OPINION PIECE - Australia's Involvement in Iraq

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On the sixth of April, 1994, Hutu extremists began a shocking genocide of ethnic minorities in Rwanda.  The world condemned it, but took no action.  Just 100 days later, 800 000 people had been senselessly slaughtered.

Now, twenty years on, we grapple with the evil of ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria.  But this time, I am hopeful that as an international community we won’t look back and say we did nothing in the face of mass atrocity crimes.

There are confirmed instances of IS engaging in widespread ethnic and religious cleansing, targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, human trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, and the besieging of entire communities.  There are reports of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, thousands injured and almost two million people who have fled their homes.  These reports are so serious that the United Nations Human Rights Council has authorised an investigation into mass atrocity crimes in Iraq.

The horror of Rwanda and similar tragedies have caused the world to consider what our responsibility is to protect civilians where their own government is unwilling or unable to.  What emerged was a new international doctrine: the ‘responsibility to protect’.

Former Labor foreign minister, Gareth Evans, championed this idea, and its acceptance by the UN.

He uses a set of criteria to judge when ‘responsibility to protect’ should apply. On the current question of Iraq, these principles provide Labor a very useful framework to help guide whether we support Australian involvement – both now and into the future.

The criteria include whether there is just cause, the right intention, whether it’s a last resort, the action has legitimate authority, is proportionate, and has a reasonable prospect of success.

On the current information, Labor’s assessment is that these criteria have been met for Iraq.  Australia and the world have a ‘responsibility to protect’ and an obligation to act.

When Australians hear their government talk of involvement in Iraq they have good reason to be cautious.

The disaster of the 2003 invasion colours every debate. And we should never forget its lessons.

As I said in a letter presented to then US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice back in 2003 – the Bush administration, the Blair administration, and our own Howard administration rushed in.  They went in on the basis of false claims about Weapons of Mass Destruction, and before weapons inspectors had time to complete their work.

The result? Nearly a decade of conflict, hundreds of thousands dead, and significant instability in the region.

In the context of this history, it is right that people urge caution now.

While history should inform our actions, it should not cloud a sober assessment of the facts of the current situation.  The situation today is very different from 2003.

In 2003, Australia was one of four countries to take action in Iraq.  Today, we’re one of about forty, including many countries from the Middle East, and countries that did not sign up to the 2003 invasion.

In 2003 we went in against the wishes of the government of Iraq and against the wishes of many Iraqis.  Today we’ve been asked by the democratically elected government of Iraq to help fight off an immediate threat to its citizens – and action has the backing of the UN Secretary-General.

In 2003, the objectives of our intervention in Iraq were flimsy.  Today the clear objective is to help the Iraqi government protect innocent civilians from mass atrocity crimes.

Labor has supported Australia’s involvement so far.  But that support comes with important considerations.

We’ve been clear that we do not support the deployment of Australian ground combat units to directly engage in fighting IS.

We believe Australia’s military involvement in Iraq should continue only as long as is necessary to place the Iraqi government and its forces in a position to take full and effective responsibility for their own security.

We believe if the Iraqi government and its forces adopt policies or engage in actions that are unacceptable to Australia, or if our involvement is ineffective – our support should cease.

And as an important accountability, if Australia’s engagement was to continue beyond a matter of weeks, Labor will ask the Prime Minister to formally update the parliament at least every three months.  Each update should detail what our efforts have achieved and what progress we have made towards the conclusion of our involvement.

The conflict in Syria has fed the rise of IS.

Around 200,000 people have been killed in Syria.  The scale of the humanitarian disaster has seen the impacts spill over into the region.  More than 9 million displaced Syrians have to go somewhere, and that has seen neighbours such as Lebanon and Jordan take in millions of refugees.

But Labor does not support taking action in Syria similar to that being taken in Iraq.  There is no clear evidence that such Australian involvement could successfully provide relief to the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Syria.  It’s not clear which of the forces on the ground we could support.  And there is no clear international support or authority for that kind of action.

Our immediate efforts in Syria should focus on increased humanitarian assistance, and the international community should continue to work, including through the Security Council, to end the fighting in Syria.

The UN has called for $6.5 billion in aid for the Syria crisis, the largest ever appeal for funds.  Australia, under the Coalition, has pledged just $30 million or so in aid – a sadly inadequate response to an enormous humanitarian need.  And we have agreed to take just 2,200 refugees from Syria and 2,200 from Iraq (as part of our regular intake) when millions are displaced from their homes.

Labor believes Australia should be doing more.  We can give greater financial support.  We can take more refugees from the region.  In Government Labor increased the humanitarian refugee program to 20,000 places.

The Abbott Government took a backward step and cut our humanitarian program to 13,750 places.  This limits Australia’s ability as a good global citizen in times like this to be able to assist people fleeing violence and persecution.
Certainly, Labor believes the intake of 4,400 refugees from Iraq and Syria announced by the Government should be in addition to the existing 13,750 places in its scaled back humanitarian program.

As a party of social justice and compassion, Labor believes there are circumstances where Australia has a responsibility to protect.  The current situation in Iraq is one such circumstance.

Labor will work constructively with the Government, but as an opposition we also have a responsibility to question – to carefully scrutinise the approach put forward by the Government.

We’ll look at the facts and make sensible judgments at every step.  Labor’s Shadow National Security Committee is meeting regularly to carefully work through these complex, difficult issues.

