Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Matters of Urgency

Australian Defence Force

5:24 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 23 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that a letter from Senator Waters proposing a matter of urgency was chosen:

The need for the government to apologise immediately to the families of the victims and create a compensation scheme, hold the military chain of command to account for their role, bring the individual perpetrators to justice and, in future, ensure there is political accountability for sending our troops to war in response to the Brereton report which alleges there were 39 murders and two instances of 'cruel treatment' carried out by Australian Special Forces soldiers and that some of the victims were children.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

5:25 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the government to apologise immediately to the families of the victims and create a compensation scheme, hold the military chain of command to account for their role, bring the individual perpetrators to justice and, in future, ensure there is political accountability for sending our troops to war in response to the Brereton report which alleges there were 39 murders and two instances of 'cruel treatment' carried out by Australian Special Forces soldiers and that some of the victims were children.

War is never the answer. Given the multitudes of conflicts in which we have engaged as a nation—those that have been lost, those that have been marked by their involvement in conflict, the communities that have been destroyed by pointless acts of violence—it would be understandable for many in our community to believe that the simple statement that 'War is not the answer', that it is never the answer, would be a reasonably uncontroversial thing to say. But, in this place, it is still a statement that is considered radical. Even in the aftermath of the illegal invasion of Iraq and the terribly misguided humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan—conflicts into which Australia entered at the behest of the United States and collectively constituted wars that took up most of the first 20 years of this new century—even after the lies of the Bush administration and the complicity of the Howard government, even after the terrible crimes that are now on the record as having been committed in Afghanistan by our special forces, the statement that 'War must never be the answer' is still one which the major parties refute.

I'm sure in the course of this debate there will be many spurious propositions made by those representing the major parties. I have brought on this debate directly as a result of the refusal of the major parties yesterday to take the simple common-decency step of acknowledging the victims of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan and committing ourselves—having apologised—to a compensation scheme. In the aftermath of that disgraceful decision today, it is obviously so needed for this place to fully understand how we came to be here today and what needs to be done to ensure that these crimes are never committed again and to ensure that we never again deploy our forces overseas into a conflict zone. We ask people to put their lives on the line while nobody in this parliament is willing to take political responsibility for that decision. Not one MP is willing to create a process in which we vote to make that happen.

First of all, it is so important, as I said, to understand how we came to be here today, at this moment, when these horrific war crimes have been revealed to our community. It began, in my opinion, with the illegal invasion of Iraq and the misguided invasion of Afghanistan, two conflicts which we entered into at the behest of the United States—in the case of Iraq, on a false premise, on an illegal premise, on a lie about WMDs, and, in the case of Afghanistan, following along behind the Americans, once again, into a war of regime change. Once there, there was no clear strategic direction established, and yet administration after administration, Labor and Liberal, approved the continuation of our presence in that country. Administration after administration ignored the warnings from many returning veterans that the length of deployment and what was being asked of serving personnel was too much and that the job they had been given to do was something that they were neither trained to do nor capable of doing. And yet governments, Labor and Liberal alike, were happy to sign up once again and again and again to maintain our presence there to keep the Americans happy.

That is why as we talk about the war crimes that have been committed in Afghanistan we must talk first of political accountability. We must hold the Howard administration, the Rudd administration, the Gillard administration, the Turnbull administration and the Abbott administration responsible for continuing this deployment, this engagement, long after it was clear that there was no strategic objective, that there was no victory that was possible and that our presence in Afghanistan was doing great harm to the people of Afghanistan and to those being asked to serve in that conflict.

Firstly, we must, from this moment, take it upon ourselves to answer the community's call to put the responsibility for declaring war and entering into armed conflict into the hands of the parliament. It is clear that the executive cannot be trusted to make these decisions because they have so often led our armed forces into harm's way for no good reason. This process would, as I have outlined to the Senate in the bill that I have introduced, enable a process in which the Governor-General and the Prime Minister would make a case to the parliament as to the legality, the duration and the number of personnel needed, as part of a debate on whether we should deploy into territory overseas. And it would require the defence minister to come before the parliament every two months and update the parliament on the nature of the deployment. It would facilitate the community's ability to examine the case for conflict, for war, should there ever be one, and ensure that we are never again lied to in relation to the reasons why we are entering into a conflict zone.

