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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7915

Mr PRICE (12:22 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Geneva convention. I am somewhat intimidated by the fact that chairing these proceedings is the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Mr Kelvin Thomson. I hope I can make a contribution that meets with your approval. I listened to the honourable member for Fremantle, who of course had an outstanding service record before she came here. Certainly on both sides of parliament we rejoice in that.

As a member of parliament I have had the privilege of going to Rwanda, Somalia, several times to East Timor and Bougainville. Bougainville per capita was one of the bloodiest conflicts. It is really sad that as we are now well and truly in the new century and the new millennium there does not seem to be an abatement of man’s inhumanity to man. The Geneva convention, which is 60 years old, is very important in the conduct of formal warfare. These days we live in the era of terrorism where the target of the attack is the civilian population and the idea is that maximum damage be done and headlines gained. There is no formal declaration of war and none of the formalities. I think it is all very sad. If we can sign the Geneva convention, hopefully in the future we will have an era where terrorism does not exist.

The Geneva convention is a collection of four treaties and three additional protocols that are ratified in whole or with reservations by 194 countries. Although in the House yesterday we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Geneva convention, most of the protections it affords in fact predate the 1949 agreement. The convention defines the basic rights of those captured during military conflict, establishes protections for the wounded and addresses protections for civilians in and around a war zone. It took almost four months to agree to the terms of the convention but many still consider it a miracle that agreement was ever reached, considering the signatory states effectively agreed to relinquish sovereignty for international law when engaged in conflict. As I pointed out, sovereign states are usually not the proponents of terrorist acts.

The architects of the Geneva convention were the International Committee of the Red Cross. In April this year in Geneva, together with my colleagues and led by the Speaker, I was pleased to visit, amongst some other organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross. We met with the vice-president there, and I was truly impressed by the work that they do. In 2007 the International Committee of the Red Cross provided food for more than 2.5 million people and emergency supplies such as tents and blankets for almost four million people. Its water and sanitation construction project supported 14.3 million people, and around 2.9 million—more than half of them children—benefited from the International Committee of the Red Cross supported healthcare facilities. Of course, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as has been pointed out by the honourable member for Macarthur, do go into these conflict zones. They do not take sides. In that way I think warring parties or factions can gain confidence from the committee’s involvement there. They seek to protect civilians and provide emergency aid.

I should mention for the record that the International Committee of the Red Cross is a key partner in the Australian aid program for international humanitarian assistance. Over the past several years Australia has steadily increased its core funding in addition to responding to ICRC appeals. Thus far in 2009 Australia has provided $16 million. Of this, $14.8 million is a core funding contribution. In 2008 Australia contributed approximately $23.5 million, of which $12 million was for core funding.

More recently, the third protocol of the Geneva convention has introduced a new protective emblem, the Red Crystal. The Geneva convention is not just a series of documents or a blueprint for international law. It should serve as a living memorial to all those innocent civilians who suffered and perished in times of war, particularly World War II. We should all be grateful for the convention. I just hope that in the future it will not have to be honoured, as we will have reduced conflict around the world.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 12.28 pm to 12.40 pm

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.