House debates

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ministerial Statements


Debate resumed from 26 October, on motion by Mr Stephen Smith:

That the House take note of the document.

11:02 am

Photo of Steven CioboSteven Ciobo (Moncrieff, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Nearly 2½ thousand years ago Aristotle wrote about war:

We make war that we may live in peace.

It is a sentiment which guides my thoughts today whenever our nation considers committing the vitality of our youth, of sacrificing the lives of our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, to war.

Indeed, it is on the shoulders of all of us privileged to stand in this place to decide whether we endorse the executive in their decision when we enter war and, to a limited extent perhaps—even with delusion—the conditions on which we engage. As difficult as that responsibility is, however, it pales in comparison to the burden borne by those we commit to armed conflict: Australia’s men and women in uniform who, through gritted teeth and a steely resolve, brave conditions I cannot pretend to truly understand. They do the real work and pay the true price. Families are permanently scarred, and they pay the true price. Veterans are scarred, physically and emotionally, and they pay the true price. This parliament, as the physical manifestation of the will of the Australian people, is charged with the most solemn duty of determining whether that price needs to be paid so that our people may live in peace.

In considering this question in relation to Afghanistan, I turn my mind to the events which were, of course, the precursors to this conflict. I reflect on the fact of the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. These were coordinated suicide attacks by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four commercial airline flights and murdered nearly 3,000 people. There were 2,752 victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre and some 836 responders, including police and fire fighters, were killed. One hundred and eighty-four people were killed in the attack on the Pentagon and all those aboard United Airlines flight 93 perished while attempting to retake that aircraft when it crashed in a field in Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.

The overwhelming majority of the victims were civilians, including nationals from over 70 countries, including from our country Australia. I personally recall receiving, together with my wife, a message from friends who lived in London late in the evening. They questioned whether or not my sister-in-law was okay. That was the first notice that we had of the attacks unfolding. My wife’s sister was a flight attendant with United Airlines in the United States. Whilst she was not on those flights—thankfully, I say, of course—the reality is that that is when it was borne to us, as we switched on the television and saw the true horror unfolding. At the time, I recall my wife, who is an American, literally on her knees and crying as we saw the collapse of the two World Trade Centre buildings.

Indirectly, terrorism has also reached out to me with the Bali bombings on 12 October 2002. These bombings, of course, occurred in the tourist district of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali. The attack has been the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia, killing 202 people of whom 88 were Australians and 38 were Indonesian citizens. A further 240 people were injured.

We know that the attack involved the detonation of three bombs: a backpack-mounted device carried by a suicide bomber and a large car bomb, both of which were detonated in or near popular night clubs in Kuta; and a third small explosive device detonated near the United States consulate in Denpasar which, thankfully, caused only limited damage. In this instance, the terrorists who perpetrated this crime were members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent extremist group based in Indonesia.

I remember receiving a phone call—I think it was early on a Sunday morning—from the mother of a friend of mine who rang to inquire what services may be made available. When I received the phone call that morning, it was the first I had heard of it. Her son had been a victim of the attacks. At that stage it still was not known whether or not it was a gas tank explosion, as some had thought it may have been, or was in fact a terrorist attack. As the true horror unfolded over ensuing days I discovered just how many of my friends were affected: Glenn Cosman, Andrew—or Andy, as he is known to his mates—Csabi and Glen Forster. There were others from the Gold Coast that I grew to know, such as Ben Tullipan. They were all victims of the indiscriminate warfare and attacks that come from terrorists. I also got to meet the father of Robert Thwaites, who was murdered in the attacks in Bali. Robert’s father commenced the Zero to One Foundation on the Gold Coast and has committed his life to humanitarian projects in Indonesia not only as a way of committing to the memory of his son but also because he views it as a meaningful way in which to change the lives of those in Indonesia who might otherwise be prone to the kind of ideological blindness that comes through terrorism philosophy. He now has humanitarian projects in, for example, Palau Aceh, where the Zero to One Foundation has provided housing—in this case, up to 25 new homes.

These were the precursors that led to Australia’s and, indeed, initially the United States decision to declare war in Afghanistan on the Taliban. These attacks, referred to as asymmetric warfare, were the precursor that led to the then executive decision to commit Australian troops alongside our very strong alliance partner, the United States, in their operations in Afghanistan. We must deal with these questions in determining whether or not we can truly ask of young Australian men and women the sacrifice that we do in determining whether or not to commit troops. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in its 2004 publication Transnational terrorism: the threat to Australia, defined what we are up against. In reference to asymmetric warfare it says:

Terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare: an approach that uses non-traditional methods to counter an opponent’s conventional military superiority. It uses unconventional means to attack unexpected targets. It turns perceived strengths into weaknesses and exploits vulnerabilities to deadly effect. It may also involve the capability to attack an adversary with means for which they are unprepared or incapable of responding in kind.

The new transnational terrorists have adopted a strategy that responds to the unprecedented dominance of the United States and other highly developed Western countries in all aspects of conventional military power. The terrorists therefore seek means other than conventional warfare with which to confront the West.

Terrorism pits clandestine methods against open societies. It uses small teams whose operations are cheap, but demands a response that is enormous in scale and expensive in resources. It exploits the foundations of civil society, such as principles of human rights, efforts to avoid civilian casualties, and adherence to the rule of law—including the laws of armed conflict.

The terrorists’ asymmetric approach demands a sustained, comprehensive and coordinated response at national and international levels, incorporating a wide range of Australia’s assets.

In many respects this is the foundation that I think best summarises the battle that this nation has—and indeed that other Western democracies have—in the conflict in Afghanistan, and we must be mindful that this is a decision that lies at the very heart of whether or not we continue our mission in Afghanistan.

Now, some nine years into the conflict in Afghanistan, though, many are questioning whether or not we are actually winning the war. Many are questioning whether or not we have the ability, if we do win the war, to also then win the peace. I simply put on the record that we can only judge this based on the information we receive from those in the field—from those who actually put their lives on the line so that we may live in peace. The advice from them is clear. That is that we are, as a direct consequence of the surge in numbers, now also starting to see real progress being made with respect to our humanitarian mission, alongside the mission that we have of armed conflict. It is not lost on me that two former ministers who sat around the cabinet table when the executive took this decision, Senator Nick Minchin and the Hon. Alexander Downer, have both made remarks in this debate with the view that in some way, shape or form, Australia’s role needs to be reconsidered. It is my mind on which their views weigh heavily in determining whether or not we should stay the course. I think that these matters are not static. They change as time passes, as strategies change, as countries evolve and as the people on the ground, both the civilians of Afghanistan and our troops, experience the fatigue of war. But I would hope that they experience some excitement about the potential that can come through peace. Knowing that we are making real progress, as has been reported, I believe Australia must remain committed. Notwithstanding that, it is fundamental that we at all times inform our strategy on the basis of national interest. And I do not believe that Australia’s national interest is well served through, for example, the United Nations having overarching responsibility for what is taking place in Afghanistan.

