House of Representatives speech- Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008

I rise to speak today on the Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008. As the House has heard from other speakers, this bill does a number of things which include amending the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the Criminal Code Act 1995 to recognise the red crystal as the third emblem of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and also providing that the joint facility at Pine Gap is a prohibited area.

I rise to speak today on the Defence Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2008. As the House has heard from other speakers, this bill does a number of things which include amending the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the Criminal Code Act 1995 to recognise the red crystal as the third emblem of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and also providing that the joint facility at Pine Gap is a prohibited area.

It is impossible to speak about the Red Cross Movement without reiterating the comments that have been made in the last two days by many others in this House about the work of Red Cross volunteers and, indeed, other volunteer movements. The Red Cross, alongside the Country Fire Authority and other volunteer organisations, are working in the bush as we speak here. More than ever, we thank them for their work. In this crucible, in which our resolve is cast, we find our cohesion as a nation and resilience as a people.

These particular amendments incorporate the red crystal into Australia’s statute books as the third emblem of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The crystal will give to groups and societies that have difficulty identifying with the two previously recognised symbols, the red cross and the red crescent, a neutral protective marking to clearly distinguish them from combatants in war zones. It will identify all those operating under it in these ways: it will identify them as working within the Geneva conventions; it will identify them as a group providing relief and care in times of crisis for the most vulnerable; and it will identify them as a group or society blind to race, religion or politics.

One such society is, of course, Magen David Adom—Israel’s national disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. Until 2006, Magen David Adom had been prevented from becoming a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement because it used what would be known in this country as the red star of David as its emblem. I do not want to revisit the long controversy over the admission of Magen David Adom to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and some of the other disputes in recent years because, in 2006, Magen David Adom was admitted as a member of the international movement. But it is the case that the introduction of the additional neutral protection symbol has been under discussion for a number of years—indeed, for far too long. In the very protracted discussion, the red crystal, the emblem that has now been adopted, emerged as the most popular proposal. It is formally referred to as the ‘third protocol emblem’ in additional protocol III, there being a series of protocols to the Geneva conventions under which the use of these emblems is mandated.

It is the happy event that in 2006 Magen David Adom—which is Israel’s national disaster, ambulance and blood bank service, as I mentioned—joined over 100 million volunteers in 186 national societies, all of which are committed to: providing protection and assistance to victims of conflict, visiting detainees, providing medical care to the sick and wounded, and reuniting separated families.

The third symbol has none of the religious connotations surrounding the cross or the crescent. Of course, the red cross is not itself a religious symbol. It is simply an inversion of the Swiss flag and it was intended when introduced and adopted to symbolise the traditional neutrality of that country, that being an appropriate stance for this kind of organisation. It is also the case, however, when gaining the acceptance of sometimes traumatised and poverty stricken people, some of whom have deep suspicions arising out of protracted religious conflict, that there should be no room for misunderstanding. For that reason, Magen David Adom, when operating outside Israel, will use the new symbol, the red crystal, that is being endorsed here as part of Australian law.

As a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Magen David Adom will continue to operate blood banks. It will continue to operate the first aid stations that have been built and maintained all over Israel and the ambulance services that are provided to all critical border kibbutzim. During the most recent conflict, MDA mobilised over 400 ambulances, extended the hours of over 12,000 volunteers and transported injured civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli, to hospitals throughout Israel.

This year alone Magen David Adom’s 700 fully-manned life-saving vehicles attended 1,180 sites hit by missiles within the western Negev, protecting human life regardless of political or religious affiliation. Increasingly, Magen David Adom has been extending its outreach to first-aid programs among the Arab-Israeli population. Its aim is to address the disproportionate number of drownings, electrocutions and serious burns among Israelis of Arab descent.

