TRANSCRIPT - PM Agenda, Sky News Monday 1 September 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq; Ukraine.

DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time. You have offered bi-partisan support for this increased military involvement in Iraq. What is the aim of this mission as you understand it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well I think you have to be careful to call it increased military involvement, this is a humanitarian mission that of course our RAAF are involved in and supporting. We have had some briefings, I don’t want to go too much into the details of the briefings, but I think it’s public knowledge, already on the public record that this will include flying supplies into northern Iraq, resupplying the Peshmerga and other anti-IS fighting forces including with food, water, medicines and also ammunition and so on.

SPEERS: So, not just the Peshmerga?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you’d better ask the Government about their specific arrangements, but anti-IS fighting forces.

SPEERS: Okay, but one thing that’s clear is that Labor has supported this in a staged process. What is the actual mission here, what’s the aim of doing this?

PLIBERSEK: Well the mission is to prevent the slaughter of innocent people and IS have come across the border from Syria, they’ve killed anyone who has offered any resistance. That means Muslims who don’t agree with them, Christians, people from different ethnic minorities. They have killed anyone who has offered resistance, anyone who has refused to pledge allegiance to their particularly narrow world view. We know that many thousands of people have died already, we know that around, at last count 700,000 people have been displaced from their homes. There’s no natural end to what IS are intending –

SPEERS: Well if that’s the case and there is no natural end, and the aim is to stop them slaughtering people, is the end game here to push them out of the territory they have captured?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think our immediate effort here is to support the most effective fighting force against the IS in northern Iraq which has been the Peshmerga.

SPEERS: To do what though to push them back?

PLIBERSEK: To push them back.

SPEERS: To the Syrian border.

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly to the Syrian border but to make sure that they don’t have the free reign across northern Iraq that they have at the moment because –

SPEERS: It could take quite a lot of effort and time to achieve that.

PLIBERSEK: Well, yes that’s possible, I mean certainly the US air strikes, reports have them as being very successful in disrupting the advance of IS. Some significant strategic positions have been taken back after the US air strikes. But I think as a world community we have observed what’s happening in northern Iraq and it is unacceptable to stand by while there is a genocidal campaign going on. Particularly when there is an effective fighting force of Iraqis that we can support in pushing IS back.

SPEERS: Well, that’s what I was going to ask you and I appreciate that this is the Government’s decision but is your view that we should also be helping the Iraqi Government forces to push back Islamic State? Why is it just the Kurds in the north?

PLIBERSEK: Well because they’re really the most effective fighting force in that part of the country. But there will be –

SPEERS: What does that say about the Iraqis though?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there has been a great deal of internal friction within the Iraqi Government, you would know that, a new Iraqi Government is to be finalised probably around the 9th or 10th of September we expect. When that’s done it is much easier to work with a newly formed Iraqi Government and there is kind of a caretaker Government, I suppose you would call it at the moment, but when the Government is fully formed, an inclusive Government of national unity that has representation of Sunni, Shia, Kurd and others, makes it much easier to continue to work. This is done with discussion with the Iraqi Government, certainly they are involved in this, but it’s a period of some change for the Iraqi Government. It becomes much easier when that Government is finalised.

SPEERS: So if they do all that, they are more inclusive as everyone hopes, would you be willing to support further support for them?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very important that the Iraqi people take responsibility as much as they possibly can for pushing back IS and that includes obviously the Sunni part of the Iraqi population also being involved in pushing back Sunni militants, IS. So it will be important to have a Government of national unity. It will be important that the Iraqis take the lead and do as much of this as they can themselves but it is likely that they will need some international support because IS are moving very quickly, they are brutal in their tactics, they have captured a large number of weapons because they’ve swept across the country and they’ve picked up weapons as they’ve made their progress and that Government of national unity is the next step.

SPEERS: But at the moment this support is for those Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, but also in that area, very active of course are the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, this is still listed in Australia as a terrorist organisation, although it has reportedly agreed to a truce over the last year and stuck with that. Are you worried about any of these weapons falling into their hands, do you still think they should be listed as a terrorist organisation, what’s your view on this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, like I say, we’ve had defence briefings and I can’t share those with you. What I would say is that the international community that has put together this humanitarian relief effort has of course considered the risk of weapons falling into the wrong hands and they have put measures in place to reduce the opportunities for that to happen.

SPEERS: Are you able to say does that involve any Australian elements in making that assurance?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think I should talk about briefings that I’ve had.

SPEERS: No, fair enough. What about the next stages in this? Would Labor support special forces being used on the ground to either secure the airfields that are being used here or any other capacity?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we’re jumping the gun here a little bit talking in those terms. The US have said that they’re hoping to support the Iraqis in managing this themselves, they’re not talking about fully formed combat forces on the ground. I don’t think we’re talking about that as recently as today. Our Prime Minister said that he’s not interested in putting Australian ordinary forces on the ground –

SPEERS: No, but special forces?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it would depend I think on having a very clear role, a defined task, meeting the criteria around the responsibility to protect –

SPEERS: So you’d be open to that?

PLIBERSEK: We would need further briefings before we said that we were supportive of that but you know, we are as an international community right now facing potential genocide so if those criteria around responsibility to protect, so, is there a serious threat imminent, have other means been tried, there’s no ulterior motive, you’re actually going in to try to prevent a humanitarian disaster, is the response proportionate, is there a likelihood of success i.e. are we going to leave the country better than we found it, if we, is there a legal basis? These are the sorts of things that we’d be looking at.

SPEERS: The Labor Party voted with the Government against the Greens motion today to have a parliamentary approval for any military action in Iraq, why?

PLIBERSEK: Because we have numerous opportunities in our Parliament to discuss this issue. I think it’s very important that I’m here talking to you, answering any questions you have, there are Members of Parliament, Bill’s been out talking about our thinking on the issue, members of other parties have been doing that, we’ve got many opportunities within the Parliament to talk about our rationale, our approach, our thinking on this issue. I think that that’s completely appropriate. Asking for a change to the way we’ve always authorised this sort of activity, I don’t think now’s the time to be having that debate.

SPEERS: And can I ask you, why everyone’s rightly focused on what’s happening in Iraq, there’s also this disturbing situation unfolding between Russia and the Ukraine. Russia largely got away with annexing Crimea, should it be able to annex Ukraine, what should be done here?

PLIBERSEK: Well, no country should be able to annex another country. Crimea, I think, was a very serious conflict. Now, President Putin has said that, he’s made some vague comments about the eastern part and the south-eastern part of Ukraine, talking about issues of statehood, I think is the language he used, that’s been very quickly held back by his spokesperson. I think that it is very important that the international community say to President Putin that it is not acceptable to have Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine. And then the next step is, well there’s two possible ways of going, we know that European leaders and the United States have been very clear in saying to Vladimir Putin that if there isn’t a change within the next week or so they’ll consider escalating sanctions, that is one possibility. The other possibility is that Russia having been confronted with the fact that the whole world knows that they’ve got thousands of troops within Ukraine’s borders now, does look for a more negotiated settlement. That’s obviously the preferable outcome over the next week.

SPEERS: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Foreign Minister, Deputy Labor Leader, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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