Thursday, 2 September 2021
[by video link] In my previous remarks on this motion a few days ago I had initially expressed the enormous gratitude that we as people of Australia should have for the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, particularly those who served overseas in Afghanistan in this 20-year-long conflict. I also moved to recap why we went to Afghanistan in the first place, noting that four in 10 Australians today were either children aged below 10 or, indeed, not born when we engaged in this military conflict in Afghanistan.
In about a week's time we'll remember the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We'll remember the al-Qaeda attacks, and not just those on New York and Washington—anybody who can remember watching that on their television screens and seeing those terrifying events play out can never forget them—but also the other terrorist attacks around the world: in London, in Madrid, in Africa, in Indonesia and elsewhere. These were attacks which killed fellow men and women Australians—attacks, as was that in Indonesia, upon Australian facilities. It is important to remind ourselves why Australia became engaged in Afghanistan in the first place.
This is not the occasion to discuss the circumstances of the ending of that engagement just a few days ago. There are other occasions to do that and to discuss the consequences of that ending and the manner of it for strategic postures in the future. But I do want, in this time, to address two criticisms that have been made. The first is that because the engagement ended in withdrawal and the reassertion of the Taliban then it wasn't worthwhile. I profoundly disagree with this criticism because that military engagement, starting some 20 years ago, ended the widespread terrorism that was occurring around the world—terrorism born and bred in Afghanistan. That was the primary reason why our forces, along with forces from the United States, NATO and other nations, went to Afghanistan.
And it did produce a better human rights outcome for the people of Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls, for the past two decades. But it's a reminder also that the fight against evil is never ending, that we must remain eternally vigilant. As Edmund Burke once said, 'All that's required for evil to prosper is for good men and women to do nothing.' We're also reminded that people in any part of the world must desire liberty themselves and that it's not something that can simply be imposed upon them from outside.
The second criticism that has been made is that, because of the withdrawal after two decades and the circumstances of that withdrawal, the sacrifices of those who died and those who were wounded and maimed, and the sacrifices of their families, were therefore worthless—worth nothing. Again, I disagree with that criticism. We should remember in this context that the Anzac legend, of which we are so immensely proud in this country—and, indeed, in New Zealand—was born of a defeat. When we commemorate Anzac Day, as we all do at cenotaphs around this nation, we're not celebrating some victory; we're marking the loss of those who gave their lives in other wars for freedom and liberty around the world. But Anzac itself, as we all know, ended in a withdrawal from the Gallipoli Peninsula—in effect, a defeat.
So the idea that for those who gave their lives, the 41 brave Australians and the hundreds more who were maimed and wounded, that somehow their sacrifice was for nothing, is, as I said, something that I disagree with. As former Prime Minister Howard said, there's no hierarchy in terms of sacrifice by people from various conflicts, who have given their lives for this country and for the peace, liberty and dignity of individuals around the world. The sacrifices of those who were killed and wounded in Afghanistan remain equal to the sacrifices of those who were killed and injured in other conflicts and in other wars.
In conclusion, let me return to where I started—to thank the almost 40,000 Australian Defence personnel who served in Afghanistan. We appreciate what you did and we can never fully repay your sacrifices, but we should never forget them.