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Tuesday, 17 September 2002
Page: 6455

Ms PLIBERSEK (9:50 PM) —I do not support an attack on Iraq. I particularly do not support a pre-emptive first strike. Nor do I support any action that is initiated by the US alone rather than being sanctioned by the United Nations. I welcome Iraq's agreement today to allow unconditional access to United Nations weapons inspectors. I believe that Iraq is a repressive regime which is probably developing weapons of mass destruction. However, this description does not apply to Iraq alone but applies to a number of countries, some of which the US would think of as allies. I believe an international solution must be found to the problem of Iraq's abuse of human rights affecting its own citizens, as well as the threat it poses due to its weapons manufacturing program, but I do not believe bombing Iraq is a solution—just a different type of problem.

I am reminded of some Oxfam figures which show that during World War I five per cent of deaths were civilians, during World War II 50 per cent of deaths were civilians, and in every subsequent war 90 per cent of the casualties have been civilians. The civilians who have already suffered in Iraq do not deserve to suffer more because they live under a repressive regime. Iraq has suffered due to the tragic war with Iran when hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. There were those who died—and estimates vary—during the Gulf War, and then after the Gulf War there was a new type of suffering for many Iraqis with the introduction of sanctions.

UN figures from 2001 state that 60 per cent of the population have no regular access to clean water. Malnutrition was and is chronic. Before the war, the gross national product of Iraq was $US3,000 a year per capita; now it is $US500 a year per capita, making Iraq one of the poorest nations on earth. In 2000, Columbia University Professor Richard Garfield estimated that there were 300,000 excess deaths of children under the age of five since the Gulf War. In 1997, UNICEF reported that 4,500 children under the age of five were dying every month from hunger and disease. The food for oil deal to ease sanctions improved that situation slightly.

My concern for Iraqi civilians is the first reason I have for opposing armed conflict in the area. The second reason is I believe that, in this matter as in most others, the US response is governed by self-interest and not by universal principles. This leads to hypocrisy. I can think of a rogue state which consistently ignores UN resolutions, whose ruler is a war criminal responsible for the massacres of civilians in refugee camps outside its borders. The US supports and funds this country. This year it gave it a blank cheque to continue its repression of its enemies. It uses US military hardware to bulldoze homes and kill civilians. It is called Israel, and the war criminal is Ariel Sharon. Needless to say, the US does not mention the UN resolutions that Israel has ignored for 30 years; it just continues sending the money. The US is also hypocritical in its criticism of the lack of democracy in Iraq. None of the Arab allies which the US seeks to cultivate is a democracy. The US says that Saddam must be destroyed because he has abused the human rights of his own citizens, including those from ethnic minorities such as the Kurds. The US has conveniently forgotten that the regimes it has installed and supported—the Pinochet regime in Chile, to name but one—have abducted and murdered citizens of their own. The US has ignored the ethnic cleansing carried out by Turkey against the Kurds. In fact, Turkey is a valued member of NATO and a likely starter for the European Union. The US and most European countries were great supporters of the Suharto regime which was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. The US originally went to war with Iraq, a country it had previously supported as a bulwark against Iran and communism, because it invaded Kuwait. As Tariq Ali says in The Clash of Fundamentalism:

Iraq's seizure of Kuwait was not in the West's interests, since it posed the threat that two-fifths of the world's oil reserves would be controlled by a modern Arab state with an independent foreign policy, unlike the feudal dependencies of the West in Kuwait and the Gulf of Saudi Arabia.

The whole world ignored Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor. Israel has still not withdrawn from the occupied territories, and has done so only recently from southern Lebanon. Turkey ignores the international calls for it to leave Cyprus. None of these has caused military action; they have barely raised an eyebrow. If the US says that it should be able to use force to enforce UN resolutions, we should ask the question: why against Iraq yet not against the countries I have just mentioned? If the US believes it can force regime change, I would have grave concerns about the type of regime the US would support to replace Saddam Hussein. Certainly it could hardly be worse, but would it be much better? The regimes the US has installed in the past have often been abusers of human rights, including the Pinochet regime, which I mentioned earlier. The US is saying that Iraq supports international terrorism. It is no secret that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have both been sources of funding and venues for teaching terrorism. Why, then, are we not debating whether to take action against these states? Indeed, when General Musharrif first seized power in Pakistan, he was traduced by the US as a dictator who was beefing up Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. It seems he has been rehabilitated.

As well as the civilian death toll and the hypocrisy and self-interest of US foreign policy, there are two additional reasons which make me oppose Australian involvement in any war on Iraq. One is that, during the Gulf War, Arab Australians suffered increased racism and vilification. If it is true, as the Prime Minister says, that it is not Arabs we have a problem with but terrorists, we should make an effort to restate our belief that Australian Arabs are a law-abiding community that deplores violence. It is no wonder Arab nations doubt this sentiment when they see us condemn Iraq as a rogue state which abuses the human rights of its citizens but then respond to those citizens who manage to escape the regime by calling them `queue jumpers' and insisting they return home. It strikes me as obscene that we have had a long and detailed debate followed by a conscience vote on the issue of whether to use surplus IVF embryos for stem cell research and yet, without having the opportunity to vote, the executive may make a decision to send Australian troops to Iraq to fight there, perhaps to die; certainly to kill Iraqi people, perhaps civilians—most likely children.

I am very pleased that we have been able to have this debate today. Labor have been calling for it since April this year. It is vital that we have this debate in this place; the Australian public expects it of us. I would hope that, before any commitment was made to send Australian troops into the region to fight—perhaps to die—in Iraq, we would return to this place to further debate the issue and decide here what our course of action should be.