House debates

Wednesday, 14 September 2016



7:30 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

In this week, we have commemorated 15 years since the events of 11 September 2001—events that shocked our nation and the rest of the world. Like most Australians, I was overcome by the horrific imagery of the collapsing Twin Towers. These images would become iconic and would stigmatise the beginning of the 21st century. 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror has had a profound impact on all our lives and our sense of security.

I want to begin by commending the tireless efforts of the men and women of emergency services and military personnel who in the wake of these atrocities risked their lives to save others. I also want to pay my respects to those who perished, their families and loved ones, who remember them and grieve for them still.

In my electorate of Calwell, 9/11 had an immediate and profound effect, especially on my Muslim communities, where the perception of Australians of the Muslim faith immediately after went from ethnic migrants to religious stereotypes. In the West, 9/11 spurred a renewed interest in Islam and the Muslim world. Unfortunately, such inquisitiveness was often driven by fear, suspicion and prejudice. As a result of the ensuing decade of the war on terror, many migrants and refugees have settled into my electorate. I have had the pleasure of welcoming many Iraqis and, most recently, Syrians into our community, and I am proud that they now call Calwell home.

However, it would be remiss of me not to remind this House of the role that our then government played, however small, in their plight and dispossession as Iraq descended into a quagmire of violence, instability and hate. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the view quickly formed by what came to be known as the coalition of the willing that there could be only one response—that of war, no other option—was genuinely countenanced. But 15 years later there is also another principle at stake here and that is uncovering the truth behind Australia's decision in 2003 to join the US-led invasion of Iraq. To not do this would be to uphold what Thucydides warned some 1,585 years ago. When referring to another protracted regional war he said:

Most people, in fact, will not take the trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.

For the sake of truth, we must not do this in the case of Iraq—or any other war, for that matter.

At the time, I and the Labor opposition, like many Australians, voiced our concern and objection to the then government's decision to join the invasion of Iraq. We appealed to the government to exhaust all diplomatic means, we raised our concerns about the quality of the intelligence it was relying on, we warned of the dire consequences of instability and we sought assurances of a post-conflict strategy, all to no avail.

I remember, after gruelling public debates and with an imminent deadline for an invasion looming, I joined hundreds of thousands of Australians and indeed millions of people around the world in anti-war protests. We knew then that the path to peace and security was not to be served by going to war. As our concerns went unheeded, Australia joined the US and others in March of 2003 in its invasion of Iraq.

We need to reassess Australia's involvement in the Iraq War, especially following the recently completed UK Iraq Inquiry, which sought to identify lessons that could be learned from the Iraq conflict. The Chilcot report confirmed the suspicions, reservations and misgivings expressed in this House by many colleagues all those years ago. In criticising both the certainty with which the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was asserted as well as exposing the moral flaw upon which the legal justification rested, the Chilcot report affirms the merit of the decision of the then Labor opposition, led by Simon Crean, not to provide bipartisan support—a decision that was criticized severely by many at the time but one that had integrity of purpose. Another Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, in his historic speech opposing our involvement in the Vietnam War on, 4 May 1965 said, 'Our duty as representatives of the Australian people can at times outweigh the mere convenience of bipartisanship.'

The decision to invade Iraq has had far reaching and dire political, humanitarian, economic, military and cultural ramifications. The subsequent displacement of more than four million Iraqis further exacerbated instability and dispossessed and dislocated millions of innocent people. The Chilcot report clearly justifies the need to have our own inquiry into the Howard government's decision to invade Iraq. (Time expired)


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