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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7904

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (11:26 AM) —I rise today to make a contribution on this motion before the Main Committee. I acknowledge the previous speaker’s wealth of experience as a military officer and the 20 years in the Army that he brings to this debate. I commend him on his speech and his commitment in relation to the work he has done throughout his military career. Of course, this is an opportunity to put it on the public record, which will stand forever more. One thing in this place is that the words we say will be here forever more and recorded in Hansard for, quite seriously, generations to come. It is an important forum for all of us and I commend the parliamentary secretary for his contribution.

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the Geneva conventions which were agreed upon initially in 1949. They came into existence on 12 August 1949, just three days short of the fourth anniversary of that dreadful war, World War II, and the armistice in the Pacific region, which was on 15 August 1945. The four Geneva conventions, in essence, protect wounded and sick soldiers, both on land and at sea. They protect medical personnel and hospital ships, and they protect religious personnel during times of war. The Geneva conventions also call for the protection of prisoners of war from mental and physical torture, as well as the protection of civilians in war zones and occupied territories.

Australia signed the Geneva conventions in January 1950 and ratified the agreement in October 1958. Even though we were a young country, we too were well aware of the atrocities that our service men and women had witnessed or had been victims of in battle in war zones. Indeed, the atrocities that were committed in the Second World War serve as a reminder to us, even today, of the long-lasting damage of war and the depraved acts of warlords—of the Nazis and of the Japanese in the Second World War. They are a reminder to us all of the importance of these conventions.

Sadly, violations of the Geneva conventions are still happening across the world as humans continue to wage war against each other. Perhaps it will only be when there is truly peace that there will be no violations of the conventions and, hopefully, one day there will be no need for them at all. But for mankind a peaceful utopia is still out of our reach, and until then we as Australians and members of parliament must make sure that we continue to uphold and encourage the upholding of the Geneva conventions so that the ravages of war are never again as horrific as those witnessed in World War II.

In the world’s recorded history there have always been many wars and conflicts and despicable acts of genocide and torture and of vengeance and domination. But there is always a silver lining to every cloud, and from the depths of war emerged charitable organisations such as the Red Cross. It was formed in 1863 after a Swiss citizen, Henry Dunant, witnessed the violence of Italy’s battle of Solferino, in which 38,000 soldiers lay dead, dying or wounded. They are just incredible numbers, numbers that in a modern world you cannot relate at all in your mind to human beings. Those 38,000 soldiers who lay dead or dying or wounded had no-one to care for them. After rallying female civilians to help provide first aid, Dunant organised for makeshift hospitals to be built and for care to be administered to the soldiers. Later he wrote a book called A Memory of Solferino, calling for the establishment of volunteer groups to take care of casualties in wartime and calling for countries to protect first aid volunteers and medical personnel.

From those very humble beginnings, Red Cross has grown to become a worldwide recognised symbol of humanity. But their humanitarian aid is not just limited to the battlefield. Red Cross in Australia run a blood donation drive, provide first aid training courses, deliver Meals on Wheels in many communities, provide employment services for people with disabilities and offer counselling services. They provide respite services and give assistance to personnel supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Earlier this year it was the Red Cross who were very much on the front line in the aftermath of those tragic Victorian bushfires. That work is continuing today as we speak in this parliament.

I am a member of the Parliamentary Friends of Red Cross. When I was asked in this parliament to be a supporter of the Friends of Red Cross, I did not hesitate. If there is a symbol of humanity that stands large and bold out there in my eyes and my mind, it is the Red Cross. Yesterday in Federation Mall in front of Parliament House, at 7 on a very cold morning, it was a real privilege for me to join other parliamentarians and Red Cross volunteers in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Geneva conventions. Robert Tickner, a former minister in the Hawke and Keating government who is now the CEO of the Red Cross in Australia, addressed those of us gathered on that cold lawn in front of Parliament House and presented to the Attorney-General a bound copy of the conventions, with the inclusion of the new convention. It may be symbolic, but I think it was important that that book, be it small, is a gift to this parliament. I understand it is the intention of the Attorney-General to make sure that it finds an appropriate place, either in the Parliamentary Library or another part of Parliament House. As I said, it is symbolic but also terribly important and a reminder of the great work of the Red Cross and the importance of the Geneva conventions.

I want to commend the work of Red Cross in Australia. Yesterday’s commemoration was wonderful in recognising not only the conventions and their work, and what it stands for and means for us all as a model, but also the dedication of the Red Cross to helping people, regardless of their religious belief or the colour of their skin. I just say the Red Cross’s work is admirable. It has no boundaries; it is about humanitarian support and aid. Quite clearly, Henry Dunant’s vision has been recognised and the work continued. I am sure, were he with us now, he would be so proud of his work in establishing the Red Cross so long ago.

Last week I travelled with our defence subcommittee to Timor-Leste. I had visited Timor-Leste on three occasions before ,when we were there with INTERFET helping the East Timorese establish their own democracy, which they had voted for. They wanted independence from Indonesia. I was able to witness some of the work that had gone on, albeit rather slowly but again as part of all the operations that have gone on through international support and AusAID. And there are some 610 Australian military personnel who are still helping them bring about a new democracy. The work also of many NGOs that I saw there is invaluable. One of those is the Red Cross. I also want to acknowledge the work that they have done in so many areas of conflict around the world, and in peace time here in Australia, but particularly the work that they are doing in Timor-Leste.

I will just take a couple of moments to recognise the work of the Red Cross volunteers in my own electorate. I remember growing up as a little boy in Roma, a country town in western Queensland. The office of the Red Cross and the symbol of the red cross is something that remains an indelible imprint on my mind, along with the work of the volunteers. They were always doing it silently. They collected clothes and provided money or food assistance for those who were needy. They always did it silently, and they volunteered their time. I just want to acknowledge all of those people in my electorate. There are many Red Cross branches in my electorate. I want to acknowledge the work that they do. They are among the unsung heroes in our community, and I just continue to admire the work that they do. I want to recognise the work of the Red Cross volunteers in my electorate and across so many parts of Australia. It is just an honour to be part of this motion before the House. I commend it to the parliament.