Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Mr Speaker, on indulgence, I rise to update the House on the battle against Daesh. As honourable members are aware, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has announced that Iraqi security forces have commenced operations to liberate Mosul from the terrorist group Daesh, or ISIL. Australia is making a vital contribution to this campaign, as our forces have done in the successful recapture of other centres from Daesh, such as Ramadi. The ADF, as part of the broader coalition, will continue to support the Iraqi security forces throughout the Mosul offensive. Iraqi security force units are being trained by Task Group Taji as part of our Building Partner Capacity mission; our Special Operations Task Group is supporting the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service's 1st Iraqi Special Operations Forces Brigade—that is, their elite unit; and Australia's Air Task Group is conducting air strikes and providing air support, including in the vicinity of Mosul. I had the honour of meeting our service men and women in Iraq in January and thanking them for their service to our nation. I know that they, along with all of our forces, will continue to make us proud as they fight in freedom's name defending our national interests.
Let there be no doubt as to the importance of the liberation of Mosul. It is the largest city in Iraq remaining under the control of Daesh. In my discussions only last month with Prime Minister Abadi in New York, he noted how important the Australian contribution to the anti-Daesh effort has been, and when I saw him earlier in the year he thanked me for our forces' efforts then as well. The Iraqi government and people understand how important the role of the Australian Defence Force is as they seek to secure and liberate their own nation. We discussed the upcoming battle. He acknowledged the liberation of Mosul would be difficult, with no guarantees on the length of the fight or the determination of the Daesh fighters to hold the city. Daesh is losing on the battlefield. Its territory is shrinking. Its resources are deteriorating. Its numbers have been substantially reduced. Daesh's myth of invincibility, which has been part of its recruiting platform, has been shattered. But there is more to be done. Daesh knows that Mosul is one of its last strongholds and it will sacrifice its fighters in suicide attacks. It will use the civilians, the residents of Mosul, as shields. This will be a terrible battle to recapture Mosul.
The defeat of Daesh is critical for Iraq, for the region and for Australia. From Daesh controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, this Islamist terrorist network has directed and inspired attacks in Australia and around the world. Since September 2014 there have been four terrorist attacks in Australia, and in each case the attacker claimed allegiance to, or was inspired by, Daesh. In those two years alone our agencies have successfully disrupted a further 11 terrorist attacks. Ten of these involved individuals with some allegiance to Daesh, the most recent just last week in Sydney where two teenagers were charged with terrorism offences. The reach of this violent ideology is why we must give the ADF on the front line of this fight all of the powers they need. That is why on 1 September I announced that the government had reviewed its policy on targeting enemy combatants to ensure our forces are empowered to act against Daesh to the full extent allowed by international law, and that is why we moved quickly to introduce the necessary amendments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code to ensure that ADF personnel will be supported by our domestic laws as they target Daesh and kill its fighters.
Taking back Mosul and the destruction of Daesh's so-called caliphate is a military and strategic imperative, but let me be very clear: it will not mark the end of this conflict. There will be a need to establish order and maintain stability, tasks which could be even more difficult and protracted than the recapture of the city. This is the context in which, in July this year, we expanded the mandate of our Building Partner Capacity training mission to include, within the range of agencies that we are supporting and training, Iraqi law enforcement agencies. Helping train these law enforcement agencies to hold and stabilise territory will assist Iraq to take responsibility for its own security. That is why our work in the Middle East must be ongoing. As Daesh loses ground it will try to find new ways to incite fear and division and propagate the illusion of momentum, including by encouraging and inspiring attacks against civilian populations in the West, including our own nation. To protect Australians we are redoubling our efforts at home, providing our law enforcement and security agencies with the powers they need: in addition to the targeting legislation we introduced in the last sitting week, a new law to establish a post-sentence preventative detention system. This will enable a continuing period of detention for high-risk terrorist offenders. Both these bills are currently before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which will report next month. I urge the Leader of the Opposition to take this opportunity to recommit, as I am sure he will, to bipartisan support for these critical changes to our laws.
As we continue the fight against Daesh on the battlefield in the Middle East, our thoughts and prayers are with our service men and women, along with their families at home. All of them are putting their lives on the line. All of them are putting their heart and soul into keeping us safe. And I know that every member of this House—no matter what matters might divide us or what we might disagree on—all of us are with the men and women of the ADF and their families as they serve to keep us free.
I thank the Prime Minister for updating the House.
We agree that retaking Mosul is crucial to defeating Daesh. It is critical to restoring stability in the region. We can all be proud of the Australian contribution to this objective, from air support to building the capacity of the Iraqi troops involved. The remarkable Australians who serve in our Defence Force have the complete support and respect of this House and our entire nation.
I know that all of us who serve in parliament who have had the privilege of meeting the extraordinary men and women of the ADF universally come away with a greater appreciation for their professionalism, their skill and their bravery. I think I speak for all of us when I say that every time parliamentarians come to see and witness the capacity of our ADF—whilst we are not a warrior nation, we are always more proud to be an Australian when we see how skilled and capable and dedicated our people are.
Australia does owe a duty to the cause of peace beyond just our borders. We are a free people. We are a prosperous nation. We are a leader in our region and a constructed middle power in the world. As such, Australia owes a duty of cause to the peace. And we fulfil that responsibility in the continuing fight against extremism.
As the Prime Minister noted, Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city, and it is the largest city currently under the control of terrorist forces. It is a tragedy that since Mosul was captured in 2014 its population has fallen from over two million to one million. Recapturing the city will add to the momentum which is already building against Daesh, exposing its hollow claims of invincibility in the field. Daesh is losing territory in Iraq that it can control. Fifty per cent of what it stole has been taken back from it; in Syria, 20 per cent. At least 30 per cent of its resources have been impacted, undermining the ability of Daesh to organise its evil operations.
Retaking Mosul may not be achieved quickly, and victory will not come easily to the Iraqi military or the Iraqi people. But for the sake of all of the civilians suffering and dying at the hands of this hateful strand of extremism, it must be done. Restoring the territorial integrity of Iraq, and the rights of diverse population, is vital.
It is equally important that the Western world plays its part in building the infrastructure of peace cooperating with the government of Iraq to deliver a lasting stability and a more certain future. And Australians should know that, despite other disagreements in this place, when it comes to fighting terror, wherever it occurs, Labor along with the coalition is in it together to promote the security of our nation and its people. Labor joins with all Australians in wishing our forces a swift, successful mission, our gratitude for the work they do and a safe return to the people they love.