Statement of support for Australian assistance in Iraq

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:13):  This morning the world learned that a second American journalist had been murdered in the civil war in Iraq. It was met with international outrage. It is understandable that citizens of other countries attend their view to an atrocity when it touches one of their own, but this does not overshadow the more than 5,000 Iraqis who have been slaughtered or the 12,000 who have been wounded, enslaved, abused and otherwise had their lives cut short at the hands of the murderous criminals who are masquerading as a cause. The United Nations has reported ISIS and its allies have committed 'systematic and egregious violations' against civilians, including mass killings, sexual violence, kidnapping, destruction of property and attacks on places of religious worship and of great historical importance. These must be resisted.

To deploy Australian forces to another country—to engage in operations in a theatre of war—is probably one of the gravest decisions any country can make. I believe it is proper that these decisions are made by governments, who necessarily have more information and intelligence at their fingertips, and are ultimately responsible for the consequences of their decisions. That does not mean that parliament does not have a role. It is equally proper that the Australian people are engaged in this debate and, through their representatives in parliament, can express their views.

Accordingly, in his address to parliament this week, our leader, Bill Shorten, committed Labor's support to the government, based on the following three principles. First, responding effectively to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to prevent genocide and relieve suffering. Second, promoting a unity government in Iraq that is inclusive and can achieve national cohesion—a government that would reject sectarianism and the alienation of minorities—enabling effective security and control of Iraqi territory. He said that we must not act in a way that would leave Iraq in a worse position. Third, denying motivation and opportunity for Australian fighters to join with the ISIS forces in Iraq. This statement enjoys my full support and the full support of every Labor member.

This morning it was reported that the foreign minister said that this support is in the face of 'gritted teeth' from Labor's Left. I do not know if these comments are true, but if they are accurately reported, they are both unfortunate and ill-informed. It may suit the political objectives of one side of politics or another to pick a fight on the issue, but it is not in the long-term interest of an informed debate and it is certainly not in the public interest.

I have never felt more strongly about the importance of the need to confront the barbarity of ISIS and for Australia to play its part in that. This is not an issue of Right versus Left. This is an issue of right versus wrong. To those who may question why the Left of Australian politics should support this proposition I simply say this: it is consistent with our values and our history. On the Left, we believe in the fundamental equality of all humankind, in the dignity of humanity, and in solidarity with those who face imminent persecution. These beliefs must dictate our action. We cannot stand idly by. How can we call for a regional solution to the flow of refugees within our region and at the same time shrink from an in-country solution to the persecution that drives refugees into camps and into the boats that meet our shores. It simply does not make sense. It is also consistent with our long and proud history of being on the right side of these matters.

It was John Curtin who famously turned to the United States and, in fighting the Pacific war in our nation's darkest hour, forged an alliance that has continued over 60 years and stands us in good stead today. It was the actions of a Labor government that gave birth to that alliance. It is also important that we contemplate the circumstances of John Curtin himself. He did not enter the national political fray as the member for Fremantle or as Australia's greatest wartime Prime Minister. He actually entered national politics 25 years earlier as an anti-war and anti-conscription activist. He was an absolutely fervent critic of the European slaughter, but he was also fervently opposed to the conscription policy of the early decades of our nation's federation. He was actually jailed for his anti-war and anti-conscription beliefs. But 25 years later he put the interests of the nation first in ensuring that we were well prepared to meet the onslaught of the Japanese Imperial Army.

It is the legacy of John Curtin which informs the actions of Australian Labor and should inform the position of the Left of Australian politics when you contemplate the challenge that is before us today.

Some say that we should not go down this direction, that there must be an alternative. Some have argued that we should look to the alternatives, and that is indeed right. It is the right question to ask but it is hard to fathom how the alternatives will halt the slaughter. If I honestly thought that a boycott, a protest, a sanction or a prayer group was going to stop the mass genocide and slaughter of minorities in northern Iraq and throughout the Middle East that is going on today, then I would agree, let us use the alternatives. But I do not think anybody who stands in this parliament today can honestly suggest that those actions are going to be sufficient.

Many have pointed to the disastrous 2003 war in Iraq as a dangerous precedent that we need not follow. I agree with them. I actually opposed both of the Iraq wars. I am now willing to stand here today and say that I was wrong about the first, but I was absolutely right about the second. But this is not a repeat of 2003 when a pre-emptive strike was being led against a sovereign leader in a country, albeit an enemy. This is a situation where the sovereign government of a country is calling on the nations in the rest of the world for their support and assistance, and Australia as an international citizen must answer that call.

It also answers the call of the United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon, because many have said that we should take this to the United Nations first. I welcome the statements of the Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon, who has called on the international community to engage. He has pointed out that there are over 1.2 million displaced persons in the region. He has pointed out all of the atrocities that are going on and he is calling on the international community to stand to, and indeed we should.

It is right for people in this place to be concerned about the possibility of mission creep. I share their concerns. But can I say as a representative of my electorate and as a member of this parliament, we must be very mindful of our obligations to the international community and to our own community. In a world where you can jump on a plane in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and many other places around the country and be in a theatre of war within 30 hours of departing our shores, then the opposite is also the case. We do not have the luxury of saying that this is somebody else's problem happening somewhere else and we need not be involved. It is not good enough for us in the wealthy countries of the world to say that we give speeches and money while the poor people give their lives and give blood. We are better than that as a parliament. We are better than that as a people. I wholeheartedly support the actions of the government and the Leader of the Opposition and I associate myself with the comments of the shadow foreign affairs spokesman earlier in this place today. We cannot stand idly by.