Thursday, 28 October 2010
Debate resumed from 27 October, on motion by Mr Stephen Smith:
That the House take note of the document.
I am pleased to speak in this parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. We had an important parliamentary debate following the events of 11 September 2001. We also had an important parliamentary debate on Iraq. While in the Australian system there is no requirement for legislative approval for the Australian Defence Force to be deployed overseas, it is important that the parliament have their say on this. No government should ever take lightly the deployment of Australian personnel overseas, especially in a conflict zone.
I remember the events of 11 September 2001 and the circumstances which led us initially to be in Afghanistan. My recollection is that it happened during the 2001 election campaign and that, while the caretaker conventions were operating, the commitment was made with the full agreement of the then Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley. In 2001 I supported the invocation of ANZUS treaty following the September 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. I also supported the commitment to Afghanistan, as it was very clear that, under the Taliban government, Afghanistan had become a haven for international terrorists and fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.
This is a commitment which I supported then and support now. I think it is important that, as members of parliament, we support the work of the Australian Defence Force. We ask a lot of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force; we ask them to put their lives on the line to do their important work. As I said earlier, no government should ever take lightly sending our Australian troops into places where they may be in harm’s way.
I also think that in the conduct of any war, counterinsurgency operation or peacekeeping operation it is very important to get clear the different responsibilities. It is the job of government to set the goals and the overarching strategy, but it is really the job of the Australian Defence Force to be responsible for tactics and the methods of how to achieve that. I do not support micromanagement by government. I do not support micromanagement by any politician. I think history shows that that never works. What you do is give the Defence Force a job to do with very clear goals. They are the experts in getting on with it.
Like many members of parliament, I took the opportunity in 2006 to see firsthand the work service personnel were doing in the Middle East area of operations. I took up an ADF Parliamentary Program position which enabled me to spend three days with a frigate in the Persian Gulf and also three days with our Orion crews. Whilst the focus of the mission then was very much on Iraq, I was aware that these same crews did surveillance work in Afghanistan and were part of the overall Middle East area of operations. While I was there, I was aware that Canada were suffering increasing casualties, because they would return through the same base where the RAAF were. It was not an uncommon occurrence to have a ramp ceremony for a Canadian soldier who had been killed in Kandahar province. Since 2007 that has become a more common occurrence for us as well, as we have seen more Australian soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan.
The role in Afghanistan has changed over the nine years. Originally it was very much a role for special forces—the SAS. Then it primarily had a focus on reconstruction. Now the focus is very much on training up the Afghan National Army. It is a role which I think the Australian Army are very good at. There is a lot of corporate memory and experience to do with counterinsurgency operations. From the Malayan Emergency to the Vietnam War, this is something which is embedded in the training of the Australian Army and it is something that I think they are particularly well set up for. It is something they will do very well.
One of the features of the commitment in Afghanistan is that it has enabled a deeper engagement for Australia with NATO. I think it will be good for the professionalism of all the ADF to be operating with similar countries but also countries that we normally would not have a deep engagement with. We have been working closely with the Dutch, the United States and a lot of the NATO countries in Afghanistan.
I would like to talk about the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Of the 50,000 Australians who served in Vietnam, there are 20,000 who have had mental health problems and the incidence of PTSD is very high amongst them. Before I went to the Middle East I saw the predeployment unit in Randwick. While I know that the Australian Defence Force spends a lot of time on preparing people beforehand, making sure they keep diaries and monitor themselves while they are in theatre and also afterwards, I think it is very clear, because of the nature of the service in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we are going to see a much higher incidence of PTSD than we have seen since the Vietnam War. The RAND Corporation, in looking at figures from the United States, found that 20 per cent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD. Disturbingly, only half of them have sought treatment. The thing with PTSD is that early diagnosis and treatment provide the best chance of recovery. That is something for which Australia and the Australian government of whatever colour will have an ongoing duty of care to the service personnel who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is very important that they are seen early.
