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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 13040

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-MonaroParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (10:01): It is a pleasure to expand upon the Prime Minister's comments and the further information that was provided by the Minister for Defence in relation to our deployment and our mission in Afghanistan. We understand that this has been a long haul for the Australian people, who always remain curious—as they should be—and interrogative about our mission, our objectives, and the likelihood of success of our investment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. I know of course that you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, will be very interested in these issues because of your commitment to the Australian Defence Force and your proud record of supporting and serving our men and women in uniform during your time in government.

It is wonderful to be able to relate the progress that has been made by our people in Afghanistan. I have talked before about some aspects of that, but I want to emphasise today that people should not misunderstand what this process involves at the moment. Although it is called transition, people should not assume that it is a retreat or that we are running for the exit and abandoning Afghanistan, and there will therefore be the risk that all of the good work that our people, and indeed many other colleagues in uniform from around the world, have done will be undone. That is not the case. We have certainly learned a lot of lessons in this country over a history of quite often being given responsibility in provinces such as Phuoc Tuy and in the Bai province where I was in Somalia, in Al Muthanna in Iraq and of course now in Uruzgan in Afghanistan.

We are seeing an overall international or national situation deteriorate around us after all our good effort but we are determined—and I am very proud and pleased to say of course that the coalition is also determined—to make sure that that effort does not fall into the same category. We are committed. This transition is about the mission objectives in the first place. The mission for Australian security forces—whether it be the AFP or the ADF—in Afghanistan is to make ourselves redundant. We do not want to build dependency. The mission is entirely about ensuring that the Afghans could take control and take responsibility for their own destiny. That is what we have been aiming for.

In my various trips to Afghanistan and the briefings that I have had both in Australia and in Washington recently I have been pleased at the progress that certainly we have made in relation to 4th Brigade in Uruzgan, but I have also been very pleased to see the progress that has been made by the Afghan National Army in general throughout Afghanistan. One of the most important things to understand about our mission is that we must build an attitude within the Afghan people themselves about taking control of their destiny and the confidence that they will have in their own security forces and institutions. A very detailed study by the Asia Foundation—the most detailed analysis yet done in Afghanistan—has been produced recently. I was fortunate to receive a briefing by David Arnold, President of the Asia Foundation, in Washington recently at the Pentagon. The statistics were extremely revealing. The overwhelming majority now of Afghans do not support armed resistance to the Afghan government. There is very strong support of course—around 83 per cent—for continuing efforts in reconciliation for those elements that are opposed to us or who engage in conflict with us who are not of the extreme ideological variety with whom there is an unlikely negotiated outcome. Effectively, the challenge there will morph into a counter-terrorism type of regime and response requirement. We have greatly degraded over time the ability of the forces we oppose to conduct subunit level attacks and assaults, and so the ability of the Afghan security sector in the future will mostly be reacting and responding to terrorist-like incidents.

The progress of the Afghan National Army has been recognised by the Afghans themselves in the study that I mentioned—93 per cent of Afghans said that they felt the Afghan National Army was honest, fair and improving in its competency, although they acknowledged that some level of international support was still required, which was also a good thing. But their attitudes to confidence in the delivery of services by the government was increasing dramatically in relation to education and water. Improvement in their faith in the rule of law is pleasing to see. There is still great concern in relation to issues of corruption, unemployment and some aspects of the delivery of electricity, but their confidence in the central government and at provincial level was high, although there are still some concerns at the municipal level.

It was also pleasing to see what the study revealed about their attitudes to gender issues and the status of women in Afghanistan, which I know we are all greatly concerned about. In that respect, they indicated that they were overwhelmingly in favour of women getting educated, participate in the political process and being able to vote. The one area where there is obviously room for improvement is their attitudes to women in employment, and that can partly be seen as a factor of the high levels of unemployment in Afghanistan, which is still an issue. Overall, the attitudes are along the right track and greatly improved and a good outcome of the investment of all of our efforts in Afghanistan.

In particular, I know a lot of people are focused on women's issues, and our effort has been unstinting in that respect. We will recall that women suffered greatly under the Taliban—thousands of sex slaves, 70 per cent of the teachers in the education system were women and were all thrown out of the system, which effectively destroyed it. They were not able to be educated. They were not able to be employed. They were subject to brutal punishments such as stonings where a hole would be dug and filled up to restrain them to the shoulder and head level. It was very prescriptive in the way they would be dispatched in that they could not be executed quickly. The stoning had to be drawn out so that a maximum amount of suffering would be imposed before a coup de grace was delivered. We have also seen that attitude illustrated in the recent horrific incident of the attempt to kill Malala Yousafzai, an incredibly brave young schoolgirl, which has focused our attention on exactly what this is all about. It is great to see the moderate Muslim world uniting in one voice against these medieval attitudes, which are quite often based on traditional attitudes and completely fly in the face of the Koran. I think it is going to galvanise the international effort to continue to oppose these extreme ideologies.