National security is above politics, but such important decisions are never beyond question, interrogation, or criticism.  We have supported debate in the Parliament and will continue to do so.  We have also requested the Government keep the Australian people abreast of the circumstances and the effectiveness of our involvement.

The decision to send Australian men and women into harm’s way should never be taken lightly, and Labor never will.

Our responsibility to the people of Iraq is to ensure any action Australia is involved in leaves the place better, not worse.

On the current facts, Labor sees no option but to act.  To do otherwise could condemn innocent Iraqis to the same fate as the 800,000 Rwandans brutally murdered in just 100 days, two decades ago.



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STATEMENT - Visit to India

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The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, Tanya Plibersek, and Senator Lisa Singh will travel to India next week.

Ms Plibersek and Senator Singh will meet with senior ministers, officials, academics, and non-government organisations.

India is one of Australia’s closest international partners and friends.

We cooperate on everything from education and research to defence and counter-terrorism.

And there are around 400,000 people of Indian ancestry living in Australia today who are significant contributors to our vibrant, successful multicultural society.

Australian Labor has a proud history of friendship with India stretching back as far as the Chifley Government’s close engagement with a newly independent India.

More recently, the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments elevated the relationship to an official Strategic Partnership.

Ms Plibersek and Ms Singh will use their visit to strengthen and deepen the relationship between our two great nations.


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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National with Waleed Aly, Wednesday 17 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq; Ebola; The Abbott Government’s Broken Promises.

WALEED ALY, PRESENTER: Joining us now is Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Thank you very much for your time.


ALY: I’ll get to the Ebola thing in a moment because I think it’s actually very interesting but let’s start with Iraq. I’ve spoken with you before about this concept of mission creep and I think last time we spoke it was a narrow mission that we were contemplating to prevent genocide. Now it seems to have evolved into something much more than that. Are these the limits or will this continue to evolve?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think Australia needs to be very clear that our objective is the humanitarian objective that includes helping the democratically elected Government of Iraq to fight off the threat that is IS. The Government of Iraq are able to ask for our help. They’ve not just asked for Australian help they’ve got at the Paris Conference around 30 nations signed up it seems as though other nations are also already coming on board including a number of nations in the region in the Middle East to help the Government fight off IS. I think we’ve been very clear that’s Australia’s role. Beyond that I don’t think – well we certainly would have to have a conversation with the Australian people about anything beyond that, I don’t see a role for Australia beyond that immediate support for humanitarian intervention which prevents genocide.

ALY: But there is no genocide happening right now, we don’t need to prevent genocide by supporting the Iraqi military to re-establish control of Iraq do we?

PLIBERSEK: Well there are thousands of people who have lost their lives. There’s 1.8 million people who have been displaced in Iraq from their homes. I’m not really sure that you could down play the seriousness of what’s going on there.

ALY: But can we call it a genocide? As I understand it there was the threat of genocide but then there were Iraqi airstrikes and there was the arming of particularly Kurdish forces and then there was that famous altercation where ISIS lost control of the dam and so on and so the genocidal threat seems to have abated. If that was our aim shouldn’t we have drawn a line under that?

PLIBERSEK: So now we’re only talking about mass atrocity crimes and we shouldn’t worry, is that the proposition you’re making?

ALY: No this is the question I suppose I’m asking about the strictness of the definition. If it’s about preventing genocide from happening that seems to have been achieved is it now about something more than that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not sure you can fairly say that we have prevented the mass atrocity crimes that IS is determined to commit in Iraq as they have committed them in Syria. You’ve got thousands of people who have lost their lives, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has sent investigative forces to northern Iraq so they can collect information about these mass atrocity crimes in an effort to hold people to account in the future. IS is determined to kill people who are of a different religion or ethnicity to them. If they’ve been limited in their success by the Iraqi forces, including the Peshmerga forces we spoke of last time, fighting back successfully in part because of the assistance of Australia and other countries that’s a good thing but I’m not sure that that would lead us to be complacent and to say we are completely free of the threat of genocide now.

ALY: There are briefings that you will be getting that none of us get with your role in Opposition of course the Government would be giving you those briefings as well or at least inviting you in on them. What seems to underlie all of this is that ISIS represents a serious threat to Australia. Can you give us an indication of precisely the scope of that threat and the mechanism, can you describe it precise terms? Because it’s not immediately clear when you consider this is a movement on the other side of the world that seems to be importing people rather than exporting them.

PLIBERSEK: Well obviously I can’t talk in detail about the content of security briefings that we receive but you only need to open the newspapers to know that there are Australians fighting with IS and the risk, aside from the people they’re fighting in Iraq and Syria, is that when they come home they would use some of the particularly nasty skills that they’ve developed overseas against Australians on home soil. That is the risk that we have to protect against and we are of course determined to do everything we can to support our security agencies in keeping Australians safe at home. But there is another issue and we spoke about it last time that the world community looked on at Rwanda and the 800,000 people who lost their lives there and said it’s terrible someone should do something, you know make it stop, but took no effective action and 800,000 people lost their lives. So however cautious we are, rightly cautious we are, about Australian involvement again in Iraq and what a disaster it was in 2003, we do have a responsibility to protect and we can debate the parameters that we put around our involvement there. I think it’s very important that the Prime Minister continues to update the Parliament on exactly what the Australian mission is, what role we play, how we will judge when we’ve been successful, what does that mean for the withdrawal of Australian troops. All of that should be part of our public discussion through the Parliament to the people of Australia. But I don’t think we can turn our backs on what is a serious humanitarian disaster.

