Canberra Matters: Yes to a Royal Commission, but overall our troops have performed magnificently

Canberra Matters: Yes to a Royal Commission, but overall our troops have performed magnificently

April 25th is our most solemn day and on Sunday we marked it appropriately.

I thank our RSL sub-branches, our councils, our clubs, our SES, and other volunteers, and all those who made sure Anzac Day 2021 was a meaningful tribute to those who have served and still serve.t

Honouring our fallen and all those who have worn the uniforms of the Australian Defence Force is critically important. But so too is supporting and standing by our current generation of ADF personnel. This year, we paid tribute to our heroes in the shadows of two controversies. The first is the terrible and unacceptable rate of veteran suicide. The second is the Brereton investigation into allegations of bad behaviour in Afghanistan.

On the first, I welcome the Government's belated decision to hold a Royal Commission. It's an issue which demands no less.

The Brereton Report was disappointing and confronting. Any soldier who acted unlawfully while on deployment will need to have their behaviour tested not by the media or the court of public opinion, but by our legal system and all its protections including the burden of proof and standard of guilt.

But we must not allow the actions of a few to tarnish the reputation of the many. The overwhelming majority of our troops did no more than put their lives on the line for our nation. In the coming months, the Brereton Report is likely to re-surface, and those who have served in our Special Forces will need our support.

For anything that went wrong in Afghanistan, politicians (including me) and senior Defence leaders must share collective responsibility. We sent them to one of the most dangerous places on earth with vague mission objectives and without a clear plan to win. They fought an enemy which wore no uniform, and unlike our troops, were not constrained by laws or rules.

We sent them on multiple and punishingly long rotations. Too often they lacked sufficient medivac, close-air support, and other vital resources.

NATO's "capture and release" policy was both frustrating and psychologically challenging for soldiers who had risked their lives to capture bad guys only to see them walking free only days later. It's no wonder some may have begun to take the law into their own hands.

We turn our SAS and Commandos into warriors. We train them in the use of lethal force and authorise them to use it. They become battle-hardened and invested in their mission. In executing their orders, they need to know they have the support of their country and it's for us to provide it. All of us.

Now we've officially withdrawn from Afghanistan there will be a long debate about the merits of our involvement. Certainly, 41 lives is an expensive price to pay. And while Afghanistan still looks messy, we must ask ourselves what it might now be without the intervention of the many countries which participated in what is now our longest war.

But whatever your view, our troops performed magnificently in every task our politicians asked of them. Lest we Forget.

Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal member for Hunter