Defence bill a price worth paying to maintain our freedom


WHAT price is freedom? It is a question that each generation has asked itself as it has been forced to confront challenges – sometimes internal, often from outside – to the values, beliefs and way of life it holds dear.

Australia is fortunate that, unlike so many other countries, we have never been torn apart by civil war. Our young nation has been forged by people with a shared passion to build better lives and a better way of living, one founded in peace, justice and equality.

However that doesn’t mean we can be complacent and view conflicts overseas – conflicts that have the capacity to change the world significantly – as distant and removed from us.

Many of those who have helped achieve our ideals arrived here having escaped the horrors of the alternative – the oppression, torture and genocide that are the stock-in-trade of fascism, communism and other forms of tyranny.

Millions of migrants flooded here after World War II. They have since been joined by many more displaced by war, conflict and brutality around the globe – from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, from Vietnam and Cambodia, from Chile, from the Balkan states, from Somalia and other African nations. And they continue to come from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. They come because they know what Australia – and Australians – stand for.

We stand for safety. We stand for security. We stand for peace. We stand for fairness.

We stand for freedom.

And we believe that all people have a right to enjoy those things, wherever they may be in the world.

As The Courier-Mail reports today, new figures from the Defence Department reveal Australian taxpayers have footed a $15 billion bill from overseas missions by our military personnel since 1999.

That includes almost $7 billion for the 13-year Operation Slipper campaign in Afghanistan, $1.3 billion for our 12-year involvement in Iraq, and $4.3 billion for Operation Astute, closer to home in East Timor. Another $1 billion is expected to be spent by 2016-17, mostly on combating the rise of Islamic State.

These are large amounts of money, particularly for a relatively small country with a limited taxpayer base. But they pale into insignificance against the financial commitments of our allies.

The US has so far spent more than $US1.5 trillion ($1.85 trillion) on its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the cost of fighting ISIS is running at up to $10 million a day. Britain has clocked up a $50 billion-plus bill for its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute yearbook, in 2013, Australia’s $24 billion annual defence budget ranked 13th as a percentage of GDP. We spend far less (1.6 per cent) than the global average (2.4 per cent). The commitment to overseas missions such as those in the Middle East is a modest component of overall defence spending.

Australians spend more each year on buying bottled water than the cost of our RAAF commitment to the effort to defeat Islamic State.

What one cannot put a price on is the 41 Australians who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sending other people’s children into the danger of armed conflict is the most important decision any prime minister or government has to take. It should, and is, never taken lightly.

But Australians have never shirked playing our part. This year’s Anzac commemoration is the 100th powerful reminder of that.

There are those who say battling the rise of ISIS in the Middle East is not our concern. But is it really the Australian way to stand by as this barbaric death cult spreads its web, committing genocide, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, raping women and enslaving children?

Islamic State’s fanatical ambition is not limited to a corner of the Middle East but to changing the way the world thinks and lives.

This is our battle, whether we want it or not. Ponder that next time you reach into the fridge for a bottle of water.

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