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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