THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
THE DOORS, PARLIAMENT HOUSE CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: Iraq, Ebola, India, MRRT.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I’ve come out this morning to talk about the tragic death of Steven Sotloff. This is another confirmation that IS in Iraq and in Syria are a barbaric organisation that follows none of the rules of war. Steven was abducted more than a year ago now and his tragic death, it underscores the type of enemy that the Iraqis are fighting. Australia has decided to help supply the Peshmerga, the most effective fighting force in northern Iraq at the moment to hold back this force which has killed everyone that has stood in its way, murdered, abducted, sold into slavery, women and children, that has besieged whole towns and set out to wipe out whole communities. I know that yesterday, that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, also gave his support including to military action to hold back IS. This is a very serious fight and our Australians who are involved in supporting the Iraqis to hold back this threat are doing a terrific job, a very necessary job.
I want to say a couple of things about Syria as well, because people have said on the one hand, you’re intervening in Iraq by supporting the Peshmerga, how is Syria different? IS, the same organisation originally started in Iraq transferred to Syria, grew its strength and is now back in Iraq. There’s one very key difference, and that is the Iraqi Government has asked for Australian support against IS. And unfortunately in Syria, the civil war now means that there is no credible partner with which to fight IS. Any support of a similar type to Assad’s troops in Syria would empower a regime that is a brutal regime, that is also accused of mass atrocity crimes, including using gas against its own- chemical weapons against its own civilian population. That doesn’t mean that the world community should turn its back on Syria. Australia has been asked as part of the international community to do more for Syria. The United Nations has called for a rebuilding fund of humanitarian- a rebuilding fund of around 6 billion dollars and so far the Abbott Government has only contributed less than 30 million dollars to the relief effort in Syria. We also see that there are millions of refugees in Syria and Iraq, well over a million in Iraq, well over 6 million in Syria, another area where Australia could do substantially more than we are.
I want to turn now - does anyone have any comments or questions about the international issues before I talk about domestic issues?
JOURNALIST: Just firstly on Iraq and the use of propaganda, the video uploaded says that Steven Sotloff is paying the price for US air strikes. So, does that give you pause or does that make you think about potential ramifications for Western nations, Australia in particular?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s true that IS are using this as a propaganda opportunity to try and warn off- not just the United States, this is an international effort. Well over a hundred countries have agreed at the UN Human Rights Committee to launch an investigation into the mass atrocity crimes that have occurred in Iraq. This is an international effort against IS. But of course IS will use any propaganda opportunity it has to try and frighten off or intimidate the international community. I think given the many thousands of Iraqis that have lost their lives, it is important for us an international community, to say that our responsibility to protect Iraqi citizens has been engaged. Their government has asked for the support of the international community. I feel so very sad for Steven Sotloff, for James Foley before him, for any civilian who is caught up in this fight. We know their names, because of the propaganda efforts of the IS. We don’t know the names of the thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives, thousands of women and children who have been sold into slavery to IS fighters. So tragic, our hearts go out to their families. We know how important the work is that foreign correspondents do because without the work of people like Steven Sotloff and James Foley and our own correspondents who are in war zones around the world at the moment, the world wouldn’t know about these shocking events. These people would sink into anonymity for us and sink into, unfortunately, indifference because we wouldn’t be seeing the impact of IS on northern Iraq and Syria without the reporting of journalists. But I don’t think we can do what IS wants us to do and give up the support of the Iraqi Government because of the propaganda that they launched.
JOURNALIST: So any lessons for the international community then?
PLIBERSEK: Well there is a very strong lesson for the international community from the events of 2003 when the Iraqi invasion happened without giving proper time to weapons inspectors to do their work. It happened without credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction and it was later found to be false, it happened without international sanction, without the support of many nations and I think that that is an important lesson and it seems to me that President Obama who was a strong opponent of the invasion in 2003 has learnt that lesson, the effort that he’s putting in to building an international coalition to support the Iraqis and the fact that the Iraqi Government has asked for this intervention does make it a very different situation. But we need to learn the lessons of 2003, that’s a mistake that should never be repeated.
JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek overnight Medicines Sans Frontier has warned that the world is losing the battle against Ebola. Should Australia be doing more?
PLIBERSEK: Well Australia has cut $7.6 billion from its aid budget. It is the single largest cut in this year’s budget. One dollar in every five of savings is from overseas development assistance. This is a real event where Australia could and should be doing more. But it is difficult to see how that is supported with a $7.6 billion cut to the aid budget. Africa is one of the countries that has suffered most from these cuts to the aid budget. Our aid to Africa has been reduced dramatically. Now we were told by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that Africa is a long way away, we’ve got no real responsibility to Africa, why are we involved in an area so far away from our region? But of course the consequences of a massive outbreak of Ebola, that health authorities are warning they are finding difficult to contain, obviously affects us globally. We’ve seen how quickly this illness can spread and how serious the consequences are.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you the Abbott Government is negotiating [inaudible]?
PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve received no briefing on any safeguards that might be negotiated, so we’ll wait and hear what safeguards have been negotiated.
JOURNALIST: The decision to sell uranium was actually made by the Gillard Government so how far down the track was that Government with negotiating safeguards?
PLIBERSEK: Well the Gillard Government had long and comprehensive discussions with the previous government of India. We had a change of government in Australia and a change of government in the world’s largest democracy so I think it’s important to hear what their intentions are.
JOURNALIST: Do you still think Australia should be selling uranium to India then and what are your concerns?
PLIBERSEK: Well India is an important economic partner for Australia and an important strategic country in our region. And I am delighted by how successful their elections were, how well run they were and the opportunity that hundreds of millions of Indians had to vote. As for any comments on uranium I’ll leave them until we know the details.
JOURNALIST: Can I just get a quick comment on the mining tax repeal, particularly the School Kids Bonus, is it time to admit that this is a School Kids Bonus which this government and this economy can’t afford?
PLIBERSEK: Well let me make a few comments about the domestic economy and the budget. Tony Abbott said a year ago that there would be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions and no new taxes. He has broken every one of those promises with this budget. And yesterday we saw a dirty deal that will leave Australians worse off. We know that the superannuation cuts will leave someone who is 25 years old now who is earning $55 000 a year by 2025 they will have missed out on more than $9000. If you’re talking about older people on higher wages that’s thousands more. When you look at what that means for retirement savings all together you are talking about easily $100 000 or more for the average worker that they’ll miss out on because instead of getting 12% into their super, they’ll get 9% of their wage into their superannuation.
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