Secondly, it is vital to understand that, when we talk of these crimes that have been committed, the chain of command must be held to account. The contention within the Brereton report that there exists a magical line above which no-one in the armed forces chain of command knew about what was happening on the ground in Afghanistan is nonsense. It is offensive. It is absolutely untenable. Officers knew. The chain of command knew. For the ADF's chain of command to come before the Australian public and contend that there existed a magical line above which nobody knew what was going on is ridiculous; and that the disciplinary measures will be determined between Chief of Army and Chief of the Defence Force, absolutely unacceptable. We cannot have a situation in which ops personnel on the ground are held to a different standard than those up the chain.

And, while we are on the subject of the unacceptable, it is absolutely not okay that those such as David McBride—who attempted again and again to flag his concerns through the proper channels, only to be rebuked—is now facing 50 years of imprisonment at the hands of this government for attempting to tell the public that which we now know to be true. There must be accountability for the chain of command, and the implementation of the reforms suggested for the ADF must be overseen by those without a conflict of interest. Let me say it very clearly: General Campbell and General Burr have a real conflict of interest. They served in senior command positions during our time in Afghanistan. They are both former members of the SAS. We owe it to the public and to the victims to ensure that these recommendations, this cultural brokenness that has been created within our Special Air Services, are dealt with by those without an interest in the matter. That cannot be said of Generals Burr and Campbell, and that is why I repeat here tonight that, for the good of this investigation and for the maintenance of public faith, they must resign. If they do not resign, the Prime Minister must sack them.

Lastly, in this debate, I want to bring it back to the reality that 39 families have lost loved ones, that there are 39 families in Afghanistan right now that have lost loved ones to these crimes, and that two other families that we know of now have members that are irreparably maimed by these crimes. No-one—not the Prime Minister; not the Chief of the ADF—questions the content of the Brereton report as to the crimes uncovered. And so it should be possible for this parliament—with a spirit of humility and of genuine sorrow and from the desire that exists in this community of ours to make good for wrong done—to say sorry to those that have been lost to these crimes and to make that apology material by offering compensation to the families.

Let us look clearly in the eye of what has happened here. Let us seize this opportunity to reckon with the reality that war is hell and when we enter into it without a clear reason for it, when we enable it to become distanced from political scrutiny, when we enable culture to develop among those who we ask to fight that dehumanises, these crimes, these actions, are inevitable. Let us pledge here to take those steps necessary to ensure that these things never happen again, that there is accountability of the chain of command, that there is justice for the families and that we here in this place take the steps to secure peace—peace for our community here in Australia, for our region and for every human being on this blue planet.

5:39 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If you look out the front doors of Parliament House, you cannot help but see the vision of the avenue and then ultimately the Australian War Memorial. It is the men and women who have served this nation, who have been willing to give their lives, who in fact allow us to celebrate and enjoy the democracy we have in Australia today. So those of us who participate in this debate need to acknowledge up-front the service of the men and women who have been willing to lay down their lives for us so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today. That surely has to be the starting point in any debate, any concern, in relation to our defence forces.

Men and women of previous generations have protected us from invasion by dictatorships. They continue to do so. They continue to protect us. And, when we have engaged in theatres of war around the world, it has been to protect not only us but also our friends and fellow human beings from the ugly hand of dictatorship. We have stood by friends in the support of freedom. Now, into that history in recent times has been brought this credible information that certain untoward activities may have occurred. The mover of the motion continually asserted—falsely, might I add—that crimes had been committed. That remains to be determined.

If you want to rely on this report, you have to do so with integrity. You cannot pick and choose and say all the generals up the chain of command have to take responsibility; therefore, I reject that part of the report. But the honourable senator, in moving the motion, has also rejected that part of the report which says that it is credible information but nothing has been proven.

One of the great civilising features of our society is that we actually believe in the rule of law, that we actually believe in the presumption of innocence, that we do rely on proof, that we do require evidence before we are willing to condemn people. Can I remind the honourable senator that, because we are a civilised society, we do not believe in the lynch mob. We do not believe in the feral activities of people saying, 'I don't like this person and let's start condemning the person,' because we know how that ends up. Australia has just recently gone through a very shameful chapter in relation to Cardinal George Pell, where the High Court of Australia—seven-nil—came to the conclusion that an innocent man may well have been convicted. It was seven-nil in the High Court yet hundreds of thousands of people around this—

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Steele-John?

