These days petitions are so commonplace that we receive multiple e-mail petitions every day, some of which we may click on to show our casual support, before forgetting them in favour of the next thing. But think back 25 years and things were very different. In those days it took more effort and commitment to collect signatures, and the collection of 1400 signatures in Adelaide over a few months in late 1991 was a considerable achievement; all the more so when a Federal MP was persuaded to present this petition in February 1992 to Federal Parliament in Canberra.
The petition was on the topic of landmines in Cambodia, organised by a Religious Sister of Mercy, Sister Patricia Pak Poy, when working for the Diocesan Committee for Justice and Peace in Adelaide. She first encountered the problem of landmines while visiting Thailand on sabbatical in 1990. The prevalence of landmines was even greater in Cambodia, where over half a million refugees were streaming back across the border with Thailand, trying to find a safe place to settle after 13 years of civil war. Due to the abundance of landmines there was no safe place, and many of the returning refugees were being killed and maimed. A United Nations official was quoted in The Bangkok Post (17 November 1991) as saying: “Mines will be cleared by people walking on them”.
Did you sign this petition, or the Australia-wide Petition that followed in 1995? If so, you took part in an action of lasting significance, as it led to a movement of Australian individuals and humanitarian non-government organisations, joining together and becoming a campaigning Network which then joined with the developing International Campaign to Ban Landmines to take this issue to the United Nations. The worldwide momentum continued until the signing of the Ottawa Convention, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty in December 1997, and beyond then to the Cluster Munition Convention, signed in December 2008 in Oslo.
Acknowledging that the world is still not safe, the Australian Network continues, now under the changed name of Safe Ground, with the aim of “Reducing impacts of war”. In addition to the National Committee, a group still meets in Adelaide. It is this group that is organising a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the presentation of this Petition to Federal Parliament. It will take place on Monday 27th February at Mercedes College, 540 Fullarton Road, Springfield, from 7-9pm.
This event is not restricted to those who signed the Petition, and all are welcome to attend.
Further updates will be posted here on our site, www.safeground.org.au, and on SafeGround’s Facebook page
Helen Stanger, SA Coordinator