More fundamentally, Australia must assess and evaluate its decisions with respect to the commitment of troops by its own measures, by its own considerations and by its own reference to whether or not the lives of Australians are buying peace. It simply is not acceptable to me that we would attempt to outsource the determination of our national interest to a body like the United Nations. Certainly, multilateral approaches in war zones and in armed conflict are crucial, but that sits alongside rather than in the place of national determinations of whether our national interest is being served. So, nine years in, my charge as I see it is simply to keep a watchful eye on whether our national interest continues to be served on the basis of the advice provided by those on the ground.

At this point we absolutely must ensure that we put, for lack of a better term, key performance indicators in place when it comes to the training of Afghan national troops, Afghan national police and the transition to those authorities from those troops wearing uniform in Afghanistan. Failure to do this will see us caught in what effectively will be a quagmire. We as parliamentarians and, through us, the executive must ensure that we have in place clear delineations that demonstrate to all of us that we are making progress with respect to the handover to Afghan nationals so that they themselves can control their nation.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11.16 am to 11.43 am

11:44 am

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a great danger in debates such as this on the ministerial statement on Afghanistan that people become very repetitive and there is not much novelty, so I will not traverse areas that many have covered earlier. However, I do put on the record my appreciation of Australian forces on an individual and collective basis in Afghanistan. I see this locally with my good friends and political colleagues Peggy and Phil Gordon, whose son Matthew has served in Iraq, Timor and Afghanistan. I see the duality of, first, their pride in his efforts for this country and the fact he is a voluntary serviceperson and, on the other hand, the fear that they always have about his circumstances. So I do at the outset salute those efforts.

I want to comment on a few contributions in this debate, and I turn first to that of the member for Denison. This was one of the most pompous, self-important performances I have had the honour of hearing since I have been in the federal parliament. He essentially said that all other members of this parliament, unlike him, are not pure, have the wrong motivations and hide behind their party labels. Quite frankly, he will be the first person in Western parliamentary civilisation at the end of this term to be able to say that every time there was a vote in this parliament he voted as his electorate thought he should. To quote public opinion polls and say that everyone else is not following their electorate is absolutely ridiculous. I do say, however, on a broader front, that I question some of the arguments he put forward. Yes, the fact that the Western world supports Israel, that it supports extrajudicial killings, that it supports the bantustans that are being created for the Arab people and their expulsion from their lands, that it supports racist laws in Israel with regard to citizenship, that it supported nuclear engagement between South Africa and Israel during the apartheid period—yes, those kinds of decisions do lead Arabs and Muslims to be hostile to the Western world.

Similarly, in Iraq, obviously the total disaster there, where Iran’s influence has been so massively increased to the point where we see last week that Iran is essentially deciding who will be in coalition in Iraq in the future, getting forces to support al-Maliki rather than having a secular government, is indicative of another interference which does lead people in the Arab world to become more hostile to Western values and Western civilisation. However, for the member for Denison to say that some bloke said in a court case that he was motivated by the fact that Kevin Rudd went to Berlin for a conference, and therefore we are aiding and abetting extremism and radicalisation, is ridiculous. We support these positions because they are right on balance; we do not necessarily get affected by the impact they might have on the rest of the world and on individuals. I also note that he joined with the Greens in having a dream world about infrastructure, welfare, foreign aid et cetera being delivered and that will solve all the world’s problems. Quite frankly, we see every day of the week organisations that are themselves sometimes critical of Western engagement being targeted in their foreign aid delivery in Afghanistan by the Taliban. To say that we can basically solve this by foreign aid and walk away is extremely simplistic.

I heard the Leader of the Greens, Senator Brown, being pressed by Fran Kelly last week on ABC Radio. On three or four occasions she put to him: ‘Can you simply have foreign aid delivery, can you solve all these problems, in the current environment in Afghanistan if you withdraw all forces?’ Three times he ignored that question. There is this idea that we can basically just deliver money, there is going to be fantastic governance, there is going to be no corruption, foreign aid will be delivered effectively and education and health will somehow be assisted massively without infrastructure in the country. He failed to answer that question and then finally said, ‘I’m pleased to see they are negotiating with the Taliban.’ That was not the question. We are all pleased to see there are negotiations with the Taliban.

This was reiterated, of course, by the member for Melbourne in his contribution in this debate. He basically said that the whole problem there can be solved by money and foreign aid, and he made an analogy between Yemen and Oman. I do not want to decry the role of Oman and its emphasis on education. I am actually going to a conference there next week and I am not a detractor of that country. But to compare these two countries is absolutely ridiculous. Forty-six per cent of Yemen’s population are from the Shia minority. Oman has the advantage that its population virtually all belong to a Sunni sect called the Ibadis. The population sizes are 10 times different. Oman has far more oil reserves; Yemen’s are just running out. Yemen was the creation of two separate countries, it has had a number of civil wars and it had Egyptian Nasserites fighting monarchists decades ago. It is not comparable and to say that we can simply build Afghanistan by foreign aid and by spending on education is not a recognition of the realities.

As I say, I find these arguments that we can just walk away and that all will be well rather difficult to cater for. These are the same people who, like me, would say that the Hazaras have been mistreated not only by the Taliban but for centuries. They have legitimate humanitarian refugee claims in this country. It is a recognition of some of the realities of this country that on the one hand the Greens and other refugee advocates say how dire the circumstances are, how dreadful it is for these people, and yet somehow they believe that a Taliban victory, not by negotiations but by a military victory, is somehow going to be good for the country. I have heard a number of these speakers talking about the circumstances of refugees in Iran, Pakistan and India. Why the hell do people think they are there? They are there because of the situation in Afghanistan that forced them out: the persecution that occurred, the fact that the Taliban instigated a theocratic state, restricted the rights of women to education, prescribed how long people’s beards were to be, banned music, banned kite flying, banned football, persecuted minorities and destroyed the historic Buddhist relics at Bamiyan. These are some of the realities that have to be dealt with in these circumstances.

