TRANSCRIPT - ABC Capital Hill, Wednesday 3 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq, Ukraine, G20.

GREG JENNETT, PRESENTER: Well, these tough times in world security and diplomacy means there is a lot for the Opposition to keep across too. Tanya Plibersek has been getting the odd briefing or two on current events as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and she is with us today. The Sotloff execution has drawn widespread condemnation, as you would expect. Do you think these postings are meant to try to draw the west into the fight and if so, will it work?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, they certainly have a propaganda purpose. It is an absolutely tragic death, unfortunately this journalist has been held for about a year since his kidnapping. After the execution of James Foley, I imagine his family would have been very, very worried about his safety and now their worst fears have been confirmed. But the intention of the executor is to send a message. They say a message to stay away. I think it's equally possible that it's a message that's designed to encourage and attract fighters from other parts of the world into the region to support IS in their campaign.

JENNETT: And we have seen the western response, indeed touched on it in this program already, we have humanitarian assistance. Do you see a strategy or an objective in where the west is going with all of this at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, there is a very clear objective, and that's to prevent genocide and mass atrocity crimes, particularly in northern Iraq. There is very substantial evidence of many lives lost already. The UN Human Rights Council has authorised an investigation into these existing mass atrocity crimes that have already said to have occurred. We know that many people have lost their lives, others have been sold into slavery, women and children. This is a terrible campaign from IS, and the effort is completely engaged in preventing further mass atrocity crimes.

JENNETT: Did that prevention strategy, is it sustainable long-term or do you get to a point where you are saying we’re putting all this effort into prevention, something has to be done about cause?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think supporting Iraqis to fight IS on their own land, fight them - prevent them encircling whole towns, prevent them cutting off ethnic minorities and then going in to commit genocidal crimes, I think that that is a very important objective of this campaign, and I think it's very important that Australia and the international community support it. We have heard from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he and the United Nations have said that they support action including military action to support the Iraqis in fighting IS. There is an international effort, including from the countries that didn't support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and indeed that's Labor's position, we certainly were very opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and that's been proved right over time. But what we are looking at now, not imminent deaths, deaths have already occurred on a very large scale, what we are trying to do is prevent more of those, the Peshmerga are the most effective fighting force in northern Iraq. They are running out of ammunition to fight IS, in their own lands, and on top of defending themselves, of course, they are providing a sanctuary for Christian minorities and other ethnic minorities in the Kurdish autonomous region and in the region they have got some control over. I think that's something the international community has a responsibility to support.

JENNETT: Alright, well let's go to NATO now. Julie Bishop will be talking to G20 member countries there about Vladimir Putin. Does it appear to you that there is an emerging consensus working up about blocking him from the Brisbane meeting?

PLIBERSEK: Well, very soon after the shooting down of MH17, Bill Shorten made very clear that he thought Australians would find it very hard to welcome Vladimir Putin to Australia, particularly at that time as Russia was denying any involvement or any support for Russian-backed separatists. And we still see the Russians are denying that they have got troops in Ukraine, despite every clear evidence that they do, so there is a very serious international problem in Ukraine at the moment. NATO is an appropriate place to discuss it. The Foreign Minister is right in saying this is not a decision for Australia alone, it's a decision that G20 nations would have to make together. But certainly a discussion at NATO, which includes any change to the invitation of the G20, is an important one to have.

JENNETT: Is there a risk there though in isolating a fellow like this, because conventional diplomacy says you keep people in the tent, Jaw Jaw is better than War War and all of that, but could there be a downside to taking that action?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think there are some risks. One risk is that other countries are not supportive of Australia's suggestion, that other countries might even not attend themselves. That's a risk that we obviously wouldn't encourage. I think that there is a possibility that Vladimir Putin himself will say I don't want to come to your G20 meeting in Brisbane anyway. I think that's probably a likely outcome of any discussion like this. There is an argument that we need to keep engaging with Russia, but it's important to acknowledge too, that there are very, very clear acts of aggression happening right now, that Ukrainian soldiers have died in significant numbers, and our own interest in this, with our 38 Australians that were killed doing absolutely nothing, but what many of us have done so many times before, flying from Europe back home to Australia. It does mean that there is an issue here that Australians have a particular interest in.

JENNETT: Alright, well it looks like the Government’s got a pretty supportive ally in the Opposition in Australia at least. So Tanya Plibersek, thank you for that today.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National, Tuesday 2 September 2014

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WALEED ALY, PRESENTER: Joined now by Tanya Plibersek, fresh from a division I think in the House, Labor's Deputy Leader and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development. Thank you very much for joining us.


ALY: I’m very well. I’m a bit confused though, I’m not entirely sure of the precise details of the objective for this military intervention that has bipartisan support. Can you enlighten me?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s actually been laid out pretty clearly. The objective in the first instance is to provide humanitarian assistance and that up til now has included food, water, medicine, high-energy biscuits and so on. The next stage of it includes also providing ammunition to rearm the Peshmerga in the northern part of Iraq.

ALY: Right, I don’t understand those mechanics but to what end exactly? Are there a certain number of lives we’re trying to save, are we trying to beat ISIS back to a certain position, what- are we trying to defeat them? What is the end point here where we can draw a line and say that is done, it’s over, we’re successful, we can all go home.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that the first thing to do is prevent the massive slaughter of civilians which is what’s in prospect at the moment. Thousands of lives have already been lost, thousands more people have been injured, more than a million people have been displaced from their homes. IS will kill anyone who is a different religion, different ethnic group or even people who are Sunni Muslims who don’t agree with the tactics they’re using in their fight through Iraq. So I think the immediate objective is to prevent slaughter and we are, Australia and other countries have agreed some time ago to an international doctrine called responsibility to protect, which says that when mass atrocity crimes are imminent that the international community has a responsibility to protect. You might have read Gareth Evans’ very clear articulation of this doctrine today in the Australian-

ALY: I did actually, yes.

PLIBERSEK: And I think was a very good explanation-

ALY: Well it’s interesting but didn’t he note that there were certain elements of it that were not entirely clear because it is a new doctrine that we are trying to work through and I suppose a lot of people-

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s actually not really that new. Gareth- an international commission that was commissioned by the Canadians around 2001 began the process - around 2005 the United Nations adopted it and since then what we have been doing is refining the cases in which it might be used. There have been instances where the world community has stood by and seen massive loss of civilian life because of inaction or action that’s come too late, and Rwanda is one obvious example.

ALY: Well including in Syria.

PLIBERSEK: Exactly so.

ALY: So, is the logic of this that we should have intervened in Syria and Australia should have somehow been part of the Coalition to intervene?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that there is certainly a very strong moral case for more humanitarian assistance to Syria, Waleed. You know that the United Nations have called for a reconstruction fund there of around $6 billion and so far under the Abbott Government has contributed about $30 million. Of course there are massive numbers of refugees also who have been, about a third of the population, has been displaced in Iraq- sorry, in Syria and certainly we could do more to assist there, so I think that we could assist Syria. The difference between Iraq and Syria at this stage is in Iraq, the Iraqi Government have asked for international assistance. In Syria, there is much less clarity about who might ask for assistance and whether if we went in to support the Assad regime in fighting IS what the long-term consequences of that would be. So one of the elements that you have to consider with responsibility to protect is has there been- is there a legal basis for international intervention? The fact that the Iraqi Government has asked for support in fighting back IS gives a legal basis for it and that clear legal basis doesn’t exist in Syria but I do not think that that absolves us from a humanitarian responsibility. More than 190,000 lives have been lost in Syria to date, they haven’t all been lost at the hands of IS, they’ve been- I mean, I do not need to rehash for you the terrible crimes that have been committed on both sides against the civilian population in Syria. So there is a strong need for international attention but there are some legal differences between the two cases so our humanitarian assistance to Syria I think should be increased in the first instance because you’re right, it’s the same organisation moving with impunity back and forth across the Iraqi and the Syrian borders.