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Nowhere in this motion is there a mention of Cardinal George Pell, so I would ask you to bring Senator Abetz to order on the issue of relevance.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am listening to Senator Abetz's contribution very carefully and I will draw his attention to the content of the motion. Thank you, Senator Abetz.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would have thought even the honourable senator would have understood the consequences of a lynch mob seeking to condemn a person without going through the proper judicial system of proving things.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Abetz. Senator Whish-Wilson.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, Senator Steele-John is not honourable because he has not been a minister. I think Senator Abetz should refer to him as Senator Steele-John.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take some of the interjections around the chamber. I thought that we were in the manner of referring to ourselves as honourable if we so wished. I will ask Senator Abetz to continue with his contribution.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we are, being told by the Australian Greens that this is an urgent matter of great principle, yet we have the laughter and the stupidity of those sorts of points of order indicating that the Australian Greens do not take this matter as seriously as they have asserted by moving a matter of urgency.

But I go back to the point that one of the great civilising features of our society is that we don't believe in the lynch mob, that we do believe in the rule of law, that we do believe that a person should be convicted only on the basis of evidence and not on the basis of mere assertions. And let's be very clear about the report in which the senator—I will delete the word 'honourable', and I must say I feel more comfortable in just referring to him as a senator—says that there is credible information. As a result of credible information, you go through the process of investigating to ascertain whether or not the credible information can be proven, and the report itself says that many of those things that they have found have not been put to a standard of proof—not even on the basis of the balance of probabilities, let alone beyond reasonable doubt. All they're asserting is that there is credible information.

Let's also be clear that, in this motion, we are being told that the military chain of command needs to be held to account for their role. What did the inquiry find? I quote:

The Inquiry has found no evidence that there was knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, the commission of war crimes, on the part of commanders at troop/platoon, squadron/company or Task Group Headquarters level, let alone at higher levels such as Commander Joint Task Force (CJTF) 633, Joint Operations Command, or Australian Defence Headquarters. Nor is the Inquiry of the view that there was a failure at any of those levels to take reasonable and practical steps that would have prevented or detected the commission of war crimes.

But here we have the Australian Greens, despite this finding, coming in and demanding the resignation of certain people higher up in the defence forces. On what basis? On the basis that they know better than the inquiry—they know better than everybody else. According to the Australian Greens, these men should be required to resign from their positions. Why? Because the Greens say so—not because of an inquiry finding anything. In fact, the inquiry found the exact opposite of that which the senator is asserting to us and the nation—that these matters—

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Abetz. Senior Steele-John?

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As unhappy as I always am to be verballed by Senator Abetz, I made it clear in my contribution that I called for their resignation on the basis of a real or perceived conflict of interest. I am unhappy about being verballed like this by the senator.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Steele-John, if you want to—

Senator Steele-John interjecting

That's a debating point, Senator Steele-John. You can seek to correct the point at the end of the debate if you wish to, but, otherwise, I will ask Senator Abetz to continue with his contribution.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You always know that you're making a solid contribution when the Greens raise frivolous points of order. This is now the third one. We'll see if they get another one in within the 10 minutes. But we were told that crimes had been committed. We were told that the Gillard government is responsible as well. And, of course, I am well reminded of the fact that the only reason we had the Gillard government was that the Australian Greens signed up with them. So, if the Gillard government is responsible, let's deal with Senator Bob Brown accordingly as well, and let's see them scuttle away like cockroaches when you turn the light on. They will not want to be—

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Abetz.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And here we go—spurious point of order No. 4.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Abetz! Senator Whish-Wilson?

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Not spurious at all—I'd ask the senator to withdraw that imputation. That was used by the Nazis repeatedly as propaganda—

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Whish-Wilson.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Cockroaches and shining lights on them has been used by the Nazis and the same totalitarian regimes that you referred to in your speech, Senator Abetz. You know that and you should withdraw that imputation.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. Senator Abetz, if you could clarify your comments, that would be appreciated, and then continue.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm terribly sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President, but there is no need to clarify a well-known expression about cockroaches scuttling away when you turn on the lights. It is a common turn of phrase within the Australian parlance, and I have never known it to be associated as Senator Whish-Wilson in his frivolous point of order seeks to assert. But, let's be very clear: did they deny in that point of order that the only reason the Gillard government was able to be in existence was that Senator Bob Brown and the Australian Greens joined them to allow them to then commit those crimes, about which Senator Steele-John regaled the Senate? If we go right up the chain of command and demand that all the parliamentarians responsible be held responsible, it would mean that Senator Bob Brown would be responsible as well and would need to be dealt with. Of course, that is where, when you take the Greens' logic to its proper extent, you find that their arguments fall apart. They are internally inconsistent.