On the other hand I fully endorse the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban. I refer to a very interesting article by Jonathan Steele in the London Review of Books recently. He makes the point that the only account of the Taliban period by an internal player of any substance was by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Ambassador to Pakistan for the Taliban. He made a number of points in the book, and one was that the Taliban very strongly condemned the bombing on September 11. He said the Taliban is a complex group of people. On the one hand they were historically very rigorous hard-line Islamists, but he says we should not deny their other crucial feature: that they are Pashtuns, that they believe the Pashtuns have been excluded from power structures in the country and that they want to see rights for that group that constitutes 42 per cent of the population. He also makes the point that the negotiations up till now have been manifestly inept and failed. Of the UN sanctions list of 142 Taliban leaders, only 12 have come in from the cold, basically to accept money et cetera and to reconcile with the government.

Jonathan Steele also makes the point that there is a real need to deal with the Taliban on a localised basis. This is not a monolithic organisation. It is a combination of a wide variety of localised forces. There can be localised ceasefires with tribal leaders. The situation will probably demand in the long term a weak central government. One of the things that has to be overcome is the total dominance of the officer corps within the Afghan army by the Tajik minority. It is going to be very difficult to bring Pashtuns into the central army. While I support our involvement there, I very strongly support negotiations. It is pleasing to see that this has been occurring and that the United States is essentially not hampering this process.

We have to be very aware that Afghanistan has a very complex ethnic mix. It is very difficult to see a strong central government emerging. You have a situation in which nearly half the population are Pashtuns, with the rest being Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks. This has always been a central issue. During the negotiations in Rome as to who would be president of Afghanistan—while Karzai eventually succeeded—originally Abdul Satar Sirat, an Uzbeki, was chosen to be the new president. But he could not become president because he came from a small minority, the Uzbeks. We have to understand that this is a central problem in the country.

We have to appreciate that it is not going to be a Western democracy. It is not going to be an extremely advanced country with regard to women’s rights. We have to be very careful, given the fact that military victory for the allies seems extremely doubtful, of making too many demands of the Taliban. At this stage, we are saying that they must subscribe to the constitution and that they have to basically put down all their arms. Good luck accomplishing that in any kind of negotiation. We have to be mindful that at the end of the day we are probably not going to succeed militarily. We have Obama giving dates for withdrawal; we have a number of Western countries reducing their forces, sending a clear signal that they are not there for the long haul. In these negotiations we have to emphasise the possibility of a solution rather than putting restrictions in the way.

I am very mindful of the need to ensure that all forces are part of the negotiating process. Even in our own country, Australia, we see the difficulties in reconciling ethnic groups. I was on Hazara radio last week. The first question that they asked me was not about the future of Afghanistan as a nation but the rights of Hazaras and their persecution. I went to Melbourne and met a very educated, sophisticated and well-off Pashtun community. Their starting point was to decry the fact that Hazaras are monopolising refugee places in this country. I went to a ceremony of the Tajik community recently in commemoration of one of the great people of their country, Ahmed Shah Massoud, a leader of the Tajiks who was murdered by al-Qaeda, and their whole preoccupation was with him and Tajik rights. That is the situation that we have in the Afghan community in our country. So you can imagine what is occurring in Afghanistan.

To those who decry the military intervention and talk about the various failures in regards to the delivery of services, the fact that health services are still stretched and the fact that there are still a large number of females in particular who are not receiving education, I say that these are manifestly realities. It is very difficult to accomplish things. I read a US congressional review recently that showed that the Taliban, or people close to them, have some of the US contracts for security in Afghanistan. They are ripping off that system. To somehow say that forces should never have gone there because it is so difficult, because there have been failings and because there is a struggle around these things is ridiculous. The counterpoint that is put by some that essentially all will be well if we withdraw is really quite difficult to subscribe to.

In conclusion, on balance I support our continued engagement. Despite the fact that in Pashtun areas there is a very high level of support for the Taliban, there are also indications in some areas that people are receiving rights, have more involvement in the political system, are receiving education et cetera through allied intervention.

11:57 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In rising to support our engagement in Afghanistan, I want to primarily offer my absolute support and respect for our Australian Defence Force personnel who have served or who are currently serving in Afghanistan in very harsh and inhospitable terrain day after day. I seriously wonder what our ADF members who are currently in Afghanistan are making of this debate. We know what we know about this issue through what we read and hear. I suspect that while we are debating this quite strongly, they are simply getting on with the job that they were sent there to do. That typifies the men and women of the Australian defence forces.

Much has been said already in this debate about the reasons for our engagement and involvement in Afghanistan and about al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Centre towers in the United States on 11 September 2001. Over 3,000 people were killed in those attacks, people from virtually all over the world, including Australia. The horror of these attacks will live forever in our minds. We literally watched it happen and at first many of us could not believe what we were seeing. The horror of those collapsing buildings was almost too great to comprehend. We have also grieved for over 100 Australians killed abroad through terrorist attacks, not only in New York but also in Bali in 2002 and 2005. These attacks killed people from my electorate. The effects on their families, friends and local communities have been profound and lasting.

The history of Afghanistan, both ancient and modern, is one of conflict not one of peace. The historic conquerors of Afghanistan are simply too numerous to list today. The only constants are the lack of peace and the lack of self-determination. What we know from more recent history is that the Taliban imposed a horrific regime on the Afghani people during their rule. It also harboured and fostered terrorism and terrorists through al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, terrorists who planned and trained for their attacks.

The question we face here today, however, is how the world, with Australia playing its part as a responsible world citizen, induces and supports peace and self-determination in a country that has known so little of it. We are here to debate not only what our role is in Afghanistan but also what Afghanistan’s future could be and what role Australia should be playing in that future. I believe that role is to continue to provide the people of Afghanistan with the tools they need to help deliver peace and good self-governance. We heard from the previous speaker about the practicalities of how and why that is a challenge. That is the key task of the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan and it involves the two key functions that our ADF personnel are actively performing. Those functions are, firstly, to provide safety and security and to continue to engage the enemy and, secondly, to undertake the role of training, mentoring and equipping the local Afghan people to be able to provide safety and security for the community themselves. The training of the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade in Oruzgan province is a long-term part of this commitment.

