MR ENTSCH: It gives me immense pleasure to rise today to speak on this motion and to mark National Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Day, which was observed on 14 September 2019.
Australia has always played a leading and vital role in peacekeeping missions around the world, none more so that than leading 22 nations in the deployment of the International Force East Timor, the peacemaking task force that went to Timor-Leste to address the humanitarian and security crisis between 1999 and 2000.
The 20th anniversary of that significant deployment to Timor-Leste was observed on 14 September this year.
There’s no greater honour than to serve your country.
The sacrifices Australian men and women make for our country are truly remarkable and, in fact, in some cases the ultimate sacrifice.
All too often they are away from loved ones for long periods of time, missing birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings and so on. Imagine having to say goodbye to loved ones—your wife, husband, partner, children, parents and friends—every three, six or 12 months, not knowing whether you’ll actually see them again or whether they will see you.
That’s what we’re asking our men and our women in our armed forces and their families to do, and I would like everyone in this chamber just to pause and think about that for a moment.
More than 5,000 Australian personnel contributed to the International Force East Timor, including the former Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
To say things were unstable in the region at the time is an absolute understatement.
Following the announcement of the referendum result on 4 September 1999, violent and deadly clashes instigated by anti-independence militias broke out.
Many East Timorese were killed.
An estimated 500,000 were displaced and around half fled the territory.
Australia, under the leadership of former Prime Minister John Howard, could not sit back and watch this crisis unfold on our doorstep.
And I have to say that, as a member of the government of that time, it was great to see, as we do in many of these types of situations, the very strong bipartisan support we had in dealing with that matter.
I will not get into the nitty-gritty aspects of the mission, but on 28 February 2000 International Force East Timor handed over command of military operations to the United Nations transitional administration in East Timor, which provided an interim civil administration and oversaw the peacekeeping mission until the country’s independence on 20 May 2002.
The country remains fragile, and political rivalries extending back into its guerrilla past have required the help of the Australian Army again in 2006 and 2009, but it certainly has a bright future.
Sadly, during the Australian deployment four Australian soldiers lost their lives.
However, none of these deaths were due to enemy actions.
Many also came back home very different people after witnessing horrors and atrocities we simply can’t fathom.
Sadly, this is an all-too-familiar story with many of our veterans that return home from active service.
I want to personally thank all of those personnel for their sacrifice and their service, all of those who served in peacekeeping operations in the past and those currently serving in the UN Truce Supervision Organization, the UN Mission in South Sudan, the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and the UN Disengagement Observer Force.
Let me tell you that serving in these operations, unless you’ve actually been over there and witnessed yourself what happens at the time, is very hard to imagine.
There’s a huge amount of pride that goes with serving and contributing something positive to what was the re-establishment of Timor-Leste as a nation.
We’ve seen the same thing happening in many other areas where we’ve seen our troops going in there as peacekeepers, and I think we should always be very mindful of and respectful for the contribution and the sacrifices that they make willingly.
It is a sacrifice the burden of which is in many ways also carried by their families.
I have to say to them all: you are the real, true heroes in my eyes.