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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12694

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-MonaroParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (18:30): This is a moment of great celebration for this nation. After having missed out on a seat on the Security Council for so many years, to have now secured this position is a massive tribute to the many people who worked so hard on our bid—former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who also worked assiduously on this bid while foreign minister; the current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator Carr; Gary Quinlan and all the team at the UN mission; so many of our post staff all around the world; and the many members of caucus and the government who used every opportunity at every level of engagement to advance the cause.

This achievement also has great personal meaning for me. My initial history with this goes back to the Howard government's bid for a seat on the Security Council back in 1996, in which I was heavily involved. With the 1996 bid, we were of the view that the bid was going to be successful—we had been given certain indications from the post in New York to that effect. We had scheduled a meeting over at DFAT for the day after the vote to talk about what we were going to do with this seat on the Security Council. But that meeting became a wake instead of a celebration and a plan for the way ahead. I will never forget sitting in the cafeteria, commiserating with my DFAT colleagues, when the foreign minister of the time, Alexander Downer, came up to one of my DFAT colleagues—I won't name him—slapped him on the back and said, 'Never mind, mate—who cares anyway?' Those were his exact words.

From that point on, the Howard government's attitude to the Security Council and to the United Nations was completely poisoned. After that time, we were shackled to the Deputy Dawg syndrome—not that there is anything wrong with making sure that our relationship with our No.1 security partner, the United States, is sound and secure. But, from that point on, the Howard government completely turned its back on multilateralism and on recognising what the UN brings to the table in relation to achieving security outcomes.

This was a dark period. Those of us who were operating at a working level did our best to maintain Australia's relationship, engagement and reputation with various colleagues in UN agencies and UN related supported organisations. I am very proud of my involvement with the challenges of the peacekeeping movement established by the Swedes—arising out of the Folke Bernadotte Academy and, in particular, the efforts of Annika Hilding Norberg, who did such a great job in getting that organisation rolling. The academy featured many of the key players in UN peacekeeping and supporters of the UN organisation. Through those years, we were able to keep Australia's flag flying in the various secretariats and in the organisation itself—so that they understood that the attitudes of the government were not necessarily those of a country with a rich tradition of engagement with the United Nations, as is well known and understood. The involvement of Doc Evatt, Ben Chifley and others in shaping the institutions of the UN and many of its early instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a proud part of Australian Labor's history.

So it is a proud history and we are now picking up the torch again to carry forward. The last time that we had a Security Council seat was of course under the Hawke-Keating government.

The fact that the Howard government never made a subsequent bid and did not understand what the UN was useful for in a security context was well illustrated a number of times through the period of the Howard government. One of these was the involvement in Iraq. During that time it was not appreciated that the instruments of the United Nations are extremely useful in things like political transition, in delivering legitimacy through the operation and management and institution of electoral processes. It was very frustrating for me, being in Iraq, to see the time wasted with the attitude that was evidenced against United Nations' instruments and United Nations' officials on the ground under that great man Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was a good friend of mine, as were many of the staff at the Canal Hotel, the UN headquarters, with whom I had worked—people such as Fiona Watson and Nadia Younes. They were all great people, who would have been very useful in moving the ball forward in Iraq after the terrible problems and setbacks we suffered as a result of the lack of legitimacy in that operation because UN processes were not properly adhered to and worked through and because the war itself was based on a false premise—in fact, on a lie.

A lot of time was wasted on the ground in Iraq and the great tragedy that followed was the bombing of the Canal Hotel. We lost all those great friends with whom we had worked up until that point, including Nadia, Fiona and Sergio.

That was one example of the Howard government not adding its voice to advocating for a greater involvement of the UN. Eventually, the US administration at the time, the Bush administration, realised that you had to turn to the UN to effect a transition that would be acceptable to the Iraqis.

Another example was during the second East Timor crisis, in 2006, when the view, held strongly within Defence, was that we should have again turned to a blue-helmeted operation there. That would have not only defrayed costs of the operation but also helped us to accumulate and assemble a more varied and more representative group of participating nations. But, again, the foreign minister at the time, Mr Downer, rejected the advice seeking to place that operation under a UN umbrella.

We have seen Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, continue with this lack of understanding, this supreme ignorance of multilateralism and its importance to our neighbours in this region. Nothing could be more illustrative of that than Mr Abbott's incredible comments when he condemned the Prime Minister for 'swanning around' at the UN in support of our bid and, as he said, 'talking to Africans, when she should have been meeting the Indonesian President'. He did not understand it because, of course, the Indonesian President was there. Mr Abbott does not understand how important the UN is to the Indonesians, the Malaysians, the Chinese, the Koreans—to all our neighbours, all of those who are concerned about having a mechanism that helps to ameliorate the great power dynamics in this world, that helps get the agendas of small and medium countries dealt with and the protections and rules that govern the international space that give them confidence. There was a total lack of understanding on behalf of the coalition about the importance of the UN to our neighbours. How could he then accuse the Prime Minister of not doing her job when, in fact, she was in New York in support of our bid, talking to Africans and the Indonesian Prime Minister. Of course, not only is there a lack of understanding that the UN is important to our neighbours but also the importance of the growth of Africa and our relationship with Africa is really strongly evident here as well.

I remember well in 1996 our bid failed largely because of the lack of support of Africa and the lack of our engagement with Africa. That was also not understood by the Howard government. One of the great benefits of this process has been the successful re-engagement of Australia with Africa. When people talk about the $25 million that was spent on this bid, they do not appreciate that this is not $25 million that was spent on a bid; this was $25 million that was invested in our broader diplomatic engagement, which was going to produce a payoff regardless of whether we had on this bid or not. It is not well understood by the coalition that there are 300 Australian companies or more operating in Africa these days. Africa is coming continent and it is just as important to us in the longer term as our relationship with our near neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region. Asia-Pacific is certainly more advanced down that trail, as the Asian white paper well and truly illustrates and elucidates, but Africa will not be far behind.

