HMAS Cerberus Mess Dinner

25 June 2004

CARE was born as an international relief organisation in 1947. A number of American organisations got together as it was envisaged that half of Europe and many Japanese would starve as a result of the war. They put parcels of food together and, in 1948 during the blockade of Berlin, CARE put more tons of food together than any other organisation.

Initially CARE was American. It became separate and free standing when part of the federation was established in Canada, UK and 3-4 countries in Europe. I was asked to establish CARE in Australia in 1987.

Before I agreed to this, I asked some questions and was reminded that during the time of Idi Amin we had made 3 million dollars worth of emergency aid available to Uganda. The head of my department came to me and said that we don't know how to deliver it. Why? It's a dangerous place – we haven't got anyone there, but there was an organisation called CARE United States who would organise the aid, monitor it and ensure that it got to the people who needed it.

When the Somalian famine hit the news-waves very much later, CARE Australia was amongst the first to be involved. Somalia was a place where the Russians had armed half the factions, our friends the US had armed the other half, but at the end of the Cold War, neither cared about what was going to happen in Somalia . The Cold War was over and it didn't matter any more. So the factions went to it and a civil war began and the countryside was laid to waste. It was the women and children who paid the highest price.

CARE decided to establish an emergency centre at Baidoa, which was at the crossroads south west of Mogadishu . When we first went there, Phoebe, aged 24, was in charge of 8-10 people and the deathrate was about 500 people a week from starvation and disease. People had heard that there was sudden help available from Baidoa. Mothers and their children walked to Baidoa. I can remember visiting the centre and seeing people who had probably walked 2 or 3 hundred kilometres and who had then fallen down, sat down, who were too weak to walk another 50 metres to the food chain. The deathrate was about 500 a week. At the end of 6 weeks, the death rate was about 5 or 6 a week. So international agencies, CARE Australia amongst them, had made a very considerable difference to a large number of people.

Shortly after Somalia, Rwanda happened. Rwanda wasn't a surprise. Too many people knew what was going to happen and too many people knew of the disaster pending. I can remember standing on a bridge between Tanzania and Rwanda and looking at the river flowing beneath. If I'd been there 2-3 days earlier I wouldn't have been able to count the bodies that flowed through. There would have been too many. When I was there it was just counting one, two, three, four, five, six, seven … about as fast as that. The international community knew what was gong to happen. The commander of the international forces in Rwanda asked for additional forces. Nobody responded – not Britain, not France, not Italy, not Germany, not America. Without them the United Nations was impotent and so the forces that were there were taken out and the genocide began the next day.

In Bosnia and Serbia CARE was also involved. We had three people taken by Milosevic's police and put in jail in Serbia. They were charged with being spies. They had a legal system that's not like ours. Later on when they came to the court, the judge said: ‘I find you innocent of all the charges in the original indictment, but now I am going to introduce another indictment and I find you all guilty under that other indictment.' And this was permissible under this regime as long as the penalty for this indictment was less than the penalty for the other indictment – which it was, and this was common among eastern European countries. After about nine months, the two Australians and one Serbian were let out of jail by the personal intervention of Milosevic himself. They weren't spies. They were working with Serbs who had been ethnically cleansed from Croatia. And if any of you want to read William Shawcross' book 'Deliver Us from Evil', you will find in that book that senior officers from NATO gave Croatia the green light to ethnically cleanse Serbs from Croatia, but you have to hurry up. The Dayton meetings are about to take place shortly and after that ethnic cleansing is not on for anyone. Our people were working with up to half a million Serbs, ethnically cleansed and accepted without rejection by NATO and NATO senior partners.

I was in Belgrade several times during that war as I had CARE employees in jail and I wanted to get them out. I stayed at the hotel where the journalists worked because I thought that NATO wouldn't bomb the journalists and you could get CNN or BBC World and I saw BBC World saying that the Serbs had put a command centre in the grounds of a hospital and as collateral damage when NATO bombed the centre and the tanks, the hospital got destroyed. Immediately I saw that, I said I want to change my program for this morning. I want to go to the Belgrade Central Hospital . Why? I want to see the damage that was done last night. A sophisticated weapon had certainly gone through the children's ward, but you looked around the grounds – the grass was freshly cut, the trees looked green, there were no broken limbs, there were no marks of tank treads in the grounds, and it was perfectly plan that there was no Serb military establishment anywhere in the grounds of the hospital. And at that point I learnt that in war, truth runs out the window, for people who you think are your friends as well as those you think are your enemies.

CARE Australia's principal activities are in countries closer to us – in Myanmar, because we think we should be thee for humanitarian purpose, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. I was interested to see the reaction when we established a mission in Vietnam which is now quite a substantial one which has quite a few dollars running through it. We opened an appeal for the Vietnam mission in Australia, and remembering that I had been Army Minister and Defence Minister in a different world, I wondered what the Vietnamese government was going to think when I was then Chairman of CARE Australia and President of CARE International. Well, I got letters from the Vietnam Government saying thank you for establishing a mission headquartered in Hanoi and thank you for the appeal that you have opened for that mission. They didn't want to talk about the war – that was past. They wanted to talk about the future. We had an international board meeting in Vietnam about the responsibilities of the CARE officers and staff in Vietnam, to organise a briefing for CARE members from eleven different countries, including of course the US, Britain, France and Germany and others. I was a bit nervous, wondering how this was going to go. The people employed by CARE Australia included a number of Vietnamese, but there were probably 8-10 Australians there, and most of them were pretty young – 22-23, up to 30, one or two older than that. But then when the first briefing came around, someone about 24 spoke with so much confidence, so much certainty, so much conviction and about the work that they were going that I knew that they were all going to follow suit. And the international members of the CARE Board said that they had never seen people so committed and so competent. I really think that that would make anyone proud to be Australian and proud of the work that people were trying to do.

Not all of the staff were Australian. When someone applies for a job, it's not a question of being Australian, but of your competence for the job so there were people among the expatriate staff from 3-3 different countries.

The last think I would like to say to you or to suggest is that after the last world war, a lot of people who had experienced both world wars – for you just history. The second world was in my lifetime but the first is just history for me, remote and you don't fully appreciate its consequences. I was a child. I read and I listened to news reports and when they didn't know you were around, I listened to adults talking. And after that was leaders of the world decided that there had to be something better. Civilisation had nearly destroyed itself and unless a better world could be created there was a serious risk of another war in another 20 years. So the United Nations, the Security Council, the outlawing of war except in cases of direct self defence or unless sanctioned under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the conventions on civil and political rights, on economic and social rights, tends to give legal force to the ideals of the Universal Declaration. The convention on the status of refugees, on the status of children, on the possession of women. All of this was something that America supported very strongly in trying to build a law-based world, as opposed to a power-based world. It may be the only security that any of us will have.

The search and fight for a law-based world has been put aside for the moment because major states have acted unilaterally. At some point the search will be resumed because, ultimately, a law-based world will be the only secure world.