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Statement by Dr John Hewson MP leader of the opposition in response to the parliamentary resolution on the Gulf War



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Leader of the Opposition

STATEMENT BY DR JOHN HEWSON HP

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

IN RESPONSE TO

THE PARLIAMENTARY RESOLUTION ON THE GULF WAR

MONDAY, 21 JANUARY 1991

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Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 277 4022 COMMONWEALTH

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Mr Speaker,

The Opposition Parties strongly support this Resolution before the House.

Mr Speaker, there is no graver decision for a Government than to commit a nation to war.

There is no greater responsibility for an Opposition than to define its position on the issue of such involvement.

I welcome the opportunity today to put that position clearly on the record in this Parliament.

Mr Speaker, almost nine months ago, I was privileged to stand in the dawn light at Anzac Cove with our Gallipoli veterans.

In their faces that morning, I saw etched a fierce pride in their achievements seventy-five years previously; but I also saw a deep sorrow in their remembrance of the horror of war.

That Gallipoli pilgrimage was one of the most moving experiences of my life. To meet and talk with our original Anzacs and to

study that campaign filled me with admiration for their courage and taught me a lot about my country.

Throughout our history we have been a genuinely peaceful people, but we have never been a pacifist people. We have been a proudly independent country, but never a neutral o ne.

We have always been a nation prepared to stand up for our

principles and to stand by our friends.

We have a clear idea of what is fair and acceptable international conduct. We know what our vital interests are and we have been prepared to defend them.

We are a nation that believes in a "fair go", but not a free

ride.

The graves of Australians around the world who gave their lives for their country in the great wars of this century are testimony to that fact. ·

Mr Speaker, there never has been a good w a r . There have been necessary wars and just wars; but never good wars.

Only the foolish and the deluded welcome war as something

ennobling and uplifting.

But even that is only half the truth.

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There may never have been a good w a r . But there can be a bad

peace - a peace that is bought at any price, a peace that

compromises the very foundations on which it is supposed to be built. That kind of "peace" makes war more likely, not less likely.

There are times in a nation's history when its vital interests are directly threatened and when the only effective response is unity of purpose and commitment.

Mr Speaker, the Opposition has taken a very clear-cut view of Australia's interests in the outcome of the Gulf crisis and of the integrity of the United Nations position.

That is not a view we have reached on the basis of emotion or

jingoism or any selective assessment of the facts. It has

nothing to do with political ideology. It is not a question of "my country, right or wrong".

It is a conclusion we have reached after a very careful judgement of the international realities we are facing.

Australia's interests are directly engaged in this crisis. That fact is no less true because it has been repeated so often by so many people within and outside Australia over the past five and a half months.

. We do have an interest in helping to build a new

international order where the strong are just, the weak are secure and the peace is preserved.

. We do have an interest in making the United Nations an

effective means of establishing such an international order.

. We do have an interest in resisting Saddam Hussein's threat to regional stability and security, particularly that of Israel.

. We do have an interest in deterring or preventing the use

of chemical warfare and other weapons of mass destruction.

. We do have an interest in helping to ensure that the

international oil market is not held to blackmail as a result of Iraq's aggression.

. We do have an interest in helping to end the brutalisation of Kuwait's citizens and the appalling violation of their basic human rights over the past five and a half months. Amnesty International and others have documented the

torture, rape and killings that have marked Iraqi rule in Kuwait. No civilised country can ignore those appalling facts.

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Mr Speaker, Australian interests in the current Gulf crisis are real and they are vital.

We cannot expect others to protect them for u s .

They are interests that go to the heart of our values as a nation and our hopes for a newer and better world.

They require us to be clear-eyed about why this war began and about the only way it can be ended.

They may well require us to be in for the long haul in what may be a very difficult campaign.

They require us not to lose our nerve.

And they also require us not to let rightly expressed differences of opinion among us obscure what is at stake for us as a nation.

We believe, therefore, that this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people whom we represent, must today send a clear and united message to Iraq , to the rest of the world and not least to our Defence personnel in the Gulf.

