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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 9166


Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (17:17): I, too, rise today to speak on this motion on the absolutely devastating tragedy that continues in Syria and Iraq—a situation the scope of which is too large for us here to truly comprehend the scale and the impact that it is having on millions of people, not just those in Syria and Iraq but those in the many other nations that religious extremism, in this case Islamic jihadism, is impacting on. The death of more than a quarter of a million people in such a short period of time and the enormous tide of hundreds of thousands of displaced people fleeing their homeland is truly heartbreaking for all of us in this place and across our country. It, once again, highlights that the world is a messy and complicated place. Daily, we see the best and the worst of humanity. The worst often has its roots in centuries-old conflicts; similarly, the best often springs out of those same circumstances. This is the situation we see in the Middle East today. To pick up Senator Ludlam's point, to suggest that the current conflicts in the Middle East and the current battle that rages between Sunni, Shiah and the minority sects are the fault of Australia and its allies is hubris at its finest—or, indeed, at its worst. Nothing in the Middle East has ever been or is ever likely to be so simple and so binary. In circumstances as complex as these, there are no right or wrong policy answers for Australian and other policymakers. There are simply differences of opinion about what needs to be done. What all of us, I believe, in this place share as human beings and as Australians is the sorrow, anger, disbelief and great frustration that we feel for the millions of victims of this and other conflicts. As I have said in this place before, none of us have a mortgage on compassion or humanity, but we do not always agree on the right policy solutions and what Australia should do in these circumstances

What is very clear to me, personally, is that the current threat from Daesh and other Islamic terrorist organisations is real and is growing. I do not believe that withdrawing to our own international borders will make us safer—in fact, I think quite the opposite is true. Enemies no longer just attack us over our land, sea or air borders; they attack us electronically, they can recruit and incite to violence remotely, and they can attack our citizens overseas. As this threat is complex, so too must be our response. That does not just mean, in the current circumstance, political actions; it also means military intervention. I believe that any approach that involves retreat from the current situation and support that we are providing is actually the cruellest of all humanitarian options for the millions of Syrians and Iraqis who continue to suffer in Iraq and Syria and where they have fled to overseas. I think it is the responsibility of everybody, none more so than the governments and leaders here in Australia and overseas, to do everything we can to rid the world of this violence.

Here in Australia, we certainly have it better than most. Though we are a relatively young nation, we have a stable civil society, we are more prosperous than most and we have one of the world's most responsible and robust democracies. For those reasons—though not just for those reasons alone—I think we have always felt we have an obligation, and we continue to have an obligation, to help not only Australians but others overseas when they are in trouble, as, clearly, Syrians and Iraqis are at the moment. Not only is it the right thing to do; it is the just thing to do. Our democracy rests on the foundation that it is the right of all of our citizens to observe and express opinions and beliefs in society without fear of intimidation, violence or death. The plurality and contest of ideas are what makes us grow and strengthen as a nation. There are many other nations who today share our democratic ideals and the belief that ideas and opinions can always be improved through vigorous debate. Eventually, from that, the best ideas and opinions, in a collaborative way, morph into our cultures, our institutions, our laws and, ultimately, the fibre of our nation.

Here in Australia and in many other democracies, we value freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association. But sadly today, as I reflected last night in this place, not all Australians value those freedoms as we do. We have far too many Australians here and overseas who are now actively working to undermine these very freedoms and the values that we all hold so dear. The rational world view is that nations have much more to gain by encouraging and engaging in a peaceful and constructive war of words to achieve their ends and not by physical violence. I am firmly of the belief that war itself is neither logical nor rational yet it still occurs. Human nature itself does not change, which is why we should always work and strive for peace.

We must always be ready to defend Australians from wherever an attack may come. Today there is a very real threat and enemy—that is, Daesh. They have chosen to go to war with us. It is a war of values. We value freedom, we value democracy and we value life but those who support Daesh do not. They do not respect compassion, freedom or the values that we hold; instead, they see that in us as a vulnerability to ruthlessly exploit. Like others in our recent past—people smugglers, criminals—they attempt to exploit our vulnerabilities. The challenge for all of us in this place is: how do we deal with those who would exploit our compassion and attack our values without actually undermining those very values and principles that we are fighting to uphold? But to achieve Daesh's downfall, we have to take the fight to them, which we are, and we have to win. We cannot retreat by our own land borders or expect others to carry and shoulder the burden for us.

What Daesh does is truly evil. They kidnap, they enslave, they attempt to intimidate through indiscriminate barbaric acts of terrorism people of any ethnicity, of any nationality and of any religious belief. They carry out systematic human rights abuses, mass executions and extrajudicial killings. They deliberately target, kidnap, torture and kill civilians. They persecute individuals and entire communities and they forcibly displace other minority communities. They kill and maim children. They rape women, they rape children and they carry out other forms of indescribably horrible crimes against others. This has to be their undoing because the rational civilised people of the world who value freedoms and who value life know that this organisation and this value system has to be stopped. That is why Australia has joined the coalition of 60 other nations to counter this threat at its source—at the moment in Syria and Iraq. But to do that we have to destroy the tentacles which extend far beyond the Syrian and Iraqi borders right into our own homes and into the homes of our children through the internet. Yes, we are the second-biggest contributor. But, again, as I said, it is not just because we can; it is because it is simply the right thing to do.

