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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 341


Mr RIPOLL (2:34 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence. Why has the government decided to provide additional artillery trainers to Afghanistan? What further commitments of Australian personnel and equipment are necessary to meet our objectives and mission in Afghanistan?


Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Oxley for his question. The rationale for the provision of artillery trainers is the same as the rationale for our mission in Afghanistan and Oruzgan province generally: to train the Afghan National Security Forces to put them in a position of being able to handle, manage and cater for security issues. That is why we are training the Afghan National Army and making a contribution to training the Afghan police force.

This is consistent with the Afghanistan conference recently held in Kabul to set the timetable for a transition to security arrangements to Afghan authorities by 2014 and consistent with the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force that our mission in Oruzgan province can be effected over a two- to four-year timetable. I think the nature and scope of our mission will be better understood as a result of the parliamentary debate, and the government looks forward to that, as I indicated yesterday.

I am also asked about other personnel and equipment. It is worth recollecting of course that just over a year ago the government committed itself to increasing our contribution in Afghanistan from 1,100 to 1,550, effectively a 40 per cent increase, and we did that in advance of the US, ISAF and NATO surge, which, rule of thumb, was also about 40 per cent.

It is also worth remembering we are not there alone. Often people make comments about these matters as if we were there by ourselves. We are not. We are part of an international coalition both in Afghanistan generally and in Oruzgan province and, as a consequence of that, we of course have access to ISAF enablers, air, artillery and the like.

It is also important to remember that the government has recently embarked upon a program of over $1.1 billion worth of force protection measures, and they are currently under way. As I indicated when I returned from Afghanistan with the CDF and the Secretary of Defence, we are looking at whether more measures can be effected so far as countering roadside booby traps or IEDs is concerned. We follow the advice of the CDF in these matters. As the Leader of the Opposition correctly said in the course of the election campaign, if additional contributions are to be made they should appropriately be made on the advice of the CDF, and consistently the CDF has advised, again confirmed today, that the nature and amount of our contribution is sufficient and appropriate for the purposes of our mission.

I have seen the suggestions of others and, because we are dealing with a disposition of Australian forces overseas in difficult circumstances, of course we listen to what others say and take them into account. Let me refer to some of them. The first one is a sensitive matter. Of course, all of the aspects arising from the email as a result of the death of Lance Corporal MacKinney, as I have made clear and as the CDF has made clear, will be taken into account in the course of that investigation. We should not disturb that process. As the member for Fadden correctly said the other day, and as I agree with him, we should not second-guess that. All of those matters which go to alleged operational safety or operational weaknesses will be considered as part of that.

The number of troops in Oruzgan province is now greater than it was when the Dutch were there. Our training which we effect, which is now all of the Kandaks of the Afghan National Army 4th Battalion, is not done in isolation. I have seen the suggestion from the shadow minister for defence that we should put into Oruzgan anywhere from an additional 450 to 650 troops. I am sure that will be considered in the course of the parliamentary debate. The Leader of the Opposition has correctly said that he will look at these matters on the advice of the CDF. I simply make the observation that I have made previously: that is not the advice that I have received as late as today but we are always happy to ensure the Leader of the Opposition has access to the most up-to-date advice from the CDF.