In conclusion, it is important that we honour the memory of the 21 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. We also remain thankful to the more than 150 soldiers who have been wounded in Afghanistan. It is a reminder of how dangerous their service is. I take this opportunity to say that I support our ongoing role. I do not see it as a mission without end, but I think our mission will wind down when the Afghan National Army is in a position to take control of the security in Oruzgan province.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for this opportunity to have a parliamentary debate on Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. From the outset, I would like to acknowledge the bravery and dedication of our troops who have served and continue to serve in Afghanistan. I would like to especially acknowledge the 21 Australian soldiers who have died whilst on duty in Afghanistan and offer my condolences to their families and friends—in particular, Private Nathan Bewes, who was from Murwillumbah in my electorate. Nathan Bewes was serving with the First Mentoring Task Force when he tragically lost his life because of an improvised explosive device on Friday, 9 July. Whilst Nathan was from the Brisbane based 6 Battalion, RAR, he grew up in Murwillumbah and his family and many friends still live there. I extend my condolences to his parents Gary and Kay; his sister, Stephanie; and his partner, Alice. Each of these 21 soldiers have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of our nation and our national interest, and that must be recognised and remembered as we examine our past and present roles and as we consider our future role in Afghanistan. I firmly believe that it is in our national interest to have become involved in, and to remain in, Afghanistan. This recognises that Australia’s involvement extends well beyond our military involvement to include direct support to assist in rebuilding a nation.
Without a doubt, the most serious decision a government can make is to commit its citizens to an armed conflict. This is not a decision that is made easily and not one taken lightly. However, when our national security and our national interest are at stake, as I believe them to be in Afghanistan, such decisions are necessary. Australia is not immune to the actions of terrorists, with more than 100 Australians killed in terrorist attacks in recent years. These attacks were carried out by individuals with direct links to the terror training grounds of Afghanistan and the safe haven it provided before the fall of the Taliban. These were attacks upon innocent people, conducted with the express purpose of taking lives and disrupting communities. Accordingly, it is a proper response that, when Australia’s international security is threatened and when the lives of Australian citizens are being targeted for no other reason than for being Australians, the government responds. Our troops are in Afghanistan to stop the country becoming the safe haven for terrorists and terrorist groups that it once was. As a global citizen we have an important responsibility in going to Afghanistan, and we have an important responsibility in remaining there.
As the Prime Minister has said, Australia has two vital national interests in Afghanistan: one is to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists, a place where attacks on us and our allies begin; the other is to stand firmly by our alliance commitment to the United States, formally invoked following the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Under the Taliban government, al-Qaeda had a safe haven in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda’s sanctuary allowed the group to concentrate its efforts on expanding its organisation, training thousands in both guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics and planning terrorist operations. The loss of this sanctuary has seriously reduced the ability of al-Qaeda to carry out terrorist activities. When we recall the September 11 attacks in the United States, we all remember the horror, the devastation and the massive loss of life and we are reminded of the reasons that we went to Afghanistan. In the 9-11 attacks, al-Qaeda murdered more than 3,000 people, including 10 Australians. After the 9-11 attacks, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1378, condemning the Taliban for allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base for terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Australia joined the international mission mandated by the UN Security Council with the goal of denying terrorist networks a safe haven in Afghanistan.
Although inflicting mass casualties remains a primary goal of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, the group has been forced to alter its operational strategy because of the loss of its safe base. Our efforts in Afghanistan have denied al-Qaeda its ability to freely plan, train and execute operations of the scale of 9-11. Despite our actions curtailing its activities, al-Qaeda and the terror groups associated with it remain the prominent source of today’s global terror threat. If our military presence in Afghanistan is withdrawn and the Taliban is allowed to rise up and take over the democratically elected government in Kabul, there is a real possibility that al-Qaeda could resume using Afghanistan as a safe haven once again for training, planning and launching global terror attacks.
Australia is not alone in its involvement in Afghanistan. Our engagement is a multilateral one, mandated by the United Nations as part of international effort to stabilise Afghanistan. Australia is one of 47 nations that have formed the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, and ISAF has a clear strategy: to protect the civilian population, to train the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan National Police and to assist with improvement in services, governance and economic development.
Al-Qaeda has been dealt a severe blow in Afghanistan. Removing the Taliban and pursuing al-Qaeda has made a major difference in preventing terrorist attacks. However, ISAF and the Afghan government continue to face persistent insurgency, particularly in the country’s south. From 2001 to mid 2006, US and coalition forces and Afghan troops fought low levels of insurgent violence. The international force was primarily focused on a stabilisation mission, and no Australian units were deployed in Afghanistan between December 2002 and September 2005. In September 2005, Australia’s military involvement resumed in support of international efforts to target key insurgents. In 2010, ISAF launched counterinsurgency operations to reclaim Taliban held ground in the south. Our government supports the new international strategy.
