The importance of supporting Ukraine

Federation Chamber 30/03/2022

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (17:50): As the member for Sydney quite rightly pointed out, it is madness. In just four weeks, we’ve seen the war in Ukraine cause the largest refugee movement since the Second World War. Bombs are dropping day and night. There are horrific scenes of hospitals bombed, including a maternity hospital bombed. There have been miraculous recoveries, as well, of people who have escaped from those attacks. But there have been children who have been orphaned as well as deaths.

Of the many stories and pictures, I’ve plucked out one to share. That was of Alena and her seven-year-old son, Nikodin. There’s a picture, and some of you might have seen it, of Nikodin, who’s seven, clutching his prized possession—a deflated football—while he was hiding for safety with his mum. There are still a thousand people trapped under the ruins of a theatre in Mariupol. There are countless stories of sadness and suffering everywhere across Ukraine, and of course there’s no greater sense of urgency than over the humanitarian catastrophe that’s occurring in many cities, but particularly in Mariupol, given the siege that they have been under. There are also stories of bravery and courage, and stories of the Ukrainian people risking their lives to stand up and fight the Russian aggression, refusing to capitulate to Vladimir Putin and the demands of a dictator. Millions of Ukrainians have stayed to fight, or returned to fight, for their country and for their democracy. As we’ve heard, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not just an attack on Ukrainian sovereignty. Actually, it is an attack on one of the core principles of the post-World War II era, that:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State…

We’re all members of a parliament and, I would say, of a great democracy. Australia is one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world, and, in many respects, we have a collective duty to stand up for human rights, for international law and for that liberal rules-based order, and to speak up when those rights are diminished or abused, whether that be here or abroad. That’s the least we can do as elected representatives of this great democracy. That is fundamentally why all of us here, as well as our leader, Anthony Albanese, and the shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, have repeatedly called for Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and condemned Russia’s aggression, which violates international law, undermines security in the region and the world, and lacks basic decency. The barbarity of it is there for the whole world to see, despite their disinformation campaigns. We see the truth.

Australia has a responsibility to work with our allies and support Ukraine in any way that we can. The opposition has provided that support to push back against authoritarian regimes trying to interfere in our systems and undermine that liberal rules-based order. This really goes beyond party lines; this is not about partisanship, because we are at an inflection point globally. There is a contest between authoritarian regimes and democracies that is happening around the globe. That is the struggle of our age, and one that we will be grappling with for at least the next couple of decades. We have supported, as an opposition, the commitments that the government has made to provide Ukraine with cybersecurity and military aid—lethal aid and non-lethal aid. We’ve supported the government’s imposition of Magnitsky sanctions under our new laws that have targeted individuals in Russia and their family members.

But we also have a lot of work to do in our own region. As some of the previous speakers have mentioned, the invasion of Ukraine has shone a light on the troubling strategic convergence between Beijing and Moscow. This is something that we are front and centre of, being one of the regional powers in the Indo-Pacific.

On a recent trip to the United States with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which I attended with the chair, Senator Paterson, we agreed to leave partisanship and shenanigans back here in Canberra. We were working together in a bipartisan fashion and in a diplomatic effort to advance Australia’s objectives on that trip. We saw that there was a very bright spot of bipartisanship, as well, in the US Congress, in the Senate and the House, when it came to support for Ukraine. We saw how much the US political system had galvanised around support for Ukrainians and how surprised they were by the resistance, bravery, courage and effectiveness of the fight that had been put up by Ukrainians. There was also a bright spot of bipartisanship that we noted when it came to the Indo-Pacific region as well.

We were also all surprised by how the EU and the European democracies have stood up in support of Ukraine. That is of real importance, because countries like Switzerland, who have been neutral for hundreds of years, have taken a stand. This is beyond partisanship. It’s beyond political sides here. We’re talking about Greens foreign ministers in Germany stepping up to the plate on defence spending. There is a cognisance, amongst our friends in Europe, of the importance of demonstrating unity and tangible, substantive support for Ukraine in their time of need. That has been something worth seeing, because it gives us some inspiration for the work that we have to do to get over the kind of silly partisan fights that we sometimes have and to see the bigger picture of what needs to be done to protect our way of life. There was, as I said, also a very important discussion around US engagement in the Indo-Pacific region and the importance of an economic framework that can provide an alternative for countries in the region to participate in.

These are the three D’s of statecraft: defence, diplomacy and development. This is what it’s about. It’s the hard work that a middle power like Australia has to do. That’s why Labor’s shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, often speaks about the need to put Australian values, such as respect for international human rights, at the centre of our foreign policy. This is not a naive approach. It actually makes a lot of sense. In the world that we live in today, this is more necessary than ever. The standing up for those values actually matters. The unity that we see between other like-minded countries and democracies actually matters.

No matter where we see human rights being abused and diminished around the world, it’s our duty as political leaders—in the sense that we are elected members of this parliament—to stand up and speak out against it. It’s critically important for us to champion human rights when it comes to Ukraine, when it comes to Myanmar, when it comes to the democracy protesters in Hong Kong, when it comes to so many spots around the world where that contest between authoritarianism and democracy is a frontline battle, where people are actually losing their lives fighting for the freedoms that some might say we take for granted.

That fight for freedom and democracy around the world is one that we should show leadership in, and be part of, in solidarity. But we should also be on the frontline, at the very least, in what we say in this place. The president of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, will be addressing this parliament tomorrow, and we need to listen.