Wednesday, 28 May 2008
60th Anniversary of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations
by leave—Tomorrow, 29 May, marks the 60th anniversary of the first peacekeeping operation authorised by the United Nations Security Council. Its mission was to supervise the truce after the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This anniversary is a significant milestone, for the United Nations, for the international community and for Australia. Since their inception, United Nations peacekeeping operations have brought hope to countries riven by conflict. They have saved lives, helped communities, helped societies and helped rebuild nations. Australia has a long and very proud history of supporting United Nations peacekeeping operations. In fact, if we take into account the 1947 United Nations Consular Commission to Indonesia, during which Australia—then a member of the United Nations Security Council—helped monitor observance of the ceasefire between Dutch and Indonesian forces, it is arguable that we were the first nation state to have personnel on the ground in any modern peacekeeping operation.
Geography alone, however, has not defined Australia’s peacekeeping or security interests. Since 1948, Australia has made contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa, Europe, Central America, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. As a considerable and significant nation, and as a good international citizen, we continue that noble tradition to this day. More than 30,000 Australians have served around the world as peacekeepers. They have come from all parts of our defence forces, federal, state and territory police forces, and other Australian government agencies.
According to the Australian War Memorial, 12 Australians have died while serving with United Nations and non-United Nations peacekeeping operations. As a mark of respect to those Australians, I table a list of their names. For a period in 1993, Australia had over 2,000 peacekeepers in the field, with large contingents in Cambodia and Somalia. Today we have Australians serving in peacekeeping operations from Sudan to the Solomon Islands. The Australian Defence Force deployment with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in the Middle East is Australia’s longest, continuous peacekeeping commitment.
Peacekeeping has become a vital element in Australia’s contribution to international peace and security. As well, it is now an essential and highly-valued skill for our military and police forces. The tasks faced by peacekeepers have changed dramatically over the past 60 years. As the nature of armed conflict has changed, United Nations and other peacekeeping operations have in turn become more complex.
Today’s peacekeeper may be involved in preventive deployments, in peacemaking or in peace-enforcing arrangements. Peacekeeping itself has come to embrace a wide range of activities that include the promotion of human security, confidence building and capacity building, the provision of electoral support, programs to strengthen the rule of law, and economic and social development. These days, peacekeeping is no longer the exclusive domain of the United Nations. Non-United Nations led peacekeeping operations are now commonly undertaken by other multinational or regional groupings.
The non-United Nations peacekeeping operations to which Australia has contributed include the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai, the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Regional arrangements such as these are increasingly finding favour at the United Nations, as the world body confronts the challenge of sustaining the large number of peacekeeping operations it has deployed around the globe. The success of the missions in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands reflect the close regional cooperation between the contributing nations of South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific.
Australia’s national contribution to the United Nations’ peacekeeping budget is the 12th largest of United Nations member states. Furthermore, Australia supports the efforts of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to strengthen the UN peacekeeping system. Indeed, only yesterday, 27 May, the Australian Mission to the United Nations in New York delivered a statement on behalf of Australia, Canada and New Zealand expressing our collective interest in working with the secretary-general on his new proposal to strengthen the Office of Military Affairs in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Our participation in successive United Nations peacekeeping operations is consistent with Australia’s strong national interest in maintaining international peace and security, including by promoting stability in countries which might otherwise provide a haven for terrorists or transnational criminals.
The Australian government has decided that, after an absence of more than 20 years, Australia will seek election to a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2013-14 period. It is entirely in keeping with the spirit and the substance of our longstanding contribution to the United Nations’ vital peacekeeping work that we should once more participate directly in the work of the United Nations Security Council, the world’s pre-eminent body dealing with questions of international peace and security, and the one that authorises United Nations peacekeeping operations. We look forward to making a direct contribution to the security council’s work in promoting international peace and security through the authorisation of United Nations peacekeeping operations.
In the 60 years since the first peacekeeping operation authorised by the United Nations Security Council, Australia’s reputation for professionalism and competence has allowed us to project a strong voice on peacekeeping. And our continued participation in peacekeeping missions outside our immediate region has helped to demonstrate our commitment to international peace and stability and to strengthen our credentials as a responsible member of the international community.
I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Goldstein to speak for a period of not more than seven minutes.
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Robb speaking for a period not exceeding 7 minutes.
Question agreed to.
On behalf of the opposition, it is my privilege to support the sentiments just expressed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Australia has had peacekeepers in the field with the United Nations continuously for over 60 years. In Indonesia in 1947, Australians were part of the very first group of UN military observers anywhere in the world and were, in fact, the first into the field. Currently there are 17 UN peacekeeping operations across the world and Australia is playing its part in the Middle East, Sudan, Cyprus—where Australians have assisted since 1964—and East Timor.
In marking this 60th anniversary of the first UN peacekeeping operation, the approach of the tens of thousands of Australians who have participated in UN operations I think is typified by those Australian peacekeepers, led exceptionally by General Cosgrove, who in 1999 answered the call of help for the small and vulnerable community of East Timor. The East Timor operation was highly successful, but the events of earlier this year highlight that there are still many challenges to overcome and Australia must continue to stand side by side in addressing such challenges.
What is more, the Australians involved in this ongoing peacekeeping mission helped restore Australia’s relationship with neighbouring Indonesia following our 1999 intervention. As General Cosgrove has stated: ‘I was extremely proud of the pragmatic, good-humoured, cooperative way the Australians cooperated with the Indonesians. It was a milestone in our relationship, both at the military level, which had taken some hits, and even country to country.’
In a similar vein, over six decades Australia has contributed over 35,000 Australian military and police personnel to more than 50 peace operations around the world. It is a record which all of us in this House and in our nation should be immensely proud of. We have contributed to rebuilding nation states from the bottom up. From Sudan to the Sinai, Australia can stand tall in the international community, and we all owe gratitude to the men and women who bravely represent us in such missions. Worldwide there are 110,000 people deployed in UN peacekeeping at the moment from nearly 120 countries. They deserve our thanks and appreciation. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage Australians to donate to the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial Project and to thank those individuals and corporations that have already donated.
I note the minister’s comments that the Australian government has decided to seek election to a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2013-14 period. As stated by the opposition previously, this is a legitimate objective but, given the nature of elections to such positions these days, it must not be achieved by compromising our principles or national interest to gain a majority of votes from the, now, 192 member countries. Given the harmony and the common sense that has for so long characterised our nation, Australia is well credentialed to contribute to peacekeeping roles. I commend the professionalism and the effectiveness of all those who have carried out the roles on our behalf. Our continued participation is a good thing. It is a very principled and important obligation. It is a demonstration of our belief and support for peace and stability throughout the world.