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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8318

Afghanistan


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:07): My question is to Senator Evans, the Minister representing the Minister for Defence and the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Is the minister aware of the Morgan poll on Friday showing that 72 per cent of Australians think that now is the time for Australia's troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, with a very big majority of support regardless of the political persuasion of Australians? Can the minister say exactly what the government's timetable for the return to Australia of our troops serving in Afghanistan is?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:08): I thank Senator Brown for the question. Senator Brown and the rest of the Senate would be aware that the Prime Minister has made a visit to Afghanistan in the last day or so, as a sign of our ongoing commitment to democracy in Afghanistan, but also in order to reinforce to the Australian troops deployed in Afghanistan the support of the Australian government, and I think the support of all Australian people, for their mission there and appreciation of their efforts.

I am not aware of the particular poll Senator Brown refers to, but that certainly is not going to influence the government's thinking on this matter. He would be aware the Minister for Defence provided an update on Afghanistan to the parliament on 13 October, and in particular the importance of ensuring the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area did not become a safe haven for terrorists. The government has made it clear it will not be in Afghanistan forever and that we are on-track to transition to Afghanistan-led responsibility for security arrangements in Oruzgan province in 2014. In July this year Afghanistan and the international community welcomed the formal start of that transition process, in the first tranche of provinces and districts across Afghanistan. This marked an important step towards meeting President Karzai's objective that Afghan authorities assume lead security responsibilities across Afghanistan by the end of 2014. President Karzai is expected to announce the second tranche of districts and provinces for transition later this month. We remain committed to doing our best in Afghanistan— (Time expired)


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:10): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of President Obama's visit to Canberra in the coming weeks, will the Prime Minister be raising the issue of Afghanistan, the current withdrawal of over 30,000 troops from Afghanistan by the US and some concomitant withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by Australia?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:10): Senator Brown would be aware that we have very close defence links with the United States of America, and I am sure, without being privy to the planned agenda for talks between Prime Minister Gillard and President Obama, there will no doubt be a focus on those defence links in any conversations held. Clearly, I think Afghanistan would be one of those issues discussed. As you know, both the defence minister and the foreign affairs minister work closely with our American counterparts on issues of joint interest, and clearly our mission in Afghanistan is one of those. The USA remains committed to the same objectives as we do in Afghanistan, and that is particularly, as I say, focused on making sure Afghanistan does not again become a base for terrorists to recruit and train and to launch attacks against our— (Time expired)


Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:12): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Following the Prime Minister's commitment last year that there would be an annual debate by this parliament on our troop commitment to Afghanistan, I ask: when will that debate be held in each house and what duration is it expected the debate will have this year?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:12): Senator Brown, I am aware of the agreement to have that debate, and I understand Minister Smith made a statement to the House of Representatives, which I think was also tabled in this place. But I do not know the exact answer to your question, so I will take it on notice and get back to the Senate as to the scheduling of that debate.