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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13895

Mr RIPOLL (1:04 PM) —War is always ugly: lives are lost; families are destroyed. Labor is proud to say it is against war, not because the majority of the people of Iraq want to be liberated, not because of the past history of the Saddam regime—the documented horrors that the Saddam regime has committed on its own people and its neighbours—and not because of the slow devastation of over 25 years of Saddam rule over the peoples of Iraq and 12 years of sanctions on the people of Iraq. Labor is against war not for any of these good reasons but because it is not supported by the United Nations and because it is so strongly opposed by many important nations. On that basis, it is wrong—wrong because the process of the weapons inspections was not yet completed, along with the implementation of the final report from Hans Blix. It is a shame that the military timetable did not allow the extra weeks that would have allowed, I believe, the United Nations Security Council to come to a united position on this issue.

This of course does not mean that the ALP or the international community do not believe that Saddam Hussein should not be disarmed. He should be disarmed; there is no doubt about that. People should be very clear. It just means, as we heard yesterday from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that we need both moral authority and unity. That has not yet been achieved. By the end of this war I hope and I believe that that moral authority and that unity can be achieved. No matter the reasons of self-interest and national interest for opposition to the war by a number of countries, their concerns and their opposition must be at least recognised and acknowledged.

But now that this war has begun it poses us a very different set of circumstances. The diplomacy may be over at the United Nations Security Council for action on the war but it is diplomacy that is more important than ever now that the war has begun. Australia can play a leading role here and punch well above its weight and stature, as it often does. The reality for all Australians is that we are at war and under these circumstances our efforts should be for a quick and speedy resolution to this conflict. No-one disagrees with that. No-one can disagree with a wish for the safe return of our troops, a lasting peace for the people of Iraq and hopefully a new peace process for the entire Middle East. With our troops now squarely in the front-line battle and in the face of danger, all Australians must unite behind our soldiers. We must decide that they are not there as decision makers but there as loyal Australians who are on our behalf taking up a challenge that has been presented to them by the government to defend our way of life. On that there is no debate or argument.

Labor are fully committed to supporting our troops and their families. We are striving to ensure that their efforts are not caught in the cross-fire of any political debates over the rights or wrongs of the war. In fact, Labor have pursued the government on a number of matters that will directly affect our troops on their return, their wellbeing and that of their families also. Labor want to ensure that veterans are not left isolated or without compensation and full benefits on their return. Too many times in the past this has not been the case and it is imperative that this does not happen in this case. We must learn from the past in relation to our veterans' health.

There has been a strong push from many to bring our troops home and bring them home now. Labor in particular have been very vocal on this matter. We believe that our troops should not have been pre-deployed in what we believed was a charade. We believe that there should have been no commitment to war or any involvement of our troops. We all know that once our ADF personnel had actually departed they were obviously fully committed to war, as we now witness.

But we must also be realistic, and Labor are not in government. The Howard government will not bring them home nor will the PM in a real sense be honest about the circumstances by which they were first deployed. I think we have to be realistic in support of our troops being there now, regardless of how they got there. Regardless of that, we have to support them now. In that vein we must all unite to support our troops. We must show them that we understand that they are doing a good job, that they are the best trained and most professional force in the world and, importantly, that they have no say in their own deployment. We must show that they have the full support of the Australian community, including all of its political parties.

We may or may not agree on a number of issues at the sides in terms of duration or how these things might take place. That will be borne out fully in the public debate that will ensue. On this matter only the PM has a deciding vote. In our contribution, again in a robust democracy like ours, we have to accept that. Right or wrong we all pray for a short war with minimal casualties on all sides, particularly civilian casualities, and we pray for the safe and speedy return of our troops. Labor are against war but that is a simplistic statement. We support our troops, we believe in our democracy and we believe there should be a lasting peace. The peace is the war to be won in Iraq, not just the war itself. (Time expired)