House debates

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Distinguished Visitors

4:15 pm

Photo of Louise MarkusLouise Markus (Macquarie, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

On September 11 2001 the world stopped and watched the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the United States. The media ran continuous coverage, and we mourned across the world at the loss of life and the loss of freedom from fear. On that day, all of us will remember that the world changed, and we remember where we were. Nearly 3,000 people, including 19 terrorists, died in the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, on the Pentagon in Virginia, just outside Washington DC and in a field near Shanksville, rural Pennsylvania. The overwhelming majority of casualties, as we all know, were civilians, including nationals of 77 countries. Eighteen of those were Australians.

We watched the tragedy unfold before our very eyes. We heard the mobile phone recordings—the anguish, the heartbreak, as people said goodbye to loved ones. And we glimpsed a terrifying and repulsive future of random terrorism, of senseless violence and of living in fear that any day could be our last. That day galvanised the Free World into action and Operation Enduring Freedom was launched in response to the fight against terrorism. A coalition against terrorism was established and, by 2002, 136 countries had offered a range of assistance. Australia, for its part, invoked the ANZUS treaty, to underline the gravity of the situation and to demonstrate a steadfast commitment to work with our allies in combating international terrorism. We recognised that Australia would not be safe if we did not play our part in repelling terrorism. We committed to the fight but still, over the past 10 years, over 100 innocent Australians have been killed by terrorist attacks—but none on Australian soil.

The more recent planned attack on Holsworthy Army base is a reminder that terrorism is real and that we must forever remain alert to the dangers. There is a common thread between the threat to Holsworthy Army base, the attacks on September 2001 and terrorist attacks in various parts of the world: al-Qaeda, a terrorist organisation based in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following the identification of al-Qaeda as responsible for the September 11 attacks, allied forces initiated military action against the Taliban, conducting air strikes against the Taliban forces and al-Qaeda terrorist training camps.

Australia has provided military support in Afghanistan since October 2001. Over the last nine years the fight against terrorism continued, but it has taken on a different tone. From 2006 to 2007 a major part of Australia’s support has been reconstruction and population protection tasks, while Australian special forces continued to find and destroy terrorist training camps. A year later we added a Mentoring and Construction Task Force, to mentor and train the Afghan national army and police, with a view to Afghani self-determination and our withdrawal at the appropriate time. The move towards more mentoring and training has become the dominant focus. The Australian efforts in Oruzgan province, training and mentoring the 4th Afghan Battalion, has had its challenges, but is gradually reaping rewards. The focus now is to strategically deny Afghanistan as a training ground and operating base for global terrorist organisations and to stabilise the Afghan state through a combination of military, police and civilian efforts, with an objective of handing over responsibility in a reasonable time frame to the Afghanis themselves.

Our deployments are doing an incredible job, in very difficult and dangerous circumstances. Progress is being made, according to the commander of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus. The goal is Afghani self-reliance, to enable the Afghans to control their own destiny and to have a safe and secure place where their people can live without fear of reprisals from the Taliban and other criminal elements. There is still much to be done, and while I, like many people, have seen the impacts of war on individuals and families, and our men and women, there are compelling reasons to stay the course. Both the operations to eliminate terrorist training camps and efforts to train and empower Afghans to work towards self-determination are goals requiring our support and commitment.

I have met and spent much time with members of the SAS, the 2nd Commandos, 6RAR and their families, either while they have been training or, unfortunately, in the tragic circumstances of our men returning home. Members of that RAAF base at Richmond, whom I have also spent time with, have been deployed. Our Defence men and women and their families, particularly families of those service personnel deployed in Afghanistan, or the service men and women themselves who have been deployed, have on many occasions expressed their view that we need to finish the job. Does that mean it is not painful or challenging for them during and after deployment? No. This is where, as a nation, and successive governments who have made the decision to send our men and women into harm’s way, need to take responsibility and do whatever we can to respond to their needs. It is important that we continue to improve and look at ways of increasing the effective response to the impact of operations overseas, on both the individual on the unit and also on their families—whether is be relational, psychological or physical. In their own words many of them say that to pull back now would be to devalue the effort and the sacrifices of the last nine years.

