THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
MONDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER 2014
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.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hi Stuart, how are you?
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.