ALY: Well, you could argue, many have, that it is pointless trying to take them on Iraq and what you really need to do is be taking them on in Syria if you want to deal with them. But that’s why I ask the question about the limits of the mission because if we’re taking-

PLIBERSEK: Waleed, can I just interrupt you there. I think when you say things like ‘it’s pointless’, what you have to understand is that there are whole communities, whole towns that are besieged that are at imminent threat of massacre. The United Nations Human Rights Council have decided to send in a fact-finding mission because they expect that they will be gathering information on genocidal crimes and mass atrocity crimes. This is a very serious situation at the moment so it is one thing to talk about abstract and long-term strategic issues and we have to have a mind to those but we also need to deal with the imminent threat of mass atrocity crimes.

ALY: Okay but coming back to the question I was asking about what the end of this looks like, because we can intervene or arm militias or whatever it is that we think we’ll need to do in order to stave off imminent death, but what if that death- the threat of that death merely returns the minute we withdraw, does this mean a perpetual engagement? How do we make that judgement?

PLIBERSEK: And that is one of the things that has been in the forefront of our minds because many Australians remember the disaster that was the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Australia's part in that. It was wrongly conceived, it was done without international support, it was done against the wishes of the Iraqi people, it was done on the basis of wrong information around weapons of mass destruction, it was a disaster and nobody wants to repeat that disaster so we do need to think about what happens next and I think it was very brave, very brave and very honest of President Obama to say that the future is not clear, that there isn’t a mapped out response to how we rid the world of IS or organisations like it, rid the world of the impulse to kill in this way for extreme sectarian reasons but that does not absolve us of the responsibility now to protect civilians against the imminent threat of death, of forced marriage, of torture I mean I don’t need to go into the litany of – your listeners I’m sure are reading those stories in the newspaper.

ALY: No, no. No one’s denying that. I think it’s the application of the principles here where people start to raise questions. So for example we have a couple of texts that go supposed to this question of what exactly does the responsibility to protect connote?  So for example, one text message says ‘do we have a right to go to Syria without an invitation?’, raising the Syria thing.  Another one says ‘why didn’t we protect 2000 Palestinians?’ How exactly do you figure this out?

PLIBERSEK: Well there’s a couple of things in that. The first is I think we have a moral responsibility to help Syria and I have said that we should do that with humanitarian assistance but we have no legal basis for a similar intervention in Syria. We’re not being invited in by the Government of Syria and even if we were being invited in by the Government of Syria one of the other criteria that we have to look at is, would the place be better off after such an intervention, that is another question that we apply when thinking about responsibility to protect and-

ALY: Well do we know the answer to that in respect of this one?

PLIBERSEK: Well we know that we are preventing mass slaughter and I don’t think any of us has a crystal ball, I don’t think that you know, there are obvious problems that the Iraqi Government has had in bringing stability to the country and part of that has been because the Government of Iraq has behaved in a very sectarian manner, even in recent times and that is one of the reasons that there was the international pressure on Nouri al-Malaki to go and for Haider al-Abadi to replace him. It’s not- Iraq has been a very fragile place before 2003 but certainly that has been heightened since the international – or the American, Australian, British and other forces invasion of Iraq, so we do need to concentrate on what comes next in making sure that we argue for an inclusive, stable government of Iraq but this is not an action to replace the Government of Iraq in the same way that 2003 was. This action is immediate, it is based on meeting an immediate humanitarian danger. So it is very important to look at all of the criteria that you would be thinking about when you are asking is our responsibility to protect engaged in this case. I think the issue of Gaza is also a very important one and there was a great deal of international condemnation of the more than 2000 civilian deaths in Gaza and the fact in particular that many of those civilians were taking shelter in United Nations’ facilities when they lost their lives, or a number of those civilians were taking shelter in areas where they should have been safe. There was also a great deal of international condemnation of the rockets that Hamas continued to fire. I think it is extremely welcome that we have now got a ceasefire after 50 days of conflict but I am disturbed to see that there has been, as you would have seen reports of, it seems the Israeli Government has claimed around 400 hectares of land-

ALY: The land in the West Bank, yeah-

PLIBERSEK: So I think it is- it shows that there needs to be continued international support for parties in Israel and the Palestinian territories to go back to the negotiating table for a lasting peace. We can’t afford to see continued conflict in that area either.

ALY: Well indeed, I don’t think anyone would suggest that continued conflict is the answer to that. We did speak to Mark Regev incidentally on the appropriation of land yesterday, you can listen to that interview online if you have any interest in it, the spokesperson of course for Benjamin Netanyahu.  Tanya Plibersek, I better leave it there, but thank you very much for joining us tonight.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Waleed.


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TRANSCRIPT - The Doors, Wednesday 3 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq, Ebola, India, MRRT.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I’ve come out this morning to talk about the tragic death of Steven Sotloff. This is another confirmation that IS in Iraq and in Syria are a barbaric organisation that follows none of the rules of war. Steven was abducted more than a year ago now and his tragic death, it underscores the type of enemy that the Iraqis are fighting. Australia has decided to help supply the Peshmerga, the most effective fighting force in northern Iraq at the moment to hold back this force which has killed everyone that has stood in its way, murdered, abducted, sold into slavery, women and children, that has besieged whole towns and set out to wipe out whole communities. I know that yesterday, that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, also gave his support including to military action to hold back IS. This is a very serious fight and our Australians who are involved in supporting the Iraqis to hold back this threat are doing a terrific job, a very necessary job.

I want to say a couple of things about Syria as well, because people have said on the one hand, you’re intervening in Iraq by supporting the Peshmerga, how is Syria different? IS, the same organisation originally started in Iraq transferred to Syria, grew its strength and is now back in Iraq. There’s one very key difference, and that is the Iraqi Government has asked for Australian support against IS. And unfortunately in Syria, the civil war now means that there is no credible partner with which to fight IS. Any support of a similar type to Assad’s troops in Syria would empower a regime that is a brutal regime, that is also accused of mass atrocity crimes, including using gas against its own- chemical weapons against its own civilian population. That doesn’t mean that the world community should turn its back on Syria. Australia has been asked as part of the international community to do more for Syria. The United Nations has called for a rebuilding fund of humanitarian- a rebuilding fund of around 6 billion dollars and so far the Abbott Government has only contributed less than 30 million dollars to the relief effort in Syria. We also see that there are millions of refugees in Syria and Iraq, well over a million in Iraq, well over 6 million in Syria, another area where Australia could do substantially more than we are.

I want to turn now - does anyone have any comments or questions about the international issues before I talk about domestic issues?

