Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Combat troops coming home -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

ELEANOR HALL: We begin today in the national capital with the announcement by the Federal
Government that Australian troops in Iraq are coming home.

Combat troops and those training Iraqi soldiers are to be withdrawn and the Australian flag at Camp
Terendak in Tallil has already been lowered with the command handed over to the United States.

Some forces will remain to perform roles such as guarding the Australian Embassy in Baghdad and
protecting Iraq's offshore oil assets.

But the decision to end the role fulfils an election promise made by the Labor Party. The Defence
Minster has been holding a press conference in Canberra spelling out the details of the withdrawal.

Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis has been listening to that and she joins us now.

ELEANOR HALL: So Lyndal, this decision hasn't come as a surprise, what has Joel Fitzgibbon had to
say about it today?

LYNDAL CURTIS: As you said, no surprise at all. It's, as you said, part of their fulfilment of an
election promise by Kevin Rudd. Joel Fitzgibbon stood next to the Chief of the Defence Force Angus
Houston to, as he said, heap praise on the men and women of the Defence Forces, to thank them for
their commitment, dedication, courage and sacrifices. But also to stress that there is still some
risk in the period where the troops are being brought out.

The troops have ben overseeing security in the provinces of Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar, they protected
Japanese forces in the region and trained Iraqi troops. They are all expected to be out by 28 June,
when there'll be a welcome home parade in Brisbane, and the Minister has made it clear that it is
time to bring the forces home.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: This is not some sort of populist move by the Government. We have enormous
concurrency issues. Our troops are overstretched, with commitments in East Timor, Afghanistan and
Iraq, roughly half of our infantry and cavalry is somehow tied to those deployments.

This is an unsustainable position, our troops in Southern Iraq have been in overwatch role now for
20 months. During that period, the Iraqis security forces have not felt a need to call on their
assistance. We cannot not, given our concurrency issues, continue to have so many troops tied up in
that situation.

Today, I can also confirm that a welcome home parade will be held in Brisbane on 28 June. So, we
look forward to that occasion. I understand the Prime Minister will be attending, now that's always
subject to confirmation, but he is certainly keen to be involved in that welcome home parade.

Today, we also pause to remind ourselves that the extraction period is a dangerous time for our
troops. And on 28 June, we look forward to welcoming them home, a safe return home and, of course,
I can say today that we are proud of them and that all Australians should be proud of them.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon in Canberra a short time ago.

Now, Lyndal, all troops out by the end of this month. The Opposition sent forces into Iraq in 2003
and held firm against growing public opposition to the war. What has the Coalition's reaction to
the Government announcement today been?

LYNDAL CURTIS: There wasn't a lot of surprise either in the Coalition ranks about the timing of the
move. But the Opposition leader, the man who was the Coalition's last defence minister in
government, Brendan Nelson, says Labor should have left the troops in to train Iraqi soldiers.

BRENDAN NELSON: As it's transpired, the conditions are such that the battle group certainly can now
be brought home, but from our perspective, we would have liked to have seen a continuing presence
of trainers to further increase the rate at which we are training the Iraqis to look after their
own security.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The message from the Opposition last night was that the move was a distraction from
the Government's woes over petrol. Interestingly, Brendan Nelson didn't raise that point when he
was interviewed on AM this morning, but other Coalition MPs were certainly happy to give it a whirl
on their way in Parliament, where frontbencher Peter Dutton and backbencher Don Randall were
calling the Government's motives into question this morning.

PETER DUTTON: I don't think Mr Rudd should twist this into a political diversion for himself. Mr
Rudd is a clever and tricky politician, he will use anything at his disposal to distract from the
fact that he hasn't brought petrol prices down.

DON RANDALL: We went over there to not only make Iraq a safer and more secure place, but to work
with the Iraqis to rebuild the nation and we're doing that in training, we've been training their
troops and their security forces. And unfortunately, we're going to be cutting and running early.

We don't need to, it's just Mr Rudd, part of his spin and his following through with it. I think a
lot of people in Australia will be disappointed that we're going before we've finished the job.

ELEANOR HALL: And Lyndal, did the Defence Minister respond to the Opposition calls to keep training
the troops there?

LYNDAL CURTIS: There are some who believe that part of the reason the training troops aren't being
left there is because of the risk to them. And the Minister has alluded to that risk, saying that
if the troops stayed to train, they would need some protection.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: This is one of the complexities introduced by John Howard into this equation. John
Howard said if he was still prime minister, our troops would be remaining in Iraq but they would be
transiting to some sort of training role. The fact is, that if you're going to do training
in-country, you do need force protection, you do need to protect those providing the training.

And of course the force protection is provided by combat troops. John Howard can't do it, have it
both ways, we won't be doing any in-country training because we made a clear commitment to the
electorate that we'd be bringing our combat troops home.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announcing that Australia will be
withdrawing its troops from Iraq before the end of this month.