TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Thursday 26 March 2015

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SUBJECT/S: United Nations Security Council; Daesh; Iraq; Syria.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: I was very pleased to hear reports that the Foreign Minister has said that Australia will pursue a further term on the United Nations Security Council in the future. Our recent term on the United Nations Security Council gave us the opportunity of playing an active role in some important issues, like MH17, like the fight against Ebola, and like the continuing fight against terrorist organisations such as Daesh. Of course, Labor always believed that our term on the Security Council would allow us to play a useful role internationally but also to raise the status of Australia, to show the world that we are able to play an important role using our relationships and our resources to create a more peaceful world. Labor always said that membership of the Security Council would be a good thing for Australia and for Australians. Sadly, of course, when we were making a bid for Security Council membership, Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott and the Liberals were fiercely opposed and criticised the Labor Government of the day. I take a different position, I think this is clearly in the national interest for Australia to be represented on this sort of international forum, that we have played a good and useful role, and that if we had a further term on the UN Security Council, we could do that again. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: On the final push to- well, hopefully the final push to reclaim Tikrit, the US air strikes are underway, what do you think about that? Do you think there’s a chance of success there? And there are expectations that Australia will be involved in those air strikes and also do you think Australia should be involved in the strikes in Syria?

PLIBERSEK: I must say that there have been some comments in the last couple of days from the Prime Minister that have concerned me about Australia’s involvement in Iraq and Syria. Our original involvement in Iraq was on the basis of a humanitarian mission and then an advise and assist mission for the Iraqi forces. What we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday is that our involvement in Iraq has no time frame on it. Well that is actually quite different to what the Government have said in the past, when the Prime Minister has nominated a time frame of around two years and the Defence Minister has certainly clearly said that our commitment is not open ended. So in the first instance, I’m concerned about any suggestion that Australia’s commitment is an open ended commitment. The second thing that concerns me is the Prime Minister’s statements that our involvement may also be supporting operations in Syria. Labor has said all along that while we support operations in Iraq, that without an international agreement, that operations should be confined to Iraq. The third thing of course that has concerned me in recent times are reports of Iraqi army or militia behaving inappropriately in their own- in the battles that they’re engaged in. And because of these three concerns we have asked for further and urgent briefings about Australia’s involvement in Iraq.

JOURNALIST: When was the last time the Opposition got a briefing? Has it been a while?

PLIBERSEK: We have been briefed periodically recently, I would have to check the date for the last briefing.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it an easy jump to go from air strikes in support of the operation in Iraq to Syria?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there’s a very clear difference with Iraq. In Iraq, we have been asked by a democratically elected government to help it protect its own people and its own territory from an invading force that is a particularly brutal invading force. Because we’ve been asked for help by a democratically elected government that gives us a very clear legal basis for involvement.

JOURNALIST: You sound like you’re basically concerned about mission creep, is that correct? I mean, are you seeking some assurances in these briefings about how far it will go?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve had four principles that we’ve talked about from the very beginning and one of those principles of course was that our support was confined to operations in Iraq. I think that if this is changing now then it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to inform the people of Australia in what way this mission is changing and it should be through the Australian Parliament. We have consistently said that the Prime Minister should be speaking to the people of Australia about Australia’s engagement and the best and most appropriate way of doing that is in report to our Australian Parliament.

JOURNALIST: On the possible new bid for a UN Security Council, Kevin Rudd was intrinsically involved, do you think the Government needs to engage him again to get up a second time?

PLIBERSEK: I’m sure Kevin would be delighted to help in any way possible.



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