This war of ideas is not constrained by geography. Daesh presents a global terrorist threat. They have recruited thousands of fighters from all around the world to Iraq and Syria and many of them will never return home. They do that and they use technology to spread their hate filled violent and extremist ideology. It shames me and upsets me to concede that several hundred Australians have heard that siren song and have been recruited from their very homes to this cause. We are kidding ourselves if we do not think that they represent a grave security threat to our own citizens here in Australia. Those that they have recruited overseas learn to kill. Australians are proving to be very effective killers of others and that is also why we have a responsibility to deal with this problem.

The international coalition is currently conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. They are supporting Iraqi forces and they are providing humanitarian assistance. The aim is not to prolong war, to sustain war; it is to stop war. The aim is to restore peace and good governance in both nations so eventually Syrians and Iraqis who have survived this conflict can return home in peace to start rebuilding their countries. I believe any calls to withdraw forces at this current time is naive at best, dangerous at worst and an abrogation of our responsibilities to protect our own citizens and to protect our citizens from our own citizens who are over there to kill. Any withdrawal at this time of Australian forces, as the second-largest force of 60, would weaken international efforts to combat Daesh—again, an organisation we have to defeat. It would also signal to like-minded international partners that we are not committed to doing our part to tackle extremism, terrorism and violence that, again, is a threat to Australians within our borders, and those Australians that have gone overseas to kill are also a threat. Therefore, we will not abandon our commitment to support the Iraqi and Syrian people. We will continue to work with the United States and the international coalition to defeat Daesh—because they can be defeated—and, along with it, defeat its medieval and abhorrent ideology.

It is also important to remember that—and you do not quite get this message from those opposite—in addition to taking military action, we are taking comprehensive political action to try to resolve this. But, again, it is not a binary situation. It is a complex political environment, just as complex as it is in a military environment. We are also providing a great deal of humanitarian assistance. We are welcoming 12,000 displaced people from this conflict to Australia, in addition to the 13,750 places already allocated in our humanitarian program. We are dealing with it politically, militarily and also through other civilian policing methods. These additional 12,000 places are being offered to the most vulnerable people affected by this conflict, to the women, children and families of the persecuted minorities, who have all suffered unimaginable horrors. But—and I think quite rightly—all applications are being rigorously assessed on an individual basis. Despite the urgency of the process, security and character checks will not be compromised. We have recently seen the consequences of the lack of that kind of scrutiny in Paris, sadly, and we are possibly seeing it in the outcomes of the terrorist raids in Belgium.

Australia's response to this humanitarian crisis has been made possible by the government's streamlined approach to border protection and to the improvements we have made since coming to government. All of this discussion on violence, sadness and suffering is, I think, a very stark reminder to all of us in this place that we all have a role to play, even in our own daily lives, to ensure not only that our own communities are safe—whether it is safe from terrorism or domestic violence—but that every single Australian gets to exercise the freedoms that we are fighting so hard to protect.

As I talked about in this place last night, last week I attended a forum of Asian women parliamentarians in Brussels. It was on the role of women in peace and security. Certainly the backdrop of the lockdown and terrorists raids in Brussels at the time brought this topic into sharp relief. It was clear to me from the discussions and from listening to the stories of my Asian colleagues that not only gender equality but the ability of people to live their lives in a way that they deserve to live their lives will only occur when there is peace. Without peace, you cannot have a strong and just civil society. With the military intervention at the moment, that is what we are doing. We are trying to get peace so that we can start to assist the Syrians and the Iraqis in rebuilding their lives.

Many of my Asian parliamentary colleagues shared stories with me of the challenges they face as women living under Islamic rule and subject daily to the implications of jihadi violence. That is verbal abuse; it is physical abuse. One of my colleagues, Afghani member of parliament Shukria Barakzai, was the target of a suicide attack 12 months ago last week in which nine people died and 35 people, including her, were injured. Yet she perseveres. She and other women like her are the good amidst the evil. But to support them and to support the good, we have to first destroy the evil. At the moment, that resides both in their homelands and in ours. They were very clear in discussing this with me and our European parliamentary colleagues. They deal with these terrorists and live under the threat of these terrorists all the time. In Afghanistan, you have the Taliban, but you also have Daesh. They were very clear that inaction is death. But we cannot let—and they are fighting not to let—the evil that they are perpetrating change their way of life or their fight for women in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. So they were very clear: we must fight them and we must defeat them—there is no other way. And we have to do it together. There is nobody more qualified than these women to give us that advice.

In conclusion, we cannot defeat this enemy by withdrawing behind our borders and leaving the fight to others. We must assist them and others around the world to defeat this enemy, to achieve peace, to rebuild institutions, to re-implement the rule of law and to defeat ideological and religious violence and extremism. To do that, we have to fight politically and we have to fight militarily, and we have to use any other tools available to us. I think that is the right thing and the only just thing to do.