In Uruzgan province, Australia has helped construct 227 schools, including 39 girls' schools, and I was privileged to visit the Mala Lia Girls School, which is doing great things—320 girls have been engaged in community education. We have helped 500 women participate in literacy groups. We have helped 80 per cent of women in Uruzgan receive at least one antenatal visit—and this is really important in the context of the high level of deaths in childbirth. We have trained 30 female master teachers, and these trainers are training a new generation of Afghan women teachers who will be vital role models and mentors for girls in the future. We have committed $17.7 million to tackle violence against women and invested heavily in training midwives, including 44 female health workers in Uruzgan and 25 women who have been involved in new midwifery schools as well. This is really pleasing to see. I know this is an issue of great concern to Australians. In relation to the completion of our security task in Afghanistan, the reorientation now is—as those who understand the military environment will know and the member for Fadden, who is here with us today, will appreciate this—we have been through a phase where we had an urgent security, on-the-ground threat that needed to be tackled, getting boots and guns out there to tackle a high-level threat. But the ultimate objective is to build the structures that sustain a security force: the key enablers, the key command and control, the logistics and support environment and the training regimes that will support the growth of an effective and professional security force into the future.

Our focus now reorients to build that regime, that structure and those enablers. We will be putting a lot of effort into the training of the command and control capacities of the 4th Brigade, the 205 Corps, and we will also be looking to assist in the continual improvement of the two Kandaks that relate to combat support and combat services support. For those who are uninitiated in those, the combat support area will deliver intelligence, communications and combat engineering capabilities; and combat services support will be the key logistics enablers of transport, maintenance, servicing, health services and the like. These are the things that give a force capability and confidence, and enhance and amplify their ability to operate and grow into a professional force.

That will be our focus from this point forward, which means that our people will be less exposed as they pull in from patrol bases and forward operating bases back to the more secure and safe facilities of Tarin Kot. That does not mean that they will be completely free from threat—unfortunately, Private Sher was one of those victims of indirect fire. There will always be that risk, and any movement always comes under threat of improvised explosive device activities and actions. They will not be completely free from threat, but the threat will be slightly diminished.

We have flagged that we will be pursuing engagement with Afghanistan in relation to their special force needs. It is reassuring to see the professionalism that their own special forces are achieving—the Wakunesh,the NDS. We had very good reports on their capabilities when I was last in Afghanistan so that is encouraging. The international community has been willing and enthusiastic to provide ongoing special forces support, notwithstanding that conventional support is being withdrawn or is transitioning. The capability and the support will be there to provide our Afghan partners with the confidence that we are not abandoning them.

In addition to that, as people who understand counterinsurgency know—and I have spent my entire military career immersed in counterinsurgency, written much about it, and one of the reasons I got into politics in the first place was the establish the Australian Civil Military Centre to enhance our approach to counterinsurgency—the equation is usually a 20 per cent security challenge and an 80 per cent social-political-economic challenge. As we move forward, with the Afghan forces taking the lead role, our investment and engagement will reflect that. So $100 million for three years for the security sector, but we are building to a $250 million a year commitment in that social-economic-political space.

It is absolutely critical that the 2014 elections go well, but we also want to make sure that we are investing in governance, rule of law, education and the economy. One of the best areas you can invest in, in that respect, is in the building of roads, because this enhances people's ability to get to health services, their economic activity and security response times. It generates employment and it is harder to disguise and embed IEDs and the like—that is obviously going to be a valuable area. We will have to put a lot of work into making sure that our road dollars are landing effectively and well—there is no doubt about that—and there remain ongoing risks and threats to success through levels of corruption, bedding down better governance and getting the political infrastructure and regime ethos to grow and mature properly in the way that we would like.

As has often been said, we are not looking to transplant a Westminster or Jeffersonian democracy. What we want is a stable government that is on a maturing track towards a better and more acceptable political polity and social and economic environment. Our engagement in that sphere will be for decades to come but, hopefully, our security task is nearing the end of its most intense involvement. Also, of course, from my personal point of view, now that we have equipped them to conduct straight military operations and exercise military skills, I am now looking, as we are moving into more of a Defence Cooperation Program type relationship, to also start addressing issues to do with their ethos and levels of own conflict—their human rights training—across the security sector spectrum. We cannot just relax in that respect as they conduct independent operations. It will be important for us to have confidence, for the Australian people to have confidence, that we are engaging with security forces that respect the rule of law, that respect the code-of-ethics approach that modern professional warriors must always have when they take to the field. That is to sustain both domestic support to win that hearts and minds battle on the ground in Afghanistan and to give the international community confidence that they can support these security sector forces.

I am very confident that we are on the right track, but there are no guarantees. For a success it means we must stay committed and engaged, and I welcome the fact that we have that unity across the parliament in respect of this great challenge. It is in our national interest but it is also just the right thing to do.