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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 2

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:33 PM) —Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the senator moving—That:

(a)   Senator Bob Brown may immediately move a motion on the involvement and deployment of Australian troops in Afghanistan; and

(b)   the motion have precedence over all other business until determined.

I take this move at the outset of this parliamentary year to be able to have a parliamentary debate on the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel to Afghanistan. We have had a series of government statements on the matter and, indeed, on the extremely sad 11 occasions when Australian Defence Force personnel have been killed in Afghanistan, we have commemorated their bravery and their service to this nation, but I think the parliament of the nation of Australia, alone amongst the parliaments that have troops represented in Afghanistan, has had no debate and there should be.

It is self-evident that when a nation involves itself in a war—and that is what we have done in Afghanistan—it should not be just a matter for the executive; it should be a matter for the parliament to debate. If this motion is successful, I will move for the Senate to call on the government to begin safely and securely withdrawing Australian combat troops from Afghanistan. The majority of Australians in opinion polls support that point of view, yet there has not been a debate which allows that point of view, which is represented by the Australian Greens, to be aired in this parliament. As one of the four oldest continuous democracies in the world we ought to be fully and amply debating the deployment of our troops overseas, particularly into the war situation that pertains in Afghanistan, and then serially debating their representation of this nation and the impact of events in countries like Afghanistan as they unfold.

We never had an adequate debate on the deployment of Australian troops to Iraq and nor is there a requirement that our parliament debate the deployment of troops to war, but the Greens staunchly advocate that parliament should be involved. This is not just a matter for the executive or for the Prime Minister of the nation. Australia has some 1,550 Defence Force personnel currently in Afghanistan. Their primary commitment is in Oruzgan province in the south, which is very volatile and indeed dangerous. Our troops train the Afghan army. They conduct security operations and combat the Taliban. They construct and restore civilian infrastructure such as schools, waste management facilities and medical facilities.

Besides the 11 Australian Defence Force personnel who have given their lives in the service of this country, there have been many injuries. On an international basis, 1,600 military personnel have been killed since 2001. That includes almost 1,000 Americans. The number killed each year is rapidly climbing: there were 232 killed in 2007, 295 in 2008 and 520 last year. We can expect that this toll will continue to rise.

I have raised in this chamber, with my colleagues, our distress at the corruption which infests Afghanistan’s politics, not least the Karzai government. We had a very short, peremptory debate about the circumstances of the last election and whether or not the current government is legitimate.

The Australian Greens take the strong point of view that we should be giving support to Afghanistan and to the Afghani people so they can have their freedoms and have police back in that country. We ought to be looking at the Canadian precedent, where the Canadian parliament have determined that, by 2011, their troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. We should at least be debating this issue. We owe it to our troops, we owe it to the nation and we owe it to the Afghani people, and indeed to NATO and other troops who are in Afghanistan, to have a full, mature and informed debate in this parliament. I hope the Senate will agree.