All that said, what the government has sought to do and has done very responsibility is to ensure that this credible information is dealt with in a proper manner through the rule of law, through the proper system, that it be investigated and ascertained, and then we can determine whether or not men and women ought be charged and, if so, with what charge—and the consequences that flow. This is not for this chamber to determine. We have the rule of law in this country for a very good reason. We do seek to ensure that it's not parliamentarians who determine who gets charged or who gets convicted. That is for a separate arm of our government, the judicial system, to determine. What I simply say to Senator Steele-John and others in this place is be very, very careful what you wish for, because one day, as you seek to use the parliament to condemn people, others in this parliament may then use it as well. It is a dangerous precedent which should be rejected.

5:52 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

The release of the report by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, Major General Brereton, into allegations of war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan is a difficult moment for the nation. Findings in the report that credible information exists in relation to some members of Australia's special forces having engaged in unlawful killings and cruel treatment while deployed in Afghanistan are appalling. This report states that credible evidence exists that members of our most elite armed forces behaved unlawfully, unconscionably and committed war crimes as defined by the Australian criminal justice system. These allegations in respect of a few do not detract from the sacrifice of the many who have served our country and, in particular, the thousands of current and former soldiers who served in Afghanistan. Major General Brereton has demonstrated the utmost integrity in handling this difficult task, and we thank him for his work. We also acknowledge the courageous leadership within the Australian Defence Force in ordering this investigation and now committing to the next steps.

The report is distressing for many who have shown extraordinary bravery in speaking up about what they saw and knew was inappropriate conduct. Giving voice to their concerns would not have been easy. The report highlights that the protective culture insulating special forces soldiers was a key factor in creating an environment that allowed unlawful behaviour. The report also demonstrates that we should have faith in the Australian justice system. Where allegations of bad conduct are made, they are properly investigated and the findings acted upon. The confronting honesty of the report highlights that Australia is a country that respects the Geneva conventions, human rights and the rule of law and that no-one is exempt from those laws. We support the establishment of the Office of the Special Investigator to oversee the investigations following this report. It is now appropriate that it is allowed to do its work free of any prejudice or political interference.

Yesterday the Senate agreed to a significant motion—moved together by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Minister for Defence—recognising the allegations of grave misconduct by some members of the Australian special forces community. The Senate, through this motion, also expressed its deep sympathy to the people of Afghanistan and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the alleged misconduct and command failures identified by the inquiry and noted the Chief of the Defence Force, on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, has also sincerely and unreservedly apologised to the people of Afghanistan for any wrongdoing by Australian soldiers.

5:55 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, what I would like to do today, with this opportunity to speak, is ask some questions. I want to precede that by saying that I don't know a lot about this topic, but I feel very strongly that we need to know more about it in this chamber and in parliament itself. This in some ways refers to the trial, and Senator Kitching and Senator Abetz have discussed that. I won't comment, because I don't know the facts and there is a trial underway.

I want to turn to and ask questions about the source of the conflict, the root cause, because I think many people in this chamber will share these questions with me. What is the source of the regional conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more particularly what is the source of our entry as participants into those conflicts? I can vividly remember Mr Alexander Downer retiring from parliament and saying, in his ABC interview, that one of the things he remembered—they were talking about various stories—was that the Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, came back from America when they had the 9/11 catastrophe. He walked into the cabinet, I believe, and just said, 'We're off to Iraq.' That floored me. We're committing all these troops, changing their lives and changing the lives of people in other countries, with no debate—just saying, 'We're off to Iraq,' with no Executive Council meeting, no cabinet meeting and no parliamentary scrutiny or review. I don't think that the parliament should have the power to declare war or to decide whether or not our troops are engaged overseas, but it needs to have some review. Governments need to be able to act quickly, but we must have some review regularly.

