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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 9949

Senator JOHNSTON (2:05 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Will the minister update the Senate on the contribution of members of the Australian Defence Force to the international effort in disarming Iraq?

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I am pleased to take this opportunity to bring the Senate up to date regarding the recent activities of our forces. I am pleased to report to the Senate that all Australian troops deployed on Operation Falconer are safe and well. Personnel from all three services continue to play a vital part at the forefront of coalition operations against Iraq. HMAS Anzac has been involved for three days now in providing naval gunfire support to British forces engaged in clearing the Al Faw Peninsula of Iraqi forces. Targets have included enemy bunkers, artillery positions and coastal defensive positions. Anzac fire would have helped suppress the Iraqi forces. UK commanders have praised the Anzac'sperformance.

Mr President, you will be interested to know that an Australian Navy officer, Captain Jones, is in charge of the multinational operations in the northern Persian Gulf from his headquarters on HMAS Kanimbla. HMAS Darwin, along with a number of US and British ships, is part of this task group. There has already been reporting of their interception of an Iraqi attempt to lay a large number of sea mines. If that had been successful, the consequences could have been catastrophic.

The Army's landing craft continue to provide support to coalition operations in the area. The task of mine clearance further upstream in the waterways has commenced and we would expect the ADF mine clearance teams to be active in that area in the near future. Our special forces continue their reconnaissance missions deep within Iraq. These missions have brought them into contact with Iraqi forces on a number of occasions in the last few days. On Saturday night they called in an air strike on an enemy installation containing equipment which could have been used to handle missiles—including a special crane, fuel tanks, command and control vehicles, and generators. The site was subsequently destroyed by coalition military aircraft.

Most recently, overnight an SAS element observed an Iraqi platoon, equipped with heavy weapons, travelling in vehicles. The SAS again called in close air support to engage the platoon. Also overnight, our FA18 fighter aircraft led a strike mission on identified enemy targets in Iraq. The Hornets worked closely as part of a team with other coalition aircraft of various types to conduct a successful attack, during which our aircraft dropped a number of 2,000 pound bombs on a target. They returned to base safely on completion of their mission. Our P3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft and C130 Hercules transport aircraft continue to provide invaluable support to the coalition. We can all be very proud of the courage, professionalism and skill of our forces and of the contribution they are making to removing the threat of weapons of mass destruction and to a safer Australia.