Debate resumed, on motion by Mr Stephen Smith:
That the House take note of the document.
Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (4.30 pm)—I stand to lend my support today to our engagement in the Afghanistan conflict. I make the point that war is a terrible thing, and that any loss of life due to the hand of war is bad and should be avoided at every possible stage. But we do not always have that luxury, and to date we have lost too many brave Australians already at this war. But as a nation we cannot stand by and watch and tolerate innocent bystanders getting caught up in the conflict which we cannot fathom: the injustices done to women, a law and order system that would bedazzle the average punter in Australia. So while I open with my comments that war is a terrible thing, it is a means to an end. Australia has always been prepared to stand with its allies in the case of a just war. This war is a just war. It is a dirty and dangerous war with many casualties, but it is just nonetheless.
It is easy to stand and criticise how long or how hard or how expensive a war may be, but that may pale into insignificance when it comes to fighting that war. I would not want that job, and I doubt whether I would even get through the training. So that is why I have nothing but admiration for our serving personnel in Afghanistan. They put their bodies on the line to serve Australia’s interest. They spend months away from their families and loved ones, they miss out on weekends off, their children’s sporting events, birthdays of their loved ones and other celebrations which we, at home, all take for granted.
The new seat of Wright, which I represent, has the Canungra Land Warfare Training Centre which, since my election, I have had the opportunity to visit on several occasions. There I have met the brave men and women who train to defend our nation from any threat posed to our nation. And I have had the privilege to meet the brave soldiers and their families who have served our nation in a number of conflicts around the world: the Middle East, Kuwait and Iraq just to mention a few. It is their efforts that have allowed us the freedoms which we enjoy today as an open society, and I take this opportunity to thank them personally for their contribution to the Commonwealth of Australia. And just as importantly I thank their families, for it is they who make the hidden sacrifices that I mentioned earlier—to miss out on the birth of a child or the first day of school or to miss out on a funeral of a relative, a grandparent or an old mate. It is a sacrifice I would not like to make, but our troops and families make these sacrifices every day.
It was while on site at the Canungra warfare training centre that I experienced first-hand the commitment that goes into preparing our young men and women. They transfer skills and knowledge to recruits and experienced soldiers alike. When I inquired of a senior personnel manager up there about their role in preparing our troops, I felt an overwhelming sense of understanding when I was told by a high-ranking officer that it was his job to look each parent in the eye and give them a guarantee that their son or daughter had been given the best possible training to prepare them for any situation that they may encounter in different environments around the world.
It was also while I was on site that I asked about the spirit of our soldiers and whether or not there was any reluctance on the part of our troops to go to war or deployment. His response was convincing: our soldiers train with the knowledge that they know they want to protect their mates. He said to me: ‘You look like you’ve played football all your life. Well this is like football. There’s many grades: there’s your junior grades, there’s your Commonwealth cup, there’s the under 19 reserve grade and then there’s A-grade, Every one of my boys here wants to play A-grade.’ I add that the art of conflict and war is no football match. Bravery is sometimes matched by the ultimate sacrifice, and standing behind all of them are the families of the troops waiting at home: praying desperately, hoping for the day that they will welcome their sons, daughters, fathers or mates back home safe and well.
These are part of the war efforts which we could all overlook, but it is going to be something that I will be constantly reminded of. As I said before, I have many service families in my electorate as well as the Canungra Land Warfare Centre and, just to the north of my boundary, RAAF Base Amberley. A number of my constituents are former or current serving Air Force personnel. I handle a steady stream of inquiries about pensions and entitlements, and we need to recognise the lessons of past conflicts.