Madam Deputy Speaker, as you know and as members of this parliament know, our role will not be easy to achieve. But what should not be underestimated is Australia’s well-respected history of training the security forces of other countries. In conflicts ranging from Korea and Vietnam to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, our widely respected Australian Army training teams have acquitted themselves with absolute distinction and have a reputation that is second to none. It has even been suggested that our training teams in Vietnam not only taught local Vietnamese troops but many of the Americans, who were our allies. This is the standard our training troops have attained and that is what they bring to Afghanistan. They are world leaders in helping other nations and the people of those nations to actually help themselves. Our individual service men and women are widely respected for their practical, generous and genuine willingness to roll up their sleeves, to engage genuinely and directly with local people and to physically rebuild communities as well as build and support local governance. But we do not underestimate the extent of that task in Afghanistan.

In spite of the conflicting views that we have heard, it is simply not logical to assume that, if the UN forces comprising the 47 nations in ISAF simply walk away tomorrow and abandon the training, the support and the development processes, peace and good governance will just automatically happen as a matter of process in Afghanistan. It will not. We cannot forget the difficulties faced by aid agencies in the past, and we also heard that from the previous speaker. Aid has had to be withdrawn because aid workers, including those from UNICEF, were not safe and aid services could not reach their target. Equally, should the nations withdraw, terrorism and persecution in Afghanistan will not automatically cease. There are also those who believe that someone should help Afghanistan, just not Australia. Our choices are quite stark: withdraw now and leave Afghanistan and its people to fend for themselves or, in some people’s view, leave and let someone else do the work.

Giving up or not extending that helping hand is not what Australians do. It is not the way we tackle the tough issues, and no-one would doubt that our involvement in Afghanistan is an extremely tough issue. Equally, we have not won wars in our own nation on drugs, on deaths on roads or on suicide. If winning is measured only by a measure that none of these will ever occur, then possibly we will not ever win. But who in this chamber would suggest that we should give up the fight on drugs, on road death and on suicide and that we should walk away?

Military leaders from nations around the world have said that now is not the time to pull back. Our own ADF leaders, for whom I have the utmost respect and in whom I have the utmost confidence, are telling us that we need at least four more years to deliver the outcome of self-protection and determination that we as a nation have aimed for. According to Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston in August this year:

We will still be there supporting them beyond the two to four years for a period of time.

               …            …            …

And I know that at the end of the training period they—

the Afghan soldiers—

will be a very—a very good fighting formation, and that will be the legacy we leave …

Air Chief Marshal Houston even had to warn others about the dangers of ignorant debate. He said:

… it’s very dangerous for people in Canberra to be talking about circumstances on the ground when even I do not have all of the detail …

That is a great lesson for us here. We simply cannot leave Afghanistan without the tools and processes to run the country effectively or to protect its own citizens. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has recognised that military supported support is needed to obtain the joint objective of social improvement. Social improvement is really important. The bishops conference noted that ‘commitment to a just war in Afghanistan necessitates a commitment to uproot the structures that support intolerance, heighten insecurity and perpetuate debilitating poverty that undermines the dignity of men, women and children in Afghanistan’.

One issue I would like to raise is the question of what would be happening today in Afghanistan—and in relation to additional terrorist attacks—if we were not involved, if the 47 NATO countries and the International Security Assistance Force had not decided, in part of what they wanted to achieve, to defeat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and factional warlords in Afghanistan. What would be the growth in al-Qaeda’s terrorist activities in that nation? How would women, children and local people be treated? How different would their lives be? I think that is something we need to look quite seriously at in this debate. What would Afghanistan look like if not for the intervention? How many people would have had an education? How many people would have been recruited and trained by al-Qaeda? How many additional terrorist attacks would have occurred around the world? I have no doubt that we would have lost more Australians if those attacks had occurred, as we did in previous attacks.

My final comments are again in offering my greatest respect to the 21 Australian soldiers who have been killed in action, as well as the 152 soldiers who have been wounded in action in Afghanistan. I send my deepest sympathy to their families and friends. I am acutely and personally aware of what our decisions in this parliament mean to the members of the Australian defence forces: the very real prospect of further fatalities and the wounding of our personnel. I am well aware of the effect this has on wives, partners, families, friends and fellow ADF mates. My mother and older sisters lost their husband and father in World War II. Our family has lived with that loss, and it has been a huge loss all our lives. It has never been easy and it is something that stayed with my sister and my mother to their deaths.

I know exactly what we are committing our ADF members to by that decision in this House. That has been given further clarity recently with the news that three Australian special forces soldiers were wounded during a serious gun battle with Taliban fighters in Kandahar province. It is a daily reality that we are aware of, and so are they. This is the reality. In conclusion, I hope that future debates in this place will also focus on the best way to achieve the goals that we have set for Afghanistan and not be debates about whether we should abandon these goals and abandon the people of that country.

12:09 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

In the late nineties Andrew Knox was an industrial officer with the South Australian branch of the Australia Workers Union. By the year 2000 he had become a senior industrial officer with that branch when he decided to take a year’s leave of absence to travel the world, to visit the United Kingdom and the US. In America he landed an office job with a construction company which had its offices in the World Trade Centre. On 11 September 2001 Andrew expected to have lunch with Cheryl Scopazzi, the training officer of the South Australian branch of the union, who was having a holiday and was looking forward to catching up with her colleague. Andrew Knox, on that morning, did something which all of us do in the most ordinary course of events every working morning of our lives. He got ready for work, left his apartment and went to his office. And there he died. He was murdered as part of the appalling September 11 attacks on the United States.

Death is painful. It is particularly painful when it happens to a person so young and in such tragic and traumatic circumstances. Obviously that pain was felt most keenly by Andrew’s family and friends, but it was also felt by the Australian Workers Union, who established a scholarship in his name at the University of South Australia, in partnership with the university and the government of South Australia, for a student pursuing studies in industrial relations. They also named their training centre and a garden at the union after Andrew. The then National Secretary of the AWU said:

The loss of Andrew was not only a personal blow to all of us at the AWU but on a higher level we lost a man who was destined to do great things. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Andrew than the dedication of a facility which will help workers ensure that they get a fair go at work.

In the preparation of this speech today, I was talking with my chamber neighbour the member for Makin, Tony Zappia, who also knew Andrew Knox well. As it turns out, Andrew was a member of the Makin FEC of the South Australian branch of the ALP. Tony felt Andrew’s death very keenly. I know that in his contribution to the debate he will mention Andrew, I am sure in more personal and better terms than I have.