And that message is an unambiguous one:

. First, Iraq must withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait in line with the twelve UN resolutions.

. Second, the territorial integrity of Kuwait as a sovereign country must be restored and respected in the future.

. Third, the right of Israel to exist in peace and within

secure and internationally recognised boundaries must be respected.

. Fourth, and very importantly, our message must also reflect our pride in the role and professionalism of our Defence Force in the Gulf.

We, as an Opposition, will do all we can, in co-operation with the Government, to ensure that such a message is the outcome of this special sitting.

Abraham Lincoln told the American nation at a critical time in its history that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". For our part, we will do all we can to ensure the unity of this House today.

Mr Speaker, I give that commitment in a very deliberate way.

There is much that divides our Parties. We have fundamentally different visions on many things from economic and social policy to the role of government and the enterprise of individuals.

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We do not seek to minimise those differences. The outcome of the Australian people's choice between them over the next few years will determine what kind of a nation we are in the next century.

But today, on this issue of war in the Gulf, I want to put those differences, not behind us, but certainly to one side - where they belong in this debate.

I want to state, in the clearest possible terms, that we share with the Government a fundamental unity of purpose concerning the Gulf w a r .

. We stand united in condemning Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and its strategy, which is now apparent over recent days, to spread the conflict even wider.

. We stand united in our belief that the United Nations is

upholding the principles of its Charter.

. We stand united on the issue of the current nature and

extent of Australia's Defence involvement in the Gulf crisis.

That is why we are pleased to support the Resolution which the Prime Minister has moved today.

Mr Speaker, the Opposition believes that events over recent days in the Gulf represent a very dangerous escalation.

We deplore the indiscriminate and unprovoked attack by Iraq upon Israel. That attack is part of a clear long-term strategy by Saddam Hussein to break up the coalition against him and to isolate Israel in a sea of open Arab hostility.

The restraint which Israel has shown in the face of this

aggressive provocation has been particularly commendable. We believe it serves the best interests of long-term stability in the region.

But there are limits to Israel's tolerance. We can only hope that Iraq's capacity to jeopardise Israel's security and inflict suffering on the Israeli people is neutralised before the limits on Israel's tolerance are breached.

Let me also add that the Opposition understands the personal difficulties and sadness which this conflict is causing for Australia's Arab and Jewish communities.

We deplore in the strongest terms whatever discrimination is taking place against Jewish and Arab Australians as a result of this war.

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We know they put Australia first. And we understand the special anguish and concern they must feel at this time.

The views which the Opposition has taken on Iraq's actions since August and our Defence involvement in the Gulf are ones that we have consistently argued since this crisis arose. And without wanting to exaggerate their importance, I believe that our

clearly stated positions during this crisis have encouraged the Government in the development of its policies.

I also believe that the Opposition's critical questioning during this crisis of the detail of Government policies has had a very constructive effect - particularly on issues such as defining the precise role of our Defence Force in the Gulf, clarifying the general aim of the rules of engagement, ensuring that adequate

information is provided to Parliament and trying to guarantee that Australia's response to future developments is decided on its merits.

May I also add that I believe that the Opposition's strongly expressed view that the Parliament should re-convene at this time has also had a constructive effect.

The bipartisanship that has marked the general Australian response to the Gulf crisis has not always been a characteristic of Australian politics in time of crisis and w a r .

There were, in particular, significant political divisions during periods of the First World War and the Vietnam W a r .

Political divisions make it harder for any Governments to act decisively and confidently in time of w a r . They certainly do nothing to build a sense of national unity and common purpose.

There is no doubt that one of the easiest ways of winning

publicity and cheap political points, particularly for an Opposition, is to exaggerate popular fears and inflame

suspicions.

That would have been an easy option to exploit. The Australian people, for all the support they have shown, do have many fears and suspicions about this war. There are loud and strident voices in the community telling us that the role of an Opposition

is to oppose this war.

That is not a course of action we have pursued. Nor will we be doing so.

From the onset of this crisis back in August, we have been

committed to building a unified national response.

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We have taken the consistent view that there is too much at stake for petty political pointscoring.

