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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5378


Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (5.36 p.m.) —The coalition is pleased to support the Government's decision in this instance and to support the motion on Somalia that is before the Senate today. Obviously, the decision to commit Australian forces overseas is one that would never be taken without very careful consideration. We accept that the Government has exercised due care in addressing the decision in this instance. Likewise, our support would never be given without very careful thought.

  What is occurring in Somalia is a human tragedy of enormous consequences. No doubt it has happened before, but it is somewhat exciting that for the first time the international community is prepared, as an international community, to help in a situation such as this, where law and order has totally broken down and where the consequences of that are mass starvation and loss of life. Nevertheless, the decision of the international community to intervene in the internal affairs of a country is a big step for the UN to take, even though the humanitarian cause is no doubt just. There will be those—and it is sensible—who have some caution about what type of precedent is being created.

  I remember addressing a United Nations Association conference in Canberra about 18 months ago. I said that in the circumstances of the new world order I thought the international community should have the courage to intervene in exceptional circumstances. I did not have the benefit of wisdom to know the tragedy that was going to unfold in Somalia. But the one instance that immediately comes to mind is when the Kurds were bombed with poisoned gas in Iraq a few years ago. The international community stood back embarrassed but not feeling that there was any capacity to intervene in such horrendous circumstances. As part of an international community, we have now reached a new maturity and confidence that will dissuade dictators and warlords from such appalling conduct their citizens in the future in relation to their citizens.

  I am, therefore, pleased that the international community has shown this courage on this occasion. Whilst stating the obvious caution that it must be a humanitarian cause of unambiguous demand and severe consequence, nevertheless, we are pleased that the precedent has been set. We hope that it will help contribute to a more stable and peaceful world in the future not only in relation to conflicts between states but conflicts now within states.

  I commend the United States, as I did in relation to the Gulf war. It should be mentioned again that the US is prepared to show a leadership which in many ways only the US really can show. As the one superpower in the world, it has a major responsibility. I hope that it will continue to exercise that responsibility under President-elect Clinton. In my view, his predecessor has shown an international leadership that is worthy of commendation. We commended him during the Gulf war and I do again in these different circumstances.

  The Australian commitment to a force that will be operationally headed by the United States might cause some concern, but not to me. It seems to me to be a sensible command relationship in these difficult circumstances. It might be that one day in the future the international community will reach yet another level of confidence when it is able to put large forces such as this into an operation under a UN command. Clearly, the UN charter provides for this, but that is another stage of confidence in an operation of this size that is yet to be reached. We are gradually heading in that direction, and this is a step along the road.

  The difficult question is that of disarming the heavily armed young men. As the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray) has said, there are clear risks associated with that. But I join with the Minister and Senator Powell, through the sentiment that she has put in her amendment—which I respectfully suggest is probably unnecessary today, provided that the sentiment is expressed—that the objective of providing humanitarian relief will only permit a long term benefit if peace and stability can be restored. I cannot see how peace and stability will be restored without an effort in disarming the thugs, gangs and warlords. Therefore, it seems to me to be a necessary, logical step towards what we know is the ultimate objective of UNOSOM and Operation Restore Hope, which is to achieve peace and stability within Somalia for the benefit of the Somali people. I think this step is necessary, and this seems to be the force that is most appropriate to maximise the potential for UNOSOM to achieve its objectives.

  The Australian armed forces have a proud record in peacekeeping work. I have visited them throughout the world, most recently in Cambodia. I said on a recent occasion that they are clearly a credit to Australia in Cambodia as they have been wherever they have served in these roles. I am sure that they will leave Somalia with Australia's reputation further enhanced as a result of their contribution. However, there are risks associated with this action. It is necessary for us to recognise them and to express our appreciation that Australian forces are prepared, under the Australian flag, to serve the international community in this way but, nevertheless, at risk to themselves. Their families make just as great a commitment as the men and women who go into the field in this task. We wish them well in what is a difficult task but a good cause. We trust that they will all return safely and we want them to go knowing that they have the full confidence and support of this Parliament.