There is nothing particularly special about the organisations I have mentioned other than that they are special communities and Australian communities. The point that I am trying to make is that, as much as September 11 happened in New York, in Washington and in Pennsylvania, it also happened in the Australian Workers Union. It happened in Adelaide. It happened in the Makin FEC of the South Australian branch of the ALP.

On 12 October 2002 terrorists conducted a bombing in Bali. Four residents of my hometown, Geelong, lost their lives in that terrorist attack. Bronwyn Cartwright, a nurse, hailed from Grovedale. Tragically, the three other Geelong residents who lost their lives in the Bali bombing came from a single family: Aaron Lee; his brother, Justin; and Justin’s wife, Stacey. Aaron played footy for the South Barwon footy club, a team in the Geelong Football League which, as it happened, played off in the final of the GFL this year. Justin did his apprenticeship as a chef at the Corio Hotel. Stacey grew up doing Little Athletics at Landy Field. In an added pang of tragedy, Stacey and Justin were expecting their first child and were having a holiday, thinking that this would be their last chance to escape before children bonded them to home—which people will be familiar with.

Grovedale, the South Barwon footy club, the Corio Hotel, Landy Field—these are all places I have been. They are a part of my world, as they are a part of the world of everyone who lives in Geelong. They are not war zones and they are not battlefields, yet, as much as the Bali bombings happened at the Sari Club, they also happened in Grovedale, at the South Barwon footy club, at the Corio Hotel and at Landy Field.

I do not presume to know what any of these five victims of terrorist attacks thought about public policy or indeed what contribution they would have made in this debate had they had the chance. I simply make the point in mentioning their stories that terrorism attacks the innocent. Terrorism attacks civilians, noncombatants. They may be attacked overseas but they live in Australia, and so in the process terrorism touches us all.

Both the Bali bombings and the September 11 attacks were carried out by people who were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the home base for al-Qaeda. That is why Australia is there. That is why it is so important that Australia stays in Afghanistan until we are safely able to say that Afghanistan will never, ever again be used as a base for terrorism.

Our authority for being in Afghanistan stems from two sources—firstly, the United Nations Security Council, which has moved a number of resolutions over the years. The first was resolution 1386, moved in December 2001, which established the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, whose original mandate was to provide security in and around the Kabul region. Among the resolutions that renewed that mandate was resolution 1510 in October 2003, which extended that mandate to the entirety of Afghanistan. The second source of our authority for being Afghanistan is the ANZUS treaty, articles 4 and 5 of which were invoked by the parliament back in 2001 in support of our ally the United States. The mission of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is:

… to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population.

We are part of an international effort in Afghanistan which consists of 80,000 US troops, 10,000 from the UK, 4½ thousand from Germany, 4,000 from France, 3,000 from Italy, 2½ thousand from Canada, 2½ thousand from Poland, 1,500 from Turkey and Spain, with other countries making a total of 47 who are participating in the mission. Our contribution is 1,500 troops and our task is now principally in Oruzgan province. We are there to train and mentor the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army so that it can assume responsibility for providing security within that province. We are there to build capacity within the Afghan National Police so that it can conduct civilian policing within Oruzgan province. We are there to improve the Afghanistan government’s capacity to deliver services and build an economy within the country and within Oruzgan. We are also there to disrupt insurgent operations and supply routes by utilising our special operations task group.

Our campaign is of course a military one, but it is also more than that. It is an effort which is based on development assistance as well as civilian assistance. In the time I have left to speak, I really want to focus on the development assistance which is being provided to Afghanistan, because that country has made enormous leaps forward since 2001 as a result of the assistance provided by the international community, of which we have been a part.

Thirty-nine thousand separate community based infrastructure projects, from roads to health clinics to wells, all done through the Afghan led National Solidarity Program, are changing the face of Afghanistan. When you look at education, you see that school enrolments, which were at a million people in 2001, are now at six million today. Most importantly, in 2001, girls were not allowed to attend school; today we have a situation where there are two million girls enrolled in school. Basic health services were available only to about 10 per cent of the population in 2001; today it is 85 per cent of the population. Ten thousand kilometres of roads have been rehabilitated over the last nine years, employing hundreds of thousands of Afghan workers through the National Rural Access Program. There has been nothing short of a revolution in telecommunications: in 2001, only 20,000 Afghans had access to telecommunications services; today that number is 10 million, and in the process 100,000 jobs have been created. Since 2002, we have seen their economy grow by an average of 11 per cent every year—indeed, in 2009-10 there was an increase of 22 per cent in that year alone. We have seen two elections and, importantly, what has come from the new process is a mandated minimum requirement for women of 27 per cent of the seats in the lower house and 17 per cent of the seats in the upper house. Free speech had been attacked by the Taliban, but now people can express their views through 400 print outlets, 150 FM radio stations and 26 TV stations.

Australia’s aid commitment in 2001-02 to Afghanistan was $26½ million; now it is $106 million and, importantly, half of that is being delivered through the Afghan government itself, in the process building really important capacity within the government.

As I said, our focus has been on Oruzgan province, one of the least developed provinces within Afghanistan. For example, literacy rates today in Oruzgan province are estimated to be 10 per cent for men and zero for women. In 2010-11 Australia will contribute $20 million to Oruzgan province, through a leadership role in the Provincial Reconstruction Team there which is seeing great achievements, such as basic health and hygiene education being provided to nearly 1,800 primary school kids, 34 per cent of whom are girls. We are seeing community de-mining projects and, with them, mine-risk education projects. We are seeing improved food security, including, for example, a program for take-home rations for girl students at school. We are helping the central Afghanistan government deliver its programs in a way that they reach Oruzgan province. All this is changing the realities of people’s lives in Afghanistan. None of this could be done without the security that is being provided by the Australian and international force commitment in Afghanistan. All of it involves meeting our original mission in Afghanistan.

There are those who argue against our involvement in Afghanistan, saying that our being there incites extremism, that perhaps we are doing nothing more than moving terrorists elsewhere and that maybe, at the end of the day, this is a lost cause. It is valid to raise concerns, and from those concerns come very important questions, but I believe there are answers to those questions—for, as we stand here in 2010, the fact is that there are fewer terrorism events now than there were in the early part of the last decade. We do live in a safer world. While Afghanistan is far from being the totality of the international effort to deal with terrorism around the globe, denying al-Qaeda what was its home base is a very important component of that effort. And of course, as I said, there has been real progress in Afghanistan itself.