As I understand it—and I may be wrong on this—we never declared war in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan war, at its core, is a civil war. It's a tribal nation. It's had conflict for hundreds of years. People have tried to take it over. The Americans and the Russians—people with far superior weapons—have been in Afghanistan, but no-one has conquered Afghanistan. It remains an unresolved conflict that is just sucking up lives. Remember that Australians weren't dealing with soldiers over there; they were dealing with terrorists. Sometimes little boys or girls were dressed up, wrapped in a bomb. People were infiltrating our own armed forces. Trainees from Afghanistan that we were training were infiltrating our forces and shooting Australians and Americans in their training camps. This has not been a conventional war, and we have put young people from Australia in harm's way. Some died, and some have a far worse fate. They are suffering with the acts that they committed under extreme stress, and they will live with that. It should be our duty, no matter the findings of this trial, to help them to live with that.

I come back to the person who took us into Afghanistan, the head of this country. We were told we were going into Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and the people of the greatest democracy in terms of size and the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, were told the same lie. The US Secretary of Defense, the President and various cabinet ministers admitted later that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and our heads of state admitted that here. Who will hold these people accountable?

Who will hold the agencies accountable for briefing them? The ultimate responsibility for soldiers' actions are the values of the country and the leaders of the country, because the leaders are trustees for the values.

But there is hope. For the first time in many, many United States presidencies, we have a president—Donald Trump—who has not started a war. My understanding is that he is the first in many, many presidential terms. It's now the lefties, the Obamas and the Bidens, who want to drop bombs on behalf of globalists. It is Trump who is withdrawing troops and he has done so since he first became President. Trump is the first President to engage in peace-making efforts with South Korea.

I highlight the responsibility of the senior levels of our government and of our parliament, and our joint responsibilities to fulfil them.

6:00 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Another day, another motion of urgency from the Greens where they have failed to look at the government's response to an issue before attacking it. Yesterday the Greens moved a motion wanting the opportunity to increase the number of motions they can bring forward to this chamber. When they constantly use matters of urgency and MPIs to attack the government on issues where they clearly haven't looked at the facts, it is hard for this chamber to even consider—

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order on relevance. Given the content of the motion, Senator Van's contribution is not relevant.

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Van has just started his speech. Senator Van.

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's hard for this chamber to even consider giving them more opportunities. This chamber has serious business to consider. We currently have more than 20 bills on the Notice Paper. The Greens are here just trying to interrupt, disrupt and frustrate the work which we do in this place. Yet again the Greens have moved a motion of urgency. It's a clear dorothy dixer for us because, once again, they have provided us with a great opportunity to highlight the actions that the Morrison government is taking on this matter, which are methodical, clear, calm and appropriate.

There is no doubt the findings within the Brereton report were sad, distressing, concerning and require thorough action to be taken. The Morrison government, along with the Australian Defence Force, is taking action to meet not only our domestic and international obligations but also our moral obligation to ensure that this does not happen again. The findings of the Brereton report are amongst the most serious issues that any Prime Minister, Minister for Defence or any Chief of Defence Force have ever had to do deal with in the history of our nation. The members of the crossbench who have decided to come in here and use this report for political point scoring need to realise that there is no quick fix for this. There are no easy answers. There is no one, simple thing that will deal with the reasons behind these multiple allegations of war crimes. In contrast to the tokenism from those in the Greens, this government along with the Chief of Defence Force, are getting on with the job.

Let's talk about some of the facts about what this government is doing. On 19 November this year, the CDF released a public version of the Afghanistan inquiry report delivered to him by the Inspector-General of the ADF. The Chief of the Defence Force said the ADF is rightly held to account for allegations of grave misconduct by some members of the Australian Special Forces during operations in Afghanistan. The CDF, on behalf of the ADF, has sincerely and unreservedly apologised to the people of Afghanistan for any wrongdoing. Furthermore, he conveyed this message to his Afghan counterpart, General Zia. The CDF is leading Defence's response to the inquiry report by developing an implementation plan. This implementation plan will undertake actioning of the Inspector-General's recommendations and any other matters arising from the report. Once developed, this implementation plan will be provided to the government for consideration and response, as it should be. To ensure the implementation plan is appropriate, our government has established the Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel. This panel will comprise three eminent, experienced and suitably qualified Australians and will provide oversight of Defence's response. This panel will be independent of Defence and report back directly and regularly to the Minister for Defence. This response will ensure that the response from Defence is thoughtful, measured and appropriate.

