Afghanistan – Report from Main Committee

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate about our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan. I think it is a timely debate and right that we justify our Afghanistan commitment to this parliament given that last month marked the ninth anniversary of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan and we have seen a number of changes over that period. Last week, on 11 November, Australians commemorated Remembrance Day in honour of those who have died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts. As I participated in commemorative services in my electorate of Bonner, the observation of two minutes silence-one minute for those who returned and one minute for those who did not-touched a chord for many gathered there. I believe that a third minute of silence could also be observed to acknowledge those currently serving and defending our nation in various theatres around the world.

In line with those commemorations, I would like to start by outlining my support and admiration for Australia’s Defence Force personnel. I pay tribute to those thousands of men and women who serve and have served in Australia’s Defence Force, at times in very dangerous and hostile environments. In particular, I acknowledge the 21 Australian soldiers who have lost their lives in Australia’s service in Afghanistan. I salute the ultimate sacrifice those soldiers made in defence of Australia’s national security. I also acknowledge the 152 soldiers who have been injured during Australia’s mission in Afghanistan. I honour your service to date and I know that many of you have continued or will continue to serve our great nation upon your recovery. I also support and admire the families and loved ones of our Defence Force personnel. I understand the concerns that many families of serving personnel have when their loved ones are serving overseas and I empathise with the enduring anguish of the loved ones of those soldiers who have lost their lives.

In assessing Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan over the last nine years and indeed our future commitment, it is important to remember that our mission, and the sacrifices that have been made, is in defence of Australia’s national security. Australia’s national security is articulated through the achievement of a number of objectives, the first of which is freedom from attack or the threat of attack-that is, our capacity to protect our citizens and interests at home and abroad. Our national security was put at risk when terrorists attacked the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. In that attack, 10 Australians lost their lives. Our national security was again significantly put at risk when 88 Australians were killed in the first Bali bombings. Similarly, the death of eight other Australians in subsequent terrorist attacks in London, Kuta Bali, Jimbaran Beach and Jakarta continued this sad trend.

Our troops are committed to Afghanistan because all these attacks have been proven to be linked in some way back to the freedom of action that terrorist forces enjoyed in Afghanistan. We must remove these safe havens for extreme terror groups capable of extending their influence into Australia’s region and thereby further impacting on our national interests.

However, our mission is twofold. While we must remove safe havens for terrorist groups, we must also engage with the society that has proved to be, often unwillingly, a breeding ground for terrorist groups and assist the building of a stable Afghan state through a combination of military, policy and civilian effort. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of Australia’s mission and one that I support wholeheartedly. I appreciate that progress in this strategy will be very gradual and that advances will be achieved day by day, village by village. It is a slow process, but one that we must follow through so that it will lead to the successful restoration of normality in a country where normality has been a foreign concept for the past 30 years.

I know that there are some voices advocating immediate or near-future withdrawal, but I believe that this is not in any way a viable option. It is not viable for Australia’s national interest and it is not viable for Afghanistan’s security and stability. The irony of this alternate strategy is that an incomplete mission in Afghanistan will see the resurgence of the Taliban, a repressive regime that has operated off the back of the heroin trade. It is highly corruptible and is known as one of the worst human rights violators of recent times. An incomplete mission in Afghanistan also has the potential to send the message to other terrorist organisations which cooperate with and look up to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, particularly in our South-East Asian region, that we are not serious about defeating terrorism and protecting our national security.

The coalition has never taken this commitment lightly. I support Australia’s commitment in Afghanistan and I support the work we are doing, through our alliance with the United States of America and under the auspices of the United Nations, to defeat terrorism at its source, deny terrorist organisations a training ground and support a democratically elected government to ensure that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for terrorism.

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