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Monday, 29 March 2004
Page: 27391

Mr RUDD (1:27 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises the continued, central importance of Afghanistan as critical to the war against terrorism;

(2) recognises that al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist organisations continue to pose a security threat to the government of Afghanistan;

(3) recognises that removing this threat requires both the political transformation and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan with the full support of the international community; and

(4) recognises that Australia must play a significant and substantive role, both bilaterally and multilaterally in under-pinning a long-term, secure future for the people of Afghanistan.

We must never forget that the war against terrorism began in Afghanistan in October 2001 following the Taliban's refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership after the monstrous attacks on our American ally on September 11. We must not forget that the war in Afghanistan continues: against al Qaeda, against the Taliban and particularly in the border regions to the south and the south-east. We must not forget that this country, Afghanistan, remains today the front-line state in the war against terrorism. That is why 2½ years ago, on my first visit abroad in my current capacity, I visited the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that is why 2½ years later, together with my colleague the member for Bruce, I visited Afghanistan itself for discussions with President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah, Interior Minister Jilani, the commander and deputy commander of ISAF, the UN special representative, other Western diplomats and other representatives of the Afghan government and civil society. For all of the arrangements which were made for this visit, I place on record our thanks to the Afghan Foreign Ministry and to the Afghan Ambassador to Australia, Ambassador Saikal.

For many, Afghanistan has become the forgotten war in the global war against terrorism. The central finding of our mission to Afghanistan was the deep concern reflected by all about the rapid expansion of the opium crop, the proliferation of heroin production facilities and the critical financial support—or `narcofinance'—which this delivers to Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and associated terrorist organisations. This is not a marginal problem: the UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the income of Afghan opium farmers and traffickers to be $US2.3 billion in 2003—an amount equivalent to half of the official GDP of Afghanistan. According to Western diplomats, the crop will be up by 150 per cent in 2004. Quite apart from the impact on narcofinancing for global terrorist operations, there is the added dimension, namely the supply of heroin to Europe, the United States and Australia in horrendous quantities.

So what is to be done? The United Nations, through its office in Afghanistan, administers a national drug control strategy, which has five key elements: the provision of alternative livelihoods for Afghan poppy farmers, the extension of drug law enforcement throughout Afghanistan, drug control legislation, the establishment of effective anti-drug institutions and the introduction of prevention and treatment programs for addicts. There are 19 programs which make up this overall strategy. President Hamid Karzai himself made a sharp point recently in emphasising this critical challenge. He said:

Progress has been timid, in absolute as well as relative to the CND Strategy goals. Disappointing is the lack of donors' interest in funding licit livelihoods initiatives in rural areas: the United Nations Social Compact project, for micro-loans in rural areas ... is starved of resources. Poverty may not be a justification for opium cultivation, but it is undeniably a reason for it.

The Afghan government has estimated that approximately $US102 million is required for all projects which directly support the national drug control strategy, but the combined level of funding estimated by the Afghan government for poppy reduction and alternative livelihood programs is at present approximately $US16 million. The UNODC in particular has received 20.2 per cent of its funding requirements for its operations in Afghanistan. That equates to approximately $A34.5 million. These are critical exercises in the overall war against terrorism.

The United Kingdom government has also contributed through its efforts to develop an Afghan police commando team to deal with law enforcement in far-flung parts of the country. It is difficult to deduce from the data how much Australia is contributing but we find, from the Afghan government web site, that Australia contributes to capacity building and that the total donor contribution from all countries for that program is a mere $180,000—Australia being one of five countries contributing.

It is no secret that the Australian government has progressively lost interest in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister has not visited and the foreign minister has never visited. The foreign minister refused to attend the Tokyo donors conference in February 2002 and has, until recently, exhibited zero interest in travelling to Berlin for the donors conference which is about to be held there. The Afghan foreign ministry expressed to us its disquiet that Australia would not be represented at the conference, which is to be cohosted by the German foreign minister and Hamid Karzai. As of 17 March, the foreign minister's office was telling the media that he was not going. But that is where a constructive, creative visit by the federal opposition kicks in, because now, lo and behold, the foreign minister is off to Berlin, and we hope that he will stick his hand in his pocket and do something for an effective counter drug strategy in Afghanistan if he is serious— (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Griffin —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.