There is no denying that allegations contained in the inquiry report are deeply disturbing. They must be addressed and individually investigated, but they need to be addressed with a deep respect for justice and the rule of law. Fundamental to that is the presumption of innocence, the central tenet of our criminal legal system. Senator Waters coming in here and calling on the government to bring individuals to justice flies in the face of that tenet. We have to respect the rule of law; we have to protect the presumption of innocence. Throughout the report, the recommendations state that there is a realistic prospect of a criminal investigation obtaining sufficient evidence to charge. That's the whole point: we need to make sure that there is a criminal investigation that obtains that sufficient evidence before charges can be laid; we can't act as judge and jury in this place.

This is why the Morrison Liberal government is also establishing the Office of the Special Investigator within the Home Affairs portfolio. The office will address the potential criminal matters identified in the inquiry report. In particular, this new office will investigate allegations, gather evidence and, where appropriate, refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for their consideration. This is a considered, thorough and mature approach to dealing with these grave allegations. Any administrative, disciplinary, judicial or other proceedings arising as a result of the inquiry will be conducted according to the well-established processes of Australia's legal system, processes which ensure individuals' rights to due process and a fair hearing. Accountability will be the cornerstone of Defence's response to the inquiry.

The government of the day also has a duty of care to members of our Defence Force, something the Greens seemingly pay scant regard to— (Quorum formed)

Again, we see the Greens playing games in this place. We see them playing petty little children's games. They're just making a mockery of this place and of the serious business that needs to be done here. I'll go back to my speech. We, the Morrison Liberal government, are committed to ensuring that current and former serving ADF members are not impacted by the Afghanistan inquiry—them along with their families—that they all have access to the right support at the right time. We're also focused on supporting those who are vulnerable or at risk. The Australian Defence Force is the finest military in the world. The inquiry report should not cast a shadow over the vast majority of our Defence Force members who served in Afghanistan with distinction.

This year, we've seen the best of our Defence Force right here at home, through operations such as Bushfire Assist and their support to states and territories during the COVID pandemic. Every day this year, we've seen images of our Defence Force personnel helping everyday Australians through what has been the hardest year that I can certainly remember. While depressing, unedifying and completely regrettable, the allegations outlined in the Brereton report do not reflect the service of our Defence Force service men and women.

It's clear that there is no quick fix. There are no easy answers. And it is incredibly disappointing that Senator Waters and her Greens colleagues at that end of the chamber just want to play games and score political points with this very important matter and to waste the time of the Senate.

6:11 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to this matter of urgency. What happened in Afghanistan was the murder and torture of innocent people, even children, which left families torn apart and communities in ruin. These heinous war crimes committed by Australia are another shameful chapter in our history. We demand justice for the victims.

Government senators interjecting

This government should be ashamed, standing there, shouting back at us and saying that these crimes didn't happen. The perpetrators of these crimes and their superiors must be held to account and must face the full force of the law. Justice must be served here. All investigations must be independent, and the findings have to be made public. There must be fair compensation and reparations for the families and to the communities targeted by these disgusting crimes. The government must apologise to those families. Australian soldiers must be brought home. In stories like that of Australian soldiers drinking beer out of a dead Taliban fighter's prosthetic leg we see the culture that allowed this brutality to go on.

We shouldn't just oppose war crimes, though; we should reject the militarism and the nationalism that encourages them. World over, we see the horrifying human cost when unfettered militarism and nationalism fuel and permit state violence. In Palestine, the occupying forces have committed untold human rights abuses with impunity and the support of those who deny Palestinian people self-determination and the right of return. In Kashmir, the military continues to enforce a cruel lockdown, denies Kashmiris access to internet and other essentials and is responsible for arbitrary detentions. In Xinjiang, a vast military apparatus sustains the oppression and cultural genocide of Uighurs, separating families, detaining hundreds of thousands, and subjecting many to cruelties like forced sterilisation.