The Australian people and the Australian government send our personnel overseas to perform dangerous tasks, to risk the lives of many and in some cases to risk the chance of a long and peaceful retirement with their families. The scars of combat and conflict are sometimes more than skin-deep. The trauma of battle can scar the mind and invade the homes of our returned troops. We train our troops to survive the mayhem of battle and the challenge of long periods of boredom and estrangement from families. So I remind this parliament that we need to accept our duty to ensure that our returned troops are given all the support that they need to survive peace as well. That peace should also extend to the needs of the families. It is they who provide the cradle of care and who nourish and protect our returned warriors. They nurse their hidden wounds and give them hope for tomorrow.
Winning the peace within the families of returned service personnel is not an easy job. When I talk to my constituents who carry this burden I hear their stories and realise that this work is every bit as difficult as the military duties which others were trained and paid for. Many family members find themselves in the position of counsellor, mentor, conciliator and adviser, and most of them have had no training to perform these delicate tasks. The hidden damage is difficult to assess because these proud warriors are loath to ever admit their weakness. I will declare my intention to this House. While I am in this place and while my job is to represent returned and serving constituents, I will be uncompromising in my representation. I will pursue every issue that these men and women bring to me. Some of this is everyday stuff of pensioners’ entitlements and battles fought and often lost with Centrelink, Veterans’Affairs and some other government agencies. There are many instances where, on the face of it, is sues appear to be relatively minor. But, when I see the paperwork and the approach taken, I see all the training and discipline which the old digger, sailor or Air Force man has now put to good use in prosecuting his case and representing himself.
These are not easy tasks, because the needs of these people are not exorbitant when compared to the sacrifices they make. I will feel that I have not honoured their commitment to the nation. I cannot give them the answers to their inquiries or solutions to their problems. I want them to return to their families, their homes and their communities in my electorate to contribute where they can, as a civilian, as they served in their military life.
I would like to tell a personal story about my engagement with the US Marines. Before my time in this place I had a transport business and one of our divisions had a security detail associated with it. We were commissioned by the United States government to take a shipment of semi-automatic weapons from Shoalwater Bay to Gladstone and we were asked to pick up a platoon of US Marines. Our instructions were very brief. We were asked to wait at an isolated beach and the marines would appear. On time, at dusk, 30 marines came out of the ocean fully armoured in full camouflage gear. We had the opportunity of speaking with them while transporting them for up to two hours to their next location, and we asked them about their activities in the engagement that they were in and about the integrity of our Australian forces. They were very forthcoming in saying that, in any engagement that the US Marines engaged in anywhere in the world, they always felt an element of safety, support and professionalism when they were serving with the Australian forces. They said, ‘If we’re going to go into a contact situation, we’d prefer to have the Australian special forces with us.’
The war can only be won by the Afghan people themselves. Our duty is to assist them to assist themselves. We train our troops for and entrust them with this cause because it is a just cause. But we should never be prepared to write a blank cheque for their efforts; the cost is, above all else, the risk faced by our troops. If we cannot give them our full support then we should not send them there. If we are not prepared to support their families at home then we should not ask their families to send them in the first place.
I fully support our engagement. I have extracted a comment about our engagement in the war that I would like to include in my speech. It goes to the heart of the International Security Assistance Force, of which we are part. It reads:
At its heart, the International Security Assistance Force’s intent is to defeat Islamic terrorism at its source, deny Islamic terrorist organisations a training ground, support a democratically elected government to ensure that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for Islamic terrorism, and train and mentor the Afghan military, police and forces so that they can take command of their own security.
In summary, I would like to thank our Australian soldiers for their commitment and dedication, and their families—who go without and make sacrifices—for giving them the background support they need and nourishing them when they return to our shores. I would remind the nation to embrace our soldiers when they return and to learn from our mistakes in the past: when soldiers have returned from other conflicts, they may not have been received as warmly as they could have been. I would also add that our work in Afghanistan is sanctioned by the United Nations, and that we are proud to play our part and work with the allied forces. I do not have any stories of uncles or grandfathers who have been in conflicts or brothers who are now in conflicts. The story I have is of being a first-generation person living under the blanket of the freedom that previous troops have provided for this country. I am proud of that and proud of the work our troops do for us.