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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6588

Mr BEVIS (2:32 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on Australia’s commitments in Afghanistan?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for his question. Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan is, of course, displayed not just by our military commitment but also by our civilian commitment and our civilian contribution. This reflects our view that the effort in Afghanistan will not be successful by military action or security enforcement alone but by civilian reconstruction and reconciliation as well—a political strategy.

Yesterday the Minister for Defence and I welcomed the new command structures in Oruzgan Province announced by the International Security Assistance Force. The Minister for Defence yesterday and today detailed the military arrangements. I do not propose to retail those for the House, but it is important to have a very clear understanding of our civilian contribution. Australia will play a significant role as far as capacity building, reconstruction and the civilian contribution in Oruzgan Province are concerned. A senior Australian official will be the lead administrator of the provincial reconstruction team, effectively coordinating the civilian reconstruction effort. This follows on from a commitment that the government made in April of this year to substantially enhance our civilian and diplomatic presence not just in Oruzgan Province but in Afghanistan generally. By the end of September we will see that complement increased from 30 to 50, with increases not just from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the diplomatic front but also from our development assistance agency, AusAID, and from the Australian Federal Police. That is a substantial contribution which we continue to make. This sees in Oruzgan Province a continuation of the building of roads, the building of schools and a significant capacity-building effort.

The necessity for these changed arrangements has of course come as a result of the Dutch decision to withdraw from Oruzgan Province. I make the point to all members of the House that we very much compliment the Dutch on their efforts. We have worked very closely with them in Oruzgan Province in respect of both military matters and civilian reconstruction matters. I have had many conversations with my Dutch counterpart, Foreign Minister Verhagen, up to the recent Dutch election, and we welcome very much the prospect and the hope that the Dutch will continue to make some civilian and military contribution in Oruzgan Province.

We know that Afghanistan is difficult and dangerous. At the beginning of question time, all members of the House rose to formally pay their respects to the three soldiers recently killed. In that context, we are of course very conscious of the security and protection of our civilians. As I have indicated publicly, Australian defence forces will continue to make judgments about the protection and safety of our civilians who operate in Oruzgan Province and in Afghanistan generally. We will continue to make those security judgments and provide force protection when they make decisions, to use the defence phrase ‘beyond the wire’.

I conclude by drawing the House’s attention to the changed arrangements which have recently been made—indeed, made overnight—to the personnel command as far as the International Security Assistance Force is concerned and the appointment of General Petraeus. We welcome General Petraeus’s appointment. We have worked well with him in the past. We know him well. Indeed, the Minister for Defence recently presented him with an Order of Australia in the United States for the contribution he had made in the Iraq effort in cooperation with Australian forces. We worked very closely with General McChrystal.

I finish on this point. We very much support the Obama strategy, which was developed as a result of the Riedel review and as a result of General McChrystal’s review, in which General Petraeus also took part. The basis and substance of that strategy is that we can only be successful in staring down international terrorism in Afghanistan if we make our efforts not just on the military side but also on the political, reconstruction, capacity-building, reconciliation and political rapprochement side. We look forward to working closely with General Petraeus as he assumes his leadership of the ISAF military forces.