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The True Cost of the War in Afghanistan

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 23 Aug 2011


Senator Scott Ludlam's speech on the true cost of the war in Afghanistan, following the inadequate response to his question to the government about the personal  and financial cost to Austrailan defence personel who serve there.


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (15:33): I move:
That the Senate take note of the answers given by Senator Evans to questions without notice asked by Senator Ludlam relating to Afghanistan.
I would like to create a short break in this fairly dismal spectacle, if I may, to address the questions that I put to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence about some very good investigative work that has been done by the West Australian newspaper, by one particular journalist who established the true human cost of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind, of course, that I am referring only to those Australians who are killed or injured in the war. We have only the vaguest ideas of the enormous and indeed catastrophic human cost of the war in Afghanistan on the Afghan people.

It surprised me, and I think it should be quite chilling for all members of this chamber, to realise that we have only a very poor idea of the cost of the war to Australian service personnel. The government's publicly stated figure of personnel wounded in Afghanistan stands at about 184, but the true number of personnel whose compensation claims have been paid out and who are acknowledged to have been wounded and are, as Senator Evans correctly pointed out, in the category of injured is more than five times greater. The cost to Australian men and women who have been sent into this war zone is more than five times greater than the Australian public realises. This is something that we need to sit up and take notice of.

This is not about an anti-war stance a pro-war stance. I recognise that, although I may be with the majority of public opinion in wanting to return the troops home, I am as yet in a minority in this chamber on getting Australian troops out of Afghanistan. This is not about that. This is about doing justice to the people that we put in harm's way, it is about acknowledging again that parliament does not have that power, because the executive has reserved that to itself, and it is about at least having the honesty to face up to the people who are damaged and whose lives are broken. We are still paying out on war pensions from World War I-from nearly a century ago. That is how long these impacts last and how long they impact on people and families. Many of the people who come home from Afghanistan are forgotten. They deserve better. They deserve acknowledgement by this chamber and by the people of Australia and they deserve not to have their claims fall on the definition of whether they were diagnosed with an injury at the time or whether it was diagnosed on their return to Australia, particularly if the number is more than five times greater than we were aware of.

I appreciate that the minister has accepted and undertaken to review the way that we report on wounding and injury statistics in Afghanistan. That should happen as soon as possible, so that it does not have to fall to journalists submitting freedom of information requests for this information to come to light.

The other issue that I put to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence was that of reporting gender disaggregated data, so that we know when it is women who are killed or injured. We have discovered that we do not know, because at the moment that is not reported. I raise something that the minister and the chamber might not have been aware of. In 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. That resolution has direct relevance to the question I put to the minister this afternoon. Resolution 1325 was a watershed political framework that makes women and a gender perspective relevant to negotiating peace agreements, planning refugee camps and peacekeeping operations and reconstructing war-torn societies. It is about the impact of war on women. It makes the pursuit of gender equality relevant to every single Security Council action, ranging from mine clearance to elections, to security sector reform. Australia participated in the debate prior to the adoption of the resolution. Just this week the government made an announcement of its intention to generate a national action plan, as over 20 countries have already done. It is very welcome indeed. But what the government will find is that it will need to start providing gender disaggregated data.

I asked the minister today why the government does not disclose the number or gender of wounded and injured personnel in Afghanistan. It must begin to do so. The Security Council resolution noted the need to consolidate data on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, and that is the key sentence that links the preamble of that document with the operative paragraphs. The entire document hinges on having gender disaggregated data so that we can understand the impact. The whole resolution is couched in terms of there not being enough information available to the international community on the different impacts of conflict on women and men or on the different contributions that women and men play in peace building and in warfare.

That is why the government must alter its information recording and disclosure habits. I was pleased that Senator Evans indicated that the government would at least consider the disaggregation of data by gender this afternoon. Gender disaggregated data makes the different experiences of men and women more visible and it makes it possible to continually review gaps and challenges in order to eliminate gender biases in national policies and interventions. If we are to come to grips with the horror that has been unleashed in Afghanistan in all of our names, even though the parliament was not able to take a vote on that matter, at least let us know what is occurring. (Time expired)

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