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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3445


Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (09:55): I rise to lend a few brief comments in response to the Minister for Defence's detailed statement he has made to the House this morning on Afghanistan. I thank him for his statement and his commitment to keep the House informed across these range of matters. I rise today to reiterate once again the very strong tradition of the coalition that we offer and take seriously bipartisan support for combat operations not just in the wider Middle East area of operations but wherever Australian soldiers, sailors and air men and women serve. Our support has not wavered on this. It has been universal. We have given support for the last six years of combat operations, especially when it has been difficult and hard. We also support the combat force wind down in Tarin Kot and the handover of the Tarin Kot base to the Afghan National Army and the residual clean-up and logistics handover work that goes with that.

I rise also to join the minister in thanking our fighting men and women for what they are doing. It remains tough and difficult work. Our hearts and our prayers go to them as they continue to uphold the great traditions that our military has borne for so many years. The coalition's bipartisan support goes to the detainee management framework, governance monitoring operations and reporting as well.

I join the minister in noting we are a First World nation. We abide by the rule of law, particularly in armed conflict. Concepts such as rules of engagement and orders for opening fire are not simply acronyms; they are an important basis upon which we as a First World nation prosecute our combat operations. It is important to note that our enemies do not follow such a distinguished way of operating. Let the other nations of the world judge them and let the nations of the world judge us by our standards. I agree with the minister that our standards are high and that our accountability is strong, yet we remain open to criticism and we confront it when it is raised. We are not afraid for this nation's parliament to point out where we may have erred, what we have done to investigate it and how it has been resolved. Australians should be proud of that degree of openness.

I note the detainee numbers in the last 20 months have risen to 1,898 suspected insurgents. That is an enormous number of insurgents for our soldiers ostensibly to have captured on the battlefield, suspected or stopped at roadblocks or in other areas. That is an enormous rate of effort for our troops in understanding the environment and ensuring that local civilians are safe from insurgent activity. It is a testimony to our efficiency in operations. I also note that the recapture rate is exceptionally low considering the very high number of detainees. That speaks volumes about our capacity in terms of our tactical questioning, our interrogation capabilities and the entire process.

I thank the minister for his update on the allegations of mistreatment by Australians of insurgents. I note that they are all properly and thoroughly investigated. I note that 90 per cent of allegations of mistreatment were at the point of capture. That is quite understandable when those being captured do not want to be captured and put up a degree of resistance. Nor is it surprising that 100 per cent of the allegations have been found to be untrue. Nor do I find it surprising that the insurgents that we fight continue to fabricate stories even when conclusive CCTV footage shows that what they are saying is absolutely, palpably and completely untrue. Again, you can hardly find a greater dichotomy between the way we prosecute operations and the way our insurgents prosecute theirs.

I note the minister's comment on the suspension of transfers to the National Directorate of Security detention facility in Tarin Kot. Is my contention that if the minister is concerned about allegations he is right to suspend transfers, and he has done so. I note that those allegations do not surround any of the ADF transferees, and I note that this is a completely Afghan-run facility. I also note that the one ADF transferee detainee that was at the facility at the time of the suspension has been visited. I understand from the minister's statement that he has personally advised that he has not been mistreated in any way. The ADF has, then, ensured that its duty of care to its detainees has been properly met.

MINDEF has also raised with the Afghan authorities—indeed, with Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul personally—our disappointment at what is happening in the facility, and I believe that Minister Rassoul is investigating this appropriately and thoroughly.

I thank the minister for his update on the initial screening area within TK, and I note that when the Tarin Kot base closes for ADF involvement and is handed over to ostensibly the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army, that initial screening area will close and the team will move out in line with our ADF troop withdrawal. I also thank the minister for procedural misconduct and regulation updates. I note the investigations and we note the outcomes.

We also note the minister's update on the incredibly regrettable instances of civilian casualties. We acknowledge the investigation officer's report into areas where Australian troops have been involved. We note the CJOC response and I also note that there are some reports outstanding. I still remain concerned, Minister, at the time that is being taken for these reports to eventuate. It is a concern, I believe, you may well share as well. Again, I reiterate our request that more resources, if needed, are applied to ensure that reporting does not continue to be delayed.

I join the minister in concluding that we praise our fighting men and women for what they have done. Their professionalism is of the highest standard. Their accountability is of the highest standard. In terms of accountability for the prosecution of combat operations, in the history of Australia's war craft, this conflict would have to be the one where our men and women are held to the highest levels of accountability—where the reporting is thorough, where individual instances are investigated thoroughly—and we as a nation should be incredibly proud of that. We are a First World military. We take our combat operations and the legalities and the rules of engagement around that seriously. We are not above the law. Indeed, we are a standard-bearer for the law on the grounds upon which we fight. I think we are all very proud of what our men and women are doing overseas. I am, I know the minister is and I know the parliament is. I thank them for the great work they are doing.