I firmly believe we have lived up to the spirit and to the letter of that commitment.

The principles on which we base our policy on the Gulf crisis have been clear from the start. They lead us to one inexorable conclusion: that the United Nations position is right and that Australia is right to support it.

The world community is facing an historic challenge in

confronting Iraq's aggression.

For much of its first forty years, the Cold War prevented the United Nations from fulfilling the high hopes of its founders.

The Suez crisis, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the previous Middle East wars and countless others bear testimony to the failure of the United Nations to achieve its central purpose.

Now, with the end of the Cold War, there are new hopes for the United Nations. The Gulf crisis is a great opportunity for it.

It provides an opportunity for the United Nations to fulfil the vision of its founders.

Let us be very clear about one thing.

If the massed military power of the multinational force, backed by a global political consensus through the United Nations, is not allowed to deal decisively with Iraq's lawlessness, then nothing ever will. The United Nations will be condemned to

irrelevance, once more, as a peace-maker.

Australia has a vital interest in working with so many other countries to ensure that the will of the United Nations prevails in this crisis. It cannot be allowed to fail.

This is a fundamentally important reason why we stand with the Government today in sending a clear statement from this

Parliament on the Gulf w a r .

Mr Speaker, it is appropriate that on this occasion I express the Opposition's strong support for the role of the United States and President Bush, in particular, throughout this crisis.

The US Administration has perceived the significance of this crisis from the very start. It has acted responsibly, clearly and consistently.

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President Bush has set a new standard for crisis management in the post-Cold War er a .

It is the United States, under President Bush, which is the real driving force in making possible what are the first signs of a new international order.

He has skilfully helped to enhance the authority of the United Nations.

He has facilitated an unprecedented international coalition that has cut across the old East-West divisions, that has included a majority of the Arab world and that has brought together many old enemies.

Perhaps most importantly, he has spelt out a clear statement of the principles of international order, based on the UN Charter, that Iraq has violated. He has shown great courage in his

consistent determination to ensure that these principles are respected.

This issue should not be a matter of pro-Americanism or anti- Americanism. It is a matter of assessing actions on their

merits.

On that basis, we believe President Bush has acted both bravely and wisely. And that the actions of the United States should be seen as such.

Mr Speaker, the Opposition knows full well the gravity of the decision we have taken in support of the United Nations.

Each of us has wrestled with the complexity of war in different w a y s . For some honourable members, the Second World War or the Korean War has shaped their thinking more than anything else.

For many of my generation, the defining experience was the Vietnam War. Like many others, I agonised greatly over

Australia's role in that w a r .

Now, many Australians are agonising again over our involvement in another war.

We, on this side of the House, are convinced that the

multinational force in the Gulf is involved in a justified military action and that Australia is acting in its national interest and meeting its international responsibilities by participating in it.

In saying that, I know that there are many Australians who have a genuine opposition to this war. I respect their views but I disagree fundamentally with them.

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I disagree with them not because I impugn their motives or doubt their sincerity. I disagree with them because I find the

arguments used to support their case unconvincing.

I hear, for example, the claim that the use of force against Iraq is wrong because "peace has not been given a chance".

And yet, there can be few wars in history that international diplomacy and economic action have tried harder to prevent than this war in the Gulf. Unlike many wars that have begun by

accident or drift or sudden decisive action, the Gulf war has been almost a "war by timetable".

There has been a careful, measured sequence of warnings and sanctions, following which the threat of force was clearly signalled.

In twelve Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council over the past five and a half months, most of which have been passed unanimously, the international community has spelt out its opposition to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and its determination to evict it.

The United Nations has set firm deadlines and defined a clear option for Iraq to accept if the use of force against it were to be avoided.

It is Saddam Hussein and no-one else, who has refused to "give peace a chance".

It was Iraq, and no-one else, which has rejected every

international initiative aimed at avoiding war.

It is Saddam Hussein's growing conventional and chemical arsenal, and whatever other weapons of mass destruction he has, together with his ruthless willingness to use them arbitrarily on his own people and others, that has ensured that peace could have no

chance in his own region.