Australia has increased its troop contribution over the past 18 months, and we now have around 1,550 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan. The Australian effort is focused upon Oruzgan province. In Oruzgan, Australia’s Mentoring Task Force is training the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army. The capability of the 4th Brigade to conduct security operations has increased. Of course, military action alone is not enough to ensure long-term stability. Efforts to restore law and order and bring back stability are combined with addressing humanitarian needs and assisting with the long-term process of reconstruction and development assistance. Aid and capacity-building efforts are focused on helping improve the Afghan government’s capacity to deliver basic services such as education and health.
While the challenges are great, Australia’s involvement is in fact making a real difference. We can look at some of the differences that have been made over the past nine years. Firstly, millions of boys and girls are now enrolled in schools. In 2001, around one million children, none of them girls, were enrolled in school, while today there are more than six million enrolments, including around two million young girls. As the Prime Minister has said, nothing better symbolises the fall of the Taliban than these two million Afghan girls learning to read. Also, basic health services have improved. Under the Taliban, these services were only available to less than 10 per cent of the population. Now they are available to around 85 per cent of the people. And there is the management of around 39,000 community-based infrastructure projects, like wells and clinics, and the improvement of almost 10,000 kilometres of rural roads, supporting the employment of hundreds of thousands of local workers. Other advances include two elections for the lower house of parliament since 2001 and the fact that thousands of government judges have entered into legal training.
Of course, under the Taliban free speech was suppressed. Now newly established radio stations, TV channels and print media are bringing unprecedented amounts of news and information to Afghans throughout the country, and now Afghans can properly discuss issues such as human rights abuses and women’s rights. They can have a say and debate their future in a way that was previously not permitted, and they can participate directly through democratic processes. The right of women to represent their communities in parliament has been restored.
A necessary condition for the continued advance of communities and societies is a secure, safe and stable environment. Australians are lending their skills to restoring law and order, with the Australian Federal Police having trained more than 800 Afghan National Police officers. This is very important in terms of developing stability and preparing the citizens of Afghanistan to take responsibility for their own security and policing. The Australian Federal Police, together with representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID and Defence form part of the provincial reconstruction team under Combined Team Oruzgan, which coordinates all ISAF civilian activities in the province.
Of course, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest nations in the world—a nation torn apart by three decades of conflict. As a result of the international community’s engagement, progress to address this is being made. Freedoms, opportunities and services that many consider to be norms are being either restored or enjoyed for the first time. However, these steps are still only early achievements. As the Afghan people work to rebuild their social and economic infrastructure, continued support from countries such as ours is crucial. The appalling human rights record of the Taliban and their extreme form of sharia law devastated the rights of individuals, particularly women, and this record should not be forgotten.
I know there are differing views within this parliament, within the Australian community and indeed within my electorate about Australia’s role in Afghanistan. The fact that we are in a position to give voice to our differing views without the fear of personal attack is a right that did not exist in Afghanistan and one that is being restored. There is no denying that Afghanistan faces immense development challenges, but these challenges, with the support of nations like our own, are not insurmountable.
I strongly believe that we cannot neglect our responsibilities to our national security, to the international community and to the Afghan people. We should stand firm against extremist views. I do not believe that walking away is a good enough response. But we should also remember that, in the case of Afghanistan, without engaging in armed conflict it would not have been possible to start the process of restoring basic human rights, restoring opportunities for individuals to express those rights and restoring equality not only for women and girls but for every Afghani citizen.
Australia should not abandon Afghanistan, but we must be very realistic about the future. Transition will take some years and, as the Prime Minister has said, we will be engaged through this decade at least. The facts are that we are in Afghanistan to work together with locals and our international partners towards building a safe and sustainable democracy. We cannot allow this country to ever again become the safe haven for extremists and their terrorist training camps that it once was. I believe that Australia has a responsibility to remain in Afghanistan. In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge our soldiers and defence personnel, Federal Police members and DFAT and AusAID staff for their ongoing efforts on behalf of our nation in Afghanistan.
