TRANSCRIPT: Sky News, Thursday 10 September 2015




SUBJECTS: Iraq; Syrian crisis; Pacific Islands Forum.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time. This is really a bipartisan decision. Have you been briefed by the Government yet? 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Our leader, Bill Shorten has received a briefing both from the Prime Minister himself and also from Chief of Defence. Sadly, the briefings that the rest of our Shadow National Security Committee (NSC) have asked for haven’t been granted until now. Although later today, I will hear from Department of Foreign Affairs officials about the humanitarian aspects of Australia’s offer.

JAYES: So what information are you seeking, what are you uncertain about, what do you have anxieties about?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course our NSC members are very keen to know, for example, about the arrangements that are made should any of our personnel, you know, the worst should happen and a plane was downed, for example, making sure that our people would be kept safe -

JAYES: So the rules of engagement, really.

PLIBERSEK: The rules of- well, making sure that there’s a combat rescue provision made for our personnel. The rules of engagement are also very important, making sure that the rules about being very careful about avoiding civilian casualties will be followed. These are the sorts of the questions that obviously our Shadow National Security team are very keen to hear directly from defence.

JAYES: I’ll get to the risk of civilian casualties in a moment, but can I just ask why does Labor support this expansion of the mission? What will it achieve?

PLIBERSEK: We support it because the government of Iraq have asked for our help to protect their people and their territory. There’s a legal basis for us to help the government of Iraq to protect its own people. We believe that we can make a contribution to helping them defend themselves. I think when you’re talking about the complexity of Syria however, we shouldn’t be thinking about a broader military engagement there. What we really need to emphasise is a humanitarian response and a political resolution to the mess that is Syria at the moment. Making sure that the processes that have been held up internationally, we do what we can to bring to bring the parties back to the table, to think about what happens next for Syria.

JAYES: For there to be a political solution in Syria, there needs to a military one as well, you no doubt accept that, we’re talking about a generation long war here, perhaps, in Iraq and Syria. Many experts have talked about- for there to be a tactical boots on the ground team to give more intelligence for these airstrikes that we will now be conducting and perhaps even ground troops in the foreseeable future. Is that something that you are comfortable [with]?

PLIBERSEK: No I don’t think Australia should be sending troops, boots on the ground as people say, into Syria. We’ve got a -

JAYES: Should it be ruled out at this point though?

PLIBERSEK: In the case of Iraq, we’ve got a clear legal basis. We are helping the government of Iraq protect its own people and its own territory from strikes that are being made from across the border from Syria and within Iraq itself. There’s a very clear legal basis there. I think that the international community needs to work on a political solution for Syria and of course to some degree that will mean dealing with the warring forces there. But at the moment, what’s happening in Syria is you’ve got Russia backing the Assad government, you’ve got Iran backing Assad government, Hezbollah coming across the border from Lebanon, you’ve got the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others that are essentially, as well as fighting IS, very uncomfortable with the Assad regime. We don’t want to get drawn into what could become a proxy war between different parties for control of Syria. There has to be a political resolution.

JAYES: Sure. What is the political resolution, though? As you said earlier this week, Turkey, Russia seem to be planning for a post-Assad Syria so what is the dominant force? Is the Free Syrian Army the answer? There are 60 different groups, well that can be argued as well, so who is moderate force that we should be backing?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that’s exactly the reason we shouldn’t get involved militarily in Syria. Because that question -

JAYES: But we are, aren’t we? We are involved militarily.

PLIBERSEK: We’re involved in helping Iraq defend itself, including from attacks that are being launched from Syria -

JAYES: This is the very definition of mission creep though, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, no I don’t think so because there is a very clear legal basis for what we’re doing. And I just have to stress, we do have a responsibility as a good international citizen to helping Syria. We are very pleased that the Government has announced that 12,000 extra refugees will be brought from Syria. Obviously Labor has been calling for this for many weeks now, in fact many months - when the Government originally said they’d bring 4,400 people from the region we said those should be in addition to our usual intake and that wasn’t what the Government was proposing at the time. And we’ve been calling for extra humanitarian assistance because we know countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey have had millions of refugees that they’ve been looking after for years now. We have to do more-

JAYES: To be fair though, the Government is giving 12,000 permanent places, that is different to some European countries who are only giving temporary places. It is going to cost an estimated $700 million. So even though the humanitarian aid side of things isn’t as high as you had requested, this is a pretty, overall, a very generous response from the Government, would you agree?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s terrific and Tony Abbott’s change of mind from Monday saying ‘no, we’re not taking any extra people, nothing above our current quota’ to 12,000 extra is one of the, frankly, best changes of mind I’ve seen from this Government. It’s something that of course we support fully. But we also think we need to lift our effort for refugees that are in the region, in neighbouring countries, in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in particular that have been looking after millions of people. The UNHCR and other UN agencies are saying we are running out of money to feed these people as winter approaches.

JAYES: But as Julie Bishop points out, some of the Gulf States aren’t pulling their weight but let me move on to the humanitarian -

PLIBERSEK: And they should, I agree with that. They should.

JAYES: Can I move on to how the selection process might be made. Scott Morrison has pointed out today, and he’s the minister that will be in charge of essentially resettling these 12,000, that we should be looking after the minorities in these camps and around these camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and he says essentially they will really be the Christian minorities. Do you agree with that?

PLIBERSEK: I think we need to look after the most vulnerable people and -

JAYES: But they are the most vulnerable people, do you agree? Because some reports state the Christian minorities aren’t even safe in the camps.

PLIBERSEK: It’s very important that we go for the people that need our help the most. And in many cases that will be religious or ethnic minorities, in other cases it’ll be, for example, women on their own, potentially very vulnerable in camps, families, women and children, you know, with the fathers being killed, for example. You need to think about a range of characteristics that make a person vulnerable and we need to judge based on who needs the most help. We can do that with the help of the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration. We shouldn’t choose based on the religion of a person, but of course religion is a factor in making people vulnerable to attack.

JAYES: Can I ask about a separate issue now? The Prime Minister is in the Pacific Islands, he’s being criticised by some Pacific Island leaders for not doing enough on climate change but Australia can’t save Pacific Island nations in isolation so this really has to be an international effort, so isn’t that criticism a bit unfair?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think the Pacific Islands are asking to be saved, they’re asking for Australia to do its fair share. And they’re not the only ones criticising our government for having a very unambitious target for carbon pollution reduction.

JAYES: But what is Labor’s ideal target for post 2030? You haven’t put that forward. There’s also no explanation really about how this target of 50% renewables will be achieved by 2030.

PLIBERSEK: We’ve got great faith in our energy renewables sector. We’ve seen in recent days statements about large scale solar projects being funded and promoted. We’re confident that we can reach a 50% renewable energy target, it is ambitious but we should be ambitious. We’ve got some of the greatest natural resources in the world when it comes to renewable energy and we’ve got some of the best research and some of the most innovative equipment and so on. When it comes to-

JAYES: But with respect, Shadow Minister, our confidence and ambition isn’t going to save the Pacific Islands, so does Labor need to put forward something more concrete as an alternative government?

PLIBERSEK: But more renewable energy is a big part of doing our bit globally and of course we’ll announce our carbon pollution reduction targets over the next few months. And we’ve said very clearly that we think the Government’s target is unambitious, that their mad campaign against wind power is inexplicable and that we think that Australia as a good global citizen needs to do its share.

JAYES: Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.