rates have increased, drug and alcohol abuse is on the rise and there have been outbreaks of violence connected with of ethnicity and religion.


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 deliver improvements in human rights protection.  


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, a written report provided to the Minister and tabled in the Federal Parliament within 7 days. 


The Act will have a sunset provision, effective 30 June 2012.