TRANSCRIPT: Sky News 'Richo', Wednesday 9 December 2015




SUBJECTS: Donald Trump, Syria, national security

GRAHAM RICHARDSON, PRESENTER: This afternoon I had a talk to Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. She’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and obviously there’s so much to talk about with Islamic State – you could actually do interviews 24/7 on it for a week and not finish. But the interesting thing about this one is she does very well – this is one of the best summings up of what we have to do about Islamic State that I’ve yet heard. Have a look:

Tanya Plibersek, welcome to the program!


PRESENTER: I’m good! I haven’t spoken to you for a while and of course there are so many things happening internationally that are your purview. I want to cover a whole range of things; but I want to talk to you today obviously about ISIL. But it’s hard not to begin with Donald Trump’s statements in America. Which, I can’t imagine they are within the constitution, so I can’t imagine any law that he would bring forward to give voice to what he’s just said could possibly work. But it was an extraordinary statement – you had Marine Le Pen in France do really well and, I might say finish in front of the other two parties: the socialists and the conservatives. It’s amazing to me how these far-right people – how well they’re doing.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the very significant thing about Donald Trump’s comments were that he had very senior Republicans coming out and saying this does not represent the Republican Party and more to the point, it doesn’t represent the United States of America – a country that was founded on religious freedom.

PRESENTER: It certainly was. It’s founded on migrants – it’s founded on people coming from somewhere else! And it staggers me that the way he’s carried on about Hispanics as well.

PLIBERSEK: Not just migrants, Graham, but of course they were migrants fleeing religious persecution: the Pilgrims went to the United States with the express purpose of being able to practise their religion.

PRESENTER: Yeah, I must say America staggers me all the time and he does particularly. But to get back to the whole terrorist threat: I mean, when you look at Paris, at the plane in Egypt, at the bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, at what happened even in California last week and of course the appalling carnage in Paris… I mean, we seem to be losing the terrorist war.

PLIBERSEK: Well Graham, I think you’ve named a whole string of terrible incidents and when you put them all together, of course it sounds like the threat is enormous. And it is a very serious threat, including in Australia: we have to make sure that our security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need and the resources they need to keep Australians safe. On the other hand, you have to look at some of the recent successes. Certainly, ISIL, IS, Daesh - whatever you want to call it – is being pushed back in Iraq and in parts of Syria as well. It’s being fought very effectively by some of the Syrian forces, some of the Iraqi forces with Australian assistance and of course by groups like the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters. They’re reclaiming territory including the area around Sinjar, which is where the Yazidis were in such trouble just over a year ago when we were, you know, hearing stories that they would be surrounded on Mount Sinjar, cut off from food, water, medicine and so on – well that area is now in the hands of Kurdish fighters and the road that goes through that area that joins very significant holdings, IS holdings, has also been captured by the Peshmerga fighters. So, you see that there are significant military victories on the ground in Northern Iraq and in Syria. And you also, I think, have the beginnings of a strong, international coalition to try and bring a political resolution in Syria. Without a political resolution in Syria it doesn’t matter how well we do fighting on the ground, the country will not see peace until there is a political resolution and in my view, until President Assad is removed from power.

PRESENTER: But you can’t do it without the Assad forces, can you? I mean the Alawi and the Christians – and essentially that’s what he represents – they’re down to about 30% of the country, mind you it’s a pretty good 30%, a lot of the Islamic State holdings are mere desert. But that having being said, how do you win in Syria without those forces?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think this is why you need to work on a military solution and a political solution at the same time, because the big mistake we made in the early 2000s in Iraq is we thought we were, you know, we were part of a coalition with the Americans; we thought once Saddam Hussein is defeated militarily everything will go back to, you know, “hunky dory”. That was not the case, and you remove Saddam Hussein, there was a power vacuum there, there was a growth of al-Qaeda in Iraq – the precursor organisation to Daesh. And you saw years and years of instability, fighting, bombings, deaths. We need to actually work on a political solution in Syria that yes, does take account of the Alawites, the other groupings – religious and ethnic groupings – it’s a very multicultural and multiethnic, multi-religious country, Syria. And those tendencies have to feel that they can be represented in a political solution.