On 7 October 2001, President Bush ordered strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This followed the barbaric and cold-blooded terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and four commercial airliners. Over 5,000 people from around 80 countries were brutally murdered, including 22 Australians. The attacks were not simply an assault on America; they were attacks on all people in the world who have a commitment to freedom and liberty and all those who hold immutable the right to individual freedom, democracy, human rights, religious tolerance and the free flow of global trade and commerce. Australia joined the US-led international coalition against terrorism after invoking the mutual defence clauses of the ANZUS treaty on 14 September 2001. This was the first time the treaty’s clauses on acting to meet a common danger had been invoked since it was enacted in 1952.
Australia’s commitment became part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, with its operations and activities in Afghanistan, after ISAF was established via a unanimous resolution of the UN Security Council. Today, nine years later, a force of 120,000 troops from 47 countries remains part of the NATO-led operations in Afghanistan. Australian combat deaths have reached 21 with 152 wounded in action. The ultimate sacrifice of these young men, the grief of their families and friends and the continuing commitment of our 1,550 troops still in Afghanistan warrant not only our lasting support and gratitude but also a clear explanation by this parliament of our future involvement and our strategy.
The immediate goal of the NATO-led operations in Afghanistan was to seek out and destroy al-Qaeda and to ensure that Afghanistan can never again serve as a base from which terrorists can operate. In 2001, John Howard spelt out that, while the destruction of the al-Qaeda network was our first priority, the long-term aim of this war was to demonstrate that organised, international, state sanctioned terrorism will not be tolerated by the world community. The question before us today is to assess the extent to which our efforts in Afghanistan to date have helped to achieve these objectives and the merit and nature of any continued involvement.
Twelve months after joining the security mission in Afghanistan, Australia withdrew its combat force after the defeat of much of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the factional warlords. The focus then shifted to Iraq. Yet within three years we again deployed special forces to Afghanistan because of the re-emergence of the threat due to the regrouping of insurgent forces. In the meantime, a new face of Islamic terrorism emerged via home-grown terrorists, with bombings in London. This highlighted the global impact of the training role of terrorists in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. As well, Australia suffered a huge number of civilian casualties in two bombings, three years apart, in Bali. The world observed terrorist cells emerge in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and al-Qaeda was very active in Iraq.
The fact is that Islamic terrorists have continued their attempts at spreading global fear and terror. In the eight years before 9/11 there were six significant attacks by the terrorist group al-Qaeda. In the nine years since 9/11 there have been more than 48 significant al-Qaeda attacks, with over half of them in the last four years. These figures of growing al-Qaeda activity in many ways mask the success at the same time of concerted international action on the intelligence, law enforcement and financial fronts. Over the past nine years it is evident that the terrorist bombings have increasingly occurred in Muslim countries, albeit often with Westerners as their intended target. No doubt many plans have been made to continue to spread terror in Europe, North America and other Western countries including Australia, but many hundreds of terrorist plots have been foiled. Clearly the responsibility and actions of free countries to first and foremost protect their citizens and interests at home and abroad have been remarkably and increasingly effective, yet radical Islam remains the greatest threat facing the world. Not only do non-Muslims face the problem but moderate Muslims need to accept that it is also their problem.
Australia is a nation blessed with peace, yet in a world of random and wanton terror there can be no peace unless we deal with the threat. This threat of terrorism includes the increasing danger of terrorists getting possession of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons. We know that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are eager to obtain these types of destructive weapons. If these aims were to be achieved, the potential to cause enormous damage and loss of life in our cities would be overwhelming. This threat underlines the vital need for the civilised world to maintain maximum pressure on terrorist organisations wherever they may be operating around the globe.
This growing threat makes it extremely important for the effort in Afghanistan to succeed and makes it just as important to see related efforts in Pakistan succeed. Failure or premature withdrawal from Afghanistan would be very badly interpreted by these countries inhabited by terrorist cells, such as Pakistan, and would be celebrated by Islamic terrorists themselves. It would see countries lose confidence in the resolve of the developed world. In turn, these countries would themselves lose resolve. It would encourage efforts by local authorities to seek accommodations with terrorists rather than to continue resistance. Attempts to appease evil elements never succeed. It would also greatly emboldened terrorist elements.