JOURNALIST: Just firstly on Iraq and the use of propaganda, the video uploaded says that Steven Sotloff is paying the price for US air strikes. So, does that give you pause or does that make you think about potential ramifications for Western nations, Australia in particular?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s true that IS are using this as a propaganda opportunity to try and warn off- not just the United States, this is an international effort. Well over a hundred countries have agreed at the UN Human Rights Committee to launch an investigation into the mass atrocity crimes that have occurred in Iraq. This is an international effort against IS. But of course IS will use any propaganda opportunity it has to try and frighten off or intimidate the international community. I think given the many thousands of Iraqis that have lost their lives, it is important for us an international community, to say that our responsibility to protect Iraqi citizens has been engaged. Their government has asked for the support of the international community. I feel so very sad for Steven Sotloff, for James Foley before him, for any civilian who is caught up in this fight. We know their names, because of the propaganda efforts of the IS. We don’t know the names of the thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives, thousands of women and children who have been sold into slavery to IS fighters. So tragic, our hearts go out to their families. We know how important the work is that foreign correspondents do because without the work of people like Steven Sotloff and James Foley and our own correspondents who are in war zones around the world at the moment, the world wouldn’t know about these shocking events. These people would sink into anonymity for us and sink into, unfortunately, indifference because we wouldn’t be seeing the impact of IS on northern Iraq and Syria without the reporting of journalists. But I don’t think we can do what IS wants us to do and give up the support of the Iraqi Government because of the propaganda that they launched.

JOURNALIST: So any lessons for the international community then?

PLIBERSEK: Well there is a very strong lesson for the international community from the events of 2003 when the Iraqi invasion happened without giving proper time to weapons inspectors to do their work. It happened without credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction and it was later found to be false, it happened without international sanction, without the support of many nations and I think that that is an important lesson and it seems to me that President Obama who was a strong opponent of the invasion in 2003 has learnt that lesson, the effort that he’s putting in to building an international coalition to support the Iraqis and the fact that the Iraqi Government has asked for this intervention does make it a very different situation. But we need to learn the lessons of 2003, that’s a mistake that should never be repeated.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek overnight Medicines Sans Frontier has warned that the world is losing the battle against Ebola. Should Australia be doing more?

PLIBERSEK: Well Australia has cut $7.6 billion from its aid budget. It is the single largest cut in this year’s budget. One dollar in every five of savings is from overseas development assistance. This is a real event where Australia could and should be doing more. But it is difficult to see how that is supported with a $7.6 billion cut to the aid budget. Africa is one of the countries that has suffered most from these cuts to the aid budget. Our aid to Africa has been reduced dramatically. Now we were told by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that Africa is a long way away, we’ve got no real responsibility to Africa, why are we involved in an area so far away from our region? But of course the consequences of a massive outbreak of Ebola, that health authorities are warning they are finding difficult to contain, obviously affects us globally. We’ve seen how quickly this illness can spread and how serious the consequences are.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you the Abbott Government is negotiating [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve received no briefing on any safeguards that might be negotiated, so we’ll wait and hear what safeguards have been negotiated.

JOURNALIST: The decision to sell uranium was actually made by the Gillard Government so how far down the track was that Government with negotiating safeguards?

PLIBERSEK: Well the Gillard Government had long and comprehensive discussions with the previous government of India. We had a change of government in Australia and a change of government in the world’s largest democracy so I think it’s important to hear what their intentions are.

JOURNALIST: Do you still think Australia should be selling uranium to India then and what are your concerns?

PLIBERSEK: Well India is an important economic partner for Australia and an important strategic country in our region. And I am delighted by how successful their elections were, how well run they were and the opportunity that hundreds of millions of Indians had to vote. As for any comments on uranium I’ll leave them until we know the details.

JOURNALIST: Can I just get a quick comment on the mining tax repeal, particularly the School Kids Bonus, is it time to admit that this is a School Kids Bonus which this government and this economy can’t afford?

PLIBERSEK: Well let me make a few comments about the domestic economy and the budget. Tony Abbott said a year ago that there would be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions and no new taxes. He has broken every one of those promises with this budget. And yesterday we saw a dirty deal that will leave Australians worse off. We know that the superannuation cuts will leave someone who is 25 years old now who is earning $55 000 a year by 2025 they will have missed out on more than $9000. If you’re talking about older people on higher wages that’s thousands more. When you look at what that means for retirement savings all together you are talking about easily $100 000 or more for the average worker that they’ll miss out on because instead of getting 12% into their super, they’ll get 9% of their wage into their superannuation.


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SPEECH - Iraq - Response to Prime Ministerial Statement

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When Australians hear their government talk of involvement in Iraq again 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.

They went in without international support, without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population, or neighbouring countries.

Australia went in despite the hundreds of thousands of people who took to our streets in protest.

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. Islamic State (IS) is an abhorrent, brutal force.

It is an organisation willing to kill anyone who is opposes it.

There are confirmed instances of IS engaging in widespread ethnic and religious cleansing, targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of places of religious and cultural significance, and the besieging of entire communities.

There are reports of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, and thousands injured.

These reports are so serious that on Monday, the United Nations Human Rights Council authorised an investigation into mass atrocity crimes in Iraq.

And journalists like Steven Sotloff and James Foley brutally killed for propaganda purposes.

The UN refugee agency says around 1.2 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. A humanitarian disaster already exists in Iraq.

The scale of the crisis has led to calls for the international community to assist. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon has said: “The international community must ensure solidarity.

Not a single country or organisation can handle this international terrorism.

“This has global concerns so I appreciate some key countries who have been showing very decisive and determined actions…without addressing this issue through certain means, including some military and counter-terrorist actions, we will just end up allowing these terrorist activities to continue.”

The Iraqi Government has asked for help in pushing back IS.

And Iraqi communities here in Australia have called for support too, including Kurds, Yezidhis, Christians, and other minorities.

Labor MPs have met with some of these groups and understand their fears for families and communities left behind in Iraq.

I welcome that the Prime Minister has ruled out sending Australian combat troops to Iraq – as that would be a gravely serious step indeed.

Labor has said clearly that we don’t want Australian regular forces on the ground in Iraq.

But Labor has backed Australia’s involvement in the current humanitarian mission in Iraq.


Australia should act, because as a decent international citizen we respect the doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’.

‘Responsibility to protect’ is engaged when national authorities are unwilling or unable to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Former Labor foreign minister, Gareth Evans, championed the idea of ‘responsibility to protect’.

Gareth is the driver of ‘responsibility to protect’ adoption by the UN, and the leading international authority on it.

He uses a set of criteria to judge when ‘responsibility to protect’ should be engaged.

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.

1. Just cause – Is the threat a serious and irreparable harm occurring to human beings?

• News reports, and briefings provided to the Opposition by Australian security agencies, make clear that communities in northern Iraq face serious threats from Islamic State, and that thousands have already been killed.

• Representatives of Kurdish, Assyrian Christian, and other communities in Australia have argued strongly that their communities in Iraq face genocide from Islamic State, which is highly intolerant of people and communities who do not subscribe to their own extreme version of Sunni Islam, or of Sunnis who oppose their violent jihad.

2. Right intention – Is the main intention of the military action to prevent human suffering or are there other motives?

• Unlike in 2003, there is no intention for regime change of the government of Iraq by US, Australia, or other countries, nor is there any attempt by countries to gain access to Iraq’s natural resources.

3. Final resort – Has every other measure besides military invention been taken into account? (This does not mean that every measure has to have been applied and failed, but that there are reasonable grounds to believe that only military action would work in that situation)

• The Iraqi Security Forces have proven incapable of protecting the communities in northern Iraq. Islamic State has shown it will not negotiate nor follow the rules of war.

• The advice of the security agencies is that the Peshmerga, the armed forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, in the semiautonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, are the major, effective armed force currently in the northern region capable of resisting Islamic State. They are effective, and they are bearing the brunt of the fighting. Because the fighting is worst in the north, that’s where our help should primarily be directed.

