Mr MARLES (Corio—Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs) (12.09 pm)—
In the late nineties Andrew Knox was an industrial officer with the South Australian branch of the Australia Workers Union.
By the year 2000 he had become the senior industrial officer with that branch when he decided to take a year’s leave of absence to travel the world, to visit the United Kingdom and the US. In America he landed an office job with a construction company which had its offices in the World Trade Centre.
On 11 September 2001 Andrew expected to have lunch with Cheryl Scopazzi, the training officer of the South Australian branch of the union, who was on holidays in New York looking forward to catching up with her colleague.
Andrew Knox, on that morning, did something which all of us do in the most ordinary course of events every working morning of our lives. He got ready for work, left his apartment and went to his office.
And there he died.
He was murdered as part of the appalling September 11 attacks on the United States.
Death is painful. It is particularly painful when it happens to a person so young and in such tragic and traumatic circumstances. Obviously that pain was felt most keenly by Andrew’s family and friends. But it was also felt by the Australian Workers Union, who established a scholarship in his name at the University of South Australia, in partnership with the university and the government of South Australia, for a student pursuing studies in industrial relations. They also named their training centre and a garden at the union after Andrew.
The then National Secretary of the AWU, the now Assistant Treasurer, said: "The loss of Andrew was not only a personal blow to all of us at the AWU but on a higher level we lost a man who was destined to do great things. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Andrew than the dedication of a facility which will help workers ensure that they get a fair go at work."
In the preparation of this speech today, I was talking with my chamber neighbour the member for Makin, Tony Zappia, who also knew Andrew Knox well. As it turns out, Andrew was a member of the Makin FEC of the South Australian branch of the ALP. Tony felt Andrew’s death very keenly. I know that in his contribution to the debate he will mention Andrew, I am sure in more personal and eloquent terms than I.
There is nothing particularly special about these organisations other than that they are special communities and Australian communities. And as much as September 11 happened in New York, in Washington and in Pennsylvania, it also happened in the Australian Workers Union. It happened in Adelaide. It happened in the Makin FEC of the South Australian branch of the ALP.
On 12 October 2002 terrorists conducted a bombing in Bali.
Four residents of my hometown, Geelong, lost their lives in that terrorist attack. Bronwyn Cartwright, a nurse, hailed from Grovedale. Tragically, the three other Geelong residents who lost their lives in the Bali bombing came from a single family: Aaron Lee; his brother, Justin; and Justin’s wife, Stacey.
Aaron played footy for the South Barwon footy club, a team in the Geelong Football League which, as it happened, played off in the final of the GFL this year. Justin did his apprenticeship as a chef at the Corio Hotel. Stacey grew up doing Little Athletics at Landy Field.
In an added pang of tragedy, Stacey and Justin were expecting their first child and were having a holiday—which many here will be familiar with—thinking that this would be their last chance to escape before children bonded them to home.
Grovedale, the South Barwon footy club, the Corio Hotel, Landy Field—these are all places I have been. They are a part of my world, as they are a part of the world of everyone who lives in Geelong. They are not war zones and they are not battlefields, yet, as much as the Bali bombings happened at the Sari Club, they also happened in Grovedale, at the South Barwon footy club, at the Corio Hotel and at Landy Field.
I do not presume to know what any of these five victims of terrorist attacks thought about public policy or indeed what contribution they would have made in this debate had they had the chance. I simply make the point in mentioning their stories that terrorism attacks the innocent. Terrorism attacks civilians, noncombatants. They may have been attacked overseas but they lived their lives in Australia, and so in the process these acts of terrorism touched us all.
Both the Bali bombings and the September 11 attacks were carried out by people who were trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the home base for al-Qaeda. That is why Australia is there. That is why it is so important that Australia stays in Afghanistan until we are safely able to say that Afghanistan will never, ever again be used as a base for terrorism.
Our authority for being in Afghanistan stems from two sources.
First, the United Nations Security Council, which has moved a number of resolutions on Afghanistan over the years. The first was resolution 1386, moved in December 2001, which established the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, whose original mandate was to provide security in and around the Kabul region. Among the resolutions that renewed that mandate was resolution 1510 in October 2003, which extended that mandate to the entirety of Afghanistan.
The second source of our authority for being in Afghanistan is the ANZUS treaty, articles 4 and 5 of which were invoked by this parliament back in 2001 in support of our ally the United States.
The mission of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is: "… to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population."
We are part of an international effort in Afghanistan which consists of 80,000 US troops, 10,000 from the UK, 4½ thousand from Germany, 4,000 from France, 3,000 from Italy, 2½ thousand from Canada, 2½ thousand from Poland, 1,500 from Turkey and Spain, with other countries making a total of 47 who are participating in the mission. Our contribution is 1,500 troops.
