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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1196


North Korea

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (14:50): My question is to the Prime Minister. Amongst recent developments in global security, we have just heard President Obama's State of the Union address—specifically, his remarks with regard to the United States's engagement in Afghanistan. Will the Prime Minister update the House on what this means for Australia and our coalition allies in Afghanistan?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:51): I thank the member for Melbourne Ports for his question. As was anticipated, in his State of the Union address today President Obama made some important remarks about progress in Afghanistan. In particular, the President has announced the plans of the United States of America for the gradual draw-down of its own troops currently in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the United States currently has around 68,000 troops. President Obama has outlined the gradual draw-down of these troops as we move to Afghan led security of the Afghan nation. I would remind the House that we expect Afghan forces, by around the middle of this year, to be in the lead for security across all of Afghanistan.

I welcome the announcement by President Obama today, and I was pleased to discuss it and its implications with the US Defense secretary Leon Panetta this morning. We had the opportunity to talk about President Obama's announcement and what that means for the transition strategy in Afghanistan.

The NATO ISAF transition strategy in Afghanistan is working and is on track. What the transition strategy means is that, as Afghan local forces step up, the international community takes a step back. The fact that this can happen reflects the progress we have made in Afghanistan. It reflects the increasing capabilities of local forces, the significant weakening of the insurgency and the fact that al-Qaeda has been hit hard. Australia is leading the transition process in Uruzgan province and we expect this to be completed by the end of 2013. At the same time, we are working with the United States and other fellow NATO ISAF members to plan for the post-2014 period.

We have a long-term development partnership with Afghanistan. We have said we will participate in the NATO train, advise and assist mission in the post-2014 period. We have made a substantial financial contribution to sustaining local forces beyond 2014, and we have indicated we would consider special forces having an ongoing role under the right mandate. We continue to support the peace and reconciliation process that needs to be and is Afghan led. We do not underestimate the challenges ahead but our goal of an Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for international terrorism is within reach.

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (14:54): Madam Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. Prime Minister, you have referred to recent security challenges that Australia faces. Can you tell us what North Korea's nuclear test yesterday means in this context?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:54): Many Australians would have absorbed the news yesterday and into today that North Korea conducted a nuclear test yesterday. I am sure that all members of this place and many members of the Australian community would share my concern at this very provocative and dangerous act and will join me in condemning it. North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its development of long-range missiles threaten international peace and security beyond the Korean Peninsula. They open up the extraordinarily dangerous possibility that North Korea may one day be able to arm long-range missiles with a nuclear device.

North Korea's actions are, of course, but a flagrant breach of UN Security Council resolutions and international nuclear non-proliferation norms. This conduct will only serve to further isolate North Korea, and already North Koreans live desperate lives of poverty and, many of them, of starvation. The Security Council met overnight in New York, and Australia, along with other Security Council members, condemned this test. Council members agreed to begin working immediately on appropriate measures to respond to this latest provoking of the international community. As a member of the council, we will continue to work for the strongest possible response to this continued threat to peace and security. (Time expired)