House debates

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Ministerial Statements


10:15 am

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training) Share this | Hansard source

Throughout this debate we will hear thousands of words spoken about our involvement in Afghanistan. We will hear terms like ‘strategic goals’, ‘campaign objectives’, ‘regional security’ and the like. But no matter how many words Hansard eventually records on this debate, there is only one thing we can all be certain of: somewhere in Afghanistan, at this very moment, the men and women of the Australian Defence Force are simply getting on with the job.

Yesterday in this chamber we heard the names read out of the 21 Australian soldiers who have so far paid the ultimate price for their commitment to serving our nation, its people and its interests. No-one understands the hardships, risks and dangers of war better than those who serve on the front line. Like their colleagues on the front line today, these 21 soldiers went forward to face those dangers in the full knowledge that it may cost them their lives. They did not have the luxury of being able to second-guess their actions. They did not have the luxury of being able to hesitate, waver or look for a softer option. Despite the hardships, the risks and the dangers, they did not look around for someone else to the job for them.

Pulling on the uniform of the Australian Defence Force is the ultimate act of courage. In doing so these young men and women signal their willingness to risk their own lives on our behalf. They understand it is their job to do so. Their service underpins, protects and guarantees our democracy. As the elected representatives of the Australian people, what we owe to these young men and women is to be clear in our purpose and unwavering in our commitment. There are no soft options or opt-out clauses in the war against terrorism. We need to ensure our troops have access to all of the military hardware, equipment, resources and support they need to do their job and to return home safely. We need to support their families and loved ones while they are away from home in the service of the nation. And we must always honour their courage, their service and their sacrifices.

The work of Australia and its allies in Afghanistan was never going to be easy. We knew that we when we first engaged in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. It is no easier today. It is difficult, dangerous work. The men and women of the Australian Defence Force face that reality every day. This parliament needs to face up to that reality and decide whether we no longer have the stomach for the fight or whether, like our troops, we will simply get on with the job because it is right thing to do in our national interest. I cannot imagine a situation where an Australian parliament would leave its armed forces second-guessing on our commitment to such an important cause. During a long conflict such as this one, people rightly ask questions of their leaders to ensure that the reasons for ongoing involvement in war are just ones. As the Leader of the Opposition said in this place, we owe it to those who have died, and their families, to be confident that the cause has been worthy of their sacrifice. The coalition has welcomed this debate because it provides that opportunity.

The men and women of the Australian Defence Force are fighting to protect free people everywhere from the scourge of international terrorism. They are fighting to liberate the Afghani people from the tyranny and oppression of a totalitarian regime that has long harboured and supported the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda. This is a fight they are winning, but the job is not yet done. The mountains of Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven and launching pad for terrorist activities. The Afghani people deserve the opportunity to enjoy the democratic freedom we take for granted, and the chance to decide their own path into the future. This did not exist under the Taliban regime. By achieving these goals we will safeguard our own security and the security of our allies.

I welcome the statements of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition this week, and am hopeful that the bipartisan support for the continuation of this operation will not be subverted by Labor’s desire to appease the Greens. The Australian Greens are this Labor government’s partner in the 43rd parliament. The Greens opposed the war in Afghanistan and continue to oppose the Australian deployment. The new member for Melbourne has said this week that Australia’s involvement in this conflict is unjustifiable. If the Greens had won the argument in 2001, and coalition forces had never intervened in Afghanistan in the first place, the Taliban regime would still be in power, the region would still be a haven for Islamic terrorism. It would also mean that two million Afghani girls would not be in school today, learning to be the teachers, doctors and leaders of tomorrow. It seems counter-intuitive that the Greens, who profess to care about human rights, would see two million girls be illiterate and uneducated if their views prevailed. If the Greens believe that somehow a coalition withdrawal from Afghanistan would not result in another takeover of extremist elements then they are dangerous partners in government and dangerously naive.

