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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 4418

Senator MARSHALL (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Can the minister update the Senate on recent developments with the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I would like to thank the senator for his question. I also acknowledge that Senator Minchin has agreed to my informing the Senate of what has occurred in Afghanistan in recent times. Last night, soldiers of the Australian Special Operations Task Group in southern Afghanistan were engaged in a battle with Taliban extremists. I regret to inform the Senate that nine Australian soldiers have been wounded in this action. One soldier has suffered life-threatening wounds, five soldiers suffered serious wounds and three soldiers suffered light wounds. The wounded soldiers were provided with immediate first aid by their comrades at the scene before being evacuated by helicopter to coalition medical facilities. Several Taliban extremists were killed in the action. I am advised that this action is ongoing, and members of the Special Operations Task Group remain in the field undertaking very dangerous duties.

I know I speak on behalf of all senators to say that our thoughts and prayers are with those wounded soldiers, their families and their colleagues still in the field today. This action and the toll it has taken on these members of the ADF underscore the importance and dangers of their vital mission, which they take on behalf of us all in Afghanistan. I think the toll of recent times in Afghanistan brings home to us all the danger of this mission. This mission remains vital. The Taliban can never again be allowed to use Afghanistan as a training ground, a hiding place and a launching pad for terrorists—terrorists who advocate harm to Australians; terrorists who trained there to take the lives of our countrymen in Bali in 2002; terrorists who, if permitted a safe haven, would seek to attack us and others again.

It is the men and women of the ADF, like those who put themselves in harm’s way last night, who are taking the fight to this enemy. They are being successful in disrupting, destroying and displacing those that would seek to return Afghanistan and its people to the bastion of terror and tyranny it was under the Taliban. We know so many of those who have come to this country to escape that terror. At the same time, it is the men and women of the ADF who are building, teaching and mentoring the people of this province so that they may take charge of the land, take charge of their lives and take charge of their own security. It is the men and women of the ADF who risk their lives every day in the service of this noble and hard fought aspiration.

The fight for Afghanistan will go on. It involves our special forces aggressively taking the fight to the Taliban; it involves our reconstruction and mentoring troops rebuilding the infrastructure and capabilities of the civil community and the security services; and it involves us working closely with our friends and partners. We know we are not the only ones suffering terrible casualties. On 19 August, 10 French soldiers lost their lives and 21 were wounded on one dreadful day in Kabul province east of the capital. We acknowledge the French contribution and their terrible loss. We remain committed to assisting the Afghan people and their democratically elected government to achieve stability and prosperity, the sort of stability and prosperity that we take for granted in this country. We reflect on the bravery and sacrifice of our servicemen and women and the tragedy and the loss that they share on behalf of those I speak of today.

We do not have a lot of information to hand at the moment, but I undertake that I or Senator Faulkner will provide more information to the Senate tomorrow. I know I speak on behalf of all senators when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with the wounded soldiers, their families and the other members of the ADF still engaged in a battle in Afghanistan today.

Honourable senators—Hear, hear!

Senator Minchin —On indulgence, I wish to associate the opposition fully and completely with the remarks of Senator Evans on behalf of the government in his answer to Senator Marshall.

Senator Bob Brown —I likewise associate the Greens and give our support to the words from Senator Evans for those Australian Defence Force personnel who have been injured in Afghanistan and wish all of them a speedy recovery.

Senator Fielding —Very briefly, Family First also wants to send our thoughts and prayers to the wounded soldiers and their families and for the brave job that they are doing in Afghanistan.

Senator Xenophon —I likewise endorse the remarks of my colleagues in relation to our prayers and best wishes to the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and their families.