The current objectives of the UN led forces are: to stabilise Afghanistan by military and economic means, to train the Afghan National Army and security forces to the point where they can provide the nation’s security, and to prevent the terrorists regaining any hold over the government in Kabul and at local levels. These objectives must be followed through. Real progress is being made. In January 2009 Afghan security forces numbered 156; today there are more than 230,000 Afghan security force members. Schools have been reopened for the first time in years. Enrolment has increased from fewer than one million when the Taliban fell to more than six million today, with more than two million of these being females. Some 85 per cent of the population can now access some type of healthcare facility within one hour. In 2001 there were less than one million people in the Kabul region; now there are more than five million. More than five million Afghan refugees have returned home. Today 70 per cent of Afghans believe that their children will live in a peaceful and secure Afghanistan despite more than 30 years of continuous war. That is remarkable.
While patience was always central to success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the UN led forces should nevertheless aim to achieve these outcomes as quickly as possible. This underscores the importance of providing sufficient firepower and other resources. If our government is to rely as much as they do on our military leaders advice on the appropriate levels of resources required to achieve each strategic objective then these military advisers must be held more accountable for the achievement or nonachievement of these outcomes. Consideration should be given to a forum for our military leaders and parliamentarians similar to the congressional hearings of US generals in the United States. This would not only bring greater accountability to our military leaders but also, and perhaps more importantly, better inform parliamentarians—who must take greater and ultimate responsibility for decisions on the level of deployment.
Rather than setting a particular withdrawal date for the UN led forces, the achievement of these outcomes should determine the exit strategy. Otherwise the insurgents may simply decide to sit out the prescribed exit date. In saying as much, there must be a clear recognition that achieving a stabilised situation in Afghanistan which denies terrorists a safe haven there requires the Pakistani government to be willing and able to stabilise its own border with Afghanistan. At the moment this border region is a development zone for jihadi terrorists. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself. After the US assisted both Afghanistan and Pakistan to remove the Soviet Union in the 1980s it then left Pakistan to deal with a politically unstable Afghanistan, and an obliging Taliban willing to help Pakistan end the conflict. This Taliban and Kabul connection also provided Pakistan with a counterweight to India. An effective ongoing partnership with Pakistan is inextricably linked to success in Afghanistan. Pakistan must not be left to pick up the pieces. Australia should be prepared to help the US and other countries support Pakistan in dealing with its huge challenges, not only militarily but also with debilitating regional issues like the recent devastating floods, which will create local social and political problems for many years to come.
Pakistan must know that the West is strongly committed to Pakistan’s security and prosperity. Unfortunately many Pakistanis view the West as a threat and not as a partner. Changing this perception is a major and critical challenge in the overall campaign in Afghanistan. In due course the timing and nature of the departure of UN led forces from Afghanistan is critical. In particular it must be done in a way which maintains the military credibility of the US. In the decade ahead the security resources of the UN countries, and particularly the United States, must be progressively freed up to deal with the more global positioning of terrorist cells and other non-terror-related strategic challenges. It is particularly in Australia’s interest to see the US presence and standing in the Asia-Pacific undiminished in the coming decades as China presents increasing challenges, especially for the west Pacific region, as its military capability continues to increase very rapidly.
In conclusion, our mission in Afghanistan is now clearly defined. It is to help reconstruct and build the economic fabric of Afghanistan. It is also to train the Afghan National Army to take over security of their population and, with the Afghan national security forces, fight the battles needed to secure the population centres. Our mission is just, our mission is critical and our mission involves a transition strategy which is working. The date of our exit should be determined by the achievement of the above outcomes and not dictated by a nominated point in time. All that remains is that we maintain the courage of our convictions and the commitment of necessary resources in a timely fashion. Global terrorism will remain a fact of life for a very long time into the future. It will require ongoing management, resolve and vigilance.
I too welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate relating to Australia’s military engagement in Afghanistan. I begin by conveying my condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the 21 Australians killed while serving Australia in Afghanistan. I also record my appreciation and respect for Australia’s ADF personnel who are serving or who have served in Afghanistan. They quite rightly deserve the recognition given to them by all members of this House so far.
