Hillary feels particularly strongly about the appalling performance of John Howard and Phillip Ruddock and don’t their actions today look pathetic compared with their noble words in the Parliament 10 years ago during the Gulf War.

The shame of Ruddock and Howard

Tonight, two Australians are being held captive in Afghanistan. Their alleged crime – if it can ever be called a crime – is exercising the right to worship the god they choose. In Afghanistan, one cannot watch a video. Women cannot receive an education. Men cannot shave. The most barbaric punishments are practised.

The Taliban’s Afghanistan is at war with modernity – and virtually every right and freedom that Australians believe in. Yet tonight, 430 asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, face an unknown future on the freighter Tampa. John Howard, playing to the xenophobes, refuses to let them land on Australian soil.

His contemptible, jelly backed Immigration Minister, Phillip Ruddock, is happy to acquiesce. The man who used to sport an Amnesty lapel pin is bowing to racism and intolerance. He wants to be a minister – whatever the cost. His pallid, mottled skin makes him look particularly unwell. If there isn’t cancer gnawing at his body, it must have devoured his soul.

Australia fought against Iraq 10 years ago – yet people fleeing its repulsive regime are subjected to all kinds of indignity. Iran has been an international pariah for two decades – but people seeking to leave that land are subjected to the same degradation.

Australia, as always, needs people. The people who can escape from oppressed lands such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are the entrepreneurial types that we have always welcome in this land. In an age when extremists have hijacked the message of Islam, they can help spread calm. When pack rapes occur on supposedly religious and racial lines in Australian suburbs, we need people who can bring balance.

Robert Menzies welcomed refugees from the captured nations of Europe – although their names were odd. Communism is dead – but extremism and barbarity lives.

Racists hated the reffos – but leaders like Menzies, let alone Harold Holt, when he abolished White Australia, stood strong. John Howard and Phillip Ruddock are not leaders. Their predecessors never got beyond rabble rousing in the gutters.

This ugly pair have enflamed the voices of ignorance and racism. If a lynch mob comes, the two will deserve everything they get. But let’s hope Australians develop a higher understanding of what this nation stands for and believes in.

DANGER – STATESMEN AT WORK

Ten years ago, back in January 1991, the Federal Parliament specially reconvened for two days to debate the deployment of Australian forces to the Middle East for the war against Saddam Hussein.

Lots of high minded words were spoken – about peace, about freedom, about human rights and about international obligations.

More than 10 years before that, Malcolm Fraser and his Government accepted refugees from the Vietnam War and its consequences. Fraser had been a supporter of the war. He understood that the Australian nation, as a participant in the war, and he personally, as a proponent, had a duty of care towards these people.

Today, most of our refugees come from the Middle East, from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. We can hear political leaders like the Prime Minister, Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock and Little Sir Echo himself, Kim Beazley comment on the issue everyday.

But what did they have to say 10 years ago? Here are some extracts from those brave and noble speeches of January 1991. Compare and contrast.

John Howard

“Twelve months ago the world-and this House was no exception-literally rejoiced at the collapse of totalitarian communism in eastern Europe. We celebrated the demolition of the Berlin Wall and we rejoiced in the fact that the Cold War had come to an end. Many of us felt a great depth of inner pride that free market capitalism and liberal democracy had won the great battle of ideology against collectivist totalitarianism. In a sense the most important thing that is at stake in what we are now debating is whether the hope of a new world order that the end of the Cold War tantalisingly held aloft to the world can be translated into the reality of a new world order, 05

“We should not lose sight of many of the very logical and compelling arguments that have been put, not only by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson) but by others who have contributed to this debate. Without in any way gainsaying the total right and freedom of people in this nation who disagree with the Government’s decision – with this Parliament’s decision – lawfully to demonstrate their dissent, it will serve all of us well to remind them of the simple fact that one of the things that distinguishes this country from other countries – on this particular occasion, Iraq – is that there are no public galleries at national conferences of the Arab Baath Socialist Party, let alone the right of anybody to demonstrate. That is something we should never take for granted in this country and something we should never tire of reminding people about, 05”

