TRANSCRIPT: RESPONSE TO QUESTION WITHOUT NOTICE IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 23 May 2012
DARYL MELHAM, MEMBER FOR BANKS: My Question is to the Minister for Defence. What are the implications for Australia’s commitment in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan, as a result of the outcomes of NATO/ISAF Leaders Summit held in Chicago?
STEPHEN SMITH, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: I thank you Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank the Member for Banks for his question. And over the weekend and on Monday, I accompanied the Prime Minister at the NATO International Security Assistance Force Summit in Chicago.
In the course of those two days, I’ve had the opportunity of exchanging views with a number of my counter parts including the Secretary of Defence for the United States, Leon Panetta, my United Kingdom colleague Philip Hammond, my Canadian colleague Peter MacKay, our New Zealand colleagues the Foreign Minister Murray McCully who was representing John Key and the Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman and of course Defence Minister Wardak of Afghanistan.
Madam Deputy Speaker, as the Prime Minister indicated, the agreement reached in Chicago on the future of Afghanistan and transition is very important, and as the Prime Minister has said we are on track for transition by the end of 2014.
The agreement over the weekend also means that by the middle of next year, by the middle of 2013, the so-called Lisbon milestone will be met and all of Afghanistan would have started or commenced transition.
The Member for Banks asked me what implications this has for Uruzgan. Of course, Members might be aware that shortly before the Chicago Summit, President Karzai announced the third tranche of transition of provinces and districts in Afghanistan, and Uruzgan province as a whole was included in that tranche.
The transition in Uruzgan we expect to occur over a 12 to 18 month period, with the transition process to commence in the next couple of months. Australian forces, our Mentoring Task Force, are making steady and good process in training and mentoring the 4th Battalion of the Afghan National Army. And our advice continues to be that in the course of the 12 to 18 month period that the Prime Minister and I have referred to, that the Kandaks of the 4th Brigade as a whole will be able to take lead responsibility for security in Uruzgan province and be operationally viable.
Later this month Madam Deputy speaker, our Mentoring Taskforce 5 will travel to Afghanistan and takeover from Mentoring Taskforce 4. This will be the first of our Taskforce’s to be involved in or engaged in the transition process.
The Prime Minister and I in Townsville on Saturday, before departure to Chicago, had the opportunity of meeting with members of that Taskforce and being briefed by the Chief of Army and the Mentoring Taskforce 5 Commanding Officer.
The Prime Minister and I over the weekend Madam Deputy Speaker, made this important point, the conference was a very good success but Afghanistan continues to be difficult and dangerous. Difficult and dangerous for our troops deployed there, and as we commence now this current northern fighting season, I know that the thoughts of all Members of the House will be with our forces in Uruzgan and Afghanistan.