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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7868

Iraq and Syria

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:06): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Noting the reports of the liberation of Raqqa in Syria from Daesh control overnight, could the minister update the Senate on the progress being made against Daesh in Syria?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:06): I thank Senator McKenzie for her question. Australia does indeed welcome the reports that the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the support of the international counter-Daesh coalition, have retaken the key city of Raqqa in Syria. The international coalition understands that while the majority of the city has been liberated there are isolated pockets of stiff resistance remaining and that areas of the city still remain unsafe for civilians to return home.

This is important progress. Raqqa was Daesh's self-proclaimed capital of their so-called caliphate and was central to their narrative of legitimacy and success. The actions of Daesh in Raqqa, as well as numerous other parts of Syria and Iraq, have been appalling. They use oppression and brutality to rule their territories. When local forces came to fight Daesh, Daesh responded through vicious tactics: using civilians as human shields, murdering civilians for attempting to escape and indiscriminately using improvised explosive devices throughout the city. The efforts of the SDF in Raqqa are a devastating blow against Daesh and their ideology. A total victory in Raqqa will discredit Daesh worldwide and assist in coalition and international efforts to prevent the radicalisation of vulnerable youth elsewhere.

These have been tough battles. Many Syrians have lost their lives fighting terrorists during these operations, and our thoughts are with their families. The Syrian Democratic Forces are also to be commended for their determination to defeat Daesh in Raqqa, and we acknowledge their losses also. After this fighting, the stabilisation efforts in Raqqa will take some time. The re-establishment of both institutions and essential services is critical to ensuring that residents are able to begin to return and rebuild their lives.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, a supplementary question?

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:08): Could the minister provide an update on the progress being made against Daesh in Iraq and the contribution of the Australian Defence Force to the capacity of the Iraq security forces?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:08): The vital liberations of Mosul on 9 July, of Tal Afar at the end of August and of Hawija at the beginning of October represent the beginning of the end of the entity that is Daesh in Iraq. Iraqi forces are moving towards the Euphrates River Valley to clear Daesh from final strongholds inside Iraq. Some of these Daesh strongholds in the river valley are in difficult terrain and present different tactical problems from the urban fighting so far experienced in those towns and cities that I've mentioned here, and earlier, in this chamber.

Australia will continue to support Iraq and its security forces so that Iraq is able to defeat Daesh, keep its people safe and maintain territorial sovereignty. We continue to train, advise and assist the ISF through training at Task Group Taji, our special operations advisers and air support through our Air Task Group. I acknowledge those men and women of the ADF who continue to serve in this role and the contribution they make.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, a final supplementary question?

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:09): Can the minister update the Senate on how the government is helping to combat the spread of terrorism to the Indo-Pacific region?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:10): This is a very important aspect of this challenge. As Daesh continues to be defeated in the Middle East, we see that foreign fighters will continue to return to our region. We're committed to working with our regional partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific to prevent that Daesh-inspired terrorism from gaining a foothold here. So, since June, Australia's been providing our Orion surveillance support to the Philippines following the seizure of Marawi by Daesh-aligned terrorists. I do welcome the announcement this week by my counterpart in the Philippines, Secretary of National Defense Lorenzana, that the city of Marawi is liberated, and I look forward to meeting him in the Philippines next week for the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

It's been a very difficult fight over the past five months and very challenging for the Philippines armed forces. The terrorists' actions have disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and destroyed a once thriving town. Our support to the Philippines represents Australia's commitment to working with our regional partners to address these terrorism challenges. (Time expired)