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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17194

Mr JOHNSON (3:54 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the motion on Iraq moved by the member for Pearce, and I take this opportunity in the parliament to acknowledge her very genuine and significant commitment to Iraq's postwar rebuilding and reconstruction. Her dedication is reflected in many ways, from visiting Iraq with the foreign minister earlier in the year to see for herself the terrible plight of the people and the conditions in which they live to bringing this motion on Australia's aid reconstruction contribution before the parliament.

As the people of Australia and the parliament are aware, Australian troops played a critically important role in the war in Iraq several months ago. This was a war directed against the brutal and monstrous dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. It was never a war against the people of Iraq. It was a war against a regime that did not care for its people or its country. It was a war against a regime that knew no boundaries when it came to a capacity for inflicting terror and torture on hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It is only now that we have been given a snapshot of the sheer excesses and outrageous acts committed by Saddam Hussein's regime. In light of all we know now about the monstrous regime in Iraq, surely no-one amongst us today, on any side of politics, would wish that the old regime remained in power.

The outcome of the conflict was one for which we are all grateful and relieved. In this country, we are particularly grateful and relieved that no Australian life was lost. Due to the overwhelming presence and professionalism of the coalition forces, the people of Iraq are now free of the shackles of a dictatorship. They are free of a regime that prevented them from reaching their full potential, that monitored their daily movements and lives, and that stifled political debate and discussion worthy of a people steeped in political and intellectual exchange.

Against this background, we all know that the time for the rebuilding and reconstruction of Iraq has arrived. We all know that following conflict there comes a time for the expensive reconstruction of a physically smashed country. We all know that not only international goodwill and good wishes but also massive financial aid from the countries that are in a position to help are needed in the rebuilding of towns and cities across the nation battered in bombing raids. The Australian government are making a significant and very crucial humanitarian contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq. This nation's commitment to Iraq stands at more than $100 million—the fifth highest of the 15 primary contributing nations.

The Australian government are working very closely with the Iraqi people, United Nations agencies, NGOs and, of course, their British and American counterparts on humanitarian and reconstruction activities for Iraq. Australia has provided $55 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs, which includes a $38 million commitment to the UN flash appeal requirements for Iraq. Our funding allocations to the UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Australian NGOs under the UN flash appeal have focused on meeting critical needs in water, in sanitation and in health. We have also provided support to the coordination, logistics and food distribution systems. Australia's further commitment of $45 million to priority reconstruction activities will focus on areas where we have a particular expertise to offer. We are playing a central role in the rehabilitation of Iraq's agricultural sector, and the bulk of the $45 million in reconstruction assistance will fund these efforts.

Australian personnel are undertaking key humanitarian planning and coordination roles with international agencies and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs. The Australian government have also placed Australian experts in Iraq to assist with policy and planning in the important agricultural, water, sanitation and economic policy sectors. In fact, Australia is taking a leading role in re-establishing food security in Iraq and revitalising Iraq's agricultural sector. We are well placed to provide expert advice and support the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector, particularly in areas such as dryland agriculture, grain distribution, irrigation, salinity and water management.

Over 100,000 tonnes of Australian wheat, purchased by the World Food Program, has been delivered. This wheat is sufficient to feed about 1.7 million of Iraq's most vulnerable people for six months. With this kind of worthy and significant contribution by this country, it is important that members of this parliament speak loudly about the role that Australia is playing in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. We have a wealth of experience and expertise. We should be making a contribution, and we are making that contribution. I take this opportunity to again commend the member for Pearce for her motion and to warmly congratulate all those in this parliament who have taken the opportunity to stand up and speak about Australia's contribution to Iraq's postwar reconstruction.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.