ALY: Is it really a choice though between military involvement and turning our backs? Is that really a fair binary?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not sure whether you’re suggesting that people should have a good hard talking to IS and maybe they won’t kill people. We would always prefer diplomatic means to deal with a situation like this if there was a sensible leadership with a grievance that you could discuss it would be one thing but that’s not what we’re talking about with this organisation. I think that it is at the invitation of the Government of Iraq we have provided humanitarian assistance which includes some military assistance. You’ve got to remember this is not the invasion of 2003, we’re talking about several dozen countries involved not the four that were involved in 2003. This is something that has the backing of the United Nations –

ALY: Oh, we seem to have lost Tanya Plibersek. We might see if we can get her back because the other aspect of this story that I wanted to talk to her about was the Ebola response the Ebola crisis which is a real crisis, I mean not to say that the ISIS one isn’t but this is something that Obama administration has said that they’re sending 3000 troops to deal with this. So we’ll see if we can explore that with Tanya Plibersek who I understand is with us now. Thank you very much for being back with us, sorry if we let you go there it wasn’t anything you said.

PLIBERSEK: I don’t know what happened.

ALY: No don’t take it personally. We should move on to the Ebola thing, although –

PLIBERSEK: I just want to make one final point on the humanitarian mission. Of course our military contribution is not the beginning and end of what Australia should be doing, our humanitarian support including for the UN agencies who are trying to get aid to desperate people in Syria should be much greater than it is. We should, as Bill Shorten said, be taking more refugees from the area. There are other ways of helping that we should engage as well.

ALY: So let’s talk about the Ebola outbreak. The Obama administration has announced today that sending 3000 troops to help stem the outbreak. He says that this is a potential threat to global security. Have we been as a world, particularly the western world of developed nations, have we been a bit slow moving on this?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah I think you could very easily say that we’ve been a bit slow moving on this. You’ve seen about 5000 cases now and about 1 in 2 of the people who contract Ebola are dying from it. One of the reasons of course is that the traditional practices of washing the body after death mean that more people come into contact with blood and bodily fluids and that of course is the main source of infection. So we could very usefully be working more closely with African health authorities on the basic sort of precautions that you take with that type of disease that [inaudible].

ALY: I think we’re starting to struggle with that line. I might chance my arm with one more question. Hopefully we can get there. The Prime Minister has spoken today about Australia making a contribution, $7 million, an extra $7 million. Is that enough, is money what we should be doing or is it other things that we should be doing?

PLIBERSEK: Look of course the money is welcome but it’s in the context that we cut $118 million from aid to Africa in this Government’s first budget, and we also cut $2.8 million from the World Health Organisation, which of course is one of the agencies that is leading the response to Ebola. I think it’s clear from what Médecins Sans Frontières have said of course money is welcome but they’re also asking for expertise and people on the ground and we have some excellent researchers here, clinicians, health professionals that are terrifically good at working on communicable diseases if there is some way that we can support our people as well as sending dollars I think that would be ideal.

ALY: Tony Abbott has spoken today about doing an annual performance review of his ministry. He was asked about that today this is what he said:

[Recording of Tony Abbott]: Some are getting A’s some are getting A+’s but the fact is this is a competent and trustworthy government which promised that we would stop the boats, that we would scrap the carbon tax, that we would build the roads, that we would get the Budget back under control and that’s precisely what we’re doing.

ALY: Tanya Plibersek your counterpart Julie Bishop would she be in the A or the A+ category.

PLIBERSEK: Well she’s done a number of things that I agree with and support and a number of things I don’t agree with and don’t support including cutting $7.6 billion from Australia’s aid budget so that at times like this when we’re trying to help in Iraq and in Syria and in a number of African countries with the outbreak of Ebola we're in very difficult times when it comes to our aid budget. I’d like to ask if he’s marking people on keeping promises what he’d give himself because he promised no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or SBS, no new taxes and he’s broken every one of those promises. Does he get an F for that?

ALY: Well I think you just give yourself an overall mark and it’s either an A or an A+ and just go with that. Actually one question I do want to ask you and it’s one I had in mind as we were talking and I lost the connection with you. It’s a difficult question for us to think about but I think we have to given how military intervention has gone for us in the past and that is by doing this we are almost certainly going to be killing civilians, is there a point at which the loss of civilian lives that we inflict directly means that the mission is not worth it. So is there a number that you might be able to identify or ball park so that we can say ‘this is when it’s gone wrong’?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think one of the reasons that I’m so dead certain that 2003 was so bad was because of the incredible number of civilians that lost their lives in that conflict. At this stage our involvement is 600 people, we expect that Australian involvement will be mostly in an advisory role. We’re not talking about sending platoons of soldiers off to fight on the ground in Iraq so it is a different scenario again to 2003.

ALY: But we are contributing to airstrikes which will kill people including civilians.

PLIBERSEK: And it is very important that we get the targeting as right as possible and that’s why our soldiers, very specialised soldiers, are involved as they are. But civilians –

ALY: Do you think our history is great though?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that civilian deaths are never acceptable but right now we have thousands of civilians being killed by IS because of their race or their religion or because they're the same religion and they don’t agree with IS tactics. We’ve got women and children being sold into slavery, we’ve got forced conversions, we’ve got particularly brutal ways of killing people including aid workers who of course only ever enter conflict zones to help the people who are affected by these terrible conflicts. So yes civilian deaths have to be in the calculations of any military action and are a terrible burden in the decision making during a military action, I mean a moral and ethical burden to think through as you’ve identified. But we are right now preventing the loss of life.