Questions were raised in the media yesterday about the Afghan government itself. It is true: that government is not perfect. But it is also true that transparent democracies do not happen overnight. They evolve over years and decades. What is important right now is that significant steps are being taken down the right road by the Afghanistan government.

The cost to the world and to our country has been great: 2,000 coalition force deaths along with many others belonging to the Afghan National Army itself who have died. There are 21 Australians in that number, and 156 Australians have been injured. In this debate, our thoughts are primarily with them and their great sacrifice. Those 21 are forever cherished and remembered Australians. This debate honours them, as it does the more than 100 Australian lives that have been lost to terrorism, including Andrew Knox, Bronwyn Cartwright, Stacey and Justin Lee and Aaron Lee. What is needed now is for those doing the dangerous, the courageous and the wonderful work in Afghanistan to be able to do that work with the support of their country men and women. I think this debate makes clear that they most definitely have the full support of the Australian government and they have the overwhelming support of this parliament. While there may be some confusion in the Australian public about our role in Afghanistan—and I sincerely hope that this debate goes a long way to clarifying that—when it comes to the soldiers, the aid workers and the civilians performing work on the ground in Afghanistan themselves, I have absolutely no doubt that that work is carried out with the full and unqualified support of the Australian people.

12:23 pm

Photo of Natasha GriggsNatasha Griggs (Solomon, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it is safe to say that we are at a crossroads when it comes to the debate surrounding Afghanistan, and in relation to military conflict it is not the first time we have faced this type of dilemma. History is littered with conflicts that have started out as the right thing to do but over time have lost the public momentum from when they first started. Afghanistan runs the risk of being no different.

In the federal seat of Solomon we have always had a very strong historical link to our Defence Force. From the early days of World War II to our intervention in East Timor in the late 1990s to our current day involvement in Afghanistan, Solomon has played a key role. I recently visited both NORCOM at Larrakeyah and 1st Brigade at the Robertson Barracks in my electorate. Our Defence Force presence in Afghanistan is substantial and has been that way since the conflict first began. Currently we have a number of troop deployments in the Oruzgan province. Through my visits I have gained a sense of how our own troops view their role and of the way they see Afghanistan unfolding. From the outset let me say I support our role and our troops in Afghanistan. I believe we have the most highly trained, highly skilled, dedicated and committed Defence Force, and as an Australian I am grateful for their commitment and service to our country.

Regrettably, the Australian Defence Force has suffered 21 combat deaths and 156 combat injuries. The young men and women who join our Defence Force today know that there is a strong likelihood that they will be deploying for warlike conflict and peacekeeping missions. They are making the choice based on what can only be described as the right humanitarian desire to help other countries and, in particular, the people of Afghanistan to experience what we take for granted in this country—that is, democracy. From my briefings, I understand that our troops are comfortable with their mission objective of mentoring. They feel they are properly equipped for such a role, but they hasten to add that if the mission objectives change then the level of logistics needs to be re-evaluated.

Where there are concerns, they relate directly to the level of support when our troops return from Afghanistan. At present when our troops return they are required to go to Brisbane to be debriefed or rehabilitated, depending on what is needed. In the seat of Solomon we do not have adequate resourcing to support our troops, and that is a major concern. If we were to adopt the role of debriefing and rehabilitation in my electorate then we would use all available resources of counsellors in the seat of Solomon, and that would have further implications in itself.

Sadly, as the mission continues I do not think I am speaking out of turn by suggesting that there is a possibility of more casualties and, heaven forbid, even more fatalities. Both our leaders have indicated we will be in Afghanistan for some time yet, so it stands to reason that this may be the case. It is an unintended consequence that by sending troops to Brisbane for debriefing and rehabilitation we are in fact delaying their return to their families in the Top End. So I would like there to be more support for our troops and their families in the form of counselling during their deployment and also when they return from their deployment. It is critical that we extend this support to the families. The support to the troops is unconditional, and so our support to the families must be equally unconditional. We must provide them as much support as they require. We need to explore the possible extension of the Defence School Transition Aide Program, which assists students whose parents are serving overseas. I have spoken to the shadow minister for defence science, technology and personnel, who has undertaken to meet with the Defence Community Organisation and discuss options to expand the program.

Australia’s military commitment in Afghanistan is relatively modest when you compare it to those of other countries. Still, our 1,550 soldiers have the lion’s share of security responsibility in a province that has long been Taliban heartland, making this our most serious fight since Vietnam, and Afghanistan has been a central front in the most important civilisational struggle of our time. The war in Afghanistan is now three years longer than World War II and is rapidly approaching the stigma, through the attitudes adopted by some in the place, of the Vietnam War. This now leads me on to another area of concern for our troops and one that those who oppose our involvement may in fact be feeding. Our troops want to know that the Australian community supports them. We cannot afford to have a situation unfold, just like it did following Vietnam, where men and women sent to do a job are treated so poorly by a large chunk of Australian society on their return. I for one would be sickened if, as a result of this debate, we suddenly saw the men and women of our Defence Force bearing the brunt of public criticism. We must proceed with extreme caution in how we set about portraying the need for this conflict. By all means question the need for our involvement, but do it in such a way that removes the emotional rhetoric. We see through public opinion polls a waning of support for our involvement in Afghanistan, but we must not make the mistake of translating that into a lack of support for our troops. They are doing a mighty job. They are well trained, they are well thought of and they are widely respected. God help us should the troops who serve in Afghanistan suffer the same type of indignity that those who served in Vietnam had to endure on their return. I caution those in this place that we must stand united behind our troops. I will be supporting our troops and I will be supporting coalition forces to try to build a better future for the people of Afghanistan.

12:30 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to lend my support for the government’s continued commitment to Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, one which should not be underestimated, because I believe this mission is vital to our nation’s own security interests and the international community at large. We have rightly made the decision to stop the scourge of terrorists having a safe haven in another land, a base to foster and grow their activities of harm to us and international communities. The Prime Minister should be thanked for giving us all here and in the other place an opportunity to have our say on this issue that has created very strong opinions on both sides. Despite which side of the debate we are on, we all agree that at the forefront of this debate is the welfare and the safety of our troops and civilian personnel who are doing their bit to make our world a safer place.

The Prime Minister told us that there is no greater task than defending our nation, its people and our ideals. I believe it is a task that no Prime Minister takes very lightly—not now, not before and not in the future.