Our task is now principally in Uruzgan province. We are there to train and mentor the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army so that it can assume responsibility for providing security within that province. We are there to build capacity within the Afghan National Police so that it can conduct civilian policing within Uruzgan province. We are there to improve the Afghanistan government’s capacity to deliver services and build an economy within the country and within Uruzgan. We are also there to disrupt insurgent operations and supply routes by utilising our Special Operations Task Group.
Our campaign is of course a military one, but it is also more than that. It is an effort which is based on development assistance as well as civilian assistance.
In the time I have left, I want to focus on the development assistance which is being provided to Afghanistan, because that country has made enormous leaps forward since 2001 as a result of the assistance provided by the international community, of which we have been a part.
Thirty-nine thousand separate community based infrastructure projects, from roads to health clinics to wells, all done through the Afghan led National Solidarity Program, are changing the face of Afghanistan. When you look at education, you see that school enrolments, which were at a million people in 2001, are now at six million today. Most importantly, in 2001, girls were not allowed to attend school; today two million girls enrolled in school.
Basic health services were available only to about 10 per cent of the population in 2001; today it is 85 per cent of the population.
Ten thousand kilometres of roads have been rehabilitated over the last nine years, employing hundreds of thousands of Afghan workers through the National Rural Access Program.
There has been nothing short of a revolution in telecommunications: in 2001, only 20,000 Afghans had access to telecommunications services; today that number is 10 million, and in the process 100,000 jobs have been created. Since 2002, we have seen their economy grow by an average of 11 per cent every year—indeed, in 2009-10 there was an increase of 22 per cent in that year alone.
We have seen two elections and, importantly, what has come from the new process is a mandated minimum requirement for women of 27 per cent of the seats in the lower house and 17 per cent of the seats in the upper house.
Free speech had been attacked by the Taliban, but now people can express their views through 400 print outlets, 150 FM radio stations and 26 TV stations.
Australia’s aid commitment in 2001-02 to Afghanistan was $26½ million; now it is $106 million and, importantly, half of that is being delivered through the Afghan government itself, in the process building important capacity within the government.
As I said, our focus has been on Uruzgan province, one of the least developed provinces within Afghanistan. For example, literacy rates today in Uruzgan province are estimated to be 10 per cent for men and zero for women—well below the national average.
In 2010-11 Australia will contribute $20 million to Uruzgan province, through our leadership role in the Provincial Reconstruction Team. We are seeing great achievements, such as basic health and hygiene education being provided to nearly 1,800 primary school kids, 34 per cent of whom are girls. We are seeing community de-mining projects and, with them, mine-risk education projects. We are seeing improved food security, including, for example, a program for take-home rations for girl students at school. We are helping the central Afghanistan government deliver its programs in a way that they reach Uruzgan province.
All this is changing the realities of people’s lives in Afghanistan. None of this could be done without the security that is being provided by the Australian and international force commitment in Afghanistan. All of it involves meeting our original mission in Afghanistan.
There are those who argue against our involvement in Afghanistan, saying that our being there incites extremism, that perhaps we are doing nothing more than moving terrorists elsewhere and that maybe, at the end of the day, this is a lost cause.
It is valid to raise concerns, and from those concerns come very important questions. But I believe there are answers to those questions—for, as we stand here in 2010, the fact is that there are fewer terrorism events now than there were in the early part of the last decade. We do live in a safer world. While Afghanistan is far from being the totality of the international effort to deal with terrorism around the globe, denying al-Qaeda what was its home base is a very important component of that effort. And of course, as I said, there has been real progress in Afghanistan itself.
Questions have been raised, indeed they were raised in the media just yesterday, about the Afghan government itself. It is true: that government is not perfect. But it is also true that transparent democracies do not happen overnight. They evolve over years and decades. What is important right now is that significant steps are being taken down the right road by the Afghanistan government.
The cost to the world and to our country has been great: 2,000 coalition force deaths along with many others belonging to the Afghan National Army itself who have died. There are 21 Australians in that number, and 156 Australians have been injured. In this debate, our thoughts are primarily with them and their great sacrifice. Those 21 are forever cherished and remembered Australians. This debate honours them, as it does the more than 100 Australian lives that have been lost to terrorism, including Andrew Knox, Bronwyn Cartwright, Stacey and Justin Lee and Aaron Lee.
What is needed now is for those doing the dangerous, the courageous and the wonderful work in Afghanistan to be able to do that work with the support of their country men and women. I think this debate makes clear that they most definitely have the full support of the Australian government and they have the overwhelming support of this parliament.
And while there may be some confusion in the Australian public about our role in Afghanistan—and I sincerely hope that this debate goes a long way to clarifying that—when it comes to the soldiers themselves, the aid workers themselves and the civilians performing work on the ground in Afghanistan themselves, I have absolutely no doubt they have the full and unqualified support of the Australian people.
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