ALY: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Waleed.




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MEDIA RELEASE - Labor Welcomes Increased Assistance for Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

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Labor welcomes Australia’s increased contribution towards tackling the worsening Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the worsening Ebola crisis as “unparalleled in modern times” with the disease now having killed more than 2,470 people out of 4,940 cases in West Africa.

With the outbreak now escalating rapidly, West African healthcare facilities are unable to cope, and are in urgent need of financial and humanitarian assistance.

Labor notes the Abbott Government cut more than $118 million in overseas aid to Africa in its first Budget.

Today’s announcement of a further $7 million is a welcome and compassionate response to this rapidly escalating crisis.

Labor also congratulates President Obama for his announcement overnight that the US will send troops, engineers and medical personnel to build treatment centres and train healthcare workers to deal with the crisis.

While Ebola is a very serious disease there have been no cases in Australia and the risk of an outbreak here remains low.

Labor acknowledges the Department of Health Chief Medical Officer’s leadership in working with WHO officials to protect Australia in the unlikely event of an Ebola case occurring here.

We have also been assured Australia’s border protection and infection control measures are consistent with WHO’s recommendations for countries not affected by the outbreak.

Labor urges the government to continue to work closely with international agencies, and consider further contributions, should the Ebola crisis continue to worsen.

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Newcastle, Tuesday 16 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Overseas Aid; Iraq

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, I’m delighted to be here with Sharon Claydon and Tim Clackenthorp today. We’ve just had a very successful forum on international development and assistance. Australia has historically been a generous country with bipartisan support for foreign aid. Today I told the large number of local people who turned up about the most recent cuts in the Federal Budget to Australia’s aid. One in every five dollars cut from the recent Budget has been cut from the world’s poorest people, a $7.6 billion cut. Of course that has drastic effects in our region and around the world, meaning that there are poor people who will miss out on food, shelter, education, health care and economic development, all of which have been a focus of Australia's aid program in the past. Australia's aid has been successful, we have built about 2,500 schools in Indonesia, we’re part of an effort to get millions of Afghan children into schools. When we started our efforts there, 1 million kids were going to school, by the time we finished, 8 million kids going to school. We’ve had terrific success in tackling disease in our region, drug resistant tuberculosis, just one example in PNG, from a 25 per cent death rate to a 5 per cent death rate. We’ve seen the lives of children and mothers in childbirth saved because of Australian health efforts. We’ve contributed to global organisations like GAVI, the vaccines alliance, making sure that more people around the world can get the basic immunisations that will keep them and their children safe. Australia has been an important contributor in the international community and when you look right now at a country like Syria, for example, you see the effects of Australia’s underinvestment in aid. Oxfam did a study of aid into Syria and found that Denmark, for example, gave 164 per cent of its fair share in aid to Syria. The United Kingdom gave 144 per cent, Australia just 27 per cent of what a country as large and as wealthy as Australia would be expected to contribute. I might let Sharon say a few words.

SHARON CLAYDON: Thank you, Tanya. It’s a delight to have Tanya Plibersek in Newcastle today. It should come as no surprise that the people of Newcastle have really strong concerns about the cuts into the aid budget. There are more than 20,000 Novocastrians who make a financial or voluntary contribution to overseas aid in our city, and 550 local businesses, community groups and church networks that have a very active interest in ensuring the delivery of overseas aid programs. So, it should come as no surprise that people in Newcastle have got concerns and have been raising it with me which is why I’ve invited Tanya to address the public forum today and she very generously gave up a lot of time to questions and answers from the audience. You know, it’s an important thing, there’s been some comments about you know, does charity begin at home? You know, it’s our belief that governments should be able to walk and chew and talk all at the same time. That we are a wealthy and generous enough nation that we are able to ensure that we’ve got safety nets for our own people but that we don’t give up on being good global leaders and in fact you know, take our responsibility to develop- to contribute to develop a nation seriously. Our region is part of an area that- one thing that I’d like to note is that the impact of those cuts on women in particular and the overseas aid programs under the former Labor Government had a very strong component in assisting women in developing nations both in terms of education, development of some economic developed micro-financing, those cuts will be felt very, very deeply by those women in the Asia-Pacific in particular and I guess you know when you have a government that only has one woman in their Cabinet, that’s the kind of impact that you expect to slip right by this Government and don’t realise the hurt that it causes. Thank you.

CRACKENTHORP: Yeah, thanks, I will. Look, as someone who has actually worked for a non-government organisation in Indonesia, trying to improve food production through rice banking and research along those lines. I’ve been a beneficiary of the AusAid plan that Australia had and it’s devastating to see that AusAid has now merged with Foreign Affairs and a lot that funding has been slashed. Look, Novocastrians are very generous people, we fight, we’re fighters and we give when we’re down and out ourselves. I know a lot of people who when I talked to them, are not very impressed by this Government’s cut to the foreign aid budget. And I know that they’ll be giving as much as they can personally to organisations but there’s a very important role for government here, and this Abbott Government is letting us down. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Tim. Okay, any questions?