Those who want to "give peace a chance" offer a false choice between what they portray as "peace" last week and what is "war" today. But the peace was shattered by Iraq on 2 August, not by the allies on 16 January.

Saddam Hussein gave his Arab neighbours in Kuwait no chance of peace when he launched his invasion on 2 August.

I hear it said that the use of force under UN auspices is

inappropriate.

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But that argument seems to come from those who prefer a United Nations that talks, but won't act, in defence of its principles. Such a view condemns the United Nations to impotence, not

influence.

I hear it said that economic sanctions have not had long enough to work.

And y et, five and a half months of effectively enforced sanctions showed no signs of being able, in their own right, to convince Saddam to leave Kuwait.

Many of those who argue that sanctions need longer to work never specify precisely how long they should be given. One suspects that however long one may suggest, it would never be long enough.

And all the time, Iraq would be entrenching its brutal rule in Kuwait and building its arsenal.

Sanctions have had negligible effect on the Iraqi military. Saddam Hussein would simply keep passing on deprivations and shortages to his long suffering citizens to ensure his military machine remained unaffected by sanctions.

I also hear it said that the conflict in the Gulf is nothing more than a war over the price of oil.

None of the countries involved in the multinational force in the Gulf has concealed the fact that fear of the consequences of Saddam Hussein's increased control of world oil reserves is a factor in their response.

That fear is a quite legitimate and relevant one.

Success in seizing Kuwait's oil assets would encourage

Saddam Hussein to repeat the strategy against other neighbours.

His growing "oil power" would fund a further expansion of his military arsenal and adversely affect inflation, growth and interest rates not just in Western economies, but in Third World ones as w e l l .

Saddam's aggression has come at a critical time for the global economy with the onset of recession in many countries, the severe difficulties confronting East European countries and the threatened breakdown of the GATT system.

It also comes at a particularly critical time for our own economy which is very vulnerable to any downturn in the international economy.

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To prevent world oil supplies being illegally acquired and manipulated by a ruthless and aggressive dictator is not a goal about which Australia or the rest of the international community need feel any embarrassment.

I hear it said that the uncertainty of the war's outcome makes it unwise to wage war at all.

And yet, there are far greater uncertainties in allowing

Saddam Hussein's aggression to succeed. There are uncertainties about any post-war situation in the Middle East. They are

difficulties which need to be addressed and to which I will return later.

But they are not reasons that justify appeasement or inaction now.

I also hear it said by those opposed to the UN position that this war could have been averted if Saddam Hussein had only been given "a ladder to climb down", a concession to allow him to save face.

The concession most often suggested is that of linkage to the Palestinian issue.

One fact is most relevant here: Iraq did not invade Kuwait, pillage its assets and brutalise its citizens to defend the rights of Palestinians. Iraq, or at least Saddam Hussein, did so for reasons of selfish aggrandisement.

To concede now a direct linkage of the Palestinian issue with the task of getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait would be to reward him for his aggression.

Furthermore, any negotiations over a "solution" to the

Palestinian issue which enhanced Saddam Hussein's stature would be of serious concern to many other Arab countries and would confirm Israel's worst fears about its own security.

The argument in favour of linkage in his crisis misunderstands the nature of the man at the centre of it.

Saddam Hussein has clear goals for regional dominance and a ruthless determination to resist them. He will only succeed if others fail to resist him.

He is a man who has used poison gas against his own people,

personally executed some of his closest colleagues and is prepared to use thousands of foreign nationals as hostages.

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He is one of the world's great manipulators. He manipulates to buy time for himself, to put pressure on others and to

misrepresent his true ambitions. The record of his actions since 2 August is clear evidence that he will manipulate anything and anyone to further his grand designs.

Any deal done - or even the hint of a deal - with him will only

inflate his aggressive ambitions even further.

I hear the claim that we are locking ourselves into another Vietnam.

But I believe such analogies are seriously flawed. No-one will deny that tragic mistakes were made in Vietnam. But the real lesson of that war is that if there are uncertain goals, or an inappropriate military strategy or an absence of an international consensus, disastrous consequences will follow.