So it was important for us to re-engage. As someone who has served in Africa wearing a blue beret—someone who has been very, very concerned and seriously interested in re-engaging with Africa—it was a great delight to me to see this happen. It paid off big time. It is hard for us to work out in fact any country in Africa that did not support our bid. That was a great outcome of the investment and the process.

Mr Abbott's comments not only displayed his ignorance but also his disloyalty. The sorts of comments we saw coming from shadow foreign minister and Deputy Leader of the Opposition was like going to a Wallabies match and hearing Australians hectoring their own team. What gross disloyalty this was in the lead-up to the vote and what absolute hypocrisy now for them to say, 'Well, yes, it is a good thing, and of course we supported,' when they did everything to undermine that bid. That was gross disloyalty from people who claim to be good Australians. There was no evidence of it in the lead-up to that bid. There was no assistance from any member of the coalition in that bid. So they cannot claim the slightest kudos for this effort that was mounted exclusively by a Labor government—and overwhelmingly successfully so. As the Foreign Minister claimed, This was big and it was juicy.

So now what is it we do with success we have achieved? We will do a lot of things that will advance Australia's cause and Australia's interests in this world, which are incredibly interdependent. The globalised world that we live in is globalised not only economically but also in its security concerns. We will advance the benefits of Australians in a more secure and more economically stable world. We have a lot to bring to the table with our experience in peacekeeping and our experience in aid and development. Being on the Security Council will amplify our voice in that space. We will make great use of it, as we have a lot of useful and positive things to say in that space. The benefits that we will obtain over many years from now from the rejuvenation of our engagement in the international community will be evident. Also, of course, it offers us the opportunity to ensure a better environment for the world as a good citizen, as Australians have always sought to do.

In this context I would like to particularly pay tribute, in addition to, of course, all those who worked so hard and that I have enumerated, I am particular proud of the efforts of the Australian Civil-Military Centre in supporting this effort. They have sailed under the radar a bit, but they worked extremely hard and provided a lot of the substance that convinced people of Australia's benefit of being on the Security Council—what we can actually deliver; the policy outcomes. Many times interlocutors that I engaged with would say to me, 'Australia will win this bid if you can project a positive policy platform for going forward.' The Australian Civil-Military Centre certainly did that.

I was very pleased to be involved in establishing the centre. In fact, it was one of the key reasons why I entered politics in the first place. The establishment of the centre, understood and supported by former Prime Minister Rudd, was a key factor in my green to run for the seat of the Eden-Monaro. I was very pleased to be with the centre when we engaged with the African Union on the protection of civilians concept and advancing that cause, and was with the centre team in Addis Ababa engaging with the secretary and giving flesh to the engagement strategy and the message that we were sending to Africa. It was well appreciated. We have African representatives coming to Australia, and we did a lot of solid work.

I want to pay tribute to Peter Thomson from the Attorney-General's Department who did so much good work in drafting the materials for the protection of civilians policies that the African Union were reaching out for and the substance of how those things were to be implemented in the advice and the assistance that we gave them in that process.

The centre also engaged very extensively with permanent representatives. In fact, 65 permanent representatives attended many of the seminars that the Civil-Military Centre conducted from 14 June 2011 through to August 2012. I was very pleased to have opened the last of those seminars in August. Lessons learned activities were performed by the centre, including the production of the Partnering for Peace: Australia’s Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Experiences in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, and in Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. It is a fantastic product. I was very pleased to have been in New York for a few days with Jose Ramos-Horta. We conducted a number of activities based on the production of this product, conducted lessons learned seminars and talked about Australia's contribution in this space but also what we can bring to the table as a result of that experience and those contributions in the past.

The centre put a lot of hard work into setting up those activities in New York and having many visits from permanent representatives in Australia associated with activities that they were running. That included the International Forum for the Challenges of Peace Operations that I mentioned I had been previously engaged with. They are our instrument in engagement with the challenges process at this time and are doing a lot of hard work and a lot of good work in that space as well.

I want to pay tribute to Dr Alan Ryan; his predecessor, Mike Smith, a good friend of mine and former Army general who got the centre up and running in the first place and who is well-known to our East Timorese friends; and my friend the member for Page, who had extensive experience in Timor Leste herself and whose contacts were also very useful in advancing our cause and acceptance within the Asia-Pacific as a representative of this region, notwithstanding that we are in WEOG. It was most pleasing to see in my engagement with interlocutors in this process that they did generally saw Australia as now a member of the Asia-Pacific community and one of their voices and not as an alien European voice, as we were in the past, particularly during the 'Deputy Dawg' Howard years.

The centre has also conducted many courses and continues to help build relationships in the region with other organisations and institutions that are in the same civil-military space. I congratulate the team on all their hard work. I look forward now to what this Labor government, understanding as it does multilateral security and understanding as it does the cultural, security and economic interests of our region and of the world more generally, will do with the opportunity that this seat now affords us. It is something that at the end of which all of Australia will and can be proud of. I am hopeful that people like the member for Kooyong, who perhaps understands foreign affairs a little better than Mr Abbott—and he famously acknowledged he does not—and the shadow minister, will contribute to growing the understanding within the coalition of the importance of this seat and what it can be used for in achieving a better outcome for the world, for Australia's interests and for our region.