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Aus: ACT Chief Minister Condemns War In Iraq

MEMBER FOR GINNINDERRA


114/03

CHIEF MINISTER CONDEMNS WAR IN IRAQ

Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, today expressed his strong opposition to the war in Iraq.

Mr Stanhope delivered a Ministerial Statement to the ACT Legislative Assembly condemning the war against Iraq and calling for the withdrawal of the Australian armed forces.

"This war is wrong - fundamentally, legally and morally wrong - and it can only have consequences that are both tragic and terrifying.

"This war diminishes each of us as individuals. This war diminishes us as a nation.

"We are often asked whether Australia should continue in its aggressive role, now that the war has begun in earnest and we are committed. To ask such a question is, I believe, to miss the point.

"It is never too late to do the right thing. And being half-way through a wrong act and deciding to carry it through to completion does not make it right.

"To have initiated this war was wrong, but to continue will forever diminish our nation and all that we have stood for - fairness, tolerance and democracy," said Mr Stanhope.

Mr Stanhope reflected on the history of the United Nations and the death toll on both sides of the war.

"Our Government - the Federal Government - has joined with the United States and the United Kingdom and has committed this nation to a war that does not have the sanction of the United Nations.

"Up until recently, the United Nations - with its democratic foundations and its vision of a better world for all - commanded international respect.

"This international standing of the UN has forever changed, and a terrible precedent has been set. A new rule of international relations, if not law, namely the legitimacy of pre-emption, has been established.

"Through the media we are also confronted with the chilling words of our allies, proudly claiming to have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqi soldiers - who are described as the 'enemy'.

"We must remember, however, that our "enemies" in this war are almost all young men - much younger than those of us here - who are most likely impoverished, undernourished, under-educated or uneducated.

"Our soldiers are mourned and named individually - as they should be. Yet enemy casualties - in their hundreds and indeed thousands- are celebrated and the dead depersonalised - becoming bland statistics jotted down to signpost the progress and success of the war," said Mr Stanhope.

The Chief Minister strongly rejected the assertion that those who oppose the law are disloyal to the Australian troops.

"Many people in Australia, and I include myself, are experiencing deep emotional turmoil over this war - torn between a deeply felt opposition to the war yet feeling a strong and instinctive desire to support our nation and our troops who are engaged in this deadly conflict.

"Throughout our history members of our armed forces have given their lives to defend our freedom and democracy.

"It is therefore vitally important that, in a vigorous democracy such as Australia, we protect the right to say what we think and feel without facing the accusation of disloyalty to our nation or to our armed forces.

"I am not disloyal to our troops, who are discharging their duties with all the skill, dedication, bravery and professionalism we have come to expect.

"I simply do not support the war to which the Australian Government has committed them," said Mr Stanhope.

A full copy of the Ministerial Statement is attached.

Released: 1 April 2003
Inquiries: Penny Farnsworth: 6205 0434(w)


JON STANHOPE
CHIEF MINISTER
MINISTERIAL STATEMENT ON WAR IN IRAQ
1 APRIL 2003


Mr Speaker, I rise today to express, in the strongest terms possible, my opposition to the war in Iraq.

I also express my immense sorrow.

Sorrow at the tragic loss of life, sorrow at the trampling by the great democracies of the world of the United Nations, the very institution we entrusted to uphold global peace and sorrow at the fact that, for the first time in our history, Australia has acted as an aggressor in a war.

Mr Speaker, on the 19th of February the Legislative Assembly passed a motion calling on the Federal Government to oppose the proposed war in Iraq and to immediately withdraw our troops from the Middle East.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Federal Government ignored our call and Australia became a party to this war last month.

As was required by the motion, however, I conveyed the resolution of the Assembly to the Prime Minister, to all federal politicians, to the UN including the United Nations Security Council, to the President of the United States and to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Mr Speaker, I have had some very interesting and, indeed quite moving, responses to my letter, and I table those received.

The Leader of the Federal Opposition, Simon Crean, said and I quote:

Prime Minister Howard has committed Australia to war. The decision was reckless, unnecessary, illegal and wrong. War should always be a last resort. The weapons inspectors were making progress. They should have been allowed to finish their jobs...

Australia should not have become part of the Coalition of the Willing. Instead, we should have worked through the UN to disarm those rogue states who possess weapons of mass destruction, and uphold the rule of international law.

