There was little new in this morning’s speeches on Afghanistan from Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. For two leaders normally so divided and savage about the competence of the other, they form a unity ticket on this deeply unpopular conflict that most Australians want to abandon.

The Prime Minister, indeed, flagged that we may need to increase our forces there in the lead-up to handover. “It is likely that we will identify the need for some additional personnel and resources to complete those final phases of practical extraction and repatriation,” she told Parliament.

The PM also, appropriately, devoted part of her discussion to the needs of veterans:

“The next decade will see more young Australian combat veterans live in our community than since the 1970s. This is demanding changes in the way the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs care for service personnel and veterans.”

The costs of our decade-plus involvement in Afghanistan, a war marred by profound strategic misjudgements from the Bush administration and its allies in London and Canberra, will remain with us for decades to come. But for our veterans, those costs are ones governments should readily and generously bear in recognition of the sacrifice and risk each of our soldiers has taken in service to his or her country.

Reorienting our veteran support services to the new challenge of young, working-age returned servicemen and women should be a key priority for the government. These veterans will bear the costs of their service for the rest of their lives; the taxpayer should be unstinting in supporting them.

Peter Fray

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