David Seymour’s response to the Prime Ministerial Statement on Iraq

Ministerial Statements

Iraq— Deployment of Troops

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT):

On Sunday night I was at a barbeque in my electorate and an 8-year-old girl asked me what the Government is doing in or about the situation in Iraq. Her mother later came up to me and she said she could not believe that such a young person would be so concerned, or even so knowledgable, about such an issue.

I reflected to her that actually I was 8 in 1991, and some of the first images I recall from that time were Patriot missiles knocking down Scud missiles, “Stormin’ Norman”, Operation Desert Storm, tanks rolling across the desert, and so on.

I raise this, for the benefit of other members, because these issues are visceral; they run deep. We are intuitively aware of them, even at a very young age. They raise dilemmas that are timeless, as we have heard from a variety of different members.

I want to run through a kind of paraphrase of exactly what I told the 8-year-old girl. The most important question is: how do we respond to bullies? There are two broad answers, both of which have been given in different ways by previous speakers.

One is that you give some humanitarian aid, try to do some reconstruction, and hope that the bullies will be nice to you.

The other is that you actually take aggressive action against the bullies. As I said to her at the time, unfortunately this is a case where we are facing a genuine evil that is fluid and dynamic. It is futile to hope that they will be nice to us because it is our very liberal values that offend them.

What we must do is stand up to them. But it leads to another dilemma, which is: what can an external force intervening into what is an impossibly complex situation in the Middle East—as it has been, as we have been told, for several millennia—achieve by way of bringing about peace?

I have to say that I have considerable scepticism about what intervention in such a theatre can achieve. I only wish that some of my colleagues around the House could apply the same scepticism when it comes to intervening in a domestic economy, but I digress.

Nevertheless, we have another dilemma and another consideration to consider. That is: how does a small nation, militarily, demographically, economically insignificant in the context of global affairs, ensure the best possible safety and freedom for its own citizens?

Again we have a dilemma. We can either hope for a rules-based world and the rule of law to be extended from the few fragile Western democracies—I think it was nine from the member across the House that have been able to sustain this for a period of time—and perhaps one day that will come.

But the alternative is that we can think back to what the Athenians told the Milesians in the Peloponnesian War several millennia ago: it is a sad truth, which is echoed down the ages, that right and wrong, so far as the world goes, is a matter in question only between equals.

It is with no great pleasure that I remind the House that the course of most global affairs is that the strong have done what they have been able, and the weak have suffered as they have had to.

So in this world it is indeed important that a small nation considers collective security and our relationship with our allies.

Even if I may be sceptical about how much good can be done intervening in such a theatre, we have to take seriously the fact that so many countries, including all of our closest allies, are committed to intervening and standing up to the bullies in this theatre.

With all of that in mind, I believe that the Prime Minister’s position as stated this afternoon is the correct one.

Our armed forces are first class. Their role as trainers will have the minimum perverse impact on the situation into which they go. If there is an armed force that has the sense of diplomatic intervention to actually make a peaceful difference in such a theatre, then I firmly believe it is ours. Those troops go with the blessing of this Parliament for their safety and against all of the challenges that they will face.

Thank you.

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