PHILIP RUDDOCK: … on behalf of my colleagues as members of the Parliamentary Amnesty group [Amnesty International Parliamentary Group] that this is an important occasion because almost all Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have endorsed the view, following the Amnesty report, that China and Russia should be involved in changing their approach to Syria. … What has happened is that almost all Members of the Parliament have endorsed the view that Russia and China should reassess the position they took on the 2nd of February in opposing a resolution that would have enabled the atrocities that are occurring presently in Syria to be addressed in a positive way and this petition, signed by Members of Parliament, noting the Amnesty report, is calling on China and Russia to again engage in the United Nations in putting in place measures that would enable these atrocities to be addressed and something like 6000 people have been killed under the present regime. This is an issue on which the international community should be concerned and I’m particularly pleased that, in a bipartisan way, so many Members of the Parliament were prepared to endorse this call and I might say it also included the Independents and Greens as well as Members of the Government and the Opposition.
JOURNALIST: Speaking of alleged war criminals, I assume you’ve all seen the Joseph Kony campaign and do you think there’s something more that Australia can do in that regard to bring him to justice?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, the point I’d make is that the campaign is a very worthy campaign but there is also a little in what has been put into the public arena that needs to be corrected. He is no longer, as I understand it, in Uganda. The number of young people being conscripted to perform these atrocities has significantly diminished. There has been a substantial international effort to contain it and I hope that the publicity associated with it might further that because I would like to see it completely contained. I also warn and counsel that one would want to be satisfied that any money you might send to something that is horrific like this, that you look carefully to ensure that it is for the purpose that you expect that it will be used and i just put that word of caution.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Perhaps if I can just add on that, I spoke on the Kony campaign in the chamber the other night and I think it is important to recognise that millions of people have responded to a call to action there and that’s welcome but it does need to go beyond people just retweeting the link or saying they like something on Facebook. I hope and would urge people to look deeper and that it is not just Joseph Kony conducting war crimes or acts against humanity around the world. There are many examples. This, of course, with Syria, in regards to President Assad, is just one of many examples, sadly, but it is a very significant example at this point in time so I hope that things like the Kony campaign can cause people to broaden their outlook. There are organisations like UNICEF who have sent out an education resource kit and I would hope that all Australian schools will take advantage of that and educate young people about the types of human rights abuses that are occurring and use the momentum that something like the Kony campaign can provide for greater good in terms of awareness of human rights abuses right around the world. With regards to Syria, in particular, and this very successful petition, it’s important to understand that with membership of the United Nations Security Council should come responsibility a responsibility to be willing to be a world player and to be willing to engage in the affairs where there are such significant crimes against humanity occurring and I hope that that message is what is conveyed from the many diverse Members of the Australian Parliament to Russia and China so that they hear that and hopefully respond and act.
JOURNALIST: Would this petition have more weight or, indeed, would it be possible if Australia had a seat on the UN Security Council?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, I think the petition is really addressed to Russia and China. While we’d all welcome Australia being able to participate in an august body like the Security Council, I don’t think our presence would alter that other than perhaps, if we were there, our representatives might be persuasive in relation to matters of this sort but I’m not going to try and relate this petition to that particular issue the petition speaks for itself.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think all it does is indicate fairly clearly what Australia’s position would be were we to have a seat there.