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Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Page: 1933

Ms MARINO (11:57 AM) —In rising to support our engagement in Afghanistan, I want to primarily offer my absolute support and respect for our Australian Defence Force personnel who have served or who are currently serving in Afghanistan in very harsh and inhospitable terrain day after day. I seriously wonder what our ADF members who are currently in Afghanistan are making of this debate. We know what we know about this issue through what we read and hear. I suspect that while we are debating this quite strongly, they are simply getting on with the job that they were sent there to do. That typifies the men and women of the Australian defence forces.

Much has been said already in this debate about the reasons for our engagement and involvement in Afghanistan and about al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Centre towers in the United States on 11 September 2001. Over 3,000 people were killed in those attacks, people from virtually all over the world, including Australia. The horror of these attacks will live forever in our minds. We literally watched it happen and at first many of us could not believe what we were seeing. The horror of those collapsing buildings was almost too great to comprehend. We have also grieved for over 100 Australians killed abroad through terrorist attacks, not only in New York but also in Bali in 2002 and 2005. These attacks killed people from my electorate. The effects on their families, friends and local communities have been profound and lasting.

The history of Afghanistan, both ancient and modern, is one of conflict not one of peace. The historic conquerors of Afghanistan are simply too numerous to list today. The only constants are the lack of peace and the lack of self-determination. What we know from more recent history is that the Taliban imposed a horrific regime on the Afghani people during their rule. It also harboured and fostered terrorism and terrorists through al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, terrorists who planned and trained for their attacks.

The question we face here today, however, is how the world, with Australia playing its part as a responsible world citizen, induces and supports peace and self-determination in a country that has known so little of it. We are here to debate not only what our role is in Afghanistan but also what Afghanistan’s future could be and what role Australia should be playing in that future. I believe that role is to continue to provide the people of Afghanistan with the tools they need to help deliver peace and good self-governance. We heard from the previous speaker about the practicalities of how and why that is a challenge. That is the key task of the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan and it involves the two key functions that our ADF personnel are actively performing. Those functions are, firstly, to provide safety and security and to continue to engage the enemy and, secondly, to undertake the role of training, mentoring and equipping the local Afghan people to be able to provide safety and security for the community themselves. The training of the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade in Oruzgan province is a long-term part of this commitment.

Madam Deputy Speaker, as you know and as members of this parliament know, our role will not be easy to achieve. But what should not be underestimated is Australia’s well-respected history of training the security forces of other countries. In conflicts ranging from Korea and Vietnam to East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, our widely respected Australian Army training teams have acquitted themselves with absolute distinction and have a reputation that is second to none. It has even been suggested that our training teams in Vietnam not only taught local Vietnamese troops but many of the Americans, who were our allies. This is the standard our training troops have attained and that is what they bring to Afghanistan. They are world leaders in helping other nations and the people of those nations to actually help themselves. Our individual service men and women are widely respected for their practical, generous and genuine willingness to roll up their sleeves, to engage genuinely and directly with local people and to physically rebuild communities as well as build and support local governance. But we do not underestimate the extent of that task in Afghanistan.

In spite of the conflicting views that we have heard, it is simply not logical to assume that, if the UN forces comprising the 47 nations in ISAF simply walk away tomorrow and abandon the training, the support and the development processes, peace and good governance will just automatically happen as a matter of process in Afghanistan. It will not. We cannot forget the difficulties faced by aid agencies in the past, and we also heard that from the previous speaker. Aid has had to be withdrawn because aid workers, including those from UNICEF, were not safe and aid services could not reach their target. Equally, should the nations withdraw, terrorism and persecution in Afghanistan will not automatically cease. There are also those who believe that someone should help Afghanistan, just not Australia. Our choices are quite stark: withdraw now and leave Afghanistan and its people to fend for themselves or, in some people’s view, leave and let someone else do the work.

Giving up or not extending that helping hand is not what Australians do. It is not the way we tackle the tough issues, and no-one would doubt that our involvement in Afghanistan is an extremely tough issue. Equally, we have not won wars in our own nation on drugs, on deaths on roads or on suicide. If winning is measured only by a measure that none of these will ever occur, then possibly we will not ever win. But who in this chamber would suggest that we should give up the fight on drugs, on road death and on suicide and that we should walk away?

Military leaders from nations around the world have said that now is not the time to pull back. Our own ADF leaders, for whom I have the utmost respect and in whom I have the utmost confidence, are telling us that we need at least four more years to deliver the outcome of self-protection and determination that we as a nation have aimed for. According to Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston in August this year:

We will still be there supporting them beyond the two to four years for a period of time.

…            …            …

And I know that at the end of the training period they—

the Afghan soldiers—

will be a very—a very good fighting formation, and that will be the legacy we leave …

Air Chief Marshal Houston even had to warn others about the dangers of ignorant debate. He said:

… it’s very dangerous for people in Canberra to be talking about circumstances on the ground when even I do not have all of the detail …

That is a great lesson for us here. We simply cannot leave Afghanistan without the tools and processes to run the country effectively or to protect its own citizens. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has recognised that military supported support is needed to obtain the joint objective of social improvement. Social improvement is really important. The bishops conference noted that ‘commitment to a just war in Afghanistan necessitates a commitment to uproot the structures that support intolerance, heighten insecurity and perpetuate debilitating poverty that undermines the dignity of men, women and children in Afghanistan’.

One issue I would like to raise is the question of what would be happening today in Afghanistan—and in relation to additional terrorist attacks—if we were not involved, if the 47 NATO countries and the International Security Assistance Force had not decided, in part of what they wanted to achieve, to defeat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and factional warlords in Afghanistan. What would be the growth in al-Qaeda’s terrorist activities in that nation? How would women, children and local people be treated? How different would their lives be? I think that is something we need to look quite seriously at in this debate. What would Afghanistan look like if not for the intervention? How many people would have had an education? How many people would have been recruited and trained by al-Qaeda? How many additional terrorist attacks would have occurred around the world? I have no doubt that we would have lost more Australians if those attacks had occurred, as we did in previous attacks.

My final comments are again in offering my greatest respect to the 21 Australian soldiers who have been killed in action, as well as the 152 soldiers who have been wounded in action in Afghanistan. I send my deepest sympathy to their families and friends. I am acutely and personally aware of what our decisions in this parliament mean to the members of the Australian defence forces: the very real prospect of further fatalities and the wounding of our personnel. I am well aware of the effect this has on wives, partners, families, friends and fellow ADF mates. My mother and older sisters lost their husband and father in World War II. Our family has lived with that loss, and it has been a huge loss all our lives. It has never been easy and it is something that stayed with my sister and my mother to their deaths.

I know exactly what we are committing our ADF members to by that decision in this House. That has been given further clarity recently with the news that three Australian special forces soldiers were wounded during a serious gun battle with Taliban fighters in Kandahar province. It is a daily reality that we are aware of, and so are they. This is the reality. In conclusion, I hope that future debates in this place will also focus on the best way to achieve the goals that we have set for Afghanistan and not be debates about whether we should abandon these goals and abandon the people of that country.