4. Legitimate authority • The Abbott Government has advised the Opposition that current proposed actions have been authorised by the Government of Iraq. That was confirmed yesterday by the Iraqi Ambassador to Australia.

• The support of the UN Secretary-General is also very significant. We now see countries like Canada, which didn’t participate in the invasion in 2003, agreeing to be part of this humanitarian mission.

5. Proportional means – Are the minimum necessary means applied to secure human protection?

• This criterion is readily met for humanitarian aid drops including food, water, and medicine – and I congratulate our air force and other personnel who have already completed these vital missions, saving thousands of lives on Mt Sinjar.

• As for rearming the Peshmerga – the alternative is to watch IS, using sophisticated weapons it has captured on its forward march outgun the only force that has effectively been protecting civilians in the north. We are supporting Iraqis to defend themselves against a merciless enemy. The Peshmerga has for many years provided the Kurdish region of Iraq with a degree of security much better than in many other parts of Iraq.

6. Reasonable prospect – Is it likely that action will protect human life, and are the consequences of this action sure not to be worse than no action at all? • This is perhaps the most difficult question of all, because the history of Western influence in the Middle East is fraught with complexity.

• It’s hard to point to too many examples in which intervention has left a country clearly better off, and unfortunately there are too many instances where the opposite could be said.

• We are rightly cautious, especially after Australia’s previous involvement in Iraq, which saw our brave service men and women sent to fight in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.

• But I believe the humanitarian missions we are currently involved in meet this criteria. Allowing IS to slaughter whole communities cannot be allowed, so we must respond to the Iraqi call for assistance.

Of course, ‘responsibility to protect’ really seeks to answer one key question. That is, in the face of mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity - at what point can the international community no longer stand-by and do nothing?

It is Labor’s belief, based on the assessment of facts I have just provided, that Australia and the world have a ‘responsibility to protect’ and thus an obligation to act.

To borrow a phrase made famous by our chief of army - the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Australia could no longer walk past. We had to do something in response to such unspeakable horror.


But as important, is making sure Iraq’s neighbours do something in response too.

That means countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, and others should be encouraged to stand up and say ‘IS are beyond the pale and we will join in international efforts to defeat them’.

The conflict in Syria has been an important factor underpinning the rise of IS. The spread of IS from Iraq to Syria and then back again – returning much stronger and more brutal – underscores how critical it is for nations in the region to acknowledge this problem is bigger than any one of them.

More than 191,000 people have been killed in Syria. The scale of the humanitarian disaster in Syria has seen the impacts spill over into the region. More than 9 million displaced Syrians have to go somewhere, and that has seen both Lebanon and Jordan take in millions of refugees.

The legal authority doesn’t currently exist for similar support to Syria, but we should be doing a great deal more to assist Syrians in any case.

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 given just pledged just $30 million or so in aid – a pathetic 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 and at risk.


As the Opposition Leader said earlier in the week, every action of IS is a betrayal of the millions of good people, of good conscience who follow Islam. The Islamic State does not represent the Islamic faith. That cannot be repeated often enough.

Likewise, action taken against IS is not action against Islam, and we must not allow any misrepresentation that this is the case.

By working with the international community, including countries with large Islamic populations like Indonesia and Malaysia, we can mobilise the power of mainstream Islam against minority extremism.

In fact, I note a group British Imams and scholars recently issued a Fatwa condemning Islamic State as a ‘tyrannical, extremist, heretical’ organisation committing ‘abhorrent’ massacres and persecution.

The Fatwa calls on muslims to oppose IS and follow the law of their homeland – in this case Britain.

Our own security chief, David Irvine, has stressed again and again that Australian muslims are ASIO’s best partners against violent extremists and I acknowledge the hardwork and personal cost that many Australians have borne in order to speak out against extremism.


What I have laid out today is Labor’s assessment of the situation in Iraq at this point in time.

I have explained why we have offered the Government our support for Australia’s humanitarian involvement thus far.

I have outlined the principles that will guide how Labor responds to any proposed further involvement by Australia. Labor believes there are circumstances where Australia has a responsibility to protect.

But as an opposition we also have the responsibility to question – to carefully scrutinise the approach put forward by the Government.

Labor will work constructively with the Government, but we’re no rubber stamp.

We’ll look at the facts and make sensible judgements.

National security is above politics, but such important decisions are never beyond question, interrogation, or criticism.

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.

President Obama’s careful, considered response to this matter shows that maybe the international community has learned lessons from the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.


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STATEMENT - Events in Israel and the West Bank

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The Labor Opposition is extremely concerned by reports the Israeli Government has claimed almost 400 hectares of land in the West Bank.

The Israeli Government must offer an immediate explanation.

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

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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Newsradio with Marius Benson, Tuesday 2 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq, Ukraine.

MARIUS BENSON, INTERVIEWER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


BENSON: Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, when he announced the Australian action in northern Iraq said the first condition for military action in particular was to have an achievable objective. Do you have an understanding of what the achievable objective of the Australian action is?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think we would all agree the achievable objective is to prevent imminent genocide. IS are an organisation that kill anyone who is different from them, who are prepared to kill anyone who is of a different religion or ethnic group. So the immediate objective is to prevent that.

BENSON: And in achieving that objective what about the question of using Australian troops because the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten yesterday said that he can foresee no circumstances where the case is made for formed up combat elements of the Australian Army operating in Iraq. Does that mean no troops is the Labor policy, or some troops?

PLIBERSEK: Well both the Prime Minister and Bill Shorten have said that they don’t envisage having formed up combat units on the ground. That accords with what President Obama has said as well. What we are talking about here in the first instance is a humanitarian action that Australia is involved in. We have provided support to the US in flying humanitarian supplies into Mount Sinjar in the past, we’re now involved, as you know, in another mission that includes not just food and water and medical supplies but also rearming the Peshmerga which are the most effective fighting force in the north against IS. I don’t think I really want to speculate beyond that about any other types of involvement that might be asked of us –

BENSON: But is Labor –

PLIBERSEK: What’s clear is that there won’t be soldiers on the ground in formed up units as there were during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

BENSON: Does that leave scope for soldiers not in formed up units?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you really need to talk to the Government. The Government is saying they have had no further requests made of them by the United States other than these humanitarian missions that involve Australian planes and of course Australian personnel on those Australian planes.

BENSON: There has been a question asked about the legality of shipping arms. As you mentioned, the arms are going to the Peshmerga, they’re not going to the Iraqi Government forces. Is there any problem there in terms of legality in your mind?

PLIBERSEK: Well no this is being done with the clear knowledge of the Iraqi Government and the involvement of the Iraqi Government. It’s been confirmed in the media today that the planes are landing first in Baghdad. There’s no, this isn’t a case of bypassing the Iraqi army. It’s a case of providing weapons to a fighting force that is on the ground effectively preventing massacres. We know that the Peshmerga have been the main force against IS in the north, of course that means that they’ve been under heavy attack themselves and without being rearmed by the international community I don’t think the prospects would be very good for them.

BENSON: But when you say the Iraqi Government’s involved in this and endorses it, in fact the Iraqi Ambassador to Australia, Mouayed Saleh, has said that the weapons should go to the Iraqi Government. He has said the central government is not consulted, in fact it’s being circumvented.