JOURNALIST: I spose, and Sharon you would probably know about this, there’s a lot of organisations I think that they look after refugees particularly, are you getting a feedback from the community here? Particularly those aid supporters?

CLAYDON: I’m getting strong feedback from right across the board actually. My local community groups contact me most days to talk about the impact of these cuts. It’s of grave concern to me that they feel the need to do that behind closed doors with me as their local member and asking me to take those issues up in Parliament for them, which I’m very happy to do so. But it should be a concern to all Australians that our local volunteer and community organisations don’t feel confident that they are able to speak out against this Government in public.

JOURNALIST: And Tanya I guess you’re getting similar sort of feedback from around the country on those sort of things. Obviously people are really concerned at such a massive cut?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’ve had a lot of organisations contact me about what they won’t be able to do because they’re getting less Government funding. Unfortunately some of them are very nervous about speaking out. We’ve had organisations like World Vision and Oxfam come out very strongly against these cuts but there are other organisations that want to talk to me in private but feel nervous about losing even more Government funding if they speak out in public.

JOURNALIST: Is there growing unrest within Labor ranks about our military deployment to the Middle East?

PLIBERSEK: Everybody in Labor is united in concern for the people of Iraq. There is a very serious humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq with groups such as the Yazidis, Christians, ethnic minorities even Sunnis who don’t support IS’s tactics being the target of this violent extremist group. We are of course also cautious because of the experience in 2003 was a very bad experience for Australia, our involvement in the Iraq war at that time was a very bad experience for Australia, but it was also, in the end, a very bad experience for the people of Iraq. We want to make sure that whatever Australia does is of assistance, genuine assistance, to the people of Iraq. That brings safety and stability for the ethnic minorities and the people of Iraq who are under attack right now. It is very important to be clear about the differences between 2003 and 2014. In 2003 Australia was one of four countries to go into Iraq. Today John Kerry has said that 40 nations are involved in fighting the IS threat in Iraq. So we have a global community that recognises this threat and is prepared to support the fight against IS. In 2003 we went in against the wishes of the Government of Iraq and against the wishes of many Iraqis. Today we’ve been asked by the democratically elected Government of Iraq to protect citizens of Iraq, to assist the democratically elected Government of Iraq and the Peshmerga forces in the north of Iraq to fight off an immediate threat to Iraqi citizens. There are very clear differences between 2003 and 2014 but the experience of 2003 makes Australians rightly cautious. We need to be very clear about the objective here. The objective is to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes, to protect people from possible genocide, from murder, from rape, from forced marriage, from children being sold into slavery and forced religious conversion. That’s the very clear objective here and that’s what Australia should be focused on fighting.

JOURNALIST: Should Melissa Parke be disciplined for speaking out?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s perfectly proper to have debate in the Australian community and the Parliament. It’s perfectly proper to have a debate in the Australian community, in the Parliament, amongst parliamentarians because in 2003 Australia rushed into war and the results were very bad. But it is also important to be clear when we’ve made a decision as a nation that we want to protect civilians from imminent threat to their lives, that we must act.

JOURNALIST: Are you rock solid in favour of Tony Abbott’s decision to deploy military personnel to the Middle East and why?

PLIBERSEK: Right now, in northern Iraq, there are people who’s lives are at risk. Australians were rightly distressed when they saw images of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar without food, without water, knowing that if they came down off the mountain they’d be slaughtered and so Australians understood that the world community couldn’t stand by and watch. Because of those bad experiences in 2003 Australians are also cautious about an open-ended mission, a mission that has no end. So we must as part of the global community, we have responsibility, but we must be clear about the objective, the specific role for Australia and when that role will be complete.

Thanks everyone.



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MEDIA RELEASE - Newcastle Speaks Out Against Abbott Government's $7.6 Billion Overseas Aid Cut

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The Abbott Liberal Government’s $7.6 billion cut to overseas aid is a broken promise that will hurt the world’s poor.

Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, was in Newcastle today and addressed a large audience about the cuts at a public forum at University House.

“Tony Abbott made a pre-election promise to increase investment in overseas aid in line with the consumer price index,” Ms Plibersek said.

“Yet in his first Budget, he cut $7.6 billion from our aid contribution, including more than $110 million from aid to our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific.”

Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon, said the Abbott Government’s cuts are hugely disappointing for the more than 20,000 supporters of international development in our local community.

“Novocastrians are generous supporters of international development and make a substantial contribution both financially and with their time to nations not as well-off as ours,” Ms Claydon said.

“In addition to the 20,000 individuals who are actively involved in our community, 500 local businesses and 55 community and church groups are active around international development issues in our city.”

“The cuts to overseas aid by the Abbott Liberal Government are a big hit to the countries directly affected, but they are also a betrayal of these thousands of Novocastrians who volunteer and support overseas aid programs.”

Newcastle’s large Pacific Islander community with family members still at home have every right to feel aggrieved with more than $30 million of funding cut from nations such as the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga.

“Australia is a generous country and we can afford to lend a helping hand to those who need it most. We also have a particular responsibility to our neighbours in the Pacific,” Ms Claydon said.

The Abbott Government said it would provide certainty on overseas aid, but all it has delivered is chaos, cuts, and broken promises.

In contrast, the former Labor Government nearly doubled the aid budget.


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STATEMENT - Australian Military Contribution to Fighting Evils of ISIL

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This afternoon, the Prime Minister briefed the Opposition on Australia's contribution to an international coalition to fight ISIL.

