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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