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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 9174

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (17:56): With the remaining four minutes, Mr Acting Deputy President, I just want to ask some questions—a bit of homework for you, me and everyone else in this chamber for the weekend and, I think, for some years to come. There is no doubt there is a very big divergence of opinion in how we answer these questions. The first question that I have is: is it actually possible to destroy ISIS and other violent extremist groups in the Middle East? We have been at it for a while now. When I asked Defence this at estimates, they said they were going to stick at it for as long as it takes. I heard the previous government say the same thing. We are doubting whether our current strategy is working, because we are having a debate about putting boots on the ground and significantly increasing our ground forces. It was even raised in Paris last week with Prime Minister Turnbull and Barack Obama. The answer that Obama gave was that that is not a suitable option, because it is hard to beat an ideology.

The next question is: if we do destroy ISIS and other violent extremist groups—and we all want that; I think everyone in this chamber agrees we would like to see an end to them—what takes their place? If we were to get to that point, what cost are we prepared to pay? I noticed Senator Reynolds said that we needed to do whatever it took to destroy ISIS and other violent extremism, but she was not prepared to say to the chamber at what cost she was prepared to see that happen. How many lives would be lost if we did put boots on the ground? How long would it take? How much money would be expended and how long would we have to occupy these countries to keep a lid on violent extremism, in an area we know this has existed, for religious and sectarian reasons, for hundreds if not thousands of years?

The other question is: will it make matters worse? Will it make matters worse if we go in in a much bigger way or we continue to attempt to bomb our way to peace under a philosophy of peace through superior firepower—which I point out has not worked to date? Lastly, are we giving violent extremists exactly what they want? They want a global jihad. They want more violence. All the evidence to date shows that the types of awful, horrible, horrific acts that we have seen—such as in Paris, in Bali, in Beirut recently and all around the world—are occurring because these groups are able to recruit, and often the basis of that recruitment is a dissatisfaction with the West and our foreign policy in these countries, especially over the last 20 years.

These are big questions that we have not been able to come up with answers for and we have not got the policies in place for, but we do need to continue the debate. The only thing that I am really happy about, that helps me sleep at night, is that at least in this country we are now having a debate and there is a frame out there, thanks to the leadership of the Greens and a Prime Minister who has more sensible and progressive views. We are at least talking about how we might have a geopolitical solution as well as a military solution, if one even exists, to this incredibly complex and horrifying issue that we face in the Middle East. We will continue to talk about that.

The PRESIDENT: The time for this debate has now expired.