I believe that no such considerations apply in respect of the Gulf war.

The goals of the United Nations in this crisis are very clear. The military strategy being applied to achieve them is

appropriate. And unlike the Vietnam War, the United Nations has taken a clear lead in building an overwhelming international consensus.

Moreover, if there is to be an historical analogy the most

appropriate is not Vietnam in the 1960s. It is Manchuria in 1931, or Abyssinia in 1935, or Czechoslovakia in 1938.

In each of those cases there was, as in Kuwait, a clear case of naked aggression.

But unlike the League of Nations in 1931 and 1935 and 1938, the United Nations in 1990 and 1991 is not turning a blind eye to aggression.

The world paid a terrible price for the failure of the League of Nations in the 1930s. We cannot repeat those mistakes now.

Woodrow Wilson, the architect of the League of Nations, which unfortunately failed despite his best endeavours, left a vision that should still inspire us. In 1917 he said:

"There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organised rivalries, but an organised common peace."

The United Nations is our best hope for implementing that vision. One nation's aggression must not be allowed to bring it down.

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I hear other claims that the UN's response to the Iraqi action in Kuwait is inconsistent with its response to the crises in Panama, Grenada, and East Timor and to t he·Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Such claims do little justice to the very real differences between these various crises, wars and occupations, and the situation which the international community now confronts in the Gulf.

Little is gained by these debates over the rights and wrongs of history. They are, in practical terms, irrelevant to the case in question where Iraq's use of force is clearly viewed by almost all countries as unprovoked and indefensible.

The actions or inactions of the United Nations in the past should not necessarily become the yardstick for its role today.

Mr Speaker, the Opposition has carefully addressed these arguments about giving peace a chance, about giving sanctions longer to work, about establishing linkage, about seeing beyond the implications for oil prices and about keeping the United Nations consistent with its past actions.

We have found none of these arguments convincing.

We have always been convinced of the integrity of the UN

position. We remain stronger than ever in that conviction.

The Opposition, therefore, is proud to support the Resolution before the House.

In indicating that support today, I also want to highlight three areas where I believe Australia's response to the Gulf crisis has created an agenda of unfinished business.

The first relates to Australia's national defence strategy.

The Gulf crisis is re-emphasising some important lessons to us.

It affirms yet again the fact that our defence interests, like our foreign policy interests, 'are global. That is not to say that our defence and foreign policies should not have a special regional perspective. But they cannot be confined to a narrow regionalism or to any exclusive notion of "continental" defence.

The six major wars which Australia has entered this century have all been on the side of our allies - Britain and the United

States - in defence of common security interests. The Gulf war is no different in that respect.

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The Gulf crisis has affirmed, yet again, the importance of our alliance relationships and defence co-operation, particularly with the United States. Self-reliance in national defence is a very worthwhile aspiration. But it is not a reality; and it is

far from becoming one given the reductions in Australia's defence budgets over recent years.

The Gulf crisis has raised some legitimate questions about the scope which our Defence resources give us in responding to such a situation.

This crisis, and Australia's capacity to respond to it, seem to have undercut many of the assumptions and prescriptions of the 1987 Defence White Paper.

In the wake of the Gulf war, we believe that the Government

should undertake, as a matter of urgency, a thorough and public review of the 1987 White Paper.

The issue of an Australian defence strategy, appropriate to our resources and national interests in the 1990s, is set to become a major focus of domestic debate in a way that it has not done for many years.

We on this side of the House look forward to taking up that vital challenge.

My second concern is related to the issue of a relevant national defence strategy. It concerns the nature of the "new world order" about which there has been so much recent discussion.

No-one should delude themselves that this new era is somehow pre­ ordained or straightforward.

The challenge confronting the international community in the current crisis goes beyond the achievement of a quick and

decisive military victory. There will remain the great challenge of negotiating some kind of settlement of the long-standing grievances of the nations of the Middle East, including those of the Palestinians, and safeguarding the rights of Israel.

That process of negotiations cannot begin while Iraq occupies Kuwait and threatens regional destabilisation. It will also be greatly complicated should Saddam Hussein succeed in his aim of dragging Israel into this conflict or unleashing his Holy W a r .