For a nation to engage in military conflict is as grave a decision as a nation can ever make, and therefore the national parliament, the democratically elected body of the Australian people, should have a right to express its views on the matter. Views expressed in the midst of a conflict, however, must be expressed with caution and with sensitivity—with caution because the debate will clearly signal the current thinking of the nation’s political leaders to our allies, our adversaries and our defence personnel serving in Afghanistan. Conflict is as much about psychology as it is about resources. We must act with sensitivity because we have serving defence personnel in Afghanistan risking their lives to serve their government and their country. We must also act with sensitivity because we have families and friends grieving over the death of those defence personnel who were killed in Afghanistan or grieving for those who have been injured and have had their lives changed for ever.
The greatest respect that we can pay to the 21 Australian Defence Force members who have been killed in Afghanistan is to remain true to the cause for which they lost their lives. Some time ago when asked by a journalist about my hopes for 2010, I listed the end of the war in Afghanistan as one of my key hopes. We have been in Afghanistan since 2001. It has been a long engagement. Accurate figures are not available, but on most accounts tens of thousands of lives have been lost and many, many more have been injured. The human toll has been immense and will continue to rise as the conflict continues.
The financial toll has equally been huge. For the people of Afghanistan, almost a decade of productivity and economic development has been lost by this war alone, not to mention the two previous decades of war. Many young Afghan people have known nothing but war for their entire lives. For Australians, so distant from Afghanistan, it is easy to become insensitive to the life of the Afghan people. But they are real people, fellow humans with families, with fears, aspirations and hopes who also feel pain and sorrow. The country has been in conflict for the past three decades, so an end to the war would bring so much good to so many people in so many countries.
The current conflict is now in its ninth year, and I have little doubt that the situation in Afghanistan today is considerably different to what it was in 2001. Our core national security mission in Afghanistan, however, has not changed. The questions today are: has it been accomplished; and has our purpose for being in Afghanistan now changed?
In the Australian newspaper on 14 October Peter Leahy, director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra, and Chief of Army between 2002 and 2008, described Australia’s national security interest as being:
… freedom from attack, maintenance of territorial integrity and political sovereignty, preservation of our hard-won freedoms and economic prosperity for all Australians.
Peter Leahy goes on to say:
These ends can be achieved by using diplomatic, economic, military and soft power.
It is with the changed circumstances in Afghanistan in mind, and with the options available to us in achieving our national security objectives, that I believe we should reassess the nature of our engagement there.
Our mission has not changed, but our strategy to achieve that mission should always be open to debate. My assessment is based on the ministerial statements made in this House, the reports of independent international commentators and the daily news reports of events in Afghanistan. I do not have access to the Defence or security intelligence which others obviously do. If I did have that, it may cause me to see the situation differently.
At the time that we went into Afghanistan in 2001 our mission was to target al-Qaeda operations there and the Taliban government that provided al-Qaeda with cover. I understand that al-Qaeda no longer has safe havens or training camps in Afghanistan. I also understand that al-Qaeda operations have spread to other countries. The Afghanistan war clearly began as a counterterrorism mission. Today, however, our mission is more about stabilising a country that appears to be in turmoil and ensuring that there is not a resurgence of al-Qaeda operations there.
If stability is not restored in Afghanistan, Australia will continue to be burdened by the problems of Afghanistan in more ways than by being engaged in a war and fearing the resurgence of al-Qaeda. Since the conflict began, around 8,000 Afghan people have sought refuge in Australia as boat arrivals. When they arrive here they are vilified and rejected by many of the very people who justify Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan by arguing that we are liberating the Afghan people. Their concern for Afghan people quickly evaporates when the Afghan people reach our shores.
Much has been made of the global fight against terror, and I want to comment briefly on terrorism. The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on 11 September 2001 and the Bali bombings on 12 October 2002 have been linked to terrorists trained in Afghanistan. I accept that that was the case. I know only too well the effect those attacks had on the lives of the families and loved ones of those killed.
Nineteen-year-old Angela Golotta, whom I knew and with whose family I have had a long friendship, was killed in the Bali bombings. Andrew Knox, a close political friend and colleague, was killed in the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. I attended both of their funeral services. In fact, it was a funeral service for Angela; for Andrew it was a memorial service held in Adelaide. Both services were overflowing with people; in fact, not everyone could fit into the venues. I think those two services will remain with me forever. It is difficult to describe the emotion and the feeling you have when you speak to the father of Angela Golotta about how he raced down to the hotel that was bombed and searched for his daughter. It is difficult to describe the feelings you have when you listen to the stories of Andrew trying to escape the building he was in at the time it was attacked.