Monday, 21 October 2019
That this House:
(a)14 September 2019 marks National Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Day; and
(b)20 September 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the deployment of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), the peacemaking taskforce that came to Timor-Leste to address the humanitarian and security crisis from 1999-2000;
(a)the vital role of Australians in peace operations and their more than 70 years of dedicated service to the international community; and
(b)the more than 5,500 personnel who contributed to INTERFET—including that of former Governor-General, General Sir Peter Cosgrove, AK, CVO, MC (Retd)—and the important contribution they made at a critical time in the history of Timor-Leste; and
(a)the service and sacrifice of all those who served in peacekeeping operations and the families who supported them; and
It gives me immense pleasure to rise today to speak on this motion and to mark National Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Day, which was observed on 14 September 2019. Australia has always played a leading and vital role in peacekeeping missions around the world, none more so that than leading 22 nations in the deployment of the International Force East Timor, the peacemaking task force that went to Timor-Leste to address the humanitarian and security crisis between 1999 and 2000. The 20th anniversary of that significant deployment to Timor-Leste was observed on 14 September this year.
There's no greater honour than to serve your country. The sacrifices Australian men and women make for our country are truly remarkable and, in fact, in some cases the ultimate sacrifice. All too often they are away from loved ones for long periods of time, missing birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings and so on. Imagine having to say goodbye to loved ones—your wife, husband, partner, children, parents and friends—every three, six or 12 months, not knowing whether you'll actually see them again or whether they will see you. That's what we're asking our men and our women in our armed forces and their families to do, and I would like everyone in this chamber just to pause and think about that for a moment.
More than 5,000 Australian personnel contributed to the International Force East Timor, including the former Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. To say things were unstable in the region at the time is an absolute understatement. Following the announcement of the referendum result on 4 September 1999, violent and deadly clashes instigated by anti-independence militias broke out. Many East Timorese were killed. An estimated 500,000 were displaced and around half fled the territory. Australia, under the leadership of former Prime Minister John Howard, could not sit back and watch this crisis unfold on our doorstep. And I have to say that, as a member of the government of that time, it was great to see, as we do in many of these types of situations, the very strong bipartisan support we had in dealing with that matter.
I will not get into the nitty-gritty aspects of the mission, but on 28 February 2000 International Force East Timor handed over command of military operations to the United Nations transitional administration in East Timor, which provided an interim civil administration and oversaw the peacekeeping mission until the country's independence on 20 May 2002. The country remains fragile, and political rivalries extending back into its guerrilla past have required the help of the Australian Army again in 2006 and 2009, but it certainly has a bright future.
Sadly, during the Australian deployment four Australian soldiers lost their lives. However, none of these deaths were due to enemy actions. Many also came back home very different people after witnessing horrors and atrocities we simply can't fathom. Sadly, this is an all-too-familiar story with many of our veterans that return home from active service.
I want to personally thank all of those personnel for their sacrifice and their service, all of those who served in peacekeeping operations in the past and those currently serving in the UN Truce Supervision Organization, the UN Mission in South Sudan, the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and the UN Disengagement Observer Force. Let me tell you that serving in these operations, unless you've actually been over there and witnessed yourself what happens at the time, is very hard to imagine. There's a huge amount of pride that goes with serving and contributing something positive to what was the re-establishment of Timor-Leste as a nation. We've seen the same thing happening in many other areas where we've seen our troops going in there as peacekeepers, and I think we should always be very mindful of and respectful for the contribution and the sacrifices that they make willingly. It is a sacrifice the burden of which is in many ways also carried by their families. I have to say to them all: you are the real, true heroes in my eyes.
I second the motion, and commend the member for Leichardt for moving it. This year, 14 September marked National Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Day and 20 September, of course, marked the 20th anniversary of the deployment of the International Force East Timor, INTERFET, the peacekeeping force that went to Timor Leste to address the humanitarian and security crisis that was engulfing that place. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to talk about the outstanding contribution of Australians and all those who've served and continue to serve in international peacekeeping operations, as well as the families who support them. They are heroes as well.
It's very important that we recognise that approximately 65,000 servicemen and women have been involved in over 50 peacekeeping operations worldwide on behalf of our country since 1947. There are still some serving currently in UN peacekeeping operations. Since Australia has been involved, there are 70 years of service to the international community. Tragically, we've seen the loss of life and we've seen others come home, as the member for Leichhardt said, never to be the same again. Australian peacekeepers have served in some of the most challenging environments around the world, involving operations in places such as Kashmir, Cyprus, the Middle East, Timor Leste, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bougainville and others. Peacekeeping operations often involve, primarily, our Defence Force, but there are also Australians from various police forces around the country and civilians who are making contributions of a humanitarian and community development nature.
As I said, 20 September marked the 20th anniversary of INTERFET, a multinational peacekeeping task force mandated by the United Nations to address the humanitarian and security situation in Timor Leste, which had deteriorated—we recall the pictures we saw on TV. It was also the first time Australia led a major international coalition. Apart from the response of the Prime Minister, John Howard, to the Port Arthur tragedy, I thought that East Timor was probably close to one of the finest things he did as Prime Minister. I say that in a bipartisan way. I thought he did a tremendous job in that regard. I also want to commend Major General Peter Cosgrove of the Australian Army, who went on to become the Chief of the Defence Force and a distinguished Governor-General of this country.
I know there are a range of commemorative activities across the country, and in Dili there were government ministers—as well as, I understand, my opposition colleague the member for Solomon and Timor Leste veteran, Luke Gosling—who attended. On 21 September I attended a special Ipswich RSL Sub Branch INTERFET commemorative service at the Ipswich Memorial Gardens, beside the hall, in my electorate. I laid a wreath to honour all those who served in Timor Leste. It was a privilege to meet a number of local INTERFET and Timor veterans and to reflect on the outstanding contribution they made to Timor Leste's success today. It's an independent, democratic and economically sustainable nation, but I agree with the member for Leichhardt: there are challenges that that small country faces. The speeches in Ipswich reminded those present of the peacekeeping operations and the challenges—and even risks—that were there. It was the right thing to do at the time. It was deeply supported by the Australian public and deeply appreciated by the overwhelming majority of people in Timor Leste. In recent times, peacekeeping has been an important part of Australia's defence posture. Indeed, we still have a number of service personnel deployed in peacekeeping operations around the world, and the things we learned in Timor Leste have been applied. All of us were reminded of this at the recent event in Ipswich.
The Australian Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade here in Canberra was inaugurated in 2017 to commemorate the service and sacrifice of Australians who served in peacekeeping or peacekeeping missions around the world. I know that my colleague the member for Bean, Dave Smith, represented federal Labor—certainly on my behalf—here in Canberra on the Australian Peacekeeping Day commemoration held at the memorial.
This memorial and these events are an important chapter in our Anzac history and, sadly, some former Australian peacekeepers have felt they've been forgotten and their service has not been properly recognised. I hope today they don't feel that. In the national parliament we are showing our gratitude and our support to let them know they've made an invaluable contribution to our national security and the security of our country. We salute them. It's vital that they know we honour them, we understand the sacrifices they've made and we hope their sacrifice is getting the recognition it deserves. I thank the member for the motion and commend it to the chamber.
Let me start with a quote from first century theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine, who said this:
We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.
I have always been firmly of the mind that the strong should help the weak, that those who are prosperous should help those who are poor. In fact, we have a moral obligation to support those for whom violence and poverty is a daily norm. As a young Australian Army officer I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as a platoon commander in East Timor. Here, Australia led the United Nations effort to end the bloodshed and so enable the birth of a new sovereign state, Timor-Leste. Later, as a captain and second in command of the online Australian infantry company, I had the opportunity to be one of the first on the deployment to the Solomon Islands, where we conducted cordon and search operations, collected criminals and thousands of weapons, and restored peace to our Pacific neighbour.
For more than 70 years Australian peacekeepers have played, and continue to play, an important role in advancing peace around the globe. An estimated 65,000 servicemen and women have been involved in 50 peacekeeping operations worldwide since 1947. And since 1964, along with members of the ADF, members of Australia's police service have joined peacekeeping operations internationally. On 14 September each year, National Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Day, we honour the courage and professionalism of Australian servicemen, servicewomen and police.
