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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9919

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (11:47): I am pleased to participate in this debate on humanitarian aid in Iraq. Despite the bipartisan acceptance that action must be taken to address the growing influence of the Islamic State, I think Australians are right to express concern about our involvement in another international conflict. The memory of our most recent venture in Iraq a mere decade ago still lingers, as does how this involvement has contributed to the human tragedy now unfolding in the Middle East.

We would do well to remember the basis of our initial involvement with the coalition of the willing. We were told by the then Prime Minister, John Howard, that our involvement was not about a regime change but was all about the detection and destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The fact is the then United States President, George W Bush, was desperate to establish a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the 9/11 attack. Either the Australian government knew that this was contrary to all the advice from credible intelligence sources or was negligent in establishing the facts before embarking on such a cavalier military adventure.

The misguided and poorly planned coalition of the willing involvement in Iraq in 2003 created a power vacuum, impacting on all levels of Iraq's administration and bureaucracy, which has in turn contributed to the unleashing of certain forces within the Islamic sect that has allowed the rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. This is directly responsible for the more than 1.4 million people, including Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics, Mandaeans, Yazidis and other minorities, fleeing their homelands or having to face what can only be referred to as genocide.

The rise of the Islamic State, a cruel medieval theocracy that hates not only the West but also much of the Islamic world, now overrides any considerations, quite frankly, of the past. The fact is the international community has no choice but to take action to support these minorities or stand accused of aiding and abetting genocide. However, I believe Australia has a higher moral responsibility, as do all the partners of the coalition of the willing, to help clean up the mess that we unwittingly helped create.

Many expatriate Iraqi groups in my electorate, including the Iraqi Australian Christian Association, the Assyrian Universal Alliance, the Mandaean Australian culture group, the Assyrian Australian National Federation, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic community and the broader Kurdish community, expect that we will play a role in re-establishing security in their homeland. It is right and proper that this parliament, with the support of both major parties, is standing up against ethnic cleansing in Iraq by providing humanitarian relief to those who are in such desperate need, particularly the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, and by providing military support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who are leading the fight against the Islamic State. Recently I read an account by a young commander in the Kurdish Peshmerga all-female unit. Nuve Rojhat, in speaking about the Islamic State, said:

… what they hate most is that Kurdish women have rights and they want to take them away from us. We are here to support all women, not just Kurdish women … They [IS] believe women are less than human and just here to be used. They are selling Yazidi women in Mosul for just $20.

If that is not a plea for becoming involved and assisting, I am not sure what is.

Under the circumstances there is a need to review our humanitarian intake from the Middle East. In view of this crisis, it is only right that we continue to play our role in providing humanitarian relief to those in need, but it is also right, because of our involvement in the coalition of the willing, that we play our role in resettling people caught up in this dreadful conflict.