Feb 20, 2003

Iraq

IRAQ


20 March 2003


Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.14 p.m.) —I wish to add my voice to those who oppose this unjust war. This morning the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said:

Whatever our differing views on this complex issue, we must all feel that this is a sad day for the United Nations and the international community.

I know that millions of people around the world share this sense of disappointment, and are deeply alarmed by the prospect of imminent war.

………

… in the short term, the conflict that is now clearly about to start can only make things worse—perhaps much worse.

I am sure all members of this Council will agree that we must do everything we can to mitigate this imminent disaster, which could easily lead to epidemics and starvation.

When the Prime Minister spoke in Denpasar at the memorial service for the victims of the Bali bombing, I think he represented this country well. He spoke of the tremendous, easygoing, adventurous spirit of young Australians travelling the world, being open to other cultures and meeting everyone as friends and of how he was sure that that would continue. But how will the rest of the world view Australian travellers now? Will they see us as representatives of an egalitarian people from a diverse and tolerant society or will they see us as warmongers?

In World War I, Australia fought as part of the British Empire—that was who we were—but the experience at Gallipoli helped forge our own separate national identity. In World War II, we fought a just war against fascism. In Korea, we were part of a force with UN backing against aggression. In Vietnam, the coalition government of the day lied to the Australian people by telling this parliament that South Vietnam had requested our assistance. In the first Gulf War, we were part of a UN force, as we were in East Timor. There is no UN mandate here. We are not bringing peace; we are invading a sovereign country and making war. This is an unjust war without UN backing.

The comments of the Prime Minister and those in the government in trying to justify our involvement have been nothing short of disgraceful. We have heard a lot about the evils of Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt that it is correct that he is an evil tyrant who has oppressed his own people. But, in the Gaza Strip this week, six Palestinians in a refugee camp were killed by the Israeli army, including a toddler shot in the head. What is the government saying about that? What is our government saying about the death of an American peace activist—23-year-old Rachel Corrie—crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer? Ariel Sharon has already ruled out any so-called `roadmap for Middle East peace’ proposed by the Americans. He has declared that Israel will continue its occupation of Palestine in defiance of UN resolutions. What is the government saying about that?

Our government is about to redefine us in the eyes of the world as willing backers of US militarism. We had three nations meet in the Azores: the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain. We were not even invited to the meeting which determined that there would be war! The Prime Minister took a phone call and immediately said yes to President Bush, because we all know that that decision was made many months ago, before the predeployment of troops. We were not even at the meeting where the decision was made, and yet one of the nations which was at the meeting—Spain—is not sending troops to this war. Just three nations are sending troops: the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. What does that say about the sort of nation that we are? We are a multicultural nation, and yet here we are sending a message, particularly to the Islamic world, that we are a part of the old, white, Anglo-Christian order—and we have the President of the United States who invokes God in defending his government’s actions. I say that Islamic fundamentalism is a danger and a threat, but I also say that Christian fundamentalism is a danger and a threat. We should not be revisiting the Crusades, because that is how this war is being perceived by the international community.

We have heard a lot of criticism of France and its statement that it might use its veto, and yet it indicated very clearly that, if we were to wait just one month, it would take the veto off the table. But let us have a look at the record of vetoes. The United States has used the veto 76 times—35 of them on resolutions on Israel. During the 1980s, the United Nations was concerned with Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons—provided by US corporations with the backing and sanction of the US government. On 21 March 1986 the Security Council President, speaking on behalf of the Security Council, stated that the council members were:

… profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by the Iraqi forces against Iranian troops … [and] the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons.

The United States voted against the issuing of this statement. What hypocrisy! The United States was then supporting Iraq against Iran, because it knew that Iraq—whatever the criticisms of Saddam Hussein—was, and remains, a secular nation. It has no connections with al-Qaeda or with Islamic fundamentalism. Indeed, Osama bin Laden will be very happy with the decision of the so-called coalition of the willing to go to war.

Iraq does not represent a threat to Australia. We are, with this decision, supporting a pre-emptive strike, which changes forever the way that international politics works. The United Nations has been extremely damaged, not by its own actions but by the actions of the United States, the UK and Australia. There are alternatives to war. The UN weapons inspectors were doing their job, and we should have allowed them to finish that job. The great contradiction was pointed out by Robin Cook, in his courageous speech, when he said:

Ironically, it is only because Iraq’s military forces are so weak that we can even contemplate its invasion. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam’s forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days.

We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.

That contradiction is very stark, as is the contradiction when you open up the Daily Telegraph of last week and see `the mother of all bombs’. Here we are talking about weapons of mass destruction, but the Western powers are proudly saying, `We’ve got a bomb which is the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever produced.’ Do you think that is not going to kill civilians? This is an outrage, and we should not be a part of it.

In conclusion, the argument that we have on this side is very much with the government’s decision; it is not with our forces in the Australian Defence Force. We hope that each and every one of them is able to return safely to Australia. But it is our argument that they should not be there. The best way to keep those forces safe is for them to return as soon as possible. We do need regime change in some places of the world—it would certainly be a good thing in Iraq—but it should be brought about peacefully, just as we should bring about a peaceful regime change against this warmongering government. (Time expired)