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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4247

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (19:10): I would like to commend and thank the honourable member for Fremantle for giving us the opportunity to speak on such an important issue. It really is something which, as members of parliament, we have to be mindful of, particularly on 29 May.

Australia has a long tradition of peacekeeping. The honourable member for Fremantle talked about Norway, how they have a certain area within their foreign affairs dedicated to peace operations, as opposed to peacekeeping within the military and the police. I am aware of the work of that all-agency group in this very important area, which is one we could well explore. Australia contributes significantly to the peacekeeping budget with ADF personnel and AFP and we could play even more of a role.

There are a couple of peacekeeping initiatives. There is the Australian Civilian Corps, a really good initiative which has been set up—I think they have either deployed or are about to be. That corps is another good initiative which can help in general in the peace area, although not entirely. Also there is the Asia-Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence, an initiative set up by this government which is run by the retired Major General Mike Smith. The centre of excellence has an important role to play in preparedness for our ADF and our AFP, and also within the region and some work they are doing in Africa. Major General Mike Smith was involved in UNTAC in Cambodia and also in East Timor. I have worked with him in the field.

That brings me to some of the experiences I had in East Timor from 1999 when INTERFET went in and then there was the peacekeeping mission. I worked with them over a period of years up to 2006, and I was there when the International Stabilisation Force came in, led predominantly through the ADF. Working in that area—I know the honourable member for Fremantle has had these experiences as well—has given me a real insight and a unique experience. One of the difficulties for peacekeepers is that generally they are invited in under a Security Council mandate but they are going into a contested environment. Even if it is the government of the day who invites them in, working in a contested environment—and that is not just for soldiers and police but for the civilians—presents its own set of challenges. In peacekeeping there is a range of issues and challenges and the rule of law is a particular one, among many, that I took quite a strong interest in, because when you are working in the field you do a bit of everything. It is one that peacekeeping and the UN have been seized with since about 1999, but it is one that needs a lot more work. In closing, I too pay tribute to all the men and women in the field, and to those who have lost their lives and to their families I say thank you for doing a hard job, one that we should applaud.