ABC Radio National Breakfast











ALISON CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Hi Alison, how are you?

CARABINE: Very well thank you. Tanya Plibersek, Iraq has now requested air strikes against militants but Barack Obama is still weighing up his options, does Labor see any role at all for Australia in helping to crush this insurgency if indeed a request is made?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that’s really a question for the Government, we’ve had briefings as an Opposition on the unfolding situation there and of course we would, if the Government made a specific proposal, be willing to talk with them about what they are actually proposing. It is a very concerning situation, a million people displaced, a humanitarian disaster. I think David Cameron’s suggestion that the idea of a radical Islamic state that would be a potential source of terrorist threat internationally isn’t far-fetched. So we do need to consider the situation very closely but I’m not sure a military action which involves Australia is the first and best response.

CARABINE: But you do agree with David Cameron when he says it is important not to be lulled into thinking the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq has nothing to do with us?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think as international citizens we need to consider the horror that people are experiencing in Iraq and of course also in Syria, of course has something to do with us. We have a responsibility to each other as citizens of the world. But beyond that, do I think it’s a potential security threat in Australia? Of course it is.

CARABINE: And there could be a direct Australian link with what’s going on in that part of the world, there are fears that some of the 150 or so Australians already fighting with ISIS in Syria could cross the border and join the insurgency in Iraq. How big is a worry is the prospect of these foreign fighters returning to Australia at some point and bringing with them all their training and all their hatred?

PLIBERSEK: It’s a very serious risk I think.  When we were in government, the current government also, have taken steps to try to prevent people going to Syria to fight, cancelled passports and so on but of course some people have managed to go there. The speculation, this isn’t confidential information, but the speculation is that it’s 150 to 200 people, those people do return well trained, radicalised and with a degree of sick sort of street cred that allows them to convince other impressionable young people that perhaps going to fight is a good idea or perhaps committing crimes here in Australia might be a good idea.

CARABINE: And there have been calls for increased powers for ASIO to suspend passports at short notice, also revoke the Australian citizenship of dual nationals fighting in Iraq and Syria. Are you of the view that there is more the Government can do to crack down on these jihadists?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we have to be very careful when we start revoking citizenship but it is very important that we take this seriously as a threat. I think the Government is doing that. It is right to stop people going to fight with these extremist groups and any other measures that the Government proposes we will look at very seriously.

CARABINE: And one measure that the Government will be announcing today is the $5 million in immediate humanitarian aid for Iraq. Would you expect that to be just the first instalment of what might be needed from Australia to help deal with the situation over there?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it’s excellent that the Government’s providing $5 million of aid. When you’ve got up to a million people displaced from their homes, $5 million is a drop in the bucket. I have been disappointed by the relatively small amount of aid that the Australian Government has provided so far to Syria. I would hope that in both cases, Australian aid is increased and does provide some relief to people who have been out of their homes in Syria for many months to people who are leaving their homes in Iraq with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing, and no food, no shelter, traveling long distances in very difficult circumstances. I think Australians look at the horror that’s unfolding on their TV sets and think, well we can help a little bit here and it’s our responsibility to do that.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, also bubbling away is the Government’s decision to refer to East Jerusalem as ‘disputed’ not ‘occupied’. Ambassadors from Arab countries will meet the Foreign Minister today to voice their concerns, why do you think they haven’t been reassured by the Prime Minister’s statement, his firm statement that while there might be some revised language in play, there’s not been any change to Australia’s support for a two-state solution. Nothing’s been changed on that front.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that the fact that Senator Brandis has been out freelancing on this sort of foreign policy issue, a very serious foreign policy issue, is not reassuring. It’s not reassuring for Ambassadors and I think it worries people who understand that loose words in Australia have consequences. Obviously consequences for Australian farmers, they’re worried about $3.5 billion worth of agricultural exports to the Arab League countries. But beyond our own concerns here in Australia, these loose words have reverberations in the Middle East, they don’t help the peace process, you’ve got people who are working very hard every day on the ground to try and build a sustainable two-state solution with a secure Israel and a viable Palestine next door to each other and George Brandis at 11 o’clock at night in Senate Estimates trying to divert attention from other problems that he’s got by ratcheting up the discussions about East Jerusalem and settlements and occupied territories and so on. It’s not a good look for Australia to be moving away from bipartisan, long-held positions, terminology that’s been accepted and used by Liberal and Labor Governments in the past to what Senator Brandis is making up on the spot in Senate Estimates.

CARABINE: But the Prime Minister says the Government is still committed to the peace process and can I ask you how united is Labor in your support for the classification of East Jerusalem as occupied? There is a view that Bill Shorten and the Victorian right are too close to what’s called the pro-Israeli lobby and you yourself coming from the left is unhappy that Bill Shorten has not used stronger language to condemn this change of wording.

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t know who has that view. Bill and I have an identical position here. We put out statements yesterday that show exactly that. It is important that we continue to focus on the issue of bringing people to the table, Palestinians, Israelis, bringing them to the table and ensuring that negotiations continue for a two-state solution. A safe and secure Israel behind internationally recognised borders, a viable Palestinian state; that’s everybody’s position in the Australian Labor Party.

CARABINE: Now just finally much closer to home. Labor along with the Greens has given the Government a trigger for a double dissolution election. This is just gamesmanship isn’t it? You know the Government’s not going to pull that trigger.

PLIBERSEK: Well we’re not about giving the Government triggers for anything, we’re about saying yes to policy proposals that benefit the country and doing our best to stop those that undermine our standard of living, undermine our health and education systems and in the case of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and others, undermine the good work that we’ve done to reduce carbon pollution in Australia.

CARABINE: Okay Tanya Plibersek we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: No worries Ali, thank you.


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