Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7192

Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:25): In respect of the first document, I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I wish to speak in response to the statement by the Minister for Defence in the other place concerning Australian Defence Force operations. I thank the minister for his update on the important work our defence forces are doing around the world to protect our country, people and national interests.

As the minister states, the barbaric movement known as Daesh continues to conduct and inspire atrocities and terrorist attacks. The world stands in condemnation of Daesh. Labor has provided strong bipartisan support for Australia's contribution to the effort to combat Daesh in Iraq—known as Operation OKRA—and we recently supported the extension of activities under Operation OKRA into Syrian airspace.

Labor did not make this decision lightly. We sought and received assurances—from independent experts and the government—about the legal basis for such action. We received assurances that combat search and rescue arrangements are in place should an Australian aircraft be downed. And we received assurances that our stringent 'red card' system remains in effect to minimise, as far as possible, the potential for civilian casualties—an assurance I personally sought from the Chief of the Defence Force during a briefing last week. I wish to thank the minister for arranging that briefing.

I ask that the minister make a better effort to keep the Opposition informed about Australian Defence Force operations. It was extremely disappointing to learn that the government was considering air strikes in Syria via an opinion piece by a backbencher. Labor offers its bipartisan support because we believe our efforts in Iraq are in Australia's national interest—but we ask that this not be taken for granted. Labor believes that the government should also give the parliament an opportunity to discuss our evolving commitment in Iraq. I again urge the government to show the parliament the courtesy of a full discussion—as occurred with Australia's previous commitments in Iraq in 1991 and 2003.

I note the minister's update on Australia's commitment in Afghanistan. As the minister states, this commitment has involved significant sacrifice, including the lives of 41 Australian personnel with over 260 personnel physically wounded. Labor joins with the government in mourning those who gave everything, in recognising the sorrow felt by their families and in acknowledging the struggles our sick and wounded face on a daily basis. I ask that the minister keeps Labor informed as the government works towards a decision on this commitment beyond 2016.

Much attention is paid to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan— and rightly so. But I would also like to recognise the many Australian personnel serving on other operations—including in such places as Sudan, Egypt, the Indian Ocean, the South Pacific and our maritime approaches. Labor expresses its appreciation for the dedication and professionalism of our serving men and women on these operations.

I again thank the minister for his statement. Labor firmly believes it is of the upmost importance that the Australian parliament and the Australian people be regularly informed about these important matters. This is why the former Labor government provided such ministerial statements on a quarterly basis. I strongly encourage the government to do likewise and to be more forthright in outlining the rationale, objectives and progress of Australia's operational commitments.