ISIL is a barbaric organisation that is engaged in the massacre of innocent people.

The execution of British citizen David Haines is further sickening evidence of this.

This evil organisation must be defeated and their fighting capacity disabled.

We cannot co-operate with this insatiable ruthlessness by refusing to support the innocent.

The situation in Iraq remains deeply concerning and there’s no doubt that a humanitarian crisis continues to develop.

Labor has fully supported the humanitarian mission that Australia has been involved with in Iraq – our RAAF personnel have been doing a tremendous job providing humanitarian relief to people desperately in need.

Labor supports today's announcement of the deployment of an Australian military force – including RAAF assets and personnel – to the United Arab Emirates.

We don't do so lightly, but we support the Government's decision that Australia has a role to play in eradicating this evil and we are reassured that our support is being provided at the request of, and in full coordination with, the Iraqi Government.

We are also greatly heartened by the progress being made by new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in the formation of a unity government, which is vital to achieving a successful outcome against these terrorists.

President Obama made it clear that the United States will not be dragged into another ground war in Iraq – this is an important statement of principle and we support this

There have been too many mistakes made in the past that western countries must avoid repeating.

In uncertain times such as these, we must refuse to submit to fear, prejudice and intolerance.

We must jealously guard the harmony of our society.  It's what makes our country so remarkable.

The Australian men and women involved in this action – and their families – will be in our thoughts.





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STATEMENT - Israel and West Bank Land

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The Israeli Government must reverse its decision to claim almost 400 hectares of land in the West Bank.

Ten days ago, Labor called on the Israeli Government to explain its actions.  Subsequent reports indicate the land may be used to expand Israeli settlements in the area.

Unilateral action like this, by any party, only undermines the peace process and the prospect of successfully negotiating a two-state solution.

It is particularly disappointing given recent agreement to a ceasefire that ended the terrible violence of the Gaza conflict.

Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank is not in line with international law.

Labor supports a return to negotiations between the parties for a lasting peace through a two state solution.

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop, Sydney, 11 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s Budget unfair on Australian women; Terror alert Level; Iraq; Treasury; Rozelle explosion.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here at this remarkable community centre meeting some of the leaders making this community a better community, and also ensuring that the hidden pockets of misery are not ignored, but people are empowered to have better lives.

I’m here today with my Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, our spokeswoman in matters to do with women’s affairs, Senator Claire Moore, and also Verity Firth, Labor’s candidate for this area in the upcoming state election.

Today the Australia Institute has confirmed what many Australians were afraid was true: that this Tony Abbott-Joe Hockey unfair Budget is particularly unfair to Australian women. And amongst Australian women to whom it is particularly unfair is women who earn less incomes, from lower income households.

Remarkable numbers today confirm that Tony Abbott has turned his back on working women, on women from poorer backgrounds in this unfair Budget. Why is it that Tony Abbott prefers to give CEOs generous tax breaks, yet install new taxes on working women who earn less than $35,000 year?

It is a disgrace that over 2 million Australian women, as a result of the Abbott Government, will be paying more tax on their superannuation. It is a disgrace that Australian working women who have lower account balances in superannuation are going to have their superannuation contributions frozen, contrary to the pre-election promises of the Abbott Government.

I might ask my colleague Tanya Plibersek to say a few words on the unfairness of this Budget. But what is becoming clearer and clearer every day since the unfair Budget is that it’ll be Australian women, especially ones from lower income households, who are going to pay the price for Tony Abbott’s broken promises and lies before the election.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here at Rozelle Neighbourhood Centre. This is a Neighbourhood Centre that has always provided a fantastic service in our local community, supporting vulnerable people who live in the community, people who live in public housing, people with disabilities.  A whole range of different people in our community get support from this Neighbourhood Centre, and that’s been especially apparent in the last week. We’ve had a terrible local tragedy, and this Neighbourhood Centre has been part of the glue holding this very close community together.

The work that’s done by the people in the Neighbourhood Centre is so important in our local community, but unfortunately it’s often lower paid and less valued than other types of work in our community. So if you’re a social worker for example, working in a neighbourhood centre, working for a women’s refuge, domestic violence service or a drug and alcohol service – you are already struggling on much lower wages than jobs with equivalent skills. When we were in government, we supported a wage increase for people working in the community sector, but it’s not just about the wages increase that these workers deserve. There are a whole range of things that impact on lower income working women in Australia today.

One of those things is the attack on their superannuation. Women make up two-thirds of the people, of the 3 million people who are getting the low income super contribution. They’ve lost $500 a year from their superannuation. We know also, at the same time Tony Abbott is protecting tax-breaks for high income super, at the same time as he is proposing to pay $50,000 to high income earners for paid parental leave, he is taking away the low-income super contribution for working women.

We also know of course, that women will be disproportionately affected by the increased cost of university education. Women once they leave university often have more broken working patterns because they are more likely to take time out of the workforce to have children.  Think about the social workers who work in centres just like this around Australia. They study hard because they want to help their community; they leave university with the cost of a degree around their neck that might be 2 or 3 times the cost of a degree now because they often take time off to have children, they will take longer to pay it back and that means that interest on that university debt will continue to accumulate while they are out of the workforce having their kids. It means they will actually end up paying more for the same degree as the average man who won’t have that broken working pattern. The research that’s been done today shows the disproportionate effect of this unfair budget on Australian women and particularly, on lower-income Australian women.