The government and this country alike are immensely proud of the work our troops continue to do. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the families, the friends, the colleagues and the loved ones of our troops who have served and are still serving our country in Afghanistan and in other places of conflict, protecting our country and protecting the lives of innocent people here and around the world to give them an opportunity to build a life and a country that is free from tyranny and persecution.

There have been comments liking this mission to the Vietnam one. Although people will differ in their opinions of the Vietnam War, I personally want to put on the record my total admiration, respect and thanks to all those who bravely went to war and how sorry I am for their mistreatment on return. Our troops deserve our unqualified support and respect, as these brave men and women are the ones who are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the beliefs we hold so dearly. For that courage and bravery I say thank you.

We must remember at the forefront of this debate that a lot of progress has been made in Afghanistan. It has come at a great cost—at great cost to our civilian and military personnel, at great cost to our international partners and at great cost to the Afghan community—but the cost of doing nothing would be greater than the cost of doing something. I pay tribute to the sacrifices that have been made by our troops, who put their lives on the line every day in a hostile and hazardous environment.

It is in our national interest to be in Afghanistan, as we are not exempt from attack. As we are all aware, many Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks over the years. It is our duty and the duty of this place to ensure that this does not happen again. As I said, I do not believe any prime minister has taken the decision to send our citizens into conflict lightly, and nor do I believe one ever will, but when they do it is our duty to support these missions and stay until it is safe and secure before we bring the troops home. Our role should continue to be one which continually involves providing military support to mentoring, operational and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan. It is important that Australians understand this critical mission and understand why we are there and why it is crucial for us to continue to play our part.

The government’s commitment to Afghanistan is crystal clear. Since the deployment of Australian troops in Afghanistan the government has regularly reported our progress. We continue to acknowledge the difficult and dangerous situation and the importance of our commitment to the region. Our primary goal in Afghanistan, as stated in June this year by former Minister for Defence John Faulkner, is to combat a clear threat from international terrorism to both international security and national security.

Our involvement in Afghanistan is part of upholding our national interest in keeping safe all Australians from any threat or attack. By eradicating terrorist activities we are securing a safe future for all Australian families and future generations. The Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, were carried out by terrorists with direct links to Afghanistan. The same individuals were involved in the 2004 attack on the Australian Embassy in Indonesia and the Jakarta hotel bombings last year that killed more Australians. Terrorist organisations that receive Taliban support have proven to have a global reach so in turn are a global threat. That is why we remain committed to achieving our mission in Afghanistan with the objectives of denying terrorists a sanctuary and denying them an opportunity to threaten and attack innocent civilians all over the world.

We remain committed to fighting insurgency and to assist in stabilising the region. This government stands firmly by our alliance commitment to the United States. Australia cannot, must not and will not stand back and let terrorist organisations threaten and attack countries. We must, therefore, be proactive in our approach to erasing terrorist organisations, not be reactive. Acting now minimises the risk of having to react to any form of terrorist activity in the future. We must strive to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a breeding place for terrorist organisations and we do this by building a more secure, safer and more democratic Afghanistan.

Our strategy cannot be for the short term. It has to be for the long run and in turn for the future of our nation, its safety and our liveability. We remain committed to helping train the Afghan National Army to a point where they can take on security responsibility alone and then it will be time for us to leave. Australia, along with many other countries and international organisations, is strongly committed to working with the Afghan government to stare down terrorism. As part of the international community we have a role to play to ensure that we and other nations are safe from harm or attack.

Our service men and women continue to do a great job in Afghanistan. Our achievements and progress abroad are not confined to one category. We have seen progress in military work, educational work, infrastructure work and health services. Indeed, our assistance in rebuilding the Afghan community covers a wide range of projects. In 2009, our support for the National Solidarity Program saw 71 village-level infrastructure projects rolled out in Oruzgan. Other projects have delivered 11 healthcare centres, 15 schools and 1,000 microfinance loans. Therefore, it is evident that our work in Afghanistan is paramount to the lives and the future of so many of the Afghani people.

Throughout our time in Afghanistan, Afghan and coalition forces have successfully pushed Taliban insurgents out of numerous strongholds, towns and villages. Last year the government contributed significant additional aid to Afghanistan worth an additional $200 million over a three-year period. The Asia Foundation’s 2009 survey found that approximately 64 per cent of respondents gave a positive assessment of the security situation in their area. The number of Afghans surveyed, who identified security as the biggest risk in 2009, had dropped by eight per cent.

Australian troops have made a lot of progress in mentoring the Afghan National Army, which is responsible for combat support tasks like engineering and artillery and vehicle maintenance. Progress is also being made in our aid and reconstruction work through our Provincial Reconstruction Task Force. Our progress also includes training the Afghan National Army artillerymen and officially opening the School of Artillery in Kabul. The school will prepare Afghan soldiers to become skilled artillerymen and is a great advancement towards Afghan security forces taking full responsibility for security in the future.

Our progress is evident in the Australian-run trade training school at the multinational base in Tarin Kowt. Commanding Officer of the First Mentoring Task Force, Lieutenant Colonel Jason Blain, said that the trade training school was improving the lives of local Afghans by providing opportunities for further community and economic development in the area. I quote:

These young men are receiving first class training in trades that are needed in the local community.  The flow-on effect is further employment opportunities and economic growth for Tarin Kowt and Oruzgan Province.

We all agree that education is the cornerstone for a prosperous nation and we should share our knowledge and our ability to help others around the world to grow and to prosper like we do.

There is still a lot of work to be done. However, we hope by training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police that Australia can transfer control of the security situation in Oruzgan to the Afghan army. Countries, including Australia, contributing to the International Security Assistance Force have endorsed the Afghan government’s plan to take control in 2014. However, we must remember that this time frame depends on the Afghan army and police being adequately trained and capable of accepting responsibility for security in the region. In turn, this will ensure Afghanistan does not become a place that is home to violence, terrorism and attacks on innocent civilians.

One life lost in an attack is too many and we have seen far more than one Australian life lost in recent times to terrorist attacks. We have the responsibility as elected representatives of this country to ensure that our constituents and all Australians have the right to feel safe and to have a safe life. It is in our national interest to protect the lives of our people and to ensure that no harm comes their way. For this reason, governments are installed. We must not stand by, let an attack take place and then react. We must continue to act proactively, as this government is doing, against terrorism at its roots. If we help erase the chain of terror, we in turn safeguard our security interests here today, tomorrow and into our future.