Beyond that, there is the larger challenge of how international order in this new era will be maintained.

Most nations look forward to the renewal of the United Nations as a force for peace in the world. But not too many of them are prepared to pay the costs involved.

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As in previous decades, the United States is carrying a

disproportionate burden of the leadership and the military costs involved.

In addressing the challenge of the "new world order" which we are defending in the Gulf, the Australian Government needs to ask itself some serious questions:

. What kind of longer-term Middle East settlement do we see as consistent with such a "new order"?

. What would such a settlement demand of the Arab States and Israel?

. How can a genuine international security system, built on UN principles, evolve if countries are unwilling to accept their proportionate cost in making such a system work?

• What new responsibilities will fall to medium powers, such as Australia, if this "new world order" is realised?

. What does Australia see as the proportionate costs or

actions it is willing to undertake in giving practical support to the emerging "new world order"?

. What will it mean in terms of our defence priorities,

strategy and resources?

These are serious questions that go to the heart of what we see as an appropriate Australian role in the world.

We on this side of the House will be addressing them as a matter of urgency. We urge the Government to do the same.

The third concern I want to note today relates to the dangers of gaps emerging between Australian rhetoric and actions in this crisis, between the strength of Australia's support for a "new world order" and Australia's preparedness to defend it.

Australia is right to take the stand it h as. But there are

questions - quite legitimate ones, I believe - now being asked about whether the nature of Australia's practical support for the UN position is really proportionate to the importance which Australian statements attach to the role of the United Nations

in the "new world order".

Let me be quite clear on this point.

The Federal Opposition supports the size of the current

Australian military deployment in the Gulf. We are not calling for any immediate increase.

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However, there needs to be consistency between the statements from both sides of this House over recent months about the

significance of this Gulf crisis for Australia's international interests and the extent to which we are prepared to back our words with actions.

Accordingly, the minimum position we should take on the

possibility of some future increase in Australia's contribution is one that gives us the proper flexibility to assess our

response to each development as it occurs.

I believe that to rule out categorically any change in

Australia's military contribution, beyond that which now exists, regardless of what may happen in the Gulf, does little justice to the very sound strategic, economic and other arguments which most of us have been putting about why this crisis so vitally

engages Australian interests.

Mr Speaker, there can be few greater contrasts in history than that between the optimism which so many shared this time last year about a new era of world peace and the great sadness which has accompanied the onset of the Gulf war.

This time last year, we were celebrating the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War. Many people throughout the world were

advocating ways in which the "peace dividend" should be spent. We were looking forward to the end of the arms race and a new era of constructive international co-operation.

These hopes have proved premature; but they are not vain hopes.

They will only be realised if the international community is prepared to stand up for them.

Mr Speaker, I was deeply moved when I farewelled our naval

personnel on their departure for the Gulf and I was delighted to welcome them home at the end of their term of duty.

I have been greatly impressed with their quiet confidence in their own capabilities and in that of their ships. They are an impressive and inspiring body of Australians in whom we can all take pride.

Moreover, they are serving in the finest traditions of our Defence Force. They have the Opposition's admiration for their professionalism and our total support in their service on the nation's behalf.

We wish them well and a safe return.

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In conclusion, Mr Speaker, let me address one final comment to all Members of this House, irrespective of Party. Let history record that in this place at this time, we made unmistakably clear where Australia stands.

For all the complexity of the region in which this war has begun, we are confronting a clear issue of right and wrong.

We can be distracted from that issue. We can equivocate. We can call for linkage or compromise or whatever.

But history will judge us harshly if we fail to see what has

always been at stake in this crisis.

Our fellow Australians will judge us harshly if we fail to live up to the consequences of the principles we believe in.

We have a duty to them.

But we have a wider duty to those Australians who have gone

before us.

They were prepared to fight, and sometimes to die, in defence of a free, peaceful and democratic Australia.

We are heirs of that great tradition.

We must not prove unworthy of it.

I am confident that we will make the right choice and send a

clear signal of our resolve.