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Monday, 17 September 2001
Page: 30739

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) (2:01 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) expresses its horror at the terrorist attacks which have claimed so many lives in the United States of America;

(2) conveys to the Government and people of the United States of America the deepest sympathy and sense of shared loss felt by the Government and people of Australia;

(3) extends condolences to the families and other loved ones of those Australians killed or missing as a result of the attacks;

(4) declares that such attacks represent an assault, not only on the people and the values of the United States of America, but of free societies everywhere;

(5) praises the courageous efforts of those engaged in the dangerous rescue operation still underway;

(6) believes that the terrorist actions in New York City and Washington DC constitute an attack upon the United States of America within the meaning of Articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty;

(7) fully endorses the commitment of the Australian Government to support within Australia's capabilities United States-led action against those responsible for these tragic attacks; and

(8) encourages all Australians in the wake of these appalling events to display those very qualities of tolerance and inclusion which the terrorists themselves have assaulted with such awful consequences.

In the 27 years that I have been privileged to be a member of this parliament, I can think of no more sombre occasion than the circumstances under which this House meets today. We have had tragedies of a national and international kind before. We have been touched by the poignancy of the deaths of people. We have confronted significant moral and national challenges, but none matches in depth, scale and magnitude the consequences of what the world must now do in response to the terrible events in the United States last week.

In sheer scale, the death and destruction are almost incomprehensible in a time not regarded as a time of war. It would appear that more than double the number of Americans who died at Pearl Harbour have died in New York City and Washington as a result of these terrorist attacks. The death toll could easily be more than the entire American battle losses on the first day of the Normandy invasion in June of 1944. They dwarf, of course, the terrible loss inflicted by Timothy McVeigh's act of madness on the federal building in Oklahoma some six or seven years ago. So it is in every sense a tragedy and an obscenity of an appalling and repugnant magnitude.

It goes beyond the death so cruelly inflicted without warning, without justification and without any skerrick of moral authority on innocent people merely going about their daily lives; its context represents a massive assault on the values not only of the United States of America but also of this country— the values of free men and women and of decent people and decent societies around the world. It is an act of terror. It is an act which is repugnant to all of the things that we as a society believe in. On occasions like this, those things that divide us in this parliament, those things that we might bicker and quarrel over as a people, as we go about our lives, are so suddenly and so quickly put into perspective.

I remember the morning in Washington— as the House knows, I had been in the United States. I had been for an early morning walk. It was a beautiful Washington morning— there was just a touch of autumn. I had walked past the Lincoln memorial and many of the other great memorials of that great nation which stood between us and tyranny on one critical occasion in our history. I, like millions of other Australians, was deeply moved and distressed. I felt an enormous sense of empathy towards the American people who had suffered this awful deed.

Out of that tragedy have come, as always, great stories of the spirit and the heroism of men and women in circumstances of disaster and tragedy. As much as we are devastated and distressed by what has happened, and as much as we feel repelled by the belief that there should be people on our earth who would want to plot for years to undertake such attacks, as always the events that followed these attacks have given us a source of great hope and faith in the resilient spirit of men and women who face moral and physical danger and challenge. The stories of heroism that have come out of these events are a tribute to the spirit of the American people and a tribute to the spirit of resilient men and women around the world. Who will ever forget the story of that wonderful Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the New York Police Department, who remained behind to deliver the last rites of the Catholic Church to a dying fireman, or the immense courage of those three people on the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh who, knowing they faced certain death, decided to tackle the terrorists in the cockpit, perhaps averting even further destruction being rained on either Washington or New York?

As we struggle as Australians and as we struggle as citizens of the world to come to terms with what has happened, it is certain, as others have said, that the world has changed. We are all diminished, we are all changed, and we are all rather struggling with the concept that it will never be quite the same again. This is no isolated act of terrorism: this is the product of years of careful planning, it is the product of evil minds and it is the product of an attitude of a group of people who in every sense invoke those very evocative words of Winston Churchill when he said that those responsible for the Nazi occupation of Europe should be regarded in their brutish hour of triumph as the moral outcasts of mankind.

This is a tragedy which has touched many Australian homes. There is grief and sadness in hundreds of Australian homes at present. The sheer scale of the loss of life suffered by our American friends has perhaps dwarfed the realisation that up to 80 or 90 Australians have lost their lives. There will be many in this House who will know somebody or who will know the family of somebody who died in New York or in Washington. Moreover, we will know people who, simply as a result of the lottery of life, escaped death. In my own case it is a former Treasury official and economic adviser of mine employed by Morgan Stanley, a firm which had 3,500 employees in that building. But for the happy circumstance for him of being on parental leave for the birth of his second child, he would have been in the building. Two hundred of his work mates are yet unaccounted for. That story can be repeated time without number.

The number of Australians who have died is a reminder of just how interconnected we all are. This attack has brought home to us many things. It has brought home to us the global character of our world. I suppose in their evil disposition those who launched this attack had that precisely in mind. When you think about it, it was an outrage to attack buildings in a city which is a monument to inclusion. There is no more multiracial city in the world; there is no city in the world that has more generously welcomed people from around the globe than the city of New York. When you go through those poignant photographs of those who died, so many of them tragically young, you have white faces and black faces; you have smiling Irish-American faces, you have Asian faces and you have Hispanic faces; you have bearded faces and you have clean shaven faces. I have no doubt that amongst those who died were many Americans of the Islamic faith, and that is an issue to which I will return in a moment.

