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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