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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 4755

Senator MILNE (6:03 PM) —I rise this afternoon to associate the Australian Greens with the comments that have been made in relation to the Geneva conventions. As Senator Brandis noted, there was a moving ceremony this morning outside Parliament House. I represented the Australian Greens there, along with the Attorney-General, Mr Robert McClelland; Senator Brandis; Robert Tickner, the Australian chair of the Red Cross; and other dignitaries who came together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Geneva conventions.

I particularly want to note this afternoon the role of the Red Cross in continually fostering those principles of humanitarian law around the world and the work it does in trying to limit human suffering in times of armed conflict. I would particularly like to thank the volunteers who support the Red Cross all around Australia and the world in that work. Very often the volunteers and staff who work so hard in carrying out the humanitarian ideals expressed in the conventions and in the additional protocols are forgotten, but you only have to talk to people who have served in any capacity in war to see how much they value the Red Cross. Also, when there are fundraising efforts around the country to raise money for the Red Cross, you see that level of appreciation.

In the celebration of 60 years of the Geneva conventions, Robert Tickner this morning mentioned how important it is to be vigilant in upholding the principles of the Geneva conventions. He cited a recent poll which showed—and I am alarmed by this—that 43 per cent of the people asked thought it was all right to torture prisoners, and in some cases 40 per cent thought it was all right to kill prisoners. I think it is a tragedy for Australia that we are returning figures of 43 per cent or 40 per cent in that regard. In my mind that is a direct result of the Bush administration’s years and the decision to establish Guantanamo Bay offshore in order to avoid the Geneva conventions. That has led, with Abu Ghraib prison as well, to atrocities which people saw week in and week out on their television screens. I think that has led to a somewhat unacceptable view in Australian society that it is ever okay to torture prisoners and that it is ever okay to kill foreign soldiers in your custody.

I would absolutely join with those who today congratulate the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in the decision to include the Red Crystal. I am delighted that we are honouring the 60th anniversary of the four Geneva conventions established in 1949, but I would urge vigilance and urge all members of parliament to reaffirm in their constituencies wherever possible the principles underpinning the Geneva conventions and to deplore any efforts around the world to undermine those conventions through national policy which sees a deliberate attempt to avoid the principles, to get around them, in order to engage in torture. I wish to add the Australian Greens’ support for this special anniversary of the Geneva conventions and undertake to the people of Australia that the Australian Greens will continue to support and do everything in our power to uphold the Geneva conventions and to support at all times the humanitarian work of the Red Cross.

Question agreed to.