House debates

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Questions without Notice


2:01 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister provide an update on the situation in Iraq, and the role that Australia will play.

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question, and I do appreciate the spirit in which he asks it. I appreciate the support that he and the opposition have given to the government as we do our bit to deal with the humanitarian disaster now unfolding in northern Iraq.

We have all seen atrocity after atrocity on our TV screens—beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions. This is as near to pure evil as we are ever likely to see. As President Obama pointed out a week or so back, what is at risk in northern Iraq is potential genocide—a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale unparalleled in recent times. To his great credit, President Obama has authorised air strikes against the murderous hordes of ISIL. Those air strikes have lifted the siege of Mount Sinjar. They have apparently stopped the advance of ISIL forces into Kurdish areas.

There are obviously discussions going on between the United States and its friends and allies about what more can be done to avert further disasters in this part of the world. I have to say that Australia has not been officially asked for military assistance. If we were asked for military assistance there would be the standard approvals process, which would involve cabinet decision-making, and consultation with the opposition.

Should we be asked, we would want to look at any request in the light of achievable objectives, a clear role for Australian forces, a full risk assessment, and an overall humanitarian objective. But I do wish to say that I am sure that no-one in this parliament—no human being anywhere—would wish to stand by and watch the preventable slaughter of innocent people. None of us would wish to see a preventable slaughter of innocent people. I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition would not, in this context, mind me echoing the words of Ben Chifley in his 'light on the hill' speech, when he said that our objective is to work 'for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand', because that is the Australian way—to keep our country safe and to do what we can to build a safer world.