PLIBERSEK: Well I saw that interview yesterday and that doesn’t accord with the briefings that we’ve received. I think the fact that the planes are landing in Baghdad and that’s been confirmed publicly today, should give people some comfort, they’ll be landing in Baghdad and then flying onto the north. I don’t really, I can’t really discuss the confidential briefings that we’ve had but I’d say that I’m comfortable that the Iraqi Government are involved in this rearming of the Peshmerga.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, can I go to Ukraine and the news this morning is that the rebels or the Russians, as the Ukrainian people say, those forces have been making advances against the Ukrainian forces and the Ukrainians are talking about an invasion. As things stand, should Vladimir Putin come to Brisbane in November?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Bill Shorten said several weeks ago that Australians will find it difficult to welcome Vladimir Putin to Brisbane. After MH17 in particular, Australians will find it difficult to welcome the Russian President here. I think it’s important to remember of course that Australia is the host of the G20, we’re not the only country that makes this decision so it would be very important for the Government to secure the support of other G20 member nations if the invitation to Vladimir Putin is to be withdrawn. I think it’s important in the more general sense to send a very clear international message that any Russian troops going into Ukraine at this stage is completely unacceptable to the international community and one way of doing that would be in relation to the G20 but there are other opportunities where Russia is seeking international approval or support and we can also send that message. So I think that the proposition that the international community are completely opposed to Russia’s actions in Ukraine is important to emphasise in any diplomatic way that we can. Labor called for further sanctions last week and I noticed yesterday that the Government had agreed to place further sanctions on Russia. Any opportunity we have as an international community to send a strong message that having Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil is unacceptable. Something we should consider.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


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TRANSCRIPT - ABC 774 Radio Melbourne, Monday 1 September 2014

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RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The ALP is being broadly supportive of what the Government is proposing and Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of course and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon.


EPSTEIN: I’m good. Do you think there’s any need to worry about weapons, or any chance that there’ll be weapons handed over to the PKK?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the whole situation is enormously concerning, Rafael. I mean, you’ve got a situation where this organisation, IS, has swept across northern Iraq. They’ve had very little to stop them, every resistance they’ve encountered they’ve just slaughtered people. So I think there’s a lot to worry about, I’m not sure that you’ve hit on the thing that concerns me most. What concerns me most I think is the thousands of people who have lost their lives, and the, well, at least 700,000, some estimate a million people who have been forced to leave their homes in the face of potential genocide.

EPSTEIN: But don’t we need to choose which conflict we enter for something other than moral reasons? We were very concerned about Libya three years ago, there’s now an Islamist militia taking over the capital. I mean, there’s horrible things being done in Nigeria yet we’re [audio cuts out] Peshmerga, I’m sure the Turks aren’t very happy. It’s enormously difficult to provide any help, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well it is difficult to help and I think that the really stark example of that is right next door in Syria where close to 200,000 people have lost their lives now and about a third of the population have been chased out of their homes. So, you don’t need to look very far to see a case where the same organisation, IS, and similar organisations are doing very similar things but the international community has found it hard to intervene. I guess one difference that you’d have to point to between Syria and Iraq is that the Government of Iraq is actually asking for the help of other countries in fighting off IS and another example of a difference is that there, when you’re talking about resupplying the Peshmerga fighters, you’ve got the most effective fighting force on the ground against IS, an organisation that has meant the Kurdish part of Iraq has been relatively secure in most recent years compared with the rest of Iraq. There’s an identifiable partner there. I think it’s very important to point out that the Government have assured us that this work is happening in, with the knowledge of the Iraqi Government but of course –

EPSTEIN: They’re not happy though.

PLIBERSEK: Well I mean I saw those comments from the Ambassador as well and it doesn’t exactly accord with the briefing that we received from the Government. I can’t go into further details of security briefings, that’s really something that you’ll have to get someone from the Government to go through with you –

EPSTEIN: Can I clarify with you, would you go so far as to say you were surprised by what the Iraqi Ambassador to Australia said on TV?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I’d say that there has been international calls for the resupply of the Peshmerga fighters that are the most effective fighting force against IS at the moment and that there is a lot of flux and movement at this, at the time, right now, the Iraqi Government has not finally formed. We expect a, sort of, final line up I suppose by about the 9th or 10th of September. But our discussions with the Government have, you know, all of their suggestions, they’re talking with the Iraqi Government, as are the Americans, as are the other partners.

EPSTEIN: I, look, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to be fighting against such an evil force. But I do think it’s worth asking the question whether or not there is a strategy, do you think there is a comprehensive strategy in place?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s, it’s very important to say the world community can’t stand by and watch genocide happen. We did that in Rwanda, I think you’d say that the massacres after Srebrenica and there are a number of instances where the international community have stood to one side and the consequences have been disastrous. But I agree with you, Raf, that we have to, there’s a number of questions that we have to ask. Gareth Evans has been really effective since about 2001 in laying out what he calls, well not just he calls, the international community now calls, he started the term and started this idea, the responsibility to protect where a Government’s not able or not willing to protect its own citizens, what responsibility do we have as an international community to intervene. And Gareth and others have put a lot of thought into the sort of criteria used to determine whether an intervention is necessary so –

EPSTEIN: I suppose I’m curious, I’m familiar with those ideas and Gareth Evans was actually on the morning program this morning. Do you think from the briefings you’ve received, and I don’t ask you to go into detail, has the Government considered all of the sorts of questions that Gareth Evans would have posed?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think, what we’ve been asked to do at the moment is support humanitarian efforts, including providing supplies to people who are besieged and rearming the only effective fighting force against a very brutal organisation IS that does not follow any of the rules of war.


PLIBERSEK: So, I can only tell you from the information I’ve received that I agree that this humanitarian intervention is a necessary thing to prevent further slaughter. But it is, I don’t pretend to you Raf, that these are easy decisions to make, because of course in 2003 our involvement in the war in Iraq was disastrous. It was disastrous for Australia, it was disastrous for Iraq, I think you can safely say that the years of destabilisation, violence, suicide bombings, sectarian conflict in Iraq, certainly were not lessened by Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. So I’m not surprised that people are nervous about any involvement. What I would ask – you then need to ask yourself the question ‘can we stand by and let people be slaughtered just because they’re a different religion or a different version of the same religion as IS?’ I don’t think the international community can stand by and allow that to happen.

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the ALP of course, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. I’ll get to your calls in a moment, 1300 222 774, and I’ll get to your texts as well. I wonder, Tanya Plibersek, of course we need to consider the question of whether or not we are, as the Prime Minister says, stopping the conflict coming to our shores, or are we actually provoking the conflict coming to our shores? You probably know that the head of MI5 in England at the time of the 2005 bombings there said that we gave Osama Bin Laden his Iraqi jihad. She was effectively saying that Britain’s participation in that war provided the fuel for people to come from Iraq to Britain. How do we know that we’re stopping the conflict coming here rather than encouraging it?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the way this unfolds over the coming weeks and months will be really critical to ensuring that, Raf, and I think a couple of the things we have to look for are, that we have to ensure that this doesn’t become a Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, but beyond that, even perhaps more importantly we have to ensure that this doesn’t become a Muslims against the rest of the world conflict. And the best way we can do that is ensure regional cooperation of Iraq’s neighbours and Syria’s neighbours. I think that –

EPSTEIN: Are you confident though that it’s not going to, are you confident that it’s actually repelling the response, rather than provoking it?

PLIBERSEK: I think we have got a very different Government in the United States than we had in 2003 and the comments that President Obama has made, the caution that he’s been, frankly, very harshly criticised for, I think are an indication that at least the leadership of the United States have learnt some of the very harsh lessons of 2003.

