MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS: Afghanistan
I endorse the remarks of the member for Melbourne Ports. A good speech. Now is not the time to cut and run from Afghanistan. This is a long campaign and it has been a tough mission. It is a difficult time and it will continue to be so. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
Australia has paid a high price for its involvement. We lost 11 diggers in 2011, our deadliest year since 1970, when we lost 40 of our finest in the Vietnam War. Since Australia joined Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in October 2001, in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, we have lost 32 diggers: Sergeant Andrew Russell, age 33; Trooper David Pearce, 41; Sergeant Matthew Locke, 33; Private Luke Worsley, 26; Lance Corporal Jason Marks, 27; Signaller Sean McCarthy, 25; Lieutenant Michael Fussell, 25; Private Gregory Sher, 30; Corporal Mathew Hopkins, 21; Sergeant Brett Till, 31; Private Benjamin Ranaudo, 22; Sapper Jacob Moerland, 21; Sapper Darren Smith, 25; Private Scott Palmer, 27; Private Timothy Aplin, 38; Private Benjamin Chuck, 27; Private Nathan Bewes, 23; Trooper Jason Brown, 29; Private Tomas Dale, 21; Private Grant Kirby, 35; Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney, 28; Corporal Richard Atkinson, 22; Sapper Jamie Larcombe, 21; Sergeant Brett Wood, 32; Lance Corporal Andrew Jones, 25; Lieutenant Marcus Case, 27; Sapper Rowan Robinson, 23; Sergeant Todd Langley, 35; Private Matthew Lambert, 26; Captain Bryce Duffy, 26; Corporal Ashley Birt, 22; and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, 27—an honour roll of heroes.
Young lives taken from their family and friends, taken from their colleagues, who have been left to carry on the courageous work.
The 32 killed in action or by rogue Afghans, the very people they were serving to protect and to mentor, were the best of the best, the bravest of the brave. We can ill afford to lose any soldiers. They are not mere numbers for making up a battalion. They are flesh and blood, just like us. They have hopes and dreams, aspirations to start a family or return safely home to their loving partners and children. The 32 who came home, sadly, to be laid to rest fully knew the dangers of their work when they embarked upon their gallant tours of duty.
They were made aware of the deadly nature of their occupation when they enlisted.
Military training is hard, thorough, disciplined. The officers at Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka near Wagga Wagga do a splendid job with raw, would-be privates. They turn them into real soldiers—fighters, combat ready, regimented, as good as any in the world. These are the men and women who will serve on the front line to take the ultimate risk if and when asked by their country. These are the men and women who go willingly and unflinchingly to places and operations of obvious danger. They do so for their country, their comrades and the pursuit of peace. They do so very much with the Anzac spirit burning in their hearts, for they know what is at stake: the fact that they place their own lives on the line but also the fact that a greater good can be achieved.
As the opposition leader grimly reminded us yesterday, we have lost 108 Australian citizens in terrorist attacks in New York, Bali and elsewhere—murderous, unlawful acts which can be linked to the indoctrination, resourcing and training at terrorist bases within Afghanistan. We must stay the course in Afghanistan as a mark of respect for those 108 Australian civilians and to prevent further lives being unnecessarily taken, to be true to the sacrifice made by our fallen soldiers and also by the 213 Australian troops wounded in the decade we have been there. To walk away now would be simply to signal to the Taliban that its perseverance has paid off.
As the opposition leader told parliament yesterday in response to the Prime Minister's statement on Afghanistan:
The best exit strategy is to win.
The Leader of the Opposition visited the Australian headquarters at Tarin Kowt just last week to reassure our hardy troops that their work is supported, that the progress they have made is appreciated and that their valour is honoured always. The opposition leader said:
... I am naturally disposed to want to see the Australian armed forces usefully deployed in places where they can make a difference.
Certainly we are making a difference with our 1,550 representatives as part of the 120,000-strong coalition force on the ground. He told our soldiers:
... the important thing is that we do not put you in harm’s way without a good purpose and a reasonable chance of success.
Now, obviously, deploying our military to difficult parts of the world in concert with our major allies is a form of being effective of itself. If we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those who matter in the world that is in and of itself a good thing. But we don’t want to be here just because our allies are here. We want to be here because we are doing good work on the ground: that the Afghan soldiers that we are mentoring are becoming more effective, that the Afghan police that we are mentoring are becoming fair-minded and conscious of the ordinary rules of a civil society. We want all of that to be happening because if that’s not happening we’re exposing you to deadly peril without necessarily getting the return that we would like.
The Liberal-National coalition cares deeply about Afghanistan, just as I know the government, too, has a heavy heart about having Australians far from home fighting in a war which is like no other, which has already lasted a decade and for which we have already paid a heavy price. But, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, 'There can be no safe haven for terrorists, no opportunity for al-Qaeda to establish training camps from which to generate jihadist atrocities against innocent people', and her words were supported by the opposition leader.
Mercifully, thankfully, much progress has been made since 2001. We can be proud that we as a nation, and our military personnel, have contributed mightily to that progress.
According to AusAID, Australia's development assistance program at the national level has achieved the following: support, through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, for the delivery of major national health, educational and rural development programs which have increased school enrolments from around 1 million children in 2001 to more than 7 million today, including 2½ million girls; increased access to basic healthcare services from less than 10 per cent of the population under the Taliban to around 85 per cent today; support of the delivery of more than 45,000 community infrastructure projects in more than 25,000 communities; rehabilitation of more than 10,000 kilometres of rural roads, supporting the employment of hundreds of thousands of local workers; the building of the capacity of four key ministries—health, education, agriculture, and rural rehabilitation and development—through an integrated program of scholarships, targeted training and technical assistance; the training of 60 Afghan master teachers in Malaysia, who in turn have so far trained 168 teacher trainers in Afghanistan; the contribution to improved rural livelihoods through research in wheat and maize productivity, resulting in up to a 50 per cent increase in yields amongst targeted farmers; improvements in rural water supply and sanitation, irrigation, rural infrastructure and access to microfinance; and support for the provision of emergency food supplies and humanitarian assistance for vulnerable and displaced populations in Afghanistan.
Australia has also supported the safe return and protection of refugees and mine action programs.
In Oruzgan, Australia has supported basic health and hygiene education programs provided to 1,780 primary school students, of whom 34 per cent are girls.
Australia has trained 38 interns in areas including public financial management, computing, law and general administration to boost the capacity of the provincial government. It has provided equipment for the trade training school at Tarin Kowt and for the Tarin Kowt Hospital. National programs which AusAID supports have also delivered outcomes in Oruzgan. The achievements of these national multi donor funded programs include the Education Quality Improvement Program, which has built 30 schools, with a further 36 under construction. The basic package of health services has supported a provincial hospital, six community health centres, six basic health centres, a health subcentre and 192 health posts. The Microfinance Investment Support Facility has enabled more than 2,000 members in Oruzgan to access loans.
Significantly, the mastermind of so much terror, Osama bin Laden, was killed in a coalition strike on 2 May this year. Justice will catch up with those who perpetrate evil against free people. It has happened across the world in recent times. Australia, as should be the case, will with bipartisan support be an integral part of continued efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere to make the world a better place—more peaceful and hopefully free of random terrorist acts which have robbed so many of so much.