House debates

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ministerial Statements

Middle East

2:00 pm

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

on indulgence—I would like to update the House on our forces in the Middle East.

As a peaceful democracy, Australia is reluctant to reach out to conflicts thousands of miles away. But, as this House knows, these conflicts can reach out to us. As this House has heard, at least 60 Australians are now fighting with terrorist groups in the Middle East and at least 100 Australians are supporting them with money and recruitment. The beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions, ethnic cleansing and sexual slavery that we have seen in northern Iraq and Syria are only the beginning if the ISIL movement has its way. This apocalyptic death cult has declared war on the world and it must be resisted at home and abroad.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago the government pre-deployed a force to the Middle East, with up to eight Super Hornet strike fighters, a Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft, a KC-30 refueler and a special forces contingent. We have not yet made a final decision to commit our forces to combat, but from today Australian aircraft will start flying over Iraq in support of allied operations. I stress that ours are support operations, not strike missions. Australian airstrikes await final clearances from the Iraqi government and a further decision by our own. But from today our refueler and our Wedgetail will operate over Iraq in support of United States and other coalition aircraft.

Because ISIL has global ambitions, our international security and our national security are indivisible. At all times, though, the government will respond in a prudent and proportionate way. The countries that are already conducting combat operations to disrupt and degrade ISIL include the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands have publicly declared their intention to join combat operations.

Australia cannot change the world, but we can make a difference. Our objective is to support governments that neither commit genocide against their own people nor permit terrorism against ours. Our objective is to allow people to live their own lives in their own way and to worship in whatever way they choose. I salute our armed forces in the Middle East, who fight for the universal decencies of mankind.

In these difficult times, the cooperation—even friendship—now growing between former rivals and the growing realisation, even in the Middle East, that there is no such thing as good terrorism, should be of some comfort. As always, the Australian government will do whatever is possible to keep our people safe.

2:03 pm

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

on indulgence—I thank the Prime Minister for updating the parliament.

Once again, I will take this opportunity to place on the record Labor's admiration for the bravery, professionalism and skill of the men and women of our Defence Force and the resilience of their families. Our defence forces have our complete support as they prepare for this humanitarian mission and we promise to look after their families, that they leave behind here in Australia.

As my colleagues and I have said consistently: Labor's support for Australia's involvement in Iraq is underpinned by four principles. Firstly, we do not support the deployment of ground combat units to engage directly in fighting ISIL. Secondly, Australian operations should be confined to Iraq. Thirdly, our involvement should continue only until the Iraqi government is in a position to take full responsibility for the security of their people and their nation. And fourthly, if the Iraqi government and its forces engage in unacceptable conduct or adopt unacceptable policies, we should withdraw our support.

These four principles represent the conditions we have set for our support. I do note and welcome the Prime Minister's comments regarding the negotiations underway on the legal and diplomatic framework to support our operations in Iraq. Labor has taken a strