Thursday, 9 February 2017
Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015; Second Reading
It goes to the very heart of who would be involved in this. One thing Senator Ludlam and I—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—agree about is the significance of any decision that would involve sending any of our young men and women into harm's way anywhere in the world. Those decisions must be taken with the greatest possible care, by decent men and women who are selected by this nation to represent them by majority in this parliament. For a time, that could well be members of the Australian Labor Party. Do I contest that? Do I think that only the conservative coalition side of politics has the intellectual grunt, has the grasp on humanity to make decisions about our involvement in overseas conflicts? No, I do not. And I say to you, Senator Ludlam—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—on the back of a hope that this never happens: if the Greens were, in the year 2098, when the sun flares out for the last time, given power over this nation, then I would respect the fact that you as an executive would make a decision on when and where and in what circumstances this country might engage in a military conflict.
I absolutely hate military action anywhere in the world. A figure that you might like to hear is that the entire humanitarian budget each year is only two per cent of the entire military budget each year. So, every day we spend US$1.9 billion on military conflict around the world. In the time I have been up here speaking, $100 million has been spent for some person to kill another. I find it abhorrent. But I also am a realist, and I know that there are occasions when nations get into conflict. They might call upon their allies, and we may have to intervene in the interests of trying to create as peaceful an environment as possible or to protect the minorities around the world.
I was in this place when I heard the very forceful argument of the Greens against us putting troops into Syria. We have a genocide occurring with the Christian minority in Syria. They were killing hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children every day, and some of them in the most obnoxious ways, putting people in cages—children—and lowering them into waters so they drowned. And I heard the colleagues of the Greens here resist any thought that we might join a military action in Syria to try to save and preserve the lives of these minorities who are being affected. Now, we did, and there has been success. In fact, thousands of these refugees, these Christian Syrians, are coming to our nation today—people who would not be alive if it had not been for the intervention of our nation and our allies in relation to their circumstances.
We have seen the genocide of Saddam Hussein on his neighbours—tens of thousands of them gassed—and the Greens resist any thought, even retrospectively. This is what makes it so offensive. These people want to join me and the properly elected government and their executive to make decisions on whether we should or should not, and their contributions are so predictable, and they reconfirm it retrospectively. So, they would have had us not go into Iraq and leave Saddam Hussein to continue on the annihilation of a whole race of people.
None of these interventions go well. You cannot go in and knock off the Saddams of the world and all their colonels and lieutenants, because in doing so you take away the superstructure—albeit a corrupt society, but it disappears. All their levels of government disappear. Their local government disappears. There is no-one to make decisions about the utilities or those sorts of things that you and I take for granted in this country. But when you consider that against doing nothing, then of course the decision, in my mind, becomes very clear.
What we have at the heart of this is a style of government in this country whereby people select members of the lower house, the House of Representatives. They are elected by a popular majority, in a democratic way, in a democratic system that has been tested for hundreds of years. In the words of I think it was Churchill, talking about democracy, it is the worst form of government—except for all the others. And I think that is as powerful a statement today as it has ever been.
You talk about the Prime Minister—our Prime Minister—reacting to a tweet and sending the troops into the Middle East on the back of a tweet. I have to ask you: do you think the Australian people hear that and think that is what happens? That is a complete and absolute nonsense, and it shows your ignorance of how executive government operates.