SHORTEN: Thanks Tanya. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, do you think it is appropriate for the Government to raise the level of the terror alert?

SHORTEN: In terms of the terror alert getting raised, what matters is the best advice from our security agencies. On one hand, Labor accepts, with the rise of ISIS in northern Iraq and the recruitment of Australian citizens to become foreign fighters over there and to train them to send them back here to cause trouble, is a real, real problem. It is a real issue and appropriately our security agencies, the Government and the Opposition are treating this with the upmost seriousness. On the other hand, it’s important we don’t unduly panic people. I am confident that our security officials will act in the best interests of our security and Labor is supportive of what needs to be done in terms of making sure that Australians are secure in Australia.

JOURNALIST: There are reports SAS soldiers will be sent to Iraq, do you agree with those moves?

SHORTEN: In terms of sending soldiers to Iraq, Labor has had a clear position on this whole matter. First of all we do support humanitarian relief, we believe that Australia’s efforts thus far have been about the protection of innocent civilians. Secondly we do believe that ISIS has an insatiable appetite for violence, for using religion to justify extreme acts of behaviour. So we do think there is a clear problem to be dealt with in Iraq. In terms of whether or not further Australian defence personnel are engaged in supporting the humanitarian process we will wait until the Government formally advises us on this matter. We understand that the American President is speaking almost as I speak now and Labor has set out some clear principles for engagement. We will continue to treat this issue, not a political issue but as a matter of national security.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen has said that major budget forecasts should be done by the Parliamentary Budget Office, not the Treasury, what do you think of this?

SHORTEN: I understand that Chris is speaking today at lunch time, I am supportive of what our shadow treasurer is saying on this matter.

JOURNALIST: He’s defended Treasury forecasts in the past though so why would he change it?

SHORTEN: Well Chris will give a very informative speech, I’m not going to steal his thunder. Sufficed to say that we do believe that these forecasts and this process should be as independent as possible and transparent as possible.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t Treasury best placed to do this type of forecasting?

SHORTEN: I beg your pardon,  sorry –

JOURNALIST: Isn’t Treasury the best place to do this kind of forecasting?

SHORTEN: Well Chris has worked hard on his speech, I will let Chris explain these matters when he gives the talk.

JOURNALIST: You’re here in Rozelle after the last weeks deadly explosion, and obviously you’ve seen all the tributes on the street here, is there anything you want to say about that?

SHORTEN: I think that when innocent people are taken unexpectedly in the most shocking of circumstances that we all feel diminished. Tanya and Verity have been explaining to me what a tight knit community this is and that the ripple effects of this terrible event are going to be felt for a long, long time. My thoughts are with the families, it’s unbelievable what’s happened and I can only feel extreme sadness.

Thanks everyone.


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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Logan City, Wednesday 10 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Health, education, pensions, superannuation, national security.

[Audio cuts in]

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I do not think anyone would have voted for Tony Abbott a year ago if they had known that he was going to break his promise on health, break his promise on education, break his promise on pensions, break his promise on superannuation, break his promise on jobs. A year into the Abbott Government, a government that came to office promising no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions and no new taxes, we’ve seen every one of those promises broken.

Just this morning I have been visiting Logan Hospital which has a fantastic new facility, a new emergency department and new facilities there for both adults and children. That’s an investment made by the previous Labor Government and it is a terrific illustration of the difference between Labor’s approach to health and the Liberals’ approach to health.

When we were in government we invested, and what we have seen since the election of Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott are health cuts, one after the other. The Abbott Government has cut $80 billion from health and education, $50 billion from hospitals alone. You see Campbell Newman's government presiding over 4400 job cuts in the Queensland health system. A real attack on the staff of the Queensland health system who only want to look after their patients and give them the top quality care that they know that Queenslanders deserve. So you have on the one hand Campbell Newman making cuts to hospitals here in Queensland and on the other hand you’ve got Tony Abbott in Canberra making cuts to hospitals and also introducing $7 GP co-payments, increasing the cost of medicines, cutting $400 million from public dental, cuts right across the book. No one would have voted for Tony Abbott if they had known about the health cuts, and no one would have voted for Campbell Newman if they had known about health cuts.

Looking at education now. Cuts to schools, $30 billion despite Tony Abbott's promise that he was on a unity ticket with Labor on the Gonski school education [inaudible]. And now the people in Logan will miss out because of these massive cuts to schools and education. But it is not just schools, $1 billion cut from childcare, $30 billion cut from schools and now $100,000 university degrees. So from the time that a child first goes into childcare, right through their schooling right through TAFE and university, cuts right through their educational life.

And next we will be talking here in this community hall to pensioners. Pensioners believed Tony Abbott when he said “no change to pensions” but we know that there are massive changes to pensions. The Government's own Budget papers show a $23 billion cut to pensions. What does that mean for an average pensioner? Well, Tony Abbott is changing the rate that the pension will increase, he is changing the indexation of the pension and if the changes that Tony Abbott is making had been in place over the last four years a pensioner would be $1500 a year worse off. So if Tony Abbott’s proposal had been the way things were done over the last four years, pensioners would be $1500 a year worse off. What does that mean for the future? It means that pensioners will be $80 a week worse off because of the changes that Tony Abbott is proposing. He is also going to make people wait longer to get the pension. That is particularly hard on blue-collar workers, working till you are 70 if you’re doing heavy lifting and manual work. That is really tough and of course Tony Abbott is also making it harder for people to save for their own retirement.

