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Address to the Recognition Ceremony in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan

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28 October 2013



Minister, Governor, Ambassador, Generals, warriors, peacemakers, ladies and gentlemen. Australia’s longest war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat, but with we hope an Afghanistan that’s better for our presence here.

For a year in 2001, and again since 2005, Australian soldiers have been in Afghanistan. Since 2005 a special operations task group, and subsequently a reconstruction taskforce have been deployed here in Uruzgan in support of the Provincial Reconstruction Team. Some 20,000 Australian men and women of our armed forces have served here in Afghanistan. Forty have died, 260 have been wounded, many more carry mental scars that may never heal. We salute their service. We mourn their losses and we honour their achievement. All Australians do, as this the first ever bipartisan visit to Afghanistan shows, and I thank the Australian Leader of the Opposition for his presence here today.

Thanks to Australia’s presence here and that of our American, Dutch, Singaporean and Slovakian allies, there are now 26 girls’ schools out of 200 schools in Uruzgan - that’s a twentyfold increase since 2001. Up to 80 per cent of expectant mothers receive at least some prenatal care, care that was almost non-existent a decade ago and 200 kilometres of roads and bridges have been upgraded.

This is still a poor and a difficult province - even by Afghan standards - but it is richer and better governed than it was thanks to Australia and thanks to our allies. Afghanistan is a better place for our presence here. Australia is better too. The threat of global terrorism is reduced. Our reliability as an ally is confirmed and our commitment to the universal decencies of humanity that we fought for here is made obvious.

Australians have re-found a martial tradition that might have faded away with our parents and grandparents. We have discovered new heroes in Mark Donaldson, Ben Roberts-Smith, Dan Keighran and others whose names will emerge in time, more than worthy to stand with the original Anzacs and we have learnt that all the fierce and indomitable people of this beautiful but forbidding land, are worthy of respect.

Australians don’t fight wars of conquest. We fight wars of freedom. We fight for peoples’ right to live their own lives and to worship in their own way and for their duty to respect others’ right to do likewise. That fight goes on, even though our fight here in Uruzgan is ending.


Elsewhere in Afghanistan, Australians will continue to train the Afghan Army. We will continue to fund Afghan development and we hope that the education of women and the growth of a freer society will go on, not because we’re pushing it, but because Afghans have concluded that it’s what’s best for them, that it’s an element of their best selves.

Still, this is a bittersweet moment for Australia; sweet because hundreds of soldiers will be home by Christmas; bitter because not all Australian families have had their sons, fathers and partners returned; sweet because our soldiers have given a magnificent account of themselves; bitter because Afghanistan remains a dangerous place despite all that has been done.

Our armed forces and our officials have done their duty. That duty never ends, although our duty here has. Now, the future of Uruzgan is in the hands of its own people. We hope they will remember us with pride as we remember our work here with pride.

Lest We Forget.