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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 777

Iraq and Syria

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:32): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Can the minister please update the Senate on the campaign to defeat Daesh in Iraq and in Syria?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:33): I thank Senator Reynolds, the Chair of the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, for her question. I can indicate that Daesh is under increasing pressure from Iraqi security forces, which are being supported by the international counter-Daesh coalition. Indeed, Daesh continue to lose territory, finances, fighters and battles.

The focus in Iraq remains on the liberation of Mosul, the terrorist organisation's final stronghold in that country. As we said from the outset, when this began in October, this will be a long and complex operation. In the last weeks, Iraqi Security forces have liberated east Mosul from Daesh, and operations to liberate west Mosul will commence soon. The terrain in west Mosul does make it more difficult to clear. The narrow roads and the density of the buildings will cause much of the fighting to occur at very close quarters. There will, of course, be good days and some days that involve setbacks, but, with the continued effort of the ISF and the international coalition, Daesh will be defeated in Mosul.

Tomorrow I will travel to Brussels to meet with my ministerial counterparts from the counter-Daesh coalition, at NATO and more broadly, to discuss the next steps in the plan to defeat this terrorist organisation. While in Brussels this week, I will also meet with US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, to discuss our important shared interests and security concerns. The defense secretary and I spoke in January, and I look forward to this important bilateral meeting this week.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Reynolds, a supplementary question.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:34): Can the minister further advise the Senate of Australia's contribution to the campaign to liberate Mosul?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:34): Australian forces in particular continue to make a significant contribution in the campaign to liberate Mosul, and I want to acknowledge the valuable contribution made by our ADF personnel in country and, of course, by their families at home on our behalf. ADF personnel deployed to the building partner capacity mission at Taji are continuing to build both the capability and the expertise of Iraqi forces to retake, to hold and to stabilise liberated areas. Our Special Operations Task Group is advising and assisting the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service units in support of the Mosul offensive, and the SOTG have in fact enabled more than 450 coalition airstrikes, which are critical to the Counter Terrorism Service's momentum. Our Air Task Group continues to make a significant contribution in the campaign against Daesh, with our F/A-18s striking more than 120 targets in support of operations around Mosul, our tanker providing air-to-air refuelling and our Wedgetail providing aircraft— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Reynolds, a final supplementary question.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:36): Can the minister also update the Senate on how else Australia is contributing to the global counter-Daesh coalition?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:36): Indeed the military aspect is just one aspect of the Australian government's approach to defeating Daesh. Defence works closely with a range of other government agencies and our international counterparts to defeat this threat and to dissuade others from joining this drastically misguided cause. As well as our military effort, the government is committed to countering Daesh's narrative through the use of social media to counter Daesh propaganda, to tackling Daesh's financial and economic infrastructure to impede the funding of Daesh-inspired operations and to discouraging and preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters joining Daesh's ranks. We are working very closely with the military and with law enforcement agencies across our region to prevent the spread of Daesh into South-East Asia. This is an absolute imperative for the Australian government. The government also recognises the magnitude of the humanitarian challenge and remains committed to providing much-needed humanitarian support to Syria and its neighbours. We are absolutely committed to defeating this abhorrent terrorist organisation across all lines of government effort. (Time expired)