EPSTEIN: But Islamic State don’t care about what party is in power in Australia or the United States, do they? Their ideology is about far more than that.

PLIBERSEK: Of course Raf, that’s not the point I’m making at all. The point I’m making is that the United States is looking for allies across the board. So of course they’re looking to Australia to be involved in humanitarian and other things, but they’re also talking to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, they’re talking to other countries in the region to make sure that this doesn’t look like the United States versus IS, that it is actually the world rejecting the barbarity that’s on display at the moment.

EPSTEIN: Are you confident that they’ll achieve that?

PLIBERSEK: Well Raf, I think it is important to understand that we’ve learnt a lot of lessons from 2003 and I don’t believe that the United States is rushing in in the same way they did in 2003. If you remember 2003, weapons inspectors were not allowed to complete their work. Australia and other countries went to war on the basis of claims of weapons of mass destruction that did not eventuate. There was widespread opposition from the Iraqi people to the intervention of the United States and its allies in Iraq and there are a whole lot of things that are different today. What we see are thousands of people who are being killed for their religion or for their ethnicity or being sold into slavery and the question is can we do nothing? There is, I think, really no justification for standing by and just allowing it to happen. I’m not arguing that it’s simple, but I am arguing that there is a very strong case here for the international community to have its responsibility to protect engaged and that of course we have to be careful, of course we have to be always looking to make sure that Iraq is better when this is finished rather than worse. As many people would argue 2003 was.

EPSTEIN: That’s a high water mark, but look thank you for your time I appreciate it.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, bye-bye.


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TRANSCRIPT - PM Agenda, Sky News Monday 1 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq; Ukraine.

DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time. You have offered bi-partisan support for this increased military involvement in Iraq. What is the aim of this mission as you understand it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well I think you have to be careful to call it increased military involvement, this is a humanitarian mission that of course our RAAF are involved in and supporting. We have had some briefings, I don’t want to go too much into the details of the briefings, but I think it’s public knowledge, already on the public record that this will include flying supplies into northern Iraq, resupplying the Peshmerga and other anti-IS fighting forces including with food, water, medicines and also ammunition and so on.

SPEERS: So, not just the Peshmerga?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you’d better ask the Government about their specific arrangements, but anti-IS fighting forces.

SPEERS: Okay, but one thing that’s clear is that Labor has supported this in a staged process. What is the actual mission here, what’s the aim of doing this?

PLIBERSEK: Well the mission is to prevent the slaughter of innocent people and IS have come across the border from Syria, they’ve killed anyone who has offered any resistance. That means Muslims who don’t agree with them, Christians, people from different ethnic minorities. They have killed anyone who has offered resistance, anyone who has refused to pledge allegiance to their particularly narrow world view. We know that many thousands of people have died already, we know that around, at last count 700,000 people have been displaced from their homes. There’s no natural end to what IS are intending –

SPEERS: Well if that’s the case and there is no natural end, and the aim is to stop them slaughtering people, is the end game here to push them out of the territory they have captured?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think our immediate effort here is to support the most effective fighting force against the IS in northern Iraq which has been the Peshmerga.

SPEERS: To do what though to push them back?

PLIBERSEK: To push them back.

SPEERS: To the Syrian border.

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly to the Syrian border but to make sure that they don’t have the free reign across northern Iraq that they have at the moment because –

SPEERS: It could take quite a lot of effort and time to achieve that.

PLIBERSEK: Well, yes that’s possible, I mean certainly the US air strikes, reports have them as being very successful in disrupting the advance of IS. Some significant strategic positions have been taken back after the US air strikes. But I think as a world community we have observed what’s happening in northern Iraq and it is unacceptable to stand by while there is a genocidal campaign going on. Particularly when there is an effective fighting force of Iraqis that we can support in pushing IS back.

SPEERS: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you and I appreciate that this is the Government’s decision but is your view that we should also be helping the Iraqi Government forces to push back Islamic State? Why is it just the Kurds in the north?

PLIBERSEK: Well because they’re really the most effective fighting force in that part of the country. But there will be –

SPEERS: What does that say about the Iraqis though?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there has been a great deal of internal friction within the Iraqi Government, you would know that, a new Iraqi Government is to be finalised probably around the 9th or 10th of September we expect. When that’s done it is much easier to work with a newly formed Iraqi Government and there is kind of a caretaker Government, I suppose you would call it at the moment, but when the Government is fully formed, an inclusive Government of national unity that has representation of Sunni, Shia, Kurd and others, makes it much easier to continue to work. This is done with discussion with the Iraqi Government, certainly they are involved in this, but it’s a period of some change for the Iraqi Government. It becomes much easier when that Government is finalised.

SPEERS: So if they do all that, they are more inclusive as everyone hopes, would you be willing to support further support for them?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very important that the Iraqi people take responsibility as much as they possibly can for pushing back IS and that includes obviously the Sunni part of the Iraqi population also being involved in pushing back Sunni militants, IS. So it will be important to have a Government of national unity. It will be important that the Iraqis take the lead and do as much of this as they can themselves but it is likely that they will need some international support because IS are moving very quickly, they are brutal in their tactics, they have captured a large number of weapons because they’ve swept across the country and they’ve picked up weapons as they’ve made their progress and that Government of national unity is the next step.

SPEERS: But at the moment this support is for those Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, but also in that area, very active of course are the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, this is still listed in Australia as a terrorist organisation, although it has reportedly agreed to a truce over the last year and stuck with that. Are you worried about any of these weapons falling into their hands, do you still think they should be listed as a terrorist organisation, what’s your view on this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, like I say, we’ve had defence briefings and I can’t share those with you. What I would say is that the international community that has put together this humanitarian relief effort has of course considered the risk of weapons falling into the wrong hands and they have put measures in place to reduce the opportunities for that to happen.

SPEERS: Are you able to say does that involve any Australian elements in making that assurance?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think I should talk about briefings that I’ve had.

SPEERS: No, fair enough. What about the next stages in this? Would Labor support special forces being used on the ground to either secure the airfields that are being used here or any other capacity?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we’re jumping the gun here a little bit talking in those terms. The US have said that they’re hoping to support the Iraqis in managing this themselves, they’re not talking about fully formed combat forces on the ground. I don’t think we’re talking about that as recently as today. Our Prime Minister said that he’s not interested in putting Australian ordinary forces on the ground –

SPEERS: No, but special forces?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it would depend I think on having a very clear role, a defined task, meeting the criteria around the responsibility to protect –

SPEERS: So you’d be open to that?

PLIBERSEK: We would need further briefings before we said that we were supportive of that but you know, we are as an international community right now facing potential genocide so if those criteria around responsibility to protect, so, is there a serious threat imminent, have other means been tried, there’s no ulterior motive, you’re actually going in to try to prevent a humanitarian disaster, is the response proportionate, is there a likelihood of success i.e. are we going to leave the country better than we found it, if we, is there a legal basis? These are the sorts of things that we’d be looking at.

SPEERS: The Labor Party voted with the Government against the Greens motion today to have a parliamentary approval for any military action in Iraq, why?

PLIBERSEK: Because we have numerous opportunities in our Parliament to discuss this issue. I think it’s very important that I’m here talking to you, answering any questions you have, there are Members of Parliament, Bill’s been out talking about our thinking on the issue, members of other parties have been doing that, we’ve got many opportunities within the Parliament to talk about our rationale, our approach, our thinking on this issue. I think that that’s completely appropriate. Asking for a change to the way we’ve always authorised this sort of activity, I don’t think now’s the time to be having that debate.

