THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
SUNDAY, 31 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Iraq, Ukraine.
BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Now to the program guest and this morning it's the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hi. How are you?
CASSIDY: Very well. Labor's view about the Australian Air Force dropping guns and ammunition over Iraq. How do you feel about that?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's pretty clear that the anti- IS forces in northern Iraq including the Peshmerga and others have been really the only effective fighting force stopping IS at the moment. And we've both supported the humanitarian effort until now to protect civilian populations that have been under attack. I think that the next step of ensuring that the Peshmerga and other anti- IS forces are able to continue to fight back IS is a logical next step.
CASSIDY: So you would see it as an important role and with minimal risk?
PLIBERSEK: Of course any activity like this has risk. And we believe our Australian defence personnel are some of the best trained and best equipped in the world. But of course any mission like this has some risk. Nothing can be without risk in the incredibly violent circumstances that you are talking about. We don't know all of the weapons that IS have on hand but they've been capturing weapons as part of their advance through Iraq, they have been capturing weapons along the way. There's some reports that they have been supplied by other nations as well. So you can't count on the fact that they won't fight back. But the Peshmerga and those other forces in northern Iraq are the only effective barrier to IS slaughtering civilian populations as they advance through northern Iraq. So I don't really see what alternative the international community has. There are a few things that are important here. In 2003, the United States and Australia and a few others went into Iraq without international support and without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population. The difference here is you've got the newly forming Iraqi Government speaking with the international community. You've got an imminent humanitarian disaster. We have seen already that IS are prepared to commit genocide if they can. So you do have a responsibility to protect, from the international community and you've got a United States administration that are taking a much more methodical and much more internationally inclusive approach.
CASSIDY: You talk about this being a worthy next step. What about the step after that? What if they were to introduce Super Hornets? Would you be equally embracing of that?
PLIBERSEK: We would have to have a lot more information about that next step, if there is to be a next step. We would have to discuss that also within our Shadow National Security Committee and Shadow Cabinet.
CASSIDY: Are they drawing you into the conversation up until now? Did you know about these – that we're about to drop guns and ammunition?
PLIBERSEK: I am not going to discuss the briefings we have had from the Government. What I would say is we’ve been very supportive of the humanitarian effort until now. And where you have an effective or reasonably effective fighting force on the ground being the only thing standing between IS and civilian populations that are at risk of genocide or ethnic cleansing, then there is an international responsibility to assist those people to hold back IS.
CASSIDY: The Greens are demanding parliamentary debates before any decision is taken to introduce the fighters, the hornets. Do you think that is the way to go?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think that it's clear that 2003 was a disaster and most Australians remember 2003 as a disaster and they remember the fact that the Howard Government, many of whom are obviously still part of the new Abbott Government, didn't consult the Australian community at that time. I think that we are - I think it's important to have a national discussion but I would also say that we're at a very different - we're in a very different environment today. We have a US administration that is cautious about involvement. They're saying, President Obama is saying very clearly that he is not keen to put formed combat brigades back on the ground. There is no - there are some people in the United States who are urging him to go further but it seems very clear that President Obama is not keen on the idea of having large numbers of American troops back in Iraq. And I think the discussion that we are having in Australia is very much informed by the disaster that was the 2003 invasion. We do have a responsibility to protect civilian populations from potential genocide and ethnic cleansing. If we have the ability to support Iraqi forces to do that, then I think that is a worthwhile thing to do. But, beyond that, we would have to have more detailed discussion.
CASSIDY: You're saying because of the limited nature of the involvement at this stage you don't think it demands a parliamentary debate before decisions are taken.
PLIBERSEK: There is nothing stopping the Greens or anyone in the Parliament having a discussion about these issues. There are plenty of forums of the Parliament where they can publicly air the concerns that they have. I am just cautioning about the idea that this is just like 2003. There are a great number of differences including the - I mean, people will remember how enthusiastic the Bush administration was and the Blair administration and our own administration were about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I don't think that there is that tone in our national debate at the moment. But there is an imminent humanitarian disaster. Gareth Evans actually has written a great deal about the proper circumstances to consider when you are thinking about a military intervention for a humanitarian basis. And that includes things like is there a potential genocide or genocide imminent? Is this the only reason for the military intervention? There is no ulterior motive. Is it a proportionate response? Does it have a likelihood of success, does it have international backing or international approval? They are all the sort of issues we should be considering. There is a great deal as I say written about this already in the international community. We can have a sensible debate about it.
CASSIDY: And have you disabused those in your party who feel this is all over-hyped and this is a Government trying to cover for its domestic problems?
PLIBERSEK: This is clearly a very serious international issue. There are domestic considerations, the fact that Khaled Sharrouf was allowed out of Australia and indeed took his family overseas to participate in such brutal fighting is of concern to all Australians. So there are - there is an international problem. There are domestic implications for it. That is a separate issue from the fact that this Government a year into its administration is not handling its domestic responsibilities well. It's the most unpopular Budget in 40 years, it's a Budget that takes Australia down a path of unfairness that Australians are rejecting. We can have both of those conversations at the same time.
CASSIDY: Just on Ukraine, does Labor share Tony Abbott's definition of the events there as a Russian invasion?
PLIBERSEK: I don't think the words we use are as important as the fact that there are thousands of Russian troops inside the borders of Ukraine now. The only people who seem not to be prepared to accept that are the Russians themselves. There is satellite imagery, there's NATO presenting evidence to the Russians. Russian-backed separatists fighters themselves are talking about the thousands of Russian troops that they're fighting alongside. We know that the Russians have supported financially and militarily this separatist movement. It seems that they have deliberately opened a third front in the fighting. I would say that the surge in Russian troop numbers cannot be separated from the fact that the United States is preoccupied and focussed on the threat of IS in Iraq and the Russians are using this as an opportunity to push forward their advantage. It is a serious issue. And it does deserve international attention and sanction of President Putin who I think is not only behaving aggressively he is being dishonest to boot.
CASSIDY: But you suggest or Labor has been urging Tony Abbott to push harder for Vladimir Putin to be banned from the G20 but it seems their lobbying has been well out in front of you on that score.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important that the international community show President Putin there are consequences to this sort of aggressive behaviour. There's some Russians indeed who are arguing that he shouldn't have been invited to France earlier in the year in June for D-day commemorations. I think there's an acceptance that economic sanctions, particularly sanctions that relate to military or strategic issues are a very important next step. But there do have to be consequences to this sort of aggression. This is the only forcible - the annexation of Crimea is the only forcible annexation of land since the Second World War. It is not acceptable for this to be the approach of Russia and particularly for as I suggested for them to try and make advances while the world community is focussed on the brutality of ISIS in northern Iraq and in Syria as well.
CASSIDY: Finally the United States Ambassador John Berry said this of Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, this week that she is in the top tier of the most effective and capable Foreign Ministers in the world. She's impressive in every way. That is very high praise.
PLIBERSEK: And John Berry is a terrific diplomat.
CASSIDY: He said that she's had an amazing debut on the world stage and she's taken the world by storm. That seems to go beyond diplomacy.
PLIBERSEK: All I can say is he is a very enthusiastic man and a very good diplomat.
CASSIDY: Thank you for your time this morning.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.