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Senator Wright speaks about Peacekeepers in the Senate

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 14 May 2013

That the Senate take note of the response of Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, chairman of the Australian War Memorial Council, to the Senate motion of 20 March 2013 in relation to Australian Peacekeepers.

Peacekeepers have been proudly representing Australia in conflict zones since 1947, when four Australians went to Indonesia, as part of the UN Good Offices Commission in Dutch East Indies, to assist with the transition from Dutch colonial rule. Since then, more than 66,000 Australians have been involved in over 60 United Nations and multinational peacemaking and peacekeeping operations in support of global peace and security. It is a proud record. These postings have included the Iran-Iraq border, in the lead up to the first Gulf War; Western Sahara; Papua New Guinea, at the height of the civil war in Bougainville; Rwanda; and Kosovo, among many others. Again, those names of conflicts and conflict zones often evoke understandings of some horror.

Peacekeepers and peacemakers are regular members of the Australian Defence Force, members of the Army Reserve or members of the Australian Federal Police. All three services have made a fine contribution. Contrary to what the name suggests, peacekeepers are most needed where peace is most tenuous. They walk a delicate line, trying to keep warring factions apart and protect civilians, while exercising enormous restraint under strict rules of engagement which only allow them to use their weapons in very limited circumstances. It has been likened to trying to manage in a conflict zone with one arm tied behind your back. It is a fraught and dangerous business and the risk of conflict or danger is never far away.

Since 1947, 48 members of our Australian Defence Force have died while serving as peacekeepers for Australia. Although they died whilst deployed on peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations, up until now their names were not recorded on the honour roll reserved for other ADF deaths. Peacekeepers and their families felt this deeply. The lack of recognition made them feel their service was not valued. Indeed, the families felt that their loved one's deaths was rendered meaningless.

But this has now changed. This year, after a long campaign by the Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans' Association—the APPVA—and the families of those who have died, the Australian War Memorial Council made the historic decision to allow ADF peacekeepers' names to be listed on the honour roll. As Rear Admiral Doolan's response states:

This decision reflects the changing nature of modern military operations and wider community perspective.

There is no doubt that the role of peacekeepers and peacemakers will become increasingly important in minimising global conflict and maintaining peace this century. I commend the Australian War Memorial Council for recognising that times have changed and for being willing to respond to that change to bring about a just outcome.

Soon, those families will be able to find on the Australian War Memorial roll of honour the names of the 48 peacekeepers who have died and leave a poppy in remembrance. The Australian Greens have been very privileged to be part of this campaign. From the time I was first approached by the APPVA, it struck me as only fair and right to properly recognise the honourable and important work our peacekeepers do on our behalf. They do us proud.

When it comes to members of the Australian Defence Forces, I have a simple philosophy: if we are willing to ask people to serve and take risks on our behalf, then we must take full responsibility for that as a parliament, as a government and as a country. We must acknowledge their service properly, take full responsibility for what we ask of them and look after them and their families if they are injured or killed. When we fittingly reflect on the sacrifices that so many have made for our country in the field of war, it is very important that we also honour those who have died in the pursuit of peace.

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