Just as all violence and war must be condemned and avoided, the politicians who take us to wars must be condemned and held to account. The post-9/11 wars on terror have raged for 20 years now. These wars have killed half a million civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Women have been the often unseen victims of this war, their rights violated while they face gender based violence. Afghans have been forced to flee their own country. They are now one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

We must admit that deploying armed forces, guns and bombs in the name of quashing terrorism will not protect anyone. It has the exact opposite effect. We must stop warmongering and blindly following the US. Where war is concerned, history has sadly repeated itself time and again. The incessant self-interested attempts of the West to control and extinguish complex Middle Eastern conflicts must end. We must not forget that the root cause of these conflicts stems from similar Western interventions in the first place. We need to clearly imagine what we want for the world. That means changing the conversation from going to war to bringing peace and justice. If that is what we aim for then our success will rest on reparations for past injustices; fair economic, environmental and social development; and respect for human rights—not on military capabilities.

I do want to acknowledge the courage of whistleblowers like David McBride and journalists here and in Afghanistan who put their necks and, indeed, their lives on the line to get the truth out in the open. They must be protected. Australians have been shocked by the inhumanity of the heinous war crimes exposed by the Brereton report. Now is the time to bring people together and send a strong message to our government: war criminals must be charged, soldiers must be brought home, reparations must be given and war is never the answer.

6:16 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Prima facie what we heard from the Brereton report clearly signalled war crimes, criminality and gross human rights violations. It is true that there have been no prosecutions and we don't know what charges will be laid and when that will happen, but prima facie what we've heard is very concerning and has deeply shocked the Australian people. I did say in here in question time the other day—and I meant it—that I don't think any cohort of Australians would have been more shocked than many serving members of the ADF and the veteran community. I spoke to my own father, who is a Vietnam vet, about this.

We need to be very clear here. When we're speaking about our defence services we need to be open and honest about the situation because if we don't clear it up then of course, by logic, everyone in the Defence Force is going to be tarred with this brush. If we brush it under the carpet, pretend it's going to go away and say, 'Look over there,' it's never going to go away and that taint will always remain. The best thing to do is to be open and transparent and to deal with this expeditiously and independently.

I would like to raise a point about whistleblowers. We only got the Brereton report released because of a whistleblower—David McBride, an ex-Army major who worked with special forces. He had significant concerns about the conduct of the war—and he has been very public about that—including senior officers and other non-commissioned officers acting with impunity. He raised his concerns internally for two years, and they weren't dealt with. He went to the Australian Federal Police, and they weren't dealt with. Out of desperation he went to the media. He's a whistleblower.

We know that the ABC offices were raided by the Australian Federal Police upon publication of information that was passed on by McBride. Thankfully, the Attorney-General has decided not to prosecute the media in this instance or the publishers; however, this government in the Senate last week refused to rule out the prosecution of a veteran who has had two tours of Afghanistan and blown the whistle and delivered us a report on prima facie Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. Whether we like it or not and whether it troubles us and keeps us awake at night or not, a whistleblower has delivered this. So why is that court case going ahead? Why is David McBride facing 50 years in jail?

Let me tell you this: the Brereton report said that not only should whistleblowers be protected, to encourage an expeditious process in getting to the bottom of this; they should be applauded and promoted. That has come directly from the Brereton report. So why is the person who disclosed this and got this into the public realm facing jail? I have to put that question, because it seems to be part of a political strategy by this government to go after whistleblowers who embarrass them. It's not just David McBride; it's also Bernard Collaery—the lawyer for Witness K—and Witness K, who also exposed criminality by our intelligence agencies and our government in relation to one of our neighbours, Timor-Leste, a much poorer country than us.

And there is the complicity and silence of this government on the extradition of Walkley Award-winning journalist Julian Assange to the country whose war crimes he exposed. We think about McBride and the Afghanistan report, and how that has shocked the Australian people. WikiLeaks exposed identical war crimes or worse by our allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was no doubting what Julian Assange exposed; it was 100 per cent factual, and it was published all around the world by key media outlets. Yet this Australian publisher, this whistleblower, is in jail, behind bars—as Chelsea Manning was in the US—and is facing 175 years in a process that's never been seen before, where a foreign citizen is being extradited to the US on espionage charges. This is also something we need to deal with when we think about Afghanistan. Free Julian Assange and bring him back to Australia.

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion put by Senator Steele-John be agreed to.