We know that with the changes he's announced on superannuation, someone who is 25 years old today will be $100,000 worse off in their retirement income. We know as well that our pool of national savings will be affected by that. Australia has done really well economically - tough times like during the Global Financial Crisis, in part because we had our own national savings. By 2025 we will have almost $130 billion less in national savings because of Tony Abbott's attack on superannuation. This goes to show that what Tony Abbott said when he said superannuation was a con is still the way he thinks of it. It is incredible that Tony Abbott does not just want to cut the pension, he wants to make it harder for people to save for retirement by not proceeding with increases in superannuation, by cutting the Low Income Superannuation Contribution for about 3 million workers and by making it harder for us to save as much for the future.

And I want to make one last comment and then I’ll hand over to Jim, Tony Abbott has broken promise after promise during his first year in government. But there is one promise it looks like he will keep, Tony Abbott promised 1 million new jobs, we just thought some of them would be in Australia. Jim.

JIM CHALMERS: Welcome Tanya to Logan City. It is not the first time that Tanya has been to Logan and it won’t be the last.

I think among the many lies that Mr Abbott told over a year ago to get himself elected, one of the lowest acts was to lie to these pensioners that we’re about to meet with, when he told them that there would be “no change to pensions”. Of course, as Tanya explained, there are massive decreases in the pension going forward and that will impact on people around here, good people who are just trying to make ends meet. And when you combine the attack on the pension system with what they are doing to push up the price of petrol, of medicine, of visiting the doctor plus of course the cuts to hospital funding that Tanya also mentioned, this is nothing but an attack on good people, good local people who are just trying to make ends meet from week to week.

Our message to Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey is if you think that local people, local pensioners are going to forget this attack come election time, you have got another thing coming.

PLIBERSEK: Okay any questions?

JOURNALIST: Yes, Ms Plibersek, are you concerned at all about the potential to upgrade the terror threat in Australia at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important that all Australians are alert to any increase in the potential for a terrorist event in Australia. Of course, we receive as the Opposition, we receive frequent briefings from our national security agencies and whenever our national security agencies have argued for stronger powers in order to be able to protect Australians, we have been very supportive of these additional powers. Of course with additional powers come additional responsibilities and we have also made sure that independent oversight is included in any additional powers that the security agencies have granted.

JOURNALIST: Have those briefings indicated that the terror threat should be heightened?

PLIBERSEK: Well I am not going to speak about the details of the briefings that we get from our national security agencies. I think it is important that a very well respected leader like David Irvine is accorded the respect and attention that his warnings deserve and I think his comments speak for themselves.

JOURNALIST: The Greens say they’re concerned that if the terror threat level is raised there could be repercussions on ordinary Australians’ civil liberties. Does that concern you?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think what is very clear is that we are in a time internationally where there are heightened risks. I do not think anybody could ignore the fact that we have many Australians, dozens fighting overseas at the moment with organisations like IS, which are extremely dangerous organisations that are engaged in genocidal campaigns against ethnic and religious minorities overseas. I think it is foolish to ignore that sort of risk. On the other hand, if we argue for greater powers for our excellent security agencies here in Australia, those greater powers have to come with greater transparency and oversight as well. Australians value our freedom, we value the fact that we are a strong, multicultural democracy and that means that additional security measures come with additional accountability.

JOURNALIST: The former head of army, Peter Leahy, said today that if Australia gets involved in fighting ISIS directly that inevitably, or that could inevitably increase the risk of a terror attack in Australia. Would you agree with this assessment?

PLIBERSEK: I think that we need to be alert to any risk to Australians on Australian soil. It is clear that we have had Australians who have gone overseas and fought overseas, we’ve also had Australians who have returned from overseas. It is important that we are very focused on keeping Australians safe. I am not going to get into a discussion about the relative merits of the comments of two very senior and respected members of our intelligence and security operations.

JOURNALIST: Alright, one more final question on this issue though if I can. The Essential Media survey released overnight showed I think 54 per cent of Australians are directly and vehemently opposed to us having feet on the ground. Would you think that is likely to change?

PLIBERSEK: Well Labor has been very supportive of the humanitarian efforts in northern Iraq. Those humanitarian efforts started with providing food, water, medicines and so on to people who were surrounded on Mount Sinjar. Those humanitarian efforts have extended now to reaming fighters in northern Iraq, the Peshmerga and other Iraqi forces because to allow Iraqis to be slaughtered by IS because they’ve run out of weapons is a position that Australia could not accept. As a member of the international community, we join with the international community to acknowledge that when the government of Iraq asks us for help to protect its civilians against a genocidal army flooding across the border from Syria, we as an international community share a responsibility to protect. What we have seen in IS attacks are attacks on civilians, men, women, children, we have seen murder on a massive scale, forced abortions, rape, brutality that is - any number of examples of extraordinary brutality - we are being asked by the elected government in Iraq to help its people fight off this threat and I think it is important that Australia as a responsible member of the international community to contribute to that effort. Up till now it has been made very clear by the Prime Minister, by Bill Shorten as the Labor Leader and indeed by President Obama that there is no expectation that we will be putting regular forces on the ground in Iraq. Instead our mission is to support the Iraqis to fight off this threat on their own land.


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