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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3343


Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (21:01): I rise to respond to the motion standing in the name of the member for Melbourne, representing the Greens party. I remind the parliament that, as we debate the motion, 1,550 of our men and women are engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, let alone the further 800 in the wider Middle East area of operations. Right now it is 2.00 pm in Afghanistan. Special operations troops are moving through Oruzgan and neighbouring provinces. At least 10 mentoring taskforce patrols are out working with the Afghan National Army. Australian Federal Police officers are working with the Afghan National Police. Members of the provincial reconstruction team are working with a range of community groups, looking at community issues and programs. There are 150 officers and senior NCOs working with a range of command elements. Trainers with the Australian artillery corps are working with the artillery school training Afghan gunners. Our men and women are working to achieve a better outcome in Afghanistan. They are working to achieve a land where stability becomes the norm, not the abnormal, and a country that can no longer be used by insurgent and terrorist elements as safe ground for harbouring, recruiting, financing and training criminal and terrorist elements.

In a spirit of bipartisanship, knowing that I speak for a majority of the parliament, I rise to say that our men and women should return safely to our land when the job is done—not before, not based on an arbitrary timeline, not on a troops-home-before-Christmas schedule and certainly not on the whim of the Greens party, which stands here and speaks of an unwinnable and unjustifiable war. I have said before to the Leader of the Greens: 'You stand and condemn all that we do in Afghanistan. If you have the courage of your convictions, go to Afghanistan, visit the troops, walk the ground and have a shura with the locals. Then you can speak with some knowledge.' Senator Brown has declined the invitation to go.

I say to the member for Melbourne: forgive me if I handle your motion with some disdain, when you walk into this House and speak on behalf of a party that, even though invited, refuses to go to the battlefield to get a first-hand view of what is actually happening in the country, meet our fighting men and women, shake their hands and look them in the eye. You talk in here about bringing our soldiers home with honour. You know nothing of honour, sir, because you refuse to go there, speak to them and demonstrate through your actions that you honour their service. So forgive me if I look at your motion as one more in a line of frivolous motions regarding our defence forces and national security that the Greens see fit to introduce into parliament. You have given no thought to the repercussions of your actions or your words. I will stand here and join with the government in a bipartisan way to support our men and women and say to them: what you are doing is valuable, this is not an unwinnable and unjustifiable war. You shed your blood, your sweat and your tears for something that matters.

Before discussing the wider elements of the merits of the motion, let us first couch this debate in the history of the Greens' defence and national security policy, because it is important to understand the motivation of the member for Melbourne. He comes into the House to talk about combat operations, yet the Greens party has no explicit defence policy. It has no veterans policy, yet he speaks of bringing our troops home with honour. It has no national security policy; the Greens' line-in-the-sand approach will simply make matters worse. This parliament views that a considered metrics based, command-led withdrawal is the best recipe for success. Anything less is to consign the Afghan people to a future nightmare of insurgent violence, drug addiction through poppy harvesting and religious terrorism.

The Greens' published peace and security policy is at best naive and at worst frankly dangerous. The Greens call on Australia to end its cornerstone national security treaty, the ANZUS alliance, to end all foreign troop deployments and training in Australia, which are fundamental to our regional cooperation, and to close all foreign bases in Australia, despite the fact that we have none. Further, the Greens have called for an end to arms trade fairs and the cessation of exporting Australian manufactured defence materiel. In other words, the Greens want to shut down the bulk of Australia's defence industry, which is worth more than $2 billion a year and directly employs over 10,000 people, many in regional locations. This is the heart and soul of the policy of the Greens. This is what they want to do to Australia's defence industry.

I could go on and on unpacking the irrational, contradictory, confused and nonsensical Greens defence policy, but suffice to say that those with more than a passing interest in defence matters join as one to denounce any watering down of the executive powers of government as they pertain to national security. Those outside of the executive are literally dripping in an inability to understand the core issues without the available intelligence, knowledge and information at hand. Only the executive is capable of making considered, detailed and reasoned decisions about the application of force in the furthering of our national security and foreign affairs policy. If the Greens wish to be taken seriously on defence and national security, they should take seriously the need to formulate policies and not just thought bubbles, and they should think seriously about the repercussions of their thought bubbles within the wider context of Australia's national security and not the narrow interests of their political base.

In responding to this motion I do so with the full knowledge that it is not motivated by the welfare of our hardworking ADF personnel; it is not motivated by doing what is right by our ISAF and Afghan partners or by the 48 nations of the world that have joined together under a United Nations mandate to fight the insipid curse of separatism, terrorist elements, insurgency and criminal forces that all fuse together within wider Afghanistan to seek to do us harm. If the Greens came from a position of even a minimum degree of enduring interest regarding defence matters then perhaps I could take this seriously. If the Leader of the Greens had bothered like every other major leader of a party to visit our hardworking men and women and seek an understanding of what they are doing within the wider Middle East area of operations perhaps we could take this seriously. But carping from the sidelines, speaking of bringing men and women home with honour and drawing time lines arbitrarily in the sand does not fill us with that degree of confidence. If the Greens were serious about national security policy they would not have a position to end the ANZUS alliance, the bedrock of our security in the region.

There is bipartisan support for our ongoing engagement in Afghanistan. There is bipartisan support for a metrics based, command-led withdrawal from Afghanistan that is not based on arbitrary time lines but on thoughtful, considered judgments on the ground, on the degree of training and the standards we have achieved with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police and on the degree of support the provincial reconstruction teams have provided in the region.

There was a time when we had 30 operating bases and patrol bases. We now man fewer than eight, with mobile mentoring teams being the order of the day. We have already commenced handing over significant areas, village by village, roadside by roadside, valley by valley, to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. The drawdown across the area is already occurring within a staged, set, metrics based environment that does not need people on the sidelines with no experience, no interest and no desire to see what is going on to get involved.

We take our responsibilities seriously, as do the other 47 nations of the world in partnership under a UN mandate in Afghanistan. We do not think casually about our involvement. We feel deeply for the wounded in action and those tragically killed in action and their families and loved ones left behind. War should never be entered into lightly nor withdrawn from on a whim. There is an executive with this House for a reason. It is called the government. It is designed to make sound, reasoned and sensible decisions, and it is the body who is best placed to make decisions on withdrawing forces. (Time expired)