I have recently spoken to Mrs Worsley, the mother of Private Luke Worsley, the fourth Australian soldier to be killed in action. Mr and Mrs Worsley live in my electorate. I have spent time with the family since Luke, a private from 4RAR Commando unit, now known as 2nd Commando Regiment, was killed in action on 23 November 2007 in a battle with Taliban fighters. He was only 26 years old. The family was devastated at the loss of a young man in the prime of his life. I spoke to Luke’s mother last week, knowing that I would speak during this debate, and Luke’s mother told me then that, although it was hard for the family to accept the circumstances, they accepted it because it was what Luke wanted to do.

Many people question why our defence personnel are there in a country far removed from the comfortable life and safety that we enjoy here, in a conflict they did not start or have any control over, for a cause that is global. Luke believed that the strategy to help the Afghan people to become masters of their own destiny was the right one. Luke’s family supported that view. I want to thank Mrs Worsley and Mr Worsley for the time that they have shared with me and for the way that they have expressed, in a quiet and dignified way, that if we were to pull back now Luke’s life and sacrifice would be in vain. Marjorie pressed home to me—if I may say—that it is important that we stay the course and finish the job.

The men and women deployed in Afghanistan and their families have made enormous sacrifices, some the ultimate sacrifice. I acknowledge the deepest respect for the 21 Australian soldiers who have lost their lives and for their families and also for those more than 150 personnel who have been wounded in action. I also acknowledge the returned service men and women and their families who may or will feel the impact of this service in many ways in the years ahead. The direct consequence of war is not always the loss of life. It is often the loss of quality of life, and that hits hardest. I have seen the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on individuals and on their families.

I want to honour and pay my deepest respect to the commitment of our defence forces to carry out the work that they are called on to do. They know there is a job to be done and they will see it through. That is what motivated both the Anzacs and those during the Second World War. That is what saw Australian soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses in the theatres of conflict in Europe, Singapore, the Torres Strait and New Guinea, Japan and the Pacific. They fought and died, were wounded and returned home, but their legacy was freedom.

Since that time Australian peacekeepers have been deployed in many parts of the world. They are respected and accepted because they have the capacity to build relationships with local communities and earn their trust. That is a breakthrough for building local confidence and the transfer of responsibility for self-determination. Trust and respect are necessary for this process, and Australian Defence Force personnel are renowned for their capacity to help local communities rebuild and take ownership. Their weapons are there if needed, but the real weapon in the war against terrorism is the capacity to communicate, to empathise, to train and to empower people to rise to the challenges and to overcome.

That same spirit is the foundation for Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan. We are at war with terrorism. There is a job to be done, and our nation should be proud of the way our Defence Force men and women are carrying out their duties.

We are not alone with that support. Other nations are also contributing to troop and training resources. There are now 47 nations in Afghanistan assisting the rebuilding and training process. Afghanistan is a country that suffers chronic poverty, violence from extreme militants, unstable food security, health and education challenges and a culture where women do not enjoy the freedom and opportunity that we take for granted. It is obvious that long-term efforts are needed to help the Afghani people rebuild their confidence, their independence and their capacity to be self-reliant and manage in their own right the security, stability and prosperity of their nation.

It is important that the Labor government make a strong and unequivocal statement about the mission and objectives in Afghanistan and outline what still needs to be done to achieve self-determination in that nation. Such a statement is necessary for several reasons: firstly, to assure the Afghani people of our continuing support; secondly, to demonstrate our commitment to our allies; thirdly, to be a public expression of support and appreciation of the men and women of Australia’s defence forces serving in Afghanistan; and, fourthly, to honour the 21 soldiers who have been tragically killed in Afghanistan doing their duty, as well as to express support to the many defence personnel who have been wounded. I honour our service men and women and their families to see the job through, and I support the efforts of the Australian Defence Force in reconstructing, protecting, mentoring and training the Afghan people.


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