Labor supports the disarmament of Iraq. We support our troops. But we do not support the war.

The Federal Member for Werriwa, Mark Latham, said and I quote:

Along with many other Australians, I do not want a world in which one country has all the power. I do not want a world based on "Axis of Evil" rhetoric and the constant threat of pre-emptive military strikes.

There is a better way. It is called international cooperation. It means respecting the reports and findings of Hans Blix. It means respecting international opinion - in this case, the position of France, Germany, Russia and China. It means sharing power across the globe, instead of allowing one nation to appoint itself as the global policeman.

The war against terrorism must target terrorists, not the women and children of Iraq. It must solve problems, like catching Bin Laden, wiping out Al Quaeda and addressing the Palestinian question. It must attack the core reasons for terrorism, rather than rush down the path of American adventurism.

I add my voice to that of my Labor colleagues.

This war is wrong - fundamentally, legally and morally wrong - and it can only have consequences that are both tragic and terrifying.

This war diminishes each of us as individuals. This war diminishes us as a nation. The death of the first Iraqi at the hands of the invading forces - of which we are a member - has diminished each of us as we are required - as we must - to accept collective responsibility for the actions of our Government and our nation. There is no comfort to be found in attributing the death and destruction being daily meted out in Iraq to some shadowy or anonymous "them" or others. It is "us" - all the peoples of Australia who must accept responsibility.

Mr Speaker, as we discuss the war that is currently being waged by us and in our name, it is worth reflecting on some history.

The United Nations was established in 1945, in the aftermath of the Second World War, to help stabilise international relations and give peace a more secure foundation.

It is worth recalling the Charter of the United Nations, which begins:

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
* to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
* to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
* to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
* to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
AND FOR THESE ENDS
* to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
* to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
* to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
* to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

The Charter, with its eloquent preamble, creates a compelling vision of a more peaceful future for all citizens of the world.

And the Charter goes beyond mere words, establishing sound and just processes for maintaining world peace and order.

Our Government - the Federal Government - has joined with the United States and the United Kingdom and has committed this nation to a war that does not have the sanction of the United Nations.

Up until recently, the United Nations - with its democratic foundations and its vision of a better world for all - commanded international respect. The sneering dismissal by the USA, Great Britain and Australia of the United Nation's' opposition to a war against Iraq has weakened the United Nations. Many now openly deride its impotence.

The UN has found itself powerless in the face of the obdurate determination of the world's only real super power to have its way. The UN has lost the respect of many who would support it.

This international standing of the UN has forever changed, and a terrible precedent has been set. A new rule of international relations, if not law, namely the legitimacy of pre-emption, has been established.

It is true that we are united with these nations - but we are united in shame in being the first nations to ride roughshod over safeguards agreed by the great democracies of the world.

Our actions have mocked the United Nations and held in contempt the very essence of democracy and sovereignty.

As I said in my Canberra Day Oration - those who choose to ignore history end up repeating its tragedies.

The Prime Minister, in committing our nation and our troops to this war, said:

Only one nation can determine whether force will be necessary or not. Only one nation, acting alone, can make the choice for peace. That nation is Iraq.

I do not believe that statement to be true - we too had a choice - but we chose badly and we chose wrongly.

And I, like many others, question who in Iraq is making those decisions - and who is feeling their impact.

We are now up to day 12 in what our Prime Minister euphemistically described as the operation to disarm Iraq.

But make no mistake - we are at war - with all its full gore, its indiscriminate toll of death and destruction and its permanent legacy of trauma, despair and anger.

Each day, we are bombarded with words and images that show, in heart wrenching detail, the carnage that is taking place across Iraq.

We see images of young children, bloodied and distressed, orphaned or lying dead in a morgue somewhere.

Would they have chosen peace if we, who had the power, gave them the chance?

Yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald has an article, fittingly headed:

Baghdad's children pay the price of freedom with their lives.

The article begins:

From outside on the dirt street, the wailing was like a beacon of grief, arcing across the cloudless, star-lit night.

Inside, a dozen women clad in full-length black cloaks sat huddled on the floor of a living room, bobbing back and forth and sending piercing, high pitched screams into the night.

Under the glow of a single kerosene lamp, three rough-hewn wooden caskets containing the bodies of the male children of the al-Hamdani family, aged 20, 18 and 12, lay on the floor.