The member for Melbourne says the war is unjustifiable. What greater justification can there be than combating terror, stopping those who would commit acts of terror and neutralising those who harbour, support, and provide succour for terrorists? The Taliban regime emerged in 1994 and, over four years, with the support of Osama bin Laden and others, seized control of Afghanistan. The regime stripped half the population of the country of even the most basic rights. Women were ruthlessly oppressed, denied medical care and access to education. Perceived offences against the fundamentalist Islamic moral code were punishable by public beating, stoning or decapitation without trial. The country became a base of operations and training ground for Islamic terrorism.

On 11 September 2001 these same Islamic terrorists struck the World Trade Centre in New York, one of the most heinous and cowardly attacks in history. It caused the ANZUS Treaty to be invoked and Australia answered the call. Striking a civilian target, murdering almost 3,000 innocent people and causing widespread devastation was a clear provocation that had to be answered with force. This act became the catalyst for a war against terrorism that was long overdue.

It is difficult for us to understand the motivation of an enemy who wilfully attempts to murder innocent civilians. It is the goal of an Islamic terrorist organisation to harness fear through acts of murder and destruction and from this fear extract concessions. They seek to scare the populace into support for their cause; they seek to expand their reach through terror.

Australians have suffered at the hands of this enemy: 88 Australians were amongst the 202 in the 2002 Bali bombings and other Australians have died in New York and in operations planned and executed by Islamic terrorists around the world. The elements of our society we treasure the most, the Islamic fundamentalist despises the most. Freedom and liberty in our country are viewed as offensive to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who are driven by control and oppression. It is no surprise then that Islamic terrorism was a threat to our national security before 2001, and it is certainly no surprise that it remains a threat today.

Australia’s National Security Statement demands that the government of this nation ensures that its people and our interests are protected specifically in terms of freedom from attack or the threat of attack. We are committed to combating terrorism wherever it hides, and I am proud to be part of a nation that is prepared to stand against it.

Since the 2001 intervention began, terrorist operations in Afghanistan have greatly diminished due to the work of the coalition forces. The fall of the Taliban has placed the Afghani people on a pathway to lasting change, but now is not the time to waver in our commitment to this task. This task has changed as the war has progressed. In 2005 the Australian government increased its deployment in Afghanistan as part of a wider strategy to combat the Taliban insurgency and, while it is still relatively modest when compared to our allies, our soldiers do a difficult job in the Oruzgan province, close to the Islamic extremist enemy. Where the Taliban has retreated, a new democratic government has been established, along with the necessary independent mechanisms for the management of elections and the oversight of these processes.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan continues to cultivate the idea of an Afghani national identity, a re-engagement with regional and outlying areas and aiding the government of Afghanistan in rebuilding vital infrastructure. Australian forces are mentoring Afghani soldiers and training them up to beat the enemy in conflict. We are assisting to create police and security forces. By the very presence of Australian troops in the country, we are breaking down the falsehoods perpetrated by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Australians in Afghanistan are better ambassadors for the advantages of freedom and democracy than reams of propaganda ever will be.

Now is not the time to withdraw. The entire nation remains in the balance. This is not a country with a historical democratic tradition. Rather it is an ancient land where conflict and conquerors have swept in and swept out like the tide over thousands of years. Outside of major cities, it has long been controlled by warlords and tyrants. We need to give the Afghani people the time they need to take the reins of their nation firmly in their own hands without the threat of extremists who still seek to subvert that nation. No democracy has ever had an easy birth. Afghanistan will continue to grow as a country. While traditions and beliefs are not so easy to put aside, a democracy has the best hope of achieving a climate where freedom and liberty can flourish. No-one thinks this will be an easy process, but it is a just and worthy one.

Our commitment in Afghanistan must also remain part of a wider regional strategy to combat terrorism wherever it appears. We provide police training and intelligence sharing through our security agencies, and these operations, along with the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, must similarly be maintained.

I have never served in the armed forces but I have the most profound admiration for those who serve their country in this way. I can only imagine the immense sorrow of the families and friends of the 21 brave Australians who have died in this conflict. I can promise those families that the sacrifice of their loved ones will never be forgotten.


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