This evening I want to talk about the 25th anniversary of the UN declared International Day of Peace. By doing the maths, people will know that the first internationally declared International Day of Peace was determined by the UN General Assembly in 1981. A further resolution, in 2001, permanently set the date for our world to acknowledge the International Day of Peace as 21 September
The purpose of an international day of peace is, the 1981 resolution says:
... to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as of the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways… (The International Day of Peace) should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.
That is a very strong proposition. The UN, as an international body, the resolution further states:
... will serve as a reminder to all peoples that our Organization, with all its limitations, is a living instrument in the service of peace and should serve all of us here within the Organization as a constantly pealing bell reminding us that our permanent commitment, above all interests or differences of any kind, is to peace.
When again the member states gathered together to reinforce the importance of having such a day the 2001 resolution said:
[We declare] that the International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day.
I do not think that all hostility will cease on 21 September this year but the invitation is there and I think that as members of the world and as people who live in our world we must respond to the invitation. On this one day people across all nations will be able to stop and think about the strength of peace and acknowledge that there are genuine alternatives across communities to war, to hostilities, to death and to damage of people and possessions-now more than ever before, when we look across our world and see that on most continents there are conflicts. In fact where there are people there is conflict. The message for all of us should be that where there are people there can be and will be peace.
At this time across the world over a thousand organisations have signed up to be part of an alliance looking at celebrating the International Day of Peace in their countries and in their communities on 21 September. Across Australia in various places and in most capital cities there are local alliances planning sporting activities and concerts, and in public places there will be opportunities for people to stand together with the genuine strength to say that they believe in peace and that there can be an alternative. We will not reach that international idea of a ceasefire but we can work towards it.
One of the more exciting things that we will be doing in Brisbane, where I am a patron of the International Day of Peace this year, is inviting the young people across Queensland to a day in parliament to have a Youth Peace Forum in our Parliament House focusing on securing peace in an insecure world. This is a particular joy for me because it combines two of the things that I hold most dear: a devotion to the concept of peace being a real alternative and involving our young people in the political system and seeing that they can work within that system. To the youth forum we will be inviting about 89 young people together. It will be a truly multicultural event and we will be looking at having speeches-which I suppose we all know about in this place but it is good to have other people partaking in that process as well-and attending break-out sessions within Parliament House itself. Then at the end of the day we will move towards having a peace oriented declaration, a local declaration of our young people that peace can be and is real.
Part of that acknowledgement is looking at our history. As I said, where there are people, there tends to be war. But there have been the most amazing stories also of people who have stood up and said that there can be an alternative. I hope that on that day in Brisbane one of the issues that our people will talk about when they gather is the amazing history we have locally in Brisbane. I have spoken in this place before about a woman called Emma Miller, who is a special heroine of mine, a trade unionist and a strong peace activist. She was part of an organisation in 1915 that was called the Women's Peace Army. It was deliberately formed in that way to have an army of women fighting for peace. Every person who signed up to that organisation had to sign a personal declaration which said:
I believe that the war-and they were talking about the Great War but they could well have been talking about any war-is a degradation of motherhood, an economic futility, and a crime against civilisation and humanity. I therefore pledge myself to active service in the cause of peace by working against compulsory military training and every form of militarism. Further, I solemnly pledge myself to face unflinchingly adverse criticism, calumny, and persecution for my faith that LOVE and JUSTICE alone will bring peace to the world.
Those words are so true. They were put together in 1915. Membership was formed in Australia as part of an international movement. These women in the Women's Peace Army were also linked to the amazing group of women who gathered together and travelled across Europe during the Great War to make a stand in Brussels to say that the war, death and destruction should end and that they were going to work together to stop the war. Their pledge that they would face 'unflinchingly adverse criticism, calumny, and persecution' for their faith in the cause is so very true. It seems that standing up for peace is somehow unfashionable and unrealistic or that it is naive or unreasonable to make a statement that peace can be formed and gathered by people who are able to stand together and say that there are alternatives. People working together can make a difference.
We have seen that throughout history. I think that people who are willing to make a statement like that-and I am proud that there are women in our history who were able to make statements of this kind-can make a difference. When these young people gather together in the Queensland parliament and talk about securing peace in an insecure world they will be actually reflecting one of the strong points of the platform of the Women's Peace Army, which said that the education of children on the principles of peace and arbitration should be a core intent of the movement towards achieving peace.
There is no better way than involving young people and making sure they understand that there can be alternatives and that we are fortunate in our community that we are a genuinely peaceful nation. But now because of the values of mass media-and sometimes, I know, we question the values of the mass media-we are able to see before our eyes the horrors of what is going on across the world. No-one can remain unmoved by the images of what is going on in Lebanon, Iraq, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and so many other places. In fact the horrid litany of destruction, viciousness and the genuine uselessness of war and calumny in our world goes on.
So it is not actually naive or irresponsible to say that there can be alternatives. The only way that we will be able to move forward as a community, as a world, is to take the stand and say that we can stop the violence. It is not easy-we cannot control the actions of others-but that is no reason to defame the people who think that there are alternatives, because we should have no option but to say that peace is there. The only people who can make a difference are us. We know that the world will not necessarily have a genuine ceasefire on 21 September, but people in Brisbane will be saying that there is an alternative and that they will have their voices heard.
15 August, 2006