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Nelson confirms Australia's open ended and open chequebook approach to Iraq.

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Robert McClelland MP Shadow Minister for Defence Federal Member for Barton

7 March 2006


While Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is to be commended for visiting Australian troops in Iraq so early in his administration, his announcement that Australia has an open ended commitment in Iraq is most concerning.

The bottom line is that nobody within the Howard Government has thus far explained to both the Australian people and our troops in Southern Iraq what our precise mission is, what the benchmarks are for successfully achieving that mission, and an estimate as to how long it will take.

The confusing and nebulous nature of the purpose of our mission is evidenced by ever changing language adopted by the Government.

Dr Nelson has now described the role of the Al Muthanna Task Group as moving to “security overwatch” without stating what this actually means in terms of specific area of responsibility, troop numbers, resources required or the broader military planning of our allies.

Most significantly Dr Nelson has failed to provide a national security assessment of how our open ended approach in Iraq addresses Australia’s national security priorities when there is so much to be done to fight the menace of terrorism in our own region.

Our serving men and women in Al Muthanna look to be contributing to some worthwhile humanitarian work under difficult conditions and deserve every bit of recognition afforded them.

However Dr Nelson’s trip looks to have been a clear case of weak diplomacy. This was a rare chance to confirm the warning of the American ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalizad, who last month told the Iraqi Government that the time has come for them to get their house in order so that Iraq can assume control of its own security and national destiny.

Threatening to cut US aid to Iraq Mr Khalizad said prior to the bombing: “American taxpayers expect their money spent properly… we are not going to

invest the resources of the American people into forces run by people who are sectarian”.

Australian mums and dads who have already footed a $1.23 billion bill on the Iraq conflict expect no less frankness from their own government.

Australians should not be required to fund sectarian bedlam. But the Government’s open ended and open chequebook approach leaves us susceptible to doing just that.

Further information:

Tom Cameron 0417 147 932