Phillip Ruddock

“Yesterday at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, in a memorial service to the people in Lithuania who recently lost their lives, Cardinal Clancy said that there is perhaps only one greater obscenity than war. He described the tyranny of dictatorship, loss of freedom, oppression of individuals by force, and submission by occupation. He was, of course, describing the situation in the Baltic states, but the lesson is of general application, 05

“The maimed men and women and children crippled by war in Cambodia are matched only by the horror of Pol Pot’s killing fields on his own people. The events in the Middle East are not a contest of ideas or ideals. They are not about oil or resources, even though they are incidentally related. They are about the future of human relationships in a very troubled world, 05

“Some people defend [Saddam’s] regime on the basis of cultural and religious differences to which we should pay special regard. Unfortunately, little emphasis is placed upon our culture and its emphasis on the sanctity of life, freedom of choice and the individual.

“There should be no doubt that the regime under which Hussein subjected his people and the people of Kuwait after his brutal invasion exemplifies the most flagrant violation of human rights. Amnesty International, which we in this Parliament accord a special and unique credibility, has detailed documentation of these violations, referring specifically to the continued and increasing acts of torture, arrests, summary executions, disappearances and abductions. Amongst the atrocities committed after the invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi forces tortured and executed hundreds of people, including boys as young as 15. The testimony of Kuwaiti refugees is of a horrifying picture of widespread arrests, torture under interrogation, summary executions and extrajudicial killings. One sees in this paper that I have before me case after case, detailed in the most comprehensive way, of the most barbarous acts one human being could commit on another. If I could incorporate the paper in Hansard, I would want to incorporate the methods of torture and ill treatment documented and used against the people of Kuwait- some 36 individual methods of brutality in relation to other human beings of a most excruciating character.

“Whether it is the gouging out of eyes, the hammering of nails into hands, the piercing of skin with pins and staples or the sexual deprivation mentioned, the description is horrifying in the least. I can understand why President Bush read it and cried. Arbitrary arrest and unfair trial of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continue in Iraq. Torture and the application of punishments which constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment remain widespread.

“Even during times of war, nations should be expected to abide by international standards on the protection of civilians and allow access to war zones by representatives of humanitarian organisations, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross and its brother organisation the Red Crescent. Both have been consistently denied access by Iraq. Iraq is in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in time of war and deserves vigorous condemnation from the international community.

“Iraq has continued to show its contempt for the rule of law internationally. Not content to hold innocent foreign nationals as hostages before the outbreak of war in direct contravention of resolution 663, Hussein continues to engage non-combatants in this conflict. I refer, of course, to the Scud missile attacks on the civilian population of Israel. Even today, he parades several prisoners of war in the most humiliating fashion before Iraqi audiences-again in contravention of Geneva conventions. The barbarism of this man rivals that of Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. As each of them has been indicted by the international community, in victory, serious consideration needs to be given to war crimes trials and prosecution of this man Saddam Hussein, 05

“The Middle East consists of regimes which could hardly be called democratic by Western standards and in which the perpetration of human rights violations is endemic, 05 ”

Kim Beazley

“The war should be fought, obviously, because it is the only means whereby Kuwait can be liberated. It is the only means, because the character of the Iraqi state makes normal sanctions and diplomatic processes, which would work on a society like ours, not work on it, 05.

“Fundamentally, sanctions will not work because of the character of the Iraqi state. It is a warfare state. It is not easy for us to comprehend the mind set of people who run a country like Iraq. The organising principle of the Baath Party of Iraq, and the particular character of Hussein’s regime, is that legitimacy is sought in endless conflict with its own citizens…”

And what are they saying now about the 400 people on the freighter Tampa?

John Howard

“We simply cannot allow a situation to develop where Australia is seen around the world as a country of easy destination irrespective of the circumstances, irrespective of the obligation of others under international law and irrespective of the legal status of the people who would seek to come to Australia.”

Phillip Ruddock

“It is certainly not our problem.”

Kim Beazley

No direct quote on the matter from the Opposition Leader is available on his website or through AAP.

Statesmen all.

Peter Fray

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