TRANSCRIPT: PM Agenda, Thursday 19 November 2015





SUBJECTS: Syria, Paris, Nigeria, Port of Darwin.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Thank you so much for your time. Malcolm Turnbull, Tanya Plibersek, is now talking about a pragmatic solution in solution in Syria. What is your idea of a pragmatic solution?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, we have been saying for a very long time now that of course, we need a strong military response to Daesh or IS particularly to protect civilians, ethnic and religious minorities in northern Iraq, we’re there obviously at the request of the Iraq government and more broadly in Syria as part of an international coalition. Secondly we need a political solution, we need a transition certainly away from the Assad regime. Ideally in the longer term, the people of Syria will of course want to choose a government of their own. And thirdly, we need a humanitarian response, one of the reasons we are seeing so many millions of people travelling to Europe and to other parts of the globe is because they are terrified of starving to death or freezing to death this winter. And that is not an unrealistic fear. We know that the international organisations, the UN and other organisations that are sheltering and feeding people now in countries of first asylum, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, are actually running out of resources to protect the humanitarian refugees that have fled Syria.

PRESENTER: If I can concentrate on the political solution for the moment. The idea coming out about power sharing in Syria. I mean, how would that even happen and in your mind would that need to be a democratic process to get to that point?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly think that the prospect of including the Sunni majority is absolutely vital to finding some peaceful way forward. There are a number of ethnic and religious tendencies that will need to be consulted and represented in any government of national unity if such a thing can come about. There's also the larger regional conflicts. One of the problems that has occurred in Syria over the last few years, the reason that it's been so hard to find a peaceful way forward, is because a number of larger players in the region and globally are using this as a proxy war to assert their own authority in the region, and more broadly. Unless we can bring to the table some of those forces that have been supporting some of the groups that, you know, are most troubling, we are going to find it very difficult to find a longer term solution.

PRESENTER: And some of those big players have come to the table. But you point out how intense the sectarian divide is. This civil war has been going on for four or five years. So can we realistically expect the Alawites, the Sunnis, the Shias, other minority groups to bury the last four years, to come to some kind of power sharing, it seems from this point pretty impossible?

PLIBERSEK: It's the only thing that is possible. I don't quite know how we get there. But for peace to come to Syria, it's going to need different ethnic and religious tendencies and political groupings to find some way of working cooperatively on the path forward. And I don't think it's unrealistic to see a time when this is possible. Because, you know, before this conflict, I don't think that most people would say that the ethnic and religious conflicts were troubling everyday Syrians. There were a lot of things to complain about, including a very oppressive government and political apparatus that was pretty brutal with suppressing any political discontent or criticism. But people lived, neighbour next door to neighbour. So we know that that's possible for the people of Syria. How we get there - the next few steps - I think it's vital that countries, very large countries with a stake in this, the United States, Russia, France obviously, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, are able to come together through the international processes that have been ongoing and chart those next steps forward.

PRESENTER: And what about the military solution? This is perhaps a little more difficult or perhaps more straightforward. Australia's role in this shouldn't be overstated nor should it be understated. But should we perhaps as a first step with either now or in the medium term look at expanding our air strike, our bombing campaign, to ISIS strong holds like Raqqa?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think Australia should provide strong support, as we have, to the government of Iraq. Strong support to protect civilians, particularly ethnic and religious minorities from the attacks of this terrorist organisation. But we are already one of the largest contributors to this mission. We know that there are countries in the region who have a very strong stake in seeing a resolution and perhaps might contribute themselves more now that there is a clearer path forward with a number of countries, it seems, more focused on what the solution might be. Australia is the second largest contributor in Iraq. You know, if you think of that on per capita terms, a larger contributor than the United States. So I'm not sure that calls for Australia to send more resources are necessarily what we should be focusing on.

PRESENTER: And we have seen the events in Paris, it has shocked the world and particularly overnight really the terror raids as well. But, you know, there's reports today of a 15-year-old girl who has blown herself up in Nigeria on behalf of Boko Haram. Do we sometimes forget that this is just not a Western issue?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's important to acknowledge that we are all struck by the horror of what happened in Paris. Because so many Australians have been to Paris or know somebody who has lived in Paris. We have a very close relationship with France and have had, particularly since the first World War. So we identify very strongly there. But the downing of the Russian passenger jet over Egypt, with 200 lives lost, the suicide bombing in Beirut with over 40 lives lost. As you have identified, just in recent hours, we have heard of a 15-year-old girl, and one report said an 11-year-old girl, that had been sent in as suicide bombers. You know, there are so many tragedies around the world. And it does remind us that, yes, we have to have a strong military response to organisations like Daesh. But we also have to work on the ideology that is driving this sort of madness.

PRESENTER: Can I just ask you one final question about this 99 year lease to the Port of Darwin. There's been some reaction to the United States at this APEC conference. Malcolm Turnbull says it's been a rigorous process, defence and ASIO have signed off. Are you satisfied with that explanation from Malcolm Turnbull today?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's pretty embarrassing to have this raised with us by the Americans and I think it shows that the process is clearly not been rigorous enough. I am surprised at how little scrutiny this attracted before it became public. And then we see, embarrassingly again, Scott Morrison saying that this is somehow not his responsibility. It's been, I think, quite a mess from beginning to end.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, thank you so much for your time on PM Agenda.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Laura.