The Victorian division of Magen David Adom has also been doing its bit for many causes. In Melbourne 700 people attended the function at the Esplanade Hotel on AFL grand final night last year, raising $10,000 for Magen David Adom’s vital work. Similarly, the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation welcomed three of Israel’s finest paramedics to Melbourne at a function at Sukiert Hall. Alon Basker, Ilya Levi and Tom Pasler attended an event co-hosted by the Australasian Jewish Medical Association. The Victorian branch of Magen David Adom has also launched an appeal for those affected by the Victorian bushfires. Co-president of the Victorian division of Magen David Adom Glynis Lipson, who is in the gallery today, said that the response has been so overwhelming that organisers could not get into their driveways or front doors for all the donations. I would like to thank Magen David Adom for their work both in this country and elsewhere in the world—work which is vital, which emphasises our common humanity and which ameliorates human suffering.

The other matter that I would like to mention is the part of the bill which clarifies the definition of a defence undertaking in the context of the joint defence facility at Pine Gap. Under the amendments it will be an offence to enter a facility that is ‘resisting or preparing to resist international aggression’. Proposed subsection 8A as set out in the bill provides that the whole area in the geographic location of the Pine Gap facility is a prohibited area. It also provides that the work conducted at Pine Gap is a special defence undertaking.

These amendments respond to the defences raised by a number of activists who broke into the Pine Gap facility in 2005. The activists sought to rely on a defence that asserted that Pine Gap was not a prohibited area because it was not then being currently used for the defence of the Commonwealth. The assertion was then and would be now an absurd assertion because Pine Gap is an essential piece in our intelligence and counterterrorism network. It makes an important contribution to our alliance with the United States as well as to the deterrence and avoidance of conflict. It is a central part of ANZUS and UKUSA and plays a vital role in the forward defence of Australia.

Similarly absurd is the allegation that was raised by those activists and has been raised since that Australia does not know what is done at Pine Gap. Much is sometimes made of what is in fact a misquotation of Sir John Gorton, former Prime Minister, to the effect that, and this is the way it is usually misquoted: ‘I don’t know what happens at Pine Gap and I don’t care.’ It might be asked, who knows what the Liberal Party were doing in the 1960s?

Today an important underlying principle of the Pine Gap facility is ‘full knowledge and concurrence’—that is, Australia must have full knowledge of and agree to all activities conducted on its soil. The activists concerned who raised this mistaken defence in 2005 were supposedly pacifists. They broke into the facility as a statement of their own political convictions. I would say to members of the House that there was both conceit and naivety in their actions. It is supremely arrogant to think that, entitled to express your politics as you might be, you can in effect recklessly undermine the security of the Australian people by breaking into a defence facility; and it is naive to think that, committed to peace as all of us are, Australia should not pursue interoperability with the United States, as our closest ally.

Pine Gap has always captured the imagination of the Australian people. On 26 January 1967 the daily newspaper of Alice Springs, the Centralian Advocate, ran the front-page headline, ‘Space base may attract flying saucers’. Perhaps, as a peaceful nation with friendly neighbours, we are unused to the kind of military installations that dot the countryside of our allies in Europe and the United States. For some reason or other this facility has always excited not only UFO believers but also conspiracy theorists.

It might be that what has sometimes been said to be the quintessentially Australian defiance of authority has led to the problem of break-ins at Pine Gap. As early as 1967 the daily log kept by the supervisor for the construction of Pine Gap records that he had to lock the cover to the facility’s water tank to prevent what was described as ‘illegal swimming’. One way or another it does need to be made absolutely clear that the facility at Pine Gap is essential to a multilateral approach to global security cooperation. It is vital for intelligence collection and our missile early-warning systems. It allows the Australian government to ensure that arms control and disarmament agreements are being honoured throughout the world and it also allows the Australian government to monitor military developments in areas of the world where our troops may be operating.

We do need to shake off the tendency to regard a ‘prohibited area’ as a challenge and instead let our military do their work. If any Australian citizens have a political problem with a facility such as Pine Gap then it is a problem that ought to be expressed by those citizens peacefully and legally. It might be that those who have a problem with the Pine Gap facility even write to me as a member of the Australian parliament to express their views about it. What does need to be made clear is that it is not a legitimate means of protest to break into this or any other military facility and it is appropriate that the amendments that are here put forward in this bill be adopted by the House. I commend the bill to the House.