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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1262

Mr KATTER (12:09 PM) —In speaking to the motion before the House, I think that Afghanistan is not a country that you can look at without looking at its history. For those who like history, Alexander the Great was well into conquering what we now know as Pakistan and India and it is said in the history books that he took a look at Afghanistan and decided to go home to Macedonia. He put it in the too-hard basket. Some 1,000 years later Genghis Khan, another of the most famous conquerors in all of human history, took on the Afghanis, was defeated and decided to take on Europe instead. He thought Europe was a softer target, which it proved to be. There is really not much record of him being defeated in Europe whereas he had been soundly defeated in Afghanistan.

If we move on another 600 or 700 years later the British Empire sent a full army of 55,000 men into Afghanistan and, basically, nobody returned. The mightiest empire the world has ever seen was soundly annihilated by Afghanistan. So Britain decided to leave Afghanistan alone. Some 300 or 400 years later the Russians decided that they were going to take on Afghanistan. For those, again, who like reading history books I think Charlie Wilson’s War should be compulsory reading for everyone in this place, particularly if they are talking about Afghanistan.

Clearly the combination of the sort of people the Afghanis are and the sort of terrain you are dealing with in Afghanistan resulted in the collapse of the communist empire. Russia collapsed as a result of her involvement in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country which, for a raft of reasons, none of the great conquerors nor the great empires in history have succeeded in being able to get to move in the direction they wanted it to move in. If you ask whether the occupation of Afghanistan is going to end up successfully, it has not yet in human history and one would wonder why it would end up so this time with the Americans being successful.

Brigadier Mansford was the most highly qualified and experienced soldier in the Australian Army and, I think, the most decorated soldier in the Australian Army and was a man who had 15 years as a private and was briefly a sergeant before the Army decided to put him up for promotion. He said that we have a commitment in Afghanistan which we now cannot ignore. He said that we have to train these people, their police, their military and their administrative regimes and then slowly edge ourselves out and hand over to the local authorities.

He adds that there should be a timetable which takes into account what the Army is capable of doing with or without support and that it ought to be reviewed on a yearly basis. There should be objective assessments and objective criteria for a yearly assessment of what is happening, particularly with the training of the Afghan army and its administrative adjuncts. He believes that that is the smart way to fight a war—that is, a limited commitment along the lines he has outlined here. I think that is the voice of great experience. He is a man who served his country in Vietnam; he may even have served in Korea, although I do not think so and maybe I am wrong there. Most certainly he is the most experienced soldier who held a very senior rank still alive today—in fact, if you are a brigadier you are in charge of our combat force in Australia. That was the position that he once held.

We are in our ninth year of commitment. There have been 21 Australian deaths and, sadly, among them was Benjamin Chuck, who was from my home area of Far North Queensland. The operations have cost the Australian people $6,000 million so far and the non-military financial assistance totals more than $700 million. We are not Robinson Crusoe: some 47 countries and 120,000 personnel have been involved. Brigadier Mansford also pointed out that the situation in Pakistan is highly volatile, with the government trying to maintain democratic institutions in the face of a very strong but not very tolerant fundamentalist surge.

Having said all those things there has never been any doubt in my mind that, when the Americans go into, for example, Afghanistan and they request us to go in, we absolutely must go in. This is not a happy event for Australia. Are we to tag along as the tail on the donkey? Yes, that is absolutely correct. If Australia has virtually no defence force, and I do not wish in any way to reflect upon our armed forces but simply to lay that down. I know that it is changing and that there has been movement as far as the Air Force goes.

To put it in understandable language: people say, ‘There’s no imminent threat to Australia’. There was no imminent threat to Australia in 1962 when I was 18 years of age and finished school after Kennedy had backed down the Russians. There was no imminent threat anywhere at the time. We were in a very safe environment. By the time I was 18½ I was handed an SLR rifle and informed that I was on 24-hour call-up to go and fight in Indonesia, and I had to provide telephone numbers. We were in a war with Indonesia which was delightfully referred to as ‘Konfrontasi’. I hope that they are our best friends. They are our neighbours and I believe that one should love one’s neighbours and be loved by one’s neighbours, but when we faced off against Indonesia we had 250,000 SLR rifles and we had a million semiautomatic rifles standing behind us. I myself owned a very good rifle, an AK-47, and my brother owned an automatic shotgun which was a magnificent piece of machinery, and we were only two of many in Australia.