PRESENTER: But in both Syria and Iraq, the fundamental problem is the Sunnis versus the Shia, you know Alawi being a breakaway sect but pretty close to the Shias anyway. And if you look at Iraq, it seems to me that the one mistake that the Americans and the coalition made was to allow successive Iraqi governments – run by Shias – to get even with the Sunnis. And of course Saddam Hussein had been a Sunni and they reckon he treated them pretty poorly, so they got even. But we sat back, as an international coalition, and allowed that to happen – and didn’t that sow the real seeds for the growth in the Sunni population of real anger?

PLIBERSEK: Look, certainly there is a very strong feeling of grievance in many Sunni communities in Iraq, in Syria and so on. But that’s not the only issue. I think we need to work as part of the international community on a political solution for Syria that would give confidence to all of the groups in the community – including Sunni, including Shia – but also other religious minorities and people, of course, with no religion, to believe that they can have a government that will respect all of the rights – their religious and political freedoms and rights. So I think you’re right in identifying that major schism but there are other issues at play too. You certainly see, for example, the Russian involvement as one not so much about religion obviously, but about protecting President Assad who they have seen as an important ally, because Syria of course an important gateway to the Mediterranean for them and they’ve got military, you know, military resources, bases and so on there.  So, it is very, very complex – as you’ve identified, Graham – very complex indeed.  And there will be continued military pushback against Daesh and we’re playing our part very importantly in providing air cover that has helped reclaim some of this territory; very important to find a political solution, and the third thing I would say, in particular as we come up to Christmas: there is a desperate humanitarian situation there. There has been a desperate humanitarian situation for years and it’s just getting worse. Unless as an international community we start to address the needs of the millions of people who have been displaced from their homes, the refugee crisis in Europe will continue to worsen. But more to the point, we will be turning our backs on the biggest victims of Daesh: the people who have had to flee from their homes.

PRESENTER: And most of them, by the way, are Muslims!.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, of course.

PRESENTER: Some are Christians obviously, but most are Muslims and they’ve killed more Muslims than anybody else, certainly a lot more than our coalition would ever dream of.

PLIBERSEK: And Graham the other thing is of course that the Assad Government has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. So you actually have people who are on the one hand fleeing from Daesh and on the other hand victims of the Assad Government: they’ve had indiscriminate bombing, barrel bombs, chemical weapons… there are very serious reports of, you know, hundreds or thousands of people – civilians – being targeted by their own government.

PRESENTER: Indeed. But one of the Paris attackers apparently had, you know, moved along with the refugee hoard heading towards Europe, and now we’ve got 12,000 coming here. And I hate to be one to agree with Cory Bernardi on anything because he represents everything I don’t, but nonetheless, when he makes the point that you can’t check – it doesn’t matter how good ASIO is – how can you check on those 12,000 when there are virtually no records to be had? Nothing to, “I can say I came from this village but you wouldn’t know whether I did or from somewhere else”, “I can say I’ve got a clean record, I might be a mass murderer”. How does anyone know?

PLIBERSEK: Well Graham, we have very, very good security and intelligence organisations in Australia; some of the best in the world. And they are taking their time and they are being very careful. Of course, people who are fleeing their homes, some of them are able to bring their documentation with them, and some of them aren’t. What’s happening with the UNHCR processing in countries of first asylum, like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is that people are having retinal scans, biometric scanning, so once people are in the system there is an ability to keep track of them and keep track of the identity that they have. But, I must say, with millions of people displaced and the fact that we are targeting the people who are most vulnerable and most in need, including people from Christian and other religious minorities, including unaccompanied women and children and including particularly, people who have family here – it does make it a little bit easier to be confident that the people we’re choosing are people who will not just benefit from receiving safe haven in Australia but who will in turn give a benefit to Australia with the work they’ll do here and the lives they’ll lead here.

PRESENTER: Well, Tanya Plibersek, I’m glad you said all that because one thing is for sure: there’s not much compassion around at the moment, and if Labor can’t represent that, it’s not going to represent much. Thank you very much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: It’s a pleasure to talk to you Graham, Happy Christmas.

PRESENTER: Merry Christmas!