Source: Parliament of Australia

Speech by Danna Vale MP Parliament of Australia

October 09, 2006

Mrs VALE (Hughes) (5.16 p.m.)—We have come to that time of the year when many members of parliament find themselves attending final presentation events in many of the schools in their electorates and, during our most recent recess, the graduation of the HSC classes of 2006. Such occasions present some of the most rewarding experiences for many of us as members of parliament. It is indeed a privilege to be asked to share in the recognition of the successful pursuit of excellence by those students who are academically inclined and to share in the acknowledgement of the schools’ young champions of track, field or pool, but mostly it is a real privilege to share in the celebration of each and every student as they experience an important rite of passage: the formal ending of their school days and the very last day of school.

This day is usually marked by the last school assembly. For many, it is unbelievable that this day has actually arrived. Their faces tell the story. Many are both happy and sad. Many appear hopeful yet nervous. The air is electrified by their exuberance and yet they are respectful, too. All are very much aware that this is a school day like no other. Ahead is the dreaded HSC, only weeks away, and there is still a lot of studying to do. For some there is a lot more than for others. But for the moment on this day one focus of the last school assembly is the principal’s farewell address. In the company of the teaching staff and visiting parents, all eyes are on the principal.

Over the years I have heard some great farewell addresses in the high schools of my electorate. Principals tend to take considerable care in the final formal opportunity to deliver that last word of sage advice, to press an encouraging homily, and to elevate the youthful spirit with words crafted to call and inspire the development of character and values in the fledgling Australian citizens gathered before them. Yes, I have heard some great farewell speeches in the high schools of my electorate. Of course, I have some first-rate principals in those high schools and, for Hansard, I will name them: Greg Anderson of Moorebank High; John Frew of Holsworthy High; John Rekouniotis of St Marks at Wattle Grove; Edith McNally of Menai High; Deidre Bedwell of Lucas Heights Community School; David Stonestreet of Sutherland Shire Christian School; Jane Donovan of Aquinas; Paul Burgess of Innaburra; Ross Elliot of Jannali High; Anne Garvan of St Patricks, Sutherland; Joanne Jarvis of Engadine High; Father Chris Ford of John Bosco, Engadine; Nathan Searle of Southern Cross, Engadine; and last, but by no means least, Geoff Dodds of Heathcote High.

On Friday, 29 September 2006 I was privileged to be invited to a year 12 graduation assembly and, once again, was stirred by the thoughtful words of the principal’s final address to the students. Given by Principal Geoff Dodds to the Heathcote High School year 12 class of 2006, the address inspired me to raise this matter as the subject of my grievance in the House today. Amongst other things, his words evoked aspects of the development of character and worthiness, about our intrinsic place in the great human family, about how we will be judged in life by the values we uphold, and especially about how we relate to our fellow human beings. In the final words of his farewell address, Mr Dodds chose the profound words of the 17th century poet, writer and thinker John Donne to illuminate his meaning:

No man is an Island, entire of itself;

Every man is part of the continent, a part of the main;

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,

As well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

When it came to my turn to say a few words to the class of 2006, somehow it seemed a presumption on my part to think I could exhort these wonderful young Australians to be brave enough to walk the road less travelled, to think for themselves, to step out from the madding crowd and, when the compasses seem all awry, to chart their own course simply because it is the rightful and worthy thing to do. Regrettably, there are one or two sins of omission to which I could plead. Mr Dodds reminded me that every now and again we humans need to reset some indefinable internal compass. I mean the one that guides us between the vicissitudes and comforts of life—especially the good life that we all share in this wide brown land under the lazy warmth of the Australian sun. As a people of an isolated, sunlit sovereign island, there are many values that we cherish as quintessentially Australian. The idea of mateship is a good Aussie expression of our human connectedness to all mankind. The idea that everyone is entitled to a fair go is a good Aussie expression of our inherited sense of justice and fairness. We take it for granted that here in Australia we are innocent until proven guilty and that no Australian can be imprisoned without just cause.

As Mr Dodds reminded his year 12 students about our intrinsic involvement with mankind, I recalled another Australian in another part of the world far from Australia who, on the basis of his imprisonment without trial for almost five years, is being denied a fair go. I mean David Hicks. John Donne, later in his work Meditation and albeit for a different consideration than this, my grievance, also wrote:

... by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation ...

It is difficult not to be confronted by these words when one contemplates David Hicks. I know there are a growing number of Australians who share with me my unease and conscious discomfort that a fellow Australian has been held without trial for almost five years and, further, who sense there is a diminishing prospect that any future trial will really be fair. David Hicks’s continued incarceration in what amounts to the gulag of the Western world is an affront to every value and tradition that we hold dear as Australians and, to make matters worse, as our only prisoner in the war against terror he is held not by the enemy but by our American friends.

For the Hansard, I record here that I am a strong supporter of the Australian-American alliance. I support our government in sending Australian troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and I support our active role in the war against terror. Having said that, it is increasingly difficult for me and for a growing number of my fellow Australians, many of whom also support our role in the war against terror, not to be distinctly confronted by the long incarceration of David Hicks, accused terrorist. Distinguished members of our legal profession have already presented a reasoned argument as to the serious breach of the foundation of our legal system, the principle of habeas corpus, which provides that no man shall be held without just cause and that all men are innocent until proven guilty.

Out and about in my electorate, I am often asked: ‘Why have we accepted that he has now been held for so long without trial? Where are the values and traditions we are defending with the lives of another generation of young Australians? Why don’t these same values and traditions also apply to David Hicks?’ How do we explain to our graduating students of 2006 why a fellow Australian is held in Guantanamo Bay, an establishment doubtlessly created to deny its inhabitants the time-honoured protections of the Geneva convention, protections that we, as a people, uphold and respect and send our forces to defend?

The fact remains that the longer David Hicks remains in Guantanamo Bay, his long imprisonment without trial will continue to creep like an incongruent shadow, jarring the Australian consciousness and conscience and darkening our political landscape. In an article I wrote for the Age on 12 November 2005, I said that the case of David Hicks clearly fails the commonsense test not only in the educated minds of our legal profession but in the gut feelings of thousands of ordinary Australians who see him simply as not getting a fair go. There are thousands of Australians who do believe that truth and justice and that old hand-me-down from the Magna Carta, which says that men are innocent until proven guilty, still deserve some currency in the brave new world for which we are fighting.

Because he is ‘a piece of the continent, a part of the main’, while he remains imprisoned without trial, David Hicks will cast a shadow over our national escutcheon. No matter what glory may be accorded to us as a nation, no matter what the accolades or the glittering prizes, while David Hicks remains in Guantanamo Bay our liberty, our own rights to justice and a fair go, our Australianness, are indelibly compromised and diminished. As one of ours, David Hicks is entitled to a fair trial without delay. And after an imprisonment of almost five years in Guantanamo Bay, if our American friends cannot deliver a fair go for David Hicks, we, like the British, must ask that he be sent home. One thing is certain. David Hicks will do one of two things: he will either walk out of Guantanamo Bay or he will die there. And, if he dies there, a small piece of Australia will die with him. If John Donne lived in Australia today, he may well have put it like this:

No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

(Time expired)

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