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Wednesday, 10 August 2005
Page: 62

Senator MARK BISHOP (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Is the minister aware of a deteriorating security situation in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, where, as the London Times states, rioters were ‘seen moving around the streets with rocket-propelled grenade launchers’? Has the government assessed the extent to which civil disturbances in the city of Samawah may spread throughout the Al Muthanna province? Are the Australian troops responsible for securing this area exposed to greater risk as a result of the emerging civil unrest? Can the minister indicate what assessment has been made of the adequacy of resources that have been provided to our troops in the event that they are required to simultaneously confront both civil disturbances and possible attacks from insurgents?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As the honourable senator says, there have been civil disturbances in Samawah. They seem to have arisen from a number of different causes—one being a shortage of basic services, particularly electricity. There have also been disputes about the police services. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case in that part of the world, the civil differences very quickly deteriorated into violence. It would seem to have been complicated somewhat by some militia forces of Muqtada al-Sadr becoming involved. This has brought a response from the Iraqi army as well as the Iraqi police services. In relation to the Australian role: of course the Australians are not there to involve themselves in civil disturbances; the Australians are there to provide an element of security for the Japanese humanitarian mission and also to provide further training for the Iraqi security forces. Australians are not involved in providing a response to these civil differences. They are, of course, observing what is occurring and reporting appropriately.

As to whether they need further resources as applies to the civil disturbances, I have not seen any suggestion that they need further resources and I would not expect that they would, because they are not involved in providing a response to such disturbances. It is a worrying development—I would not hide that fact—but overall the province of Al Muthanna remains one of the most stable within Iraq and one in which there have been few instances of insurgency actions and even fewer instances of jihadist activity.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Mr President, I have a supplementary question arising out of the minister’s response. As he correctly identifies, the purpose of the Australian troops in this particular province is to assist the Japanese who are there. In light of that purpose and in light of the minister’s earlier response, can the minister indicate what action the government is taking in response to the concern raised by task group commander Lieutenant Colonel Roger Noble that Australian troops ‘can’t sanitise’ themselves completely from the civil unrest in Samawah?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —We rely on the professionalism of the ADF in such circumstances, and they are very professional and very capable. As I said to the honourable senator, it is not the Australians’ role to become involved in civil differences within the province. I suppose there is always the possibility that a particular Japanese humanitarian operation could receive attention from some elements of civil disobedience, but I have not seen any suggestion that that is happening and the Japanese are, in any event, very cautious in such circumstances. I would be very surprised if they allowed themselves to be put in a position where that might occur.