SPEERS: And can I ask you, why everyone’s rightly focused on what’s happening in Iraq, there’s also this disturbing situation unfolding between Russia and the Ukraine. Russia largely got away with annexing Crimea, should it be able to annex Ukraine, what should be done here?

PLIBERSEK: Well, no country should be able to annex another country. Crimea, I think, was a very serious conflict. Now, President Putin has said that, he’s made some vague comments about the eastern part and the south-eastern part of Ukraine, talking about issues of statehood, I think is the language he used, that’s been very quickly held back by his spokesperson. I think that it is very important that the international community say to President Putin that it is not acceptable to have Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine. And then the next step is, well there’s two possible ways of going, we know that European leaders and the United States have been very clear in saying to Vladimir Putin that if there isn’t a change within the next week or so they’ll consider escalating sanctions, that is one possibility. The other possibility is that Russia having been confronted with the fact that the whole world knows that they’ve got thousands of troops within Ukraine’s borders now, does look for a more negotiated settlement. That’s obviously the preferable outcome over the next week.

SPEERS: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Foreign Minister, Deputy Labor Leader, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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TRANSCRIPT - 2UE Radio Interview, Monday 1 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq; Ukraine.

STUART BOCKING: On the line from Canberra is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tanya Plibersek has been good enough to join us. Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


BOCKING: I’m well, thank you for your time on this Monday morning. Parliament’s set to resume, should Parliament be debating the issue of our involvement in Iraq?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it is a good opportunity for the Parliament sitting this week to discuss what’s proposed in our involvement in Iraq. That doesn’t mean necessarily having a vote, it just means an opportunity for parliamentarians to put on the record their views about Australia’s involvement in any humanitarian mission.

BOCKING: Now, some comments from Christine Milne and Andrew Wilkie over the weekend, just have a listen.

CHRISTINE MILNE (audio recording): If we’re going to start, where is it going to end?

ANDREW WILKIE (audio recording): We still have this insane situation where our Prime Minister unilaterally can make decisions of war and peace.

BOCKING: Well, is it so insane? I mean, we do elect to whether it’s your party or the Coalition to govern in the best interest of this country. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that from time to time you get called on to make difficult decisions.

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s certainly true that governments do have to make difficult decisions at times and I’d say there’s absolutely nothing preventing Christine Milne, Andrew Wilkie, any Member of Parliament raising this issue in the Parliament. It is perfectly appropriate for them to make their views known. That’s quite different to insisting on a binding vote when we know that governments have access to some information, security information, intelligence and so on, that it would not be useful to make public before they make their decisions.

BOCKING: As the Shadow Foreign Minister, have you been made aware of some of that detail?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we have received- we received a briefing at the end of last week. Obviously I’m not going to talk about the contents of that briefing-

BOCKING: No, no.

PLIBERSEK: But of course we have supported from the very beginning, the humanitarian mission that Australia’s involved in because you don’t need to be party to security briefings to know that around 700,000 people have been pushed out of their homes in northern Iraq, there are many, many thousands that have been killed in very brutal ways, that men are being killed and women are being sold into slavery with their children. I mean this is a very serious humanitarian disaster in northern Iraq. You only need to look next door to Syria where around 190,000 people have lost their lives already and a third of the population of Syria is displaced from their homes, to know that the potential for continuing disaster is enormous and that an international move to protect people from genocide is very important. You think about the world community standing by when so many hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in Rwanda, for example. We’ve said more than once, we cannot stand by as an international community where civilian populations are threatened in the way that is happening in northern Iraq and frankly in Syria at the moment.

BOCKING: So how is it in light of that Andrew Wilkie at the weekend saying we’re taking sides, given we certainly don’t want to side with the Islamic State, who’s other side are we going to be on?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the mission that the Prime Minister has been talking about, that Labor has said we are supportive of, does include rearming the Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga and some other anti-IS forces in northern Iraq. They are the only effective fighting force against IS in northern Iraq at the moment. We certainly don’t think it’s fair to leave these people to their fate. They are, in some cases, surrounded, they are besieged, there are communities without food and water for months at a time. And now you’re looking at this, you know, I suppose the last barrier between the IS moving right across Iraq and into Baghdad as well. Of course we want to support them, this is their own country and they are being overrun by an incredibly brutal fighting force that will not stop, does not obey the rules of war. Of course we would support Iraqis protecting their own country from that.

BOCKING: So how open ended then is your support for what Tony Abbott has proposed at this stage? If it was then to involve, again, let’s say a coalition of the willing in Iraq, is that where you’d have to have a rethink? How open ended is this bipartisan support?

PLIBERSEK: Well we have to be very careful not to get involved in a fight that makes things worse not better and my criticism of the Iraqi invasion in 2003 stands. I think it was a terrible idea and terribly executed because we didn’t have the support of the Iraqi people we didn’t have the support of neighbouring countries. What we really need to look at today is making sure that we are protecting from genocide, that that’s the purpose of any involvement, that we tried everything else and I think it’s fair to say there is no real negotiating with IS - that we have reasonable prospects of getting in, doing what we need to do and getting out, and that we have the right authority so that we are working with the UN Security Council with other partners, and most particularly with other countries in the neighbourhood, this really does require the involvement of countries like Saudi Arabia saying ‘IS are beyond the pale and we will join in international efforts to withstand them’.

BOCKING: I think the other big point that seems to have been lost on Christine Milne, Andrew Wilkie and I’ll get a chance to chat with them throughout the week. It seems to me we can still have the argument about some of the intelligence around weapons of mass destruction, what was stockpiled in Iraq what wasn’t, what we’re seeing now out of the Islamic State, courtesy of very modern technology, cutting edge technology, is there for all of us to see. Whether it’s Syrian men being herded like cattle and shot, whether it’s the execution of James Foley, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination or intelligence to see what’s happening this time around.

PLIBERSEK: Well the information that we went to war on in 2003 was wrong. The Americans and others said that there were weapons of mass destruction, there weren’t. We went without any real international – the so called ‘Coalition of the Willing’, but there was no support from the UN Security Council and others. We also went before weapons inspectors had even been given time to complete their work in 2003. For all of those reasons at the time I very strongly opposed Australia’s involvement. What we see now is hard evidence, hard evidence of a genocidal campaign. IS, frankly, they kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them. They kill Muslims, they kill Christians, they kill a variety of different religions. They’re selling women and children for $25 a head. This is a shocking attack on civilian populations who just want to be left in peace. Are we really saying that the international community is just going to stand by and let IS do this, of course we can’t.

BOCKING: Extraordinary isn’t it. I know you’re pressed for time, one other quick point just on another trouble spot around the world, the situation in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is scheduled to arrive in Australia later this year for the G20 Summit. As the Deputy Labor Leader, as the Shadow Foreign Minister would you want to shake hands with Vladimir Putin in Brisbane?

PLIBERSEK: Well you know that Bill Shorten for some time since the MH17 disaster has said that he doesn’t think Vladimir Putin will be welcome in Australia. Of course it’s not a decision for Australia on its own we need to talk to other G20 member nations but I think one thing that Vladimir Putin understands at this stage is the international community turning their backs on him. So it’s not just about the G20. There’s sporting events coming up, there’s potential for further financial sanction against his inner circle and there’s all sorts of further international action that we can take, but it can’t be Australia on its own - we need to be talking to other like-minded countries and saying what can we do together to make sure that Vladimir Putin understands that sending thousands of troops to Ukraine is completely unacceptable.

