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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4245

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (19:03): The 29th of May is the designated date to acknowledge United Nations peacekeepers. It is a time for us to show recognition for the hard work, dedication and risks that UN peacekeepers take. This is a day to honour the memory of the UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the cause of peace and a time to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served and who continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations for their high level of professionalism, courage and dedication. These are people who are genuinely trying to help make the world a safer place, a better place and to ease the burden on those whose lives are worse off because of conflict.

This year also marks a milestone in the history of UN peacekeeping operations, with UN member states commemorating the 60th anniversary of the first UN peacekeeping operation, authorised by the UN Security Council. United Nations peacekeepers are guided by three basic principles: consent of the parties; impartiality; non-use of force, except in self-defence, and defence of the mandate. Peacekeeping operations are deployed on the basis of a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. Over the years, the tasks assigned to the operations have significantly expanded as the conflict patterns change and different threats arise to international peace and security. Since 1948, when the first UN peacekeeping mission was established, more than 2,900 military, police and civilian personnel have lost their lives in the service of peace as a result of acts of violence, accidents and disease. In the past decade alone more than 1,100 UN peacekeepers have died while striving to help those in some of the world's most hostile environments.

In 1988 the UN peacekeeping forces were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in honour of their contribution to reducing tensions under extremely difficult conditions where an armistice has been negotiated but a peace treaty has yet to be established. Today there are 15 UN peacekeeping operations deployed on four continents. These operations not only maintain peace and security but also facilitate the political process; protect civilians; assist in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants; support the organisation of elections; protect and promote human rights; and assist in restoring the rule of law.

Australia has been involved with United Nations peacekeeping missions for over 50 years. In Indonesia in 1947 Australians were part of the very first group of UN military observers in the world and in fact were the first into the field. Peacekeeping is not only the work of Australian defence personnel; Australian police have also had an active role since 1964, helping to build bridges between communities all across the world. Since the first Australian peacekeepers in 1947, more than 30,000 Australians have been involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Peacekeeping is a difficult process, and unfortunately many lives have been lost trying to make the world a safer place. Thirteen Australians have been killed whilst involved in peacekeeping operations. In April this year 28 UN staff and five non-government organisation workers were killed in a plane crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and seven international UN staff were killed in an attack in northern Afghanistan—an attack directly against UN personnel and other humanitarian workers. In January 2010 the UN suffered its largest ever loss of staff in the devastating Haiti earthquake, where 100 UN civilian and military peacekeepers from 30 countries were killed. These were people who thought only of bringing good to the world, and their memory will serve to fortify us in carrying on our efforts to help restore dignity to the lives of the world's most vulnerable.

At present there are more than 122,000 military, police and civilian personnel serving in peacekeeping operations, essential security and support to millions of people, 113 of whom are Australians dispersed in 15 UN peacekeeping operations deployed on four continents. These include 14 peace operations and one special political mission in Afghanistan. Australia has been a longstanding supporter of the United Nations. Despite our relative isolation and relatively small population, Australia has contributed mightily to UN peacekeeping efforts. May it long continue.

We continue that tradition today as an active contributor of personnel and financial support to UN and other multilateral peace operations throughout the world. Since the 1970s, Australia's contribution to peacekeeping operations has increased in size and scope. In that decade, and again in the 1980s, RAAF helicopters operated in the Sinai as Egypt and Israel ended three decades of hostilities. At the end of the 1970s an Australian infantry force of 150 soldiers took part in a British Commonwealth operation as Zimbabwe won its independence. Then in the 1980s an even larger contingent, composed largely of engineers, assisted a UN operation with a similar role in Namibia.

However, by far the largest peacekeeping operation was the deployment of 5,500 Australians to East Timor. In August 1999 a UN peace operation, the United Nations Mission in East Timor, was established. But the national vote of independence caused violence and bloodshed amongst the people and in September of the same year Major General Peter Cosgrove contributed more than 5,000 Australian soldiers. Two Australian personnel died during this UN mission: Lance Corporal Russell Eisenhuth in January 2000 and Corporal Stuart Jones in August 2000.

As the member for Riverina, my residence of Wagga Wagga is also home to the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka, the home of the Australian soldier. All regular recruits to the Australian Army do basic training within this important facility. Many past, present and future peacekeepers will have passed or will pass through my electorate. For the privacy of the veterans, most personal information on members of peacekeeping missions is not available to the public. However, I would like to make special mention of Signalman Neil Atkins from Wagga Wagga, who was deployed with the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Western Sahara in 1991. Many men and women from all over the world put their lives at risk working in places others cannot or will not go, committing to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations amongst nations, promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

On 29 May we must stop, take a minute and thank the efforts of the United Nations and humanitarian workers who provide lifesaving assistance to millions of people around the world, who work in conflict zones and in areas of natural hazards and who place their own lives at risk in the line of duty.