So we had best part of 300,000 good combat rifles, and there were a million other semiautomatic rifles standing behind them. We were not the sort of country that you would want to pick a fight with. We had arguably the sixth or seventh most formidable air force on earth. We had a significant navy. We had a few destroyers and bits and pieces; I think we had an aircraft carrier at the time and a number of frigates. Then, we had near enough to 300,000 rifles. Now, we have 50,000 rifles. We do not have 300,000 but 50,000. The million semiautomatics do not exist at all; they are gone completely. When I last looked at the Air Force—and admittedly change is coming—it is the same Air Force that existed then. It is 50 years old now, and there is a small problem. You can say, ‘There are some very formidable pieces of machinery.’ How would you like to set off across the Simpson Desert in Central Australia in a four-wheel drive that is 50 years old? This is infinitely more sophisticated machinery than a four-wheel drive. As far as the Navy goes, we have eight frigates. To be technical about it, there were five Exocet missiles in the Falklands War and they took out two destroyers, one of which had interception capacity. We can be very mathematical about it. If our opponents have 24 Exocet missiles—the fingers of both hands flicked up twice and then four added to that—then we will have no Australian Navy whatsoever and only 50,000 rifles with which to defend Australia. If we get into a stoush, what are we going to do? Are we going to throw rocks at them?

In 1939 there was not considered to be any great threat to Australia. Yes, there was a great threat in Europe from Adolf Hitler but there was no great threat to Australia. Japan was up to its eyeballs in trouble in China but they were no threat to us. But by 1941 they were two weeks away from invading Australia. I will tell you how the government looked after us then. Again, for those who like reading books, I would recommend either of David Day’s two books.

This war was substantially a war about aeroplanes. Britain could not be invaded because they had a better air force. They won the Battle of Britain. Germany could not invade without air cover. The Germans won every single battle whilst they had air cover and, arguably, they lost every single battle after they lost air cover. This was true with Britain and it was true with Germany’s battle against the Russians. When the Japanese had air superiority during the war, they won every battle. I might also add that 13 out of 15 of the naval battles were won by Japan. Until she lost her air superiority, which was midway during the war, she had won every battle; however, after that, she lost every battle. The Second World War was about aeroplanes.

Our government had thought: ‘We’ve got no threats; therefore, we’re wasting money by spending it on defence. So we won’t worry too much about that. If we get into trouble, Britain will come out to save us.’ My own family, the Henleys, do not have any love for England, because two of the Henleys were swimming for their lives off Crete, another two were fighting their way across the Owen Stanley Ranges and another one was rotting in Changi prison. Where was Britain? Britain was supposed to come out here and save us. With all due respects to my forebears, the Henleys, I do not think you run a country that way. What are we, some sort of a lap-dog where we expect everyone else to look after us? Britain had their own battles to fight in defence of their own country, Great Britain, as well as Europe. They were not too worried about us.

Further, if you think the Americans are going to race out here and save us, you had better have a look at the history of that country. The Americans entered the First World War only when there was public outrage over the sinking of the Lusitania—that forced them into the war—and, at that stage, the war was almost over. Masses of people from the German side as well as, I might add, from the allied side were simply leaving the battlefields. The battle was almost over by the time the Americans came into that war. Of course, they steadfastly refused to become involved in the Second World War. The only thing that pushed them into the Second World War was the bombing of Pearl Harbour. If there had been no Pearl Harbour and Japan had simply kept moving down the south-east Asian mainland towards Australia, one wonders what position the Americans would have taken. If you were a mother in America and you said, ‘Am I going to risk my— (Time expired)