BOCKING: I appreciate your time on a busy morning. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Good to talk to you.

BOCKING: You too, Tanya Plibersek who is the member for Sydney. She’s also the Shadow Foreign Minister and Deputy Labor Leader.


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TRANSCRIPT - Insiders, Sunday 31 August 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq, Ukraine.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Now to the program guest and this morning it's the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning.


CASSIDY: Very well. Labor's view about the Australian Air Force dropping guns and ammunition over Iraq. How do you feel about that?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's pretty clear that the anti- IS forces in northern Iraq including the Peshmerga and others have been really the only effective fighting force stopping IS at the moment. And we've both supported the humanitarian effort until now to protect civilian populations that have been under attack. I think that the next step of ensuring that the Peshmerga and other anti- IS forces are able to continue to fight back IS is a logical next step.

CASSIDY: So you would see it as an important role and with minimal risk?

PLIBERSEK: Of course any activity like this has risk. And we believe our Australian defence personnel are some of the best trained and best equipped in the world. But of course any mission like this has some risk. Nothing can be without risk in the incredibly violent circumstances that you are talking about. We don't know all of the weapons that IS have on hand but they've been capturing weapons as part of their advance through Iraq, they have been capturing weapons along the way. There's some reports that they have been supplied by other nations as well. So you can't count on the fact that they won't fight back. But the Peshmerga and those other forces in northern Iraq are the only effective barrier to IS slaughtering civilian populations as they advance through northern Iraq. So I don't really see what alternative the international community has. There are a few things that are important here. In 2003, the United States and Australia and a few others went into Iraq without international support and without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population. The difference here is you've got the newly forming Iraqi Government speaking with the international community. You've got an imminent humanitarian disaster. We have seen already that IS are prepared to commit genocide if they can. So you do have a responsibility to protect, from the international community and you've got a United States administration that are taking a much more methodical and much more internationally inclusive approach.

CASSIDY: You talk about this being a worthy next step. What about the step after that? What if they were to introduce Super Hornets? Would you be equally embracing of that?

PLIBERSEK: We would have to have a lot more information about that next step, if there is to be a next step. We would have to discuss that also within our Shadow National Security Committee and Shadow Cabinet.

CASSIDY: Are they drawing you into the conversation up until now? Did you know about these – that we're about to drop guns and ammunition?

PLIBERSEK: I am not going to discuss the briefings we have had from the Government. What I would say is we’ve been very supportive of the humanitarian effort until now. And where you have an effective or reasonably effective fighting force on the ground being the only thing standing between IS and civilian populations that are at risk of genocide or ethnic cleansing, then there is an international responsibility to assist those people to hold back IS.

CASSIDY: The Greens are demanding parliamentary debates before any decision is taken to introduce the fighters, the hornets. Do you think that is the way to go?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think that it's clear that 2003 was a disaster and most Australians remember 2003 as a disaster and they remember the fact that the Howard Government, many of whom are obviously still part of the new Abbott Government, didn't consult the Australian community at that time. I think that we are - I think it's important to have a national discussion but I would also say that we're at a very different - we're in a very different environment today. We have a US administration that is cautious about involvement. They're saying, President Obama is saying very clearly that he is not keen to put formed combat brigades back on the ground. There is no - there are some people in the United States who are urging him to go further but it seems very clear that President Obama is not keen on the idea of having large numbers of American troops back in Iraq. And I think the discussion that we are having in Australia is very much informed by the disaster that was the 2003 invasion. We do have a responsibility to protect civilian populations from potential genocide and ethnic cleansing. If we have the ability to support Iraqi forces to do that, then I think that is a worthwhile thing to do. But, beyond that, we would have to have more detailed discussion.

CASSIDY: You're saying because of the limited nature of the involvement at this stage you don't think it demands a parliamentary debate before decisions are taken.

PLIBERSEK: There is nothing stopping the Greens or anyone in the Parliament having a discussion about these issues. There are plenty of forums of the Parliament where they can publicly air the concerns that they have. I am just cautioning about the idea that this is just like 2003. There are a great number of differences including the - I mean, people will remember how enthusiastic the Bush administration was and the Blair administration and our own administration were about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I don't think that there is that tone in our national debate at the moment. But there is an imminent humanitarian disaster. Gareth Evans actually has written a great deal about the proper circumstances to consider when you are thinking about a military intervention for a humanitarian basis. And that includes things like is there a potential genocide or genocide imminent? Is this the only reason for the military intervention? There is no ulterior motive. Is it a proportionate response? Does it have a likelihood of success, does it have international backing or international approval? They are all the sort of issues we should be considering. There is a great deal as I say written about this already in the international community. We can have a sensible debate about it.

CASSIDY: And have you disabused those in your party who feel this is all over-hyped and this is a Government trying to cover for its domestic problems?

PLIBERSEK: This is clearly a very serious international issue. There are domestic considerations, the fact that Khaled Sharrouf was allowed out of Australia and indeed took his family overseas to participate in such brutal fighting is of concern to all Australians. So there are - there is an international problem. There are domestic implications for it. That is a separate issue from the fact that this Government a year into its administration is not handling its domestic responsibilities well. It's the most unpopular Budget in 40 years, it's a Budget that takes Australia down a path of unfairness that Australians are rejecting. We can have both of those conversations at the same time.

CASSIDY: Just on Ukraine, does Labor share Tony Abbott's definition of the events there as a Russian invasion?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think the words we use are as important as the fact that there are thousands of Russian troops inside the borders of Ukraine now. The only people who seem not to be prepared to accept that are the Russians themselves. There is satellite imagery, there's NATO presenting evidence to the Russians. Russian-backed separatists fighters themselves are talking about the thousands of Russian troops that they're fighting alongside. We know that the Russians have supported financially and militarily this separatist movement. It seems that they have deliberately opened a third front in the fighting. I would say that the surge in Russian troop numbers cannot be separated from the fact that the United States is preoccupied and focussed on the threat of IS in Iraq and the Russians are using this as an opportunity to push forward their advantage. It is a serious issue. And it does deserve international attention and sanction of President Putin who I think is not only behaving aggressively he is being dishonest to boot.

CASSIDY: But you suggest or Labor has been urging Tony Abbott to push harder for Vladimir Putin to be banned from the G20 but it seems their lobbying has been well out in front of you on that score.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important that the international community show President Putin there are consequences to this sort of aggressive behaviour. There's some Russians indeed who are arguing that he shouldn't have been invited to France earlier in the year in June for D-day commemorations. I think there's an acceptance that economic sanctions, particularly sanctions that relate to military or strategic issues are a very important next step. But there do have to be consequences to this sort of aggression. This is the only forcible - the annexation of Crimea is the only forcible annexation of land since the Second World War. It is not acceptable for this to be the approach of Russia and particularly for as I suggested for them to try and make advances while the world community is focussed on the brutality of ISIS in northern Iraq and in Syria as well.

CASSIDY: Finally the United States Ambassador John Berry said this of Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, this week that she is in the top tier of the most effective and capable Foreign Ministers in the world. She's impressive in every way. That is very high praise.

PLIBERSEK: And John Berry is a terrific diplomat.

CASSIDY: He said that she's had an amazing debut on the world stage and she's taken the world by storm. That seems to go beyond diplomacy.

PLIBERSEK: All I can say is he is a very enthusiastic man and a very good diplomat.

CASSIDY: Thank you for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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