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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5382


Senator CHAMARETTE (5.57 p.m.) —I rise to make some brief comments on the motion moved by the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Ray, over Australia's participation in the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Somalia.

  The use of Australian troops for the humanitarian aims of the operation marks a significant and historic point. Senator Chris Schacht spoke of human rights as an international concern in launching the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report on Australia's role in promoting human rights. It is appropriate that we are participating in an international peacekeeping force which has the positive and worthy purpose of humanitarian concern. Therefore, I support the expression and spirit of this motion.

  However, I also remain very ambivalent about Australia's involvement in the peacekeeping force because of the emphasis placed on suppressing and disarming warring parties well in advance of food arriving to help the starving people in Somalia. I make that point in relation to the arrival of quite a massive military force in a particular location in Somalia, as happened today, with the news that food would be coming on the weekend. While I realise that it might have quite complicated logistic implications to combine those two, I believe a true message of humanitarian aid which is being enforced and secured by military assistance needs to be expressed together rather than separately. There is a danger that a double message may go to local Somali people as well as to other nations in similar situations, such as Mozambique—that is, `We will conquer first before we feed you'. It is very important that those two aims are not seen to be separate in the light of the suffering of the people we are seeking to aid.

  On the one hand, the American commanders appear to be saying that their role is to ensure that food gets to the hungry—something we cannot argue with, although we may not like the measures which are necessary to achieve that goal in those dire circumstances—and then they will leave. Some have suggested that the United States will leave behind a well-fed, as well as well-armed, Somalia. The United Nations leadership, however, wants the US to disarm the countryside and the towns before getting the food through. While I agree with the concerns expressed by Senator Powell and by Senator Bourne on behalf of the Democrats, I feel there is a danger in the separation of military force from the food aid because it may send a message that military involvement is more important here. That disarmament of necessity would involve a much greater level of military action and the use of force.

  This confusion, if that is not too strong a word, is coming through in the Australian part of the operation too. We hear that the Australian Government is supportive of the United Nations' position, while it acknowledges that this would place the troops in greater danger, as mentioned in the AAP news story of 15 December. However, the commander of the Australian force says that the troops will be under American command on a day-to-day basis. Yesterday, 16 December, AAP news quotes Colonel Bill Mellor as saying:

The Americans will provide operational command. They will specifically task the battalion on a day-to-day basis.

Colonel Mellor went on to say:

The aim of the enforcement operation is to provide security for the delivery of humanitarian assistance—

thus clearly showing the divergence in the agenda. We must remember that pre-1977, the USSR, and post-1977, the USA, bear considerable responsibility for the present condition of Somalia and the presence of the very arms that the warlords have been using in their fighting. The long term future of a country where quite massive intervention is required leaves the very open question: how does this affect the local people and their own efforts to bring about long term sustainable development? Where does this put the status of an African-Somalian solution? We must be aware and concerned lest disempowerment of local people may be an undesirable and unforeseen consequence of the United Nations troops' involvement in Somalia. (Time expired)

  Amendment negatived.

  Original question resolved in the affirmative.