12:41 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We all know what the war movie is about. There is a clearly defined good guy, an equally clearly defined bad guy, clearly marked lines and rules of engagement and a finish to the conflict which everyone understands. The conflict in Afghanistan is not as simple as that and, as a consequence, it is right for the elected parliament of Australia to reflect on the support and concerns of the people by having this debate. Just as our coalition partners are reassessing their roles in this conflict, we should be appraising the state of our role and the consequences of our actions.

When discussing the Afghan conflict I believe it is important to reflect on the situation that led to 47 nations joining together to take action by way of force in that country. In 1996, an extremist group called the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with no regard to justice and no eye to protecting the most basic of human rights that all of us enjoy in this great country of Australia. Not long after the Taliban took power, many thousands of horrible testimonies of atrocities against their own people began to filter out to the international community. Men and women were often publicly executed without trial and simple things that we take for granted in the West such as music, dancing and flying kites were outlawed.

Just as disturbing was the Taliban’s often open support for terror-training camps and its material support for acts of terrorism. It is undeniable that numerous acts of terrorism were planned and financed by the Taliban directly or they allowed the planning and financing of these acts in their country. The most notable of these terrorist attacks relates to the events in New York city on September 11, 2001. On that day, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives when large passenger jets were used as weapons of mass destruction. Most of those killed in the three attacks that day were not service men and women on active duty; rather, they were everyday people, office workers, tourists, police officers, firemen, husbands, wives, parents and children. Thousands of people around the world suffered great loss that day.

Australia’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan has had a dramatic effect on the people in my electorate of Herbert, centred on the garrison city of Townsville, home to Australia’s largest combat ready defence forces. The people of Townsville understand the ramifications of war better than most. Throughout the conflict in Afghanistan, Townsville has played a pivotal role in seeing Australia meet its contribution to the coalition of nations in Afghanistan. I pay tribute to the men and women of the following Townsville based units who have served with distinction and who all deserve mention in this place: 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; 5th Aviation Regiment; 10th Force Support Battalion, Joint Logistic Unit, North Queensland; and 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, which is part of the special forces task group.

At present there are no Townsville based units in Afghanistan yet that does not diminish the way my city and region feel about the men and women of Australia’s defence forces that are there today. I cannot emphasise enough the extent of the broad base of support that our service men and women enjoy in Townsville. The civilian population has embraced the men and women of Australia’s defence forces as part of one big family living together in the garrison city of Townsville and when one of them falls the whole region feels the impact.

I note the strong contributions of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in this debate. I agree with the Prime Minister in that there are inherent difficulties and challenges in relating to Afghanistan. I also agree with the Leader of the Opposition when he said we are faced with the risk of losing the PR war just as we are making gains in the ground conflict. There will not be any victory scenes in Afghanistan like the victorious flag-raising following the historic and bloody Battle of Midway during the Second World War. This conflict must end at the negotiating table. There will be no formal surrender or victory claim on either side.

No matter what changes are made, and regardless of the outcome of the military operation, we must all stand 100 per cent behind our troops. There can be no room for wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed statements aimed at political point-scoring or for preparation of a fallback position at our troops’ expense. My community has an extreme position when it comes to the way our troops are treated. There are more than 5,000 service people in Townsville. There is a significant retired Defence Force population in Townsville. They are mums and dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They are parents at school. They are members of the swimming and golf clubs. They are members of the Rotary and Lions clubs. They are families in my city and they must be supported. It is hard enough for anyone to have a family member away from home let alone serving in a war-torn country.

The community service that people in the defence forces do in our city of Townsville should also be noted. There is not a weekend that goes by where we do not see guys in uniform going around the city collecting money for the Red Shield appeal, the blood bank or any other form of charity that goes on around the place. The defence forces are there front and centre doing it for everyone. The 1RAR band plays regularly at community events for retirees and is a significant part of my city.

Australia’s defence forces have built an enviable reputation in many theatres of war and peacekeeping missions around the world. The war in Afghanistan rates as one of the most difficult operations in which our young nation has been involved. Our men and women fighting in the dusty desert are not engaged in a traditional combat situation—far from it. The threat of death or serious injury is all-encompassing and cannot and should not be underestimated. This nation owes the men and women of the ADF a great debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they have made, and continue to make, in an extremely hostile environment. The very least we can do back here in the relative comfort of this great nation is to use this House and every available forum to send the loudest and clearest message to our troops and their families that they have our unconditional support.

I do not believe, as others in this place have asserted, that we should abandon the people of Afghanistan, abandon our obligation to rebuild this nation and pull out the troops now or on a set date. To do this would create great unrest and place our troops in danger of increased insurgent activity. It would also send a signal to our enemies that we are not committed to the principles of freedom and democracy for the long haul. We have made a commitment to the people of Afghanistan and to the fight against terror. If we were to walk away now because it is all too hard, we would be abandoning our friends in Afghanistan and playing into the hands of our enemies. It would not be long before Afghanistan was once again a safe haven and a training ground for radical terrorists whose stated aim is to undermine the very freedoms that our troops are fighting for right now. It would also send entirely the wrong signal to our brave troops who have served this nation with distinction in Afghanistan, 21 of whom have paid the ultimate price.

The free world has to be a beacon of hope for oppressed peoples around the world. If we walk away from our commitment to the task we have undertaken in Afghanistan, we may harm our reputation as a defender of democracy and of the basic freedoms that we hold dear in our society. Looking to the future, I believe that Australia must set clear goals for our troops and only after they have been achieved bring them home. By ensuring we have clear goals to achieve for the nation of Afghanistan, the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families will be remembered long after the end of this conflict. These goals should be determined with Australians at the negotiating table along with the Afghan government and other coalition forces representatives—but Australia must be central to any negotiations.

When I talk of our troops working towards set goals, I am not talking about a flag-raising ceremony. I am talking about ensuring everyday Afghani men, women and children are able to go about their lives without the threat of persecution. The goals we should insist on include: ensuring that girls have the right to an education on a par with boys; the right to due justice and a trial; the right to freedom of religion; ensuring that the government has a bureaucratic infrastructure to operate effective governance; that the Taliban is starved of training grounds and no longer intimidates villages; and the right to vote for an elected government.

As a representative of Australia’s most important military facility and centre in Townsville I welcome this opportunity to publicly recognise the wonderful job our troops have done and continue to do in Afghanistan and around the world under extremely difficult conditions. I again urge all Australians to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brave service men and women and their families. We must never forget the sacrifices made by our troops and by their families in the service of this nation.