BILL SHORTEN: Recent tragedies show why we must do our part to preserve order and stability

Bill Shorten
The Nightly
4 Min Read
BILL SHORTEN: Australia may feel like it’s a million kilometres away from the heat of battle, but it doesn’t mean we can’t play our role. We are a medium world power with the strength of the greatest.
BILL SHORTEN: Australia may feel like it’s a million kilometres away from the heat of battle, but it doesn’t mean we can’t play our role. We are a medium world power with the strength of the greatest. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

The world seems to be in a constant state of upheaval.

Since WWI, Australia has a proud history of supporting and contributing to the rules, norms and architecture that have been so central to the security and prosperity of our nation, our region and the world more broadly.

From the United Nations and ANZUS to the Quad, the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, the Five Power Defence Arrangements, our security and defence dialogue and co-operation with ASEAN, Australia’s co-operation with NATO and our strategic partnerships across the Asia-Pacific show how seriously we take our role in safeguarding regional and global stability.

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Some might see Ukraine as far from our doorstep, but Russia’s war has very real strategic and economic implications for Australia and its region.

Our response to Russia’s invasion recognises that the war has caused immeasurable suffering in Ukraine — families torn apart and hundreds of thousands of people killed or injured.

But it also recognises that Australia has an important role to play in reinforcing to the international community that no country should dominate or be dominated.

We will continue to work with a broad coalition of partners to hold Russia to account and support those facing the widespread economic impacts of a protracted conflict, including those experiencing food insecurity.

In the weeks following Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s military history museum was setting up new exhibitions which the head of the education department said were about reminding people “what happens when the lessons of history are not learned”.

Destruction in Chernihiv
At least 17 people have died in Russian missile strikes on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. Credit: AP PHOTO

The rise of anti-Semitism is making some Jewish Australians feel unsafe in their own country for the first time in their lives. No decent person wants this 2000-year-old stain to creep out of the drains of history.

Anti-Jewish sentiment has peaked during the Israel/Hamas conflict.

So, while we are far from the conflict, we are not unaffected. We see the division it has brought to home soil. What may seem like a “local” problem on the surface has tentacles that reach deep into communities around the world.

The situation in Gaza has without doubt divided public opinion.

But some facts are indisputable.

Hamas is a terrorist organisation that must be condemned.

Innocent Palestinians are suffering.

And there will be a day when this conflict ends.

And when that day comes the Labor Party will support, as it has the whole time I have been a member of the ALP, a two-state solution.

Israel also thwarted an attack by Iran just days ago.

Prime Minister Albanese condemned this attack, saying: “This escalation is a grave threat to the security of Israel and the entire region. It risks greater instability and devastation across the Middle East. Australia continues to support regional security, including that of Israel.”

Unless the world sends a strong, united message, this conflict could escalate into something so much more.

That would bring yet more death and destruction to the Middle East, which will inevitably be borne by innocent civilians, and would only serve to heighten global insecurity.

Australia would not be immune to the consequences.

Although Ukrainians had lived with the threat of invasion by their hostile neighbour, there was still disbelief that it happened.

The world watched in awe as Ukrainian civilians took up arms and fought the invaders.

The events that unfolded in a place where teenagers gather, friends chat over a coffee, and locals get their groceries were impossible to fathom.

Men and women who one day may have been working in an office or a shop were suddenly defending their home and their freedom with, perhaps not the skills, but the sense of mission found in battle-hardened soldiers.

It is natural to ask how we would react in such a situation.

I think we would surprise ourselves at the depth of the strength upon which we can draw.

Just look at what happened in Bondi last weekend when the peace of a regular, beautiful Sydney autumn Saturday was shattered.

The events that unfolded in a place where teenagers gather, friends chat over a coffee, and locals get their groceries were impossible to fathom.

As the news came in there was confusion, shock, fear and anger.

But as details became clear and it was confirmed that people had died and been injured, we were stopped in our tracks.

And then came the accounts of incredible bravery.

Members of the public confronted the attacker with nothing more than a bollard or chair taken from a café.

Shop assistants shepherding frightened customers into storerooms or out-service stairwells.

Shoppers performed CPR or wrapped victims in whatever they could find to stop the bleeding.

And then there was NSW Police Inspector Amy Scott. An officer whose quick and decisive action stopped the attacker and saved untold misery.

Courage came in many forms last Saturday.

Flower tributes are seen at the edge of Westfield Bondi Junction during a day of reflection on April 18, 2024 in Bondi Junction, Australia.
Flower tributes are seen at the edge of Westfield Bondi Junction during a day of reflection on April 18, 2024 in Bondi Junction, Australia. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

And now it is time for us to come together as a community to embrace the bereaved, the injured and those who witnessed a truly horrific event.

The grieving families of the victims have to find the courage of their own to carry on.

And we can reflect on how we would do anything to preserve the peace we are lucky enough to have in this country but which we must not take for granted.

Australia may feel like it’s a million kilometres away from the heat of battle, but it doesn’t mean we can’t play our role. We are a medium world power with the strength of the greatest.

Bill Shorten is the Minister for the NDIS, Minister for Government Services and Federal Member for Maribyrnong.

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