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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 135

Senator LIGHTFOOT (6:51 PM) —In my adjournment speech tonight I wish to outline just a little of Australia's contribution to rebuilding Iraq. In doing so, I would like to read from an email forwarded to me by the Western Australian President of the Australian-American Friendship Group in Western Australia. The email is from a Mr Ray Reynolds, who is apparently a medic in the Iowa Army National Guard currently serving in Iraq, and Mr Reynolds appears to be feeling somewhat jaded and disenfranchised as he writes:

As I head off to Baghdad for the final weeks of my stay in Iraq, I wanted to say thanks to all of you who did not believe the media. They—

that is, the media—

have done a very poor job of covering everything that has happened. I am sorry that I have not been able to visit all of you during my two week leave back home. And just so you can rest at night knowing something is happening in Iraq that is noteworthy, I thought I would pass this on to you. This is the list of things that has happened in Iraq recently: (Please share it with your friends and compare it to the version that your paper is producing.)

Over 400,000 kids have up-to-date immunizations.

School attendance is up 80% from levels before the war.

Over 1,500 schools have been renovated and rid of the weapons stored there so education can occur.

The port of Umm Qasr was renovated so grain can be offloaded from ships faster.

The country had its first 2 billion barrel export of oil in August.

Over 4.5 million people have clean drinking water for the first time ever in Iraq.

The country now receives 2 times the electrical power it did before the war.

100% of the hospitals are open and fully staffed, compared to 35% before the war.

Elections are taking place in every major city, and city councils are in place.

Sewer and water lines are installed in every major city.

Over 60,000 police are patrolling the streets.

Over 100,000 Iraqi civil defence police are securing the country.

Over 80,000 Iraqi soldiers are patrolling the streets side by side with US soldiers.

Over 400,000 people have telephones for the first time ever.

Students are taught field sanitation and hand washing techniques to prevent the spread of germs.

An interim constitution has been signed.

Girls are allowed to attend school.

Textbooks that don't mention Saddam are in the schools for the first time in 30 years.

Don't believe for one second that these people do not want us there. I have met many, many people from Iraq that want us there, and in a bad way. They say they will never see the freedoms we talk about but they hope their children will. We are doing a good job in Iraq and I challenge anyone, anywhere to dispute me on these facts. If you are like me and very disgusted with how this period of rebuilding has been portrayed, email this to a friend and let them know there are good things happening.

It is signed:

Ray Reynolds, SFC Iowa Army National Guard

234th Signal Battalion

Being a somewhat ageing politician, I am not going to stand here and swear that somewhere in Iraq is a Ray Reynolds, completing the last few weeks of his tour of duty with the Iowa Army National Guard. Maybe there is, maybe not—that is what I thought. But I will stand here and say that I forwarded the letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia and asked for validation of Mr Reynolds's claims and was assured of the genuineness of the claims in that email.

The department was also kind enough to supply me with some further data regarding Australia's specific contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq:

Australia has committed $126m to Iraq's rehabilitation and reconstruction:

We have deployed over 30 technical experts to assist in reestablishment of Government services and return of a sovereign Iraq Government since March 2003

committed $45m to reconstruction priorities, with a particular focus on rehabilitation of agriculture sector and food security

directed assistance to improve water/sanitation, food supply/distribution, donor coordination, economic management, legal, oil and defence policy, capacity training for police and officials from the Trade, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture ministries and war crimes investigations

we have allocated $25m to UN and World Bank trust funds (including approx. $5m for elections assistance)

I am here to tell you, Mr Deputy President, at first hand that the coalition's intervention in Iraq has had positive outcomes for which the people of Iraq are very grateful. The data goes on:

the Coalition of the Willing has put an end to Saddam's continuing defiance of the UN Security Council's demands that Iraq verifiably terminate its illegal WMD and long-range missile programs

the Coalition of the Willing has ended Saddam's sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East, and

the Coalition of the Willing has ended Saddam's reign of terror and has given Iraqis the hope of a democratic future

I feel very comfortable standing here telling you of these things, Mr Deputy President, because I have been to Iraq and I have personally witnessed these outcomes and the result of the outcomes. I have witnessed the girls all over Iraq going back to school. I have seen some of the rebuilding of the 2,500 schools that are now teaching over six million children. I have visited Sulaimaniya University, where the staff rejoice at their new found freedom to impart knowledge, as they always intended to do, free now from the constraints of life under the evil and prolonged dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. And as a result of the involvement of the coalition of the willing and the contribution of the Australian government, all the universities in Iraq are open for business.

With respect to human rights and the judiciary, I was able to see how Iraqis enjoy unprecedented freedoms of expression, movement, assembly and religion. Iraqi women now have rights, and minorities are protected. An independent judiciary and human rights ministry has been established, and 260 mass graves have been identified.

With respect to health, education and employment, young Ray Reynolds, the medic in the Iowa Army National Guard, is correct—a vaccination campaign recently completed reached over 90 per cent of all Iraqi children. And he is correct about the role of the coalition in assisting Iraq on its path to democracy and political transition. In August, an interim national council was elected to oversee the work of the Iraqi interim government. Preparations, with the support of the UN, are currently under way for the elections in just a few weeks time, and more than 600 core personnel are now employed by the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq. Iraqis are registering to vote in all of the 85 per cent of voter registration centres that are now open.

It was my great pleasure earlier this week to welcome the newly appointed Iraqi Ambassador to Australia, Mr Ghanim al-Shibli, to the inaugural meeting of an informal Australian-Iraqi parliamentary friendship group. Nearly 50 colleagues have expressed interest in this group, which is expected to be formally recognised following the establishment of the new Iraqi parliament as a consequence of January's elections.

Young Ray Reynolds is right: the real story of what is happening in Iraq—the advances that are being made, the freedoms that have been restored, the evil that has been ousted—is not being told at home. There is too much of a focus on the outrages that are still being committed. Yes, `still' being committed, not being committed because of the coalition's presence in Iraq, because outrages such as we have recently seen went on for years under Saddam Hussein and a few have continued to be perpetrated by Saddam's outlaw remnant forces. It is these outrages that have drawn the attention of the media, not the fact that the kids are going to school and whole townships now have electricity, potable water and basic sewerage; not the fact that there are no freshly dug mass graves and that every day represents another step along the path to a free and democratic Iraq. None of that appears to be newsworthy.

What Australia and Australian personnel are doing in Iraq and for Iraq is a reason for great pride. Wherever you are, Mr Ray Reynolds, may I wish you a merry Christmas. Keep up the good work. I and many of my fellow Australians are aware of, grateful for and respectful of your contribution and that of your nation to a better Iraq and thus a better world. May I take this opportunity to send that Christmas message to our own troops and service personnel who are serving in Iraq and other parts of the world. It is a better world because our troops are doing just that.