While the first Australian peacekeepers worked as unarmed military observers, over time the nature of peacekeeping operations has evolved to include the management of more complex and volatile environments. These have ranged from operations as military observers, providing logistical support and monitoring ceasefires, to landmine clearance operations, and also supporting democratic elections and providing policing support and humanitarian aid.
Australian peacekeepers have often served in hostile and volatile environments, including operations in Kashmir, Cyprus, the Middle East, East Timor, Cambodia, Rwanda and Bougainville. This year also marked, as we heard earlier, the 20th anniversary of the INTERFET mission, the peacemaking task force that went to Timor-Leste to address the humanitarian and security crisis in 1999-2000. At the time, the INTERFET mission was the largest single Australian deployment since the Second World War. To mark this important time in our history, veterans who put boots on the ground between 1999 and 2000 in Timor-Leste participated in a commemorative ceremony at the Palacio do Governo, which was followed by an official parade of remembrance to the Dili Convention Centre. INTERFET commander and former Governor-General of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, was one of those who attended. His role crossed between the lines of soldier and diplomat, and under great pressure he made decisions that have helped to shape history. His leadership during INTERFET was highly and widely respected and is a testament to all that he has achieved since, moving on to become Chief of Army, Chief of the Defence Force and, of course, Governor-General of Australia.
Tragically 16 Australians have died serving as peacekeepers, and their names are listed on the walls at the Australian War Memorial. It's also important to remember today those deployed in peacekeeping operations right now around the world, including in South Sudan, the Middle East and Cyprus. The international community is no doubt also thankful for the valuable service of our peacekeepers. As we look ahead, we should recognise that next month we commemorate Remembrance Day. This is the day we all acknowledge the almost two million Australians who have served and still serve in the defence of our nation. I encourage everyone to get along to their local Remembrance Day ceremony and pause for a moment's silence. Lest we forget.
Today we acknowledge, recognise and commemorate the event of 20 September 2019, the 20th anniversary of the deployment of the International Force East Timor, INTERFET, the peacekeeping task force that came to Timor-Leste to address the humanitarian and security crisis from 1999 to 2000. It followed six days after National Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Day, 14 September 2019.
These days are important and must be remembered as part of our national calendar, because they speak not just to the legacy and the memory of our peacekeepers but to the character and the objectives of this country itself. Australia has always sought to be a peaceful nation and to bring, as part of a community of nations, stability and peace for humanity. For more than 70 years, Australian peacekeepers have played—and they continue to play—a critical role in Australia and beyond our shores to assist that effort. We've had an estimated 65,000 service men and women who've been involved in over 50 peacekeeping operations worldwide since 1947. Behind each one of those peacekeepers have been human stories and an ambition for the type of world that we want to be. Since 1964, along with members of the ADF, members of Australia's police services have also served in peacekeeping operations around the world, aiding and assisting those in situations of need and conflict to bring about the ambitions of peace that we seek.
Tragically we've had peacekeepers often operating in very hostile environments, and 16 have been killed in pursuit of their mission. Their memories, their names, their legacy and their contribution to our great nation and the world are recognised at the Australian War Memorial. Our peacekeepers haven't just stayed in safety or ease; they've seen the realisation of what they want to give to the world in often hostile and volatile environments, including operations in Kashmir, Cyprus, the Middle East, East Timor, Cambodia, Rwanda and Bougainville. We must always acknowledge their sacrifice, because, when you think about the strength and resilience of our great country, it comes not from ease or from circumstances that we often would wish for ourselves but on the backs and the might and the sacrifice of those who make a greater contribution. That's why the acknowledgement of our peacekeepers—particularly this year, the 20th anniversary of the INTERFET mission—is so critical.
Just on our borders and beyond our shores, a new nation faced serious threats and a humanitarian and security crisis. Every country in those situations faces choices. Yes, they also face a choice about the impact it might have on themselves, but they also face a choice about what they can do to strengthen the bonds between a country and its internal resilience, and to show their humanity and humanitarianism for our allies. That's why we engaged to support peacekeeping operations, 5,500 of them, who were deployed in 1999. The legacy of their contribution continues today in the success of the ongoing journey of the country of Timor-Leste. But we must never forget that there are people who stood tall but also fell. When we come to Remembrance Day, it's time to remember their legacy and their contribution as part of the ongoing story of our great nation. Lest we forget.