Neighbours said they were killed when a bomb or missile struck a crowded, open-air market, about 15 metres away from their home.

The article ends with the following:

Dr Ahmed Sufian, a resident at al-Noor Hospital, said he had been treating 'severe' injuries, describing a 1-year-old girl who suffered open intestinal wounds in the blast. "I'm a doctor and I can't understand this. They come to free us. This is freedom?"

No - this is NOT freedom - it is not the freedom that our forefathers, who went to fight the war to end all wars last century, sought to defend and maintain. This is not a war that will be judged kindly by history.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

Through the media we are also confronted with the chilling words of our allies, proudly claiming to have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqi soldiers - who are described as the 'enemy'.

We must remember, however, that our "enemies" in this war are almost all young men - much younger than those of us here - who are most likely impoverished, undernourished and uneducated.

Did they too choose war over peace?

Or is it just possible that they were conscripted into this conflict - called like all our soldiers to defend someone else's vision of freedom, or justice or what is right.

Are they, in obeying the laws of their country and of their military superiors justifiably slaughtered? Are these thousands of young Iraqi conscripts not also innocent? By what right do we define them as the 'enemy' and seek them out and kill them with the overwhelming superiority of our arms and technology? They are not Australia's enemy. They are not my enemy.

As Bob Ellis said in today's Canberra Times:

We're in a war where no-one bad gets killed, because our targeted smart bombs miss the innocent. We only kill the chambermaids and cooks and butlers and gardeners of Saddam's palaces, the office cleaners and late-working bureaucrats and typists of his ministries, the cameramen and boom-swingers and make-up girls of his television studios. Bad people like that. And, in their hundreds, teenage conscripts defending bombarded cities in the south.

This conflict has introduced into our thinking and our lexicon a hierarchy of human life. All humans have certain inalienable rights - it is just that the right to life of some is more valuable than that of anyone we call our enemy.

Our soldiers are mourned and named individually - as they should be.

Yet enemy casualties - in their hundreds and indeed thousands- are celebrated and the dead depersonalised - becoming bland statistics jotted down to signpost the progress and success of the war.

Coalition soldiers died for an honourable cause - the cause we are told of freedom - while Iraqi citizens and soldiers alike just died. Unfortunately for them and uncomfortably for the USA, Great Britain and Australia, they were killed by us before we could liberate them.

Mr Speaker, we are often told that those of us who do not support this war are disloyal to our troops.

I, and many others, find this accusation offensive and simplistic.

Many people in Australia, and I include myself, are experiencing deep emotional turmoil over this war - torn between a deeply felt opposition to the war yet feeling a strong and instinctive desire to support our nation and our troops who are engaged in this deadly conflict.

Mr Speaker, throughout our history members of our armed forces have given their lives to defend our freedom and democracy. It is therefore vitally important that, in a vigorous democracy such as Australia, we protect the right to say what we think and feel without facing the accusation of disloyalty to our nation or to our armed forces.

Mr Speaker, I am NOT disloyal to our troops, who are discharging their duties with all the skill, dedication, bravery and professionalism we have come to expect. I simply do not support the war to which the Australian Government has committed our armed forces.

Mr Speaker, we are also asked whether Australia should continue in its aggressive role, now that the war has begun in earnest and we are committed.

To ask such a question is, I believe, to miss the point.

This war is wrong. To persist with it will never make it right.

It is never too late to do the right thing. And being half-way through a wrong act and deciding to carry it through to completion does not make it right.

To have initiated this war was wrong, but to continue will forever diminish our nation and all that we have stood for - fairness, tolerance and democracy.

Before the war began, US Senator Robert Byrd said:

We are sleepwalking through history. In my heart of hearts I pray this great nation and its trusting citizens are not in for the rudest of awakenings. I truly question any president who can say that a massive, unprovoked military attack on a nation that is over 50 per cent children is 'in the highest moral traditions of our country'. Our mistake was to put ourselves in the corner so quickly. Our challenge is to find a graceful way out of a box of our own making.

We still have some hope of finding our way out of this box - it won't be graceful, it won't be easy - but it can and should be done.

To close, I again quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

Liberty and democracy become unholy when their hands are dyed red with innocent blood.


Jon Stanhope MLA
CHIEF MINISTER
ATTORNEY GENERAL MINISTER FOR COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT


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