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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 4442

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (3:55 PM) —by leave—Labor cannot support the proposed notice of motion in its current form. Labor would like to place on record its objection to dealing with complex international relations matters such as the one we have before us by means of formal motions. Such motions are blunt instruments. They force parties into black-and-white choices—support or oppose. They do not lend themselves to the nuances which are so necessary in this area of policy. Furthermore, they are too easily misinterpreted by some audiences as statements of policy by the national government.

Labor is happy to work with the minor parties on notices of motion of this nature but will not be pressured into supporting notices of motion in the Senate unless we are completely satisfied with their content. The Australian government is aware of and concerned by the statement of the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, which found convincing evidence that 90 civilians had been killed in the incident. We also note the US military conducted an investigation into the incident and concluded that intense enemy fire justified the actions taken by Afghan and US forces during the operation. Thirty to 35 Taliban militants were killed; five to seven civilians were killed; two civilians were injured and were treated by coalition forces; five Taliban were detained.

The Australian government deeply regrets the death of civilians in Afghanistan as a result of actions by coalition forces. Australia takes the issue of civilian casualties very seriously. Australian troops are deployed under rules of engagement. They are designed to minimise loss of life and strictly comply with Australia’s obligations under domestic and international law. Coalition forces are engaged in Afghanistan to counter insurgents, who show a callous disregard for civilian life, including by intentionally mixing within the civilian population and placing civilians in harm’s way. There is no question but that Afghanistan remains the front line in the fight on terror or that Australia has a direct interest in contributing to efforts to bring security to that country. We know that the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan will have terrible consequences, not just for that country but for Pakistan and the surrounding region, and will provide safe haven and support for terrorist groups operating further afield in South-East Asia, Europe and elsewhere.

Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan clearly demonstrates to our alliance partners and to the international community that we are prepared to share the burden. Australia is part of a large international effort. Over 40 nations are contributing, authorised by the UN and at the invitation of the Afghan government and people.