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Minister discusses troops in Afghanistan; believes Australia should be involved in NATO's decision making.

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Monday 11 February 2008

Minister discusses troops in Afghanistan; believes Australia should be involved in NATO's decision making


TONY EASTLEY: Australia’s Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, has returned from talks in Lithuania confident that a new strategy for defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan will emerge at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) summit in April. 


And he expects from now on Australia, as a key contributor of troops to Afghanistan, will have a say in NATO’s decision-making.  


Mr Fitzgibbon says he can’t understand how the previous Coalition government could send its military off to war without being better informed.  


Joel Fitzgibbon is speaking here with Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.  


JOEL FITZGIBBON: I made it very clear that we’re disappointed that some NATO countries aren’t doing more and I made it just as clear that if Australia is to continue to make a contribution in Afghanistan, we expect a seat at the decision-making table. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: How was that received? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: A very good response. I had both a private commitment from the Secretary General of NATO that he’d do all he can to address the situation and... 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what difference would it make? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I just, I’m, frankly, very surprised and disappointed that the former government was making decisions to send our men and women to war and to keep them at war without having a seat at the decision-making table, basically doing so on a no-questions-asked basis. 


A government can’t make informed decisions about whether to send our people to war and to lead them in the battlefield if it doesn’t have information about the strategy and therefore can’t make an assessment about the prospect of success. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But in opposition, Labor made a commitment to keep troops in Afghanistan, if not to increases the number. So you made that decision without having any access to any NATO information. 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: I could never have imagined that the former government was making, taking decisions on whether we commit to war without having the necessary information about the war plan and therefore the prospects of success. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Realistically, can Australia have any influence on NATO decisions… 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: I believe….  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: …when it comes to Afghanistan? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: I firmly believe we can. And we have a lot to offer in this regard and as a country, making such a significant contribution relative to our size, and as a non-NATO country, we are entitled to have our say and I expect that we will get that opportunity in the future. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Is it your understanding that Australia will now have access to that information? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well having received a personal commitment from the Secretary General of NATO and not having experienced any objection from other NATO defence ministers in the meeting, I remain very, very confident that at, in the future, for the first time, Australia will have a seat at that decision-making table. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And that you’ll have a seat at any future NATO talks on Afghanistan? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: I’m determined that in the future, NATO, nor any other body, will ever sit down to make decisions about future directions of Afghanistan, decisions that affect our men and women so greatly, that will never occur in the future without Australia being present. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, speaking there with Alexandra Kirk.