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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2261

Senator ABETZ (3:48 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

In the absence of the coalition’s excellent shadow minister for defence Senator Johnston, I make the following statement on behalf of the coalition and Senator Johnston. On behalf of the opposition we extend thanks to the government for the update on what is occurring with Australia’s operation in Afghanistan. This is a very important matter for this parliament and indeed for the Senate. The McChrystal doctrine, which is based upon the COIN strategy—counterinsurgency—is fundamentally very sound and the right way to go. This doctrine is about, firstly, engaging and securing the people of Afghanistan and giving them the confidence to go about their business and to see that the rule of law prevails. The second part is to secure them, through the enhancement of the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army. By mid-2011 the objective is to have 171,000 Afghan National Army troops and 134,000 Afghan national police to aid and assist in the stable governance of Afghanistan.

Following the US surge, the extra troops have already produced positive results, with the previous Taliban stronghold of Marja now under the control and guidance of the Afghan National Army and associated coalition forces. The US-led military surge, which will be increased to an additional 35,000 troops in Afghanistan, is being mirrored by the civilian surge of non-governmental organisations, aid workers and building contractors. Our contribution of 1,550 troops is our most significant contribution since Vietnam.

The Netherlands command in Oruzgan province is expected to come to an end in August this year, and that is regardless of the outcome of the election in the Netherlands. It appears certain that the withdrawal of their deployment will proceed. This is to be regretted, because they have been a very successful partner in what is a very dangerous and very difficult business of trying to secure this part of the world.

Australia is leading the way in training and promoting the development of the Afghan people in determining their own destiny. Indeed, we are paying $250 million towards getting that contingent to a capacity and capability that will endure, to provide long-term security for the people of this country.

Given the importance to our national interests of our continuing commitment in Afghanistan, I am pleased that the government has maintained the coalition’s military commitment in Afghanistan and that it has increased our troop numbers following the withdrawal of most Australian troops from Iraq. In closing, we want to acknowledge the sacrifice that has been made by 11 brave Australians on the field of battle in Afghanistan. We salute their service. We salute their sacrifice. We are indebted to them, their families and their friends. We also want to acknowledge those who have been seriously wounded—in particular, those with eardrum damage from IEDs. I commend the government for establishing the counter-IED task force and participating with the United States and the United Kingdom. Pakistan, on one border, is also of considerable concern to us. In thanking the government for this report today, we urge it to keep giving us these reports. They are very valuable. We support the government in this very difficult mission.