In the wake of this tragedy, we express our unstinted admiration for those who risked their lives. The tragedy upon tragedy of an event like this is that people such as firemen and policemen, whose sworn duty in life is to help others, often in the process risk their own lives and pay a greater price.

The world will think and ponder and react in different ways. In reacting to what has occurred, it is important to do so with calm and steely determination. Justice, decency and humanity require that no effort be spared to bring to justice and to punish unconditionally those who have been responsible for these deeds. Because I was in Washington I had the opportunity to express immediately to the US administration the willingness of the Australian government to work with the Americans in responding. I take the opportunity of thanking the Leader of the Opposition for the way in which he has associated the Australian Labor Party with the response that I have made to the administration.

These events do bear very much upon the relationship between our two great societies. The World Trade Centre itself was a centre for many activities and many activities in which Australians and Americans worked together, and it is therefore with symbolic as well as practical resonance that any response that is undertaken, if we are asked and within the limit of our capability, will have the involvement of the United States.

I did have the opportunity when I was in Washington the day after the attack to visit Congress to hear the resolution passed by the House of Representatives and then to go onto the floor of the Senate and particularly to personally extend my condolences to Senator Clinton and Senator Schumer, the two Democrat senators representing the state of New York in the United States Senate. The bonds between our two nations run very strong and very deep. They present themselves and manifest themselves in many ways, but none more so than in our shared commitment to liberty, our shared commitment to peace. The President said a few days ago that the American people are peaceful people. So indeed are we. We have a great peace-loving tradition.

Also, when we think of our military tradition, we think of it not in terms of seeking to inflict our views and our will on others but rather seeking, when required, to stand up and fight for the things that we really believe in. Standing up and fighting for the things that we believe in over the months and perhaps the years ahead in the wake of these terrible events will require perseverance. There is united, righteous, deep, seething anger around the world at present. But, as the months go by and as perhaps the early dividends of retaliatory action are not ready and not apparent, some of that anger may subside; and some may argue that the extra miles that are required to be travelled are not really worth it. But, if those who died last Tuesday are not, in the judgment of history, to have died in vain, there is an obligation on all of us to persevere, to travel the distance, to persist and to root out the evil that brought about those terrible deeds.

But, in the process of responding, we must do so with care as well as with lethal force. We should understand that barbarism has no ethnicity and evil has no religion. Both around the world and within our own society, we should take pause lest we engage in the evil of scapegoating individual groups within our society. I have said on a number of occasions that I know that my fellow Australians of Islamic faith are overwhelmingly as appalled about what happened as I am, as an inadequately practising Christian. This is an assault on values common to all the great religions of the world, and it is also an assault on the values of many people who profess no religion. I say to my fellow Australians of Islamic faith or of Middle Eastern descent that I extend to you the hand of friendship. You are part of our great society; you are part of the fabric of the great, decent, freedom loving, fair minded Australian nation; and you are as entitled to share my outrage, my sorrow, my anger and my sadness as are others within our community—because wouldn't it be a terrible, tragic, obscene irony if in responding, however we do it as individuals or as nations, to these terrible terrorist attacks we forsook the very things that we believed had been assaulted last Tuesday in New York?

It has been said many times in the wake of these attacks that words are inadequate to express how you feel. Nobody is ever really prepared for personal tragedy. Nobody is ever really prepared for the sudden death of a wife, a husband, a son, a daughter, a sibling or another loved one, or a close friend. No nation is ever ready or ever prepared to respond to a tragedy of this order and of this magnitude, and in the end the quality of our people and the quality of our society will be judged by how we respond: we will be judged very harshly in the eyes of those left bereaved by the people who died if we do not respond effectively and to the full measure of our capability but we will be also judged very critically if we respond in a careless or an indiscriminate fashion.

Finally, the experience of being in the American capital at the time enabled me to feel a sense of the despair and the desolation of the American people but also a sense of their great spirit, their great resilience, their great faith and the depth of their belief in the inherent decency of their society. The wonderful words spoken by the United States Ambassador at the memorial service earlier today beautifully evoked the spirit of a people who have carried heavy burdens, a people who have suffered a great deal and a people who have been joined to this country in every major conflict of the last 100 years.

In every way, the attack on New York and Washington and the circumstances surrounding it did constitute an attack upon the metropolitan territory of the United States of America within the provisions of articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty. If that treaty means anything, if our debt as a nation to the people of the United States in the darkest days of World War II means anything, if the comradeship, the friendship and the common bonds of democracy and a belief in liberty, fraternity and justice mean anything, it means that the ANZUS Treaty applies and that the ANZUS Treaty is properly invoked.

As a proud, patriotic Australian, I was literally moved to tears by what occurred in the United States. I was filled with admiration for the spirit of the American people. I can with genuine affection and fondness say that their behaviour in the wake of those events and their determination to respond appropriately, to heal the wounds and to help those who mourn and grieve demonstrates very powerfully that the American people do live, in the words of their wonderful national anthem, `in the land of the free and the home of the brave'.