TRANSCRIPT - ABC Capital Hill, Wednesday 25 February 2015

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GREG JENNETT, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, Australia seems to be edging towards an additional troop commitment in Iraq, perhaps a training mission. How much has Labor been brought into the loop on planning for that?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well we haven't received a briefing about the proposal that John Key spoke about in the New Zealand Parliament.

JENNETT: Would you have expected one?

PLIBERSEK: We would expect a briefing before any decision's made. The Foreign Minister and Chief of Defence have both said today that no final decision has been made and we would certainly expect a briefing before any final decision is made and we would hope also that the PM would tell the Australian people about it through the Parliament, the Australian Parliament which is of course the best place to detail such an announcement.

JENNETT: As you've indicated, the trigger point for the renewed discussion that we're having right now has been John Key's statement in the beehive. Did it surprise you that it came from that side of the Tasman without being matched by a timetable in Canberra as well?

PLIBERSEK: I can't really understand why the New Zealand PM has said that it's likely that this mission will proceed and the Australian Government is saying that no decision's been made yet.

JENNETT: Now you're putting down an expectation that this should be when it's ready to be announced, announced in the Parliament. Do you think there's some risk that the PM might go to New Zealand and announce it from there and if so would that be the wrong call?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's always a better thing with an issue of such importance to talk to the Australian public about it and the best place to talk to the Australian public is through the Parliament because elected representatives of the Australian population have an opportunity then to consider and respond. I think nevertheless when an announcement's made, if such an announcement's made, Labor will apply the considerations that we've brought into play in supporting the previous deployment and that would be that we support the request from the Iraqi Government for help to defend itself but on certain criteria. And that includes that there's no ground troops committed, that this is only within the borders of Iraq and not going into Syria, that it's only for so long as the Iraqi Government needs our help - until it can defend its own people - and it's only while the Iraqi Government and armed forces behave in a way that's acceptable to Australia.

JENNETT: So they're the tests that you would apply.Are you bothered at all by at least the perception of mission creep that we're going now into a training role, it seems, that goes above and beyond advise and assist? What next?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can't answer that question because we haven't been briefed. And that's why it is important first of all that if any decisions are made the Opposition receives a full briefing and that we have the opportunity to have a debate in Australia about the parameters of our engagement. Of course we want to support the troops that are there doing such a fine job at the moment, fighting Daesh, which is a very harmful organisation. There's no question that it is right that the international community in response to a call from the Government of Iraq engages with our responsibility to protect, that we do support the Iraqi people to be able to defend themselves against some mass atrocity crimes and the threat of more mass atrocity crimes. The question is the parameters for that engagement, how far it goes and what our exit strategy would be.

JENNETT: And apart from the test that you've already outlined to us, what about numbers? Does Labor get caught up in whether it's 100, whether it's 200 or if the number came in as high as 500? Are there limits you would look to apply around that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, again, I don't think it's right to speculate about hypotheticals. I think we need to wait for a full briefing from our defence personnel about the appropriate level of engagement and why.


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