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Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
And can I acknowledge the fine words of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister.
And can I acknowledge the members for Canning, Herbert and Solomon, all of whom have provided service in Afghanistan.
After the September 11 attacks on the United States, Australia’s participation in Afghanistan was an active duty to the Alliance.
But it was always so much more than that.
On that day, almost 20 years ago, ten Australians lost their life.
In the following year, on the 12th of October, another 88 Australians perished in the terrorist attack in Bali, perpetrated by a number of people who had received their training in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
For us it was always personal.
And the objective was always to try and deny Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism.
I’d like to believe that the achievement of that objective will endure.
But the international community sought to do more.
Through our Defence Force, through our development assistance, our aid, we sought to help Afghans recover from them being subjected to one of the worst regimes of the latter part of the 20th century.
In the nineties, the Taliban’s treatment of women was simply the worst in the world.
Women were unable to be in public other than in the presence of a man, girls were forced into marriage, at ages as young as 12, teenage women were prevented from having an education.
Against that backdrop, the achievements of the last 20 years have been amazing.
From almost nothing, by 2017, almost 40 per cent of eligible girls in Afghanistan were in secondary school, three and a half million girls studying, 100,000 of them going on to university.
The maternal mortality rate fell by 64 per cent.
The average life expectancy for Afghan women increased by a full ten years.
And that is just the start.
Because education is so powerful.
Those women are still there.
And whoever is running Afghanistan in the future, I am certain that those women will ensure that their country is forever changed, and for the better.
But as we acknowledge those achievements, and then watch the harrowing scenes of the Taliban retake control of Kabul, all of us, particularly our veterans from Afghanistan, and I suspect Vietnam, are in a desperate search for meaning.
What was this all for?
Well, I genuinely believe that the service of our men and women in uniform has made a difference to Afghanistan and the safety of the world.
But what I know is that their service has made a difference to Australia.
Because at the core of serving in the Australian Defence Force, is an idea of selflessness.
Without any say in the decisions that we get to make here, the men and women of our Defence Force give their service and their sacrifice to our nation, to our fellow Australians, without condition and without question.
And so, when Mark Donaldson runs across an open field, exposed to heavy fire, knowing exactly what that is going to mean to him, in order to try and save the life of a wounded interpreter, he obviously makes a statement about himself but he says something about what the very best of Australia looks like.
He, and the service provided by the 39,000 others who served in Afghanistan, the 41 who paid the ultimate sacrifice provide an example to all of us and to future generations, about what the very best of the Australian character can be, about who we seek to be as a nation.
You know, when we remember Gallipoli, we don’t do so because of the military significance of that campaign to the First World War.
By all accounts, it was a disaster.
But we remember Simpson.
A man who day in, day out, knowing that each day might be his last, put himself in the face of fire to save his fellow countrymen, until the day that was his last.
We remember it, because despite the futility of the third charge at the Nek, a group of Australians leapt out of that trench, knowing that they would die because of what the idea meant to them then, what it means to us, now and what it will mean to future generations to be a member of the Australian family.
So yes, I think a difference has been made to Afghanistan, but whatever is the future of that country, the deeds of our service men and women now belong to Australian history.
They honour all of us.
They will be a source of pride forever.
And for that, to them, we are eternally grateful.