TRANSCRIPT - RN Breakfast, Thursday 28 August 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Iraq; national security legislation; Indonesia.   


FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is Labor’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Parliament House studios. Tanya Plibersek welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: According to the Minister David Johnson, Australian forces are in “a high state of readiness”, that’s a quote. So it would seem that once again Australian forces are inching closer to a military commitment in Iraq. What is the Government considering? Have you been briefed on this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, no, we have requested a briefing from the Government that so far, that request hasn't been granted so far. What I would say Fran is that we have to be very, very cautious when we’re talking about potential military involvement. Labor has been very supportive of humanitarian assistance in northern Iraq. It is plain that IS are on a genocidal campaign against ethnic minorities and religious minorities in Iraq. In fact, against anyone who doesn't agree with them. That's also true of Syria, the most recent United Nations reports about what's happening in Syria are also shocking. So we support humanitarian assistance in Iraq. We also support greater humanitarian effort in Syria. The United Nations has requested international assistance. They launched a fund hoping to collect around $6 billion for humanitarian and reconstruction efforts and I think the Abbott Government so far has contributed $12 million to that. So we would say we can help more, although of course the way we help in northern Iraq and the way we help Syria would be quite different.

KELLY: I also guess the definition of humanitarian assistance can be as broad or as narrow as you want it to be. The Defence Minister has said if asked it would be "the right thing to do to assist the new Iraqi government". Is it as clear cut as that in your view, that if the Iraqi Government does ask, it is the right thing for Australia to do to participate more fully militarily?

PLIBERSEK: Well we'd have to get a lot more information about what's being requested of us. I think it’s very clear that if there is a potential genocide, the international community has a responsibility to protect. It does look as though there are potential genocides in northern Iraq and certainly, a genocidal campaign both in Syria and Iraq. But the type of any action that Australia might take - I think that is something that we need to be very thoughtful and very calm about. The war in 2003 was not just damaging for Australia, for the United States, for all of the countries that were involved, I think it's been very damaging for Iraq as well. We need to be very cautious and not do more harm than good.

KELLY: Talking of northern Iraq, yesterday on this program we asked the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop about the Kurdish regional government's request for weapons and ammunition. She said at that time there'd been no request for weapons but then clarified later that in fact there had been to the Government. What's Labor's position on Australia arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces operating in the north where IS is, as you say, on a genocidal campaign?

PLIBERSEK: Well I will be meeting with two Kurdish groups later today, including the author of that letter to the Government. I think it's clear that the Peshmerga are the most effective fighting force against IS in northern Iraq at the moment. If the Peshmerga have made requests of the Australian Government, it really is up to the Australian Government to tell us what they intend to do. I note that some European countries, the United States and others are supporting the Peshmerga with ammunition and so on. But it would have to again be something that we need a lot more information about and we also need to know the view of the Iraqi Government when it comes to arming a separate military force to the Iraqi Army.

KELLY: The Greens have warned of mission creep, if there is to be any additional military commitment in Iraq we need to be clear on what the aim is. In your view is it to firm up the Iraqi Government, to protect the state of Iraq against IS? Or is it to defeat the Islamic State? Is that important - that we clarify that before anything more happens?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the first and most important thing we need to be clear about is that there is a humanitarian disaster right now. Thousands of people are dying, many hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. That’s true in northern Iraq it’s also true in Syria and as an international community we do have a responsibility to prevent genocide and to provide humanitarian assistance. Anything more than that has to be after a great deal of thought and consideration, the international community with the government of Iraq. This is something the people of Iraq need to do with international support.

KELLY: And what about debate? What about the role of the Australian Parliament? The Prime Minister Tony Abbott made it clear again this week that the Government will do what governments always have done in the past – they’ll consult, they’ll consult with the Opposition, but they will not seek parliamentary approval. Is that good enough?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I mean I was here in 2003 and I don’t recall a great deal of useful consultation at that time-

KELLY: Well the Greens want more than that, they want a vote in the Parliament, so do others.

PLIBERSEK: I think it is important for us to be very clear as Australians about what our goal is, what the objective would be, what the specific task for Australian forces would be and what the end state is, what do we hope to achieve and how do we then withdraw. None of those questions were answered in 2003 and we can’t afford to make that similar mistake again.

KELLY: It’s 22 minutes to eight on breakfast, our guest is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek in our Parliament House studios. Tanya Plibersek, the Government says its new counter-terror law will be introduced soon. The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, clarified yesterday there is no reverse onus of proof in the new law that had been one of Labor’s complaints and complaints by others. Is that your understanding of these laws?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Fran, it’s very difficult, what we’ve seen here-

KELLY: We’re talking about people leaving or coming back from places like Syria or Iraq.

PLIBERSEK: We’ve seen a press conference. I mean, these are extremely serious matters. We’ve seen no draft legislation-

KELLY: Have you been briefed on these laws?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve been briefed on the intention, after the press conference was held, we got a briefing and in fact, I had two briefings and in neither of those briefings were any of the questions that we had about how these laws would operate satisfactorily answered. So we’re waiting on draft legislation. Of course it’s important to help our security agencies keep Australians safe, there is no one who would disagree with that. And frankly, there is no one who would disagree with the fact that there is heightened risk. We’ve already seen two Australians leave on family members’ passports to go overseas to fight, Khaled Sharrouf being the worst example of this. Of course we believe our security agencies need support to keep Australians safe-

KELLY: They’re already getting it, it’s already working. I mean, the front page of the Telegraph yesterday, the Prime Minister told us yesterday someone was stopped at Sydney airport over the weekend. Front page of the Tele screams “Enemy of the State”.

PLIBERSEK: I was also surprised-

KELLY: “Enemy at our gate”, sorry.

PLIBERSEK: I was also surprised to hear yesterday in Question Time that some airports, some named airports, have extra resources and some named airports don’t yet, which I thought was an extraordinary thing to do, to say if you want to come into Australia or leave Australia more easily, these are the airports that you use. But just back on these laws, Fran, you can’t make serious decisions about national security by press conference and so far we’ve had a press conference and very little extra detail. We want to support our national security agencies but it is very difficult without even draft legislation before us, to comment on the specifics.

KELLY: And yesterday at the National Press Club, the ASIO Director General, David Irvine, was asked whether there would be any, if there was a danger if Australia escalated its military involvement in Iraq that would make Australia more of a terror threat back home. He said he didn’t see any link between that escalation and Australia being a terror threat. Do you agree with that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, he’s a very experienced national security leader and I am not going to contradict him. I think it’s important that we listen to our most experienced, most expert advisers.

KELLY: Just finally, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Bali today. She will sign the new code of conduct with Indonesia on intelligence. This flowed from those leaks from the Snowden files that Australia had been tapping the phone of the wife of the Indonesian President and others. This new code is called a set of behaviour principles. Have you seen what’s being signed today and does it diminish our capacity to gather vital intelligence?

PLIBERSEK: No, unfortunately we haven’t seen the text of the agreement and it is disappointing that it’s taken around 300 days to conclude this matter. I’m very pleased that it’s occurred before the end of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s term because he has been a good friend to Australia and a good interlocker with Australia but it is, of course, again - unable to comment without having seen what the Government’s-

KELLY: Is that good enough, our Government signing a code of conduct that no one else in the Parliament has seen except presumably the Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and a few-

PLIBERSEK: Well that’s a question for Julie Bishop, really.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Fran.



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