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Tuesday, 13 May 2003
Page: 10538

Senator FERGUSON (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Will the minister update the Senate on Australia's contribution to the international effort to disarm Iraq and liberate the Iraqi people? I further ask: what continuing role is Australia playing in the stabilisation and reconstruction in Iraq?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I thank Senator Ferguson for his question. The Australian Defence Force made a substantial contribution to the coalition combat operations to disarm Iraq and to liberate the Iraqi people. There is no doubt that our force punched well above its weight, as has been acknowledged by many. The maritime task group was the forefront of coalition maritime operations at the top end of the Persian Gulf. As we know, HMAS Anzac used naval gunfire to support the United Kingdom forces. Kanimbla's captain was the coalition commander in the north Persian Gulf during the conflict. The work of Kanimbla's crew in discovering mines on an Iraqi barge may have avoided an absolute catastrophe. The Navy clearance diving team was integral to clearing the Umm Qasr port and its connecting waterways to allow humanitarian supplies to begin flowing in quickly. The special forces task group built around the SAS squadron, supported by a reinforced commando platoon, also performed admirably, particularly in preventing the launch of ballistic missiles at neighbouring countries. It conducted aggressive reconnaissance from the very beginning of the combat operations, involving numerous contacts with the enemy. A highlight of its contribution was the capture of over 50 MiG aircraft at Al Asad air base and the apprehension of 59 fleeing Fedayeen and suspected Ba'ath party members. I can mention also the eight CH47 Chinooks and the work they did in support of our forces and also the nuclear chemical defence troop, which also assisted the special forces.

In relation to the Air Force, the deployment of 14 FA18s was the first time that Australian fighters have operated in a war zone since the Korean War. The Hornets flew over 670 sorties, including defence counter air missions to protect high-value coalition assets, strike missions against targets throughout Iraq and close air support missions in support of coalition ground forces. They dropped some 122 bombs, all precision guided weapons. No civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure was observed or reported as a consequence; in other words, they went about their task in a highly professional and capable way. Australia's three C130 aircraft have flown in excess of 130 missions, carrying three million pounds of cargo and 1,500 troops. The two P3C maritime surveillance aircraft have flown over 70 missions in support of coalition maritime operations in the gulf.

All Australians can be very proud of the performance of the ADF. The government accepts, however, that the task for Australia in relation to Iraq is not at an end. We recognise our responsibilities and will make an appropriate contribution to coalition efforts to stabilise and rehabilitate Iraq. In particular, we can advise that we have put in place some 60 military air traffic control personnel to support the orderly flow of aircraft at Baghdad International Airport. We have also provided 16 specialists to help the coalition search for and investigate Iraq's weapons of mass destructions. We have provided ADF officers to the US Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. We have provided a military security detachment to support the establishment of Australia's diplomatic mission in Baghdad. Not only, therefore, did the ADF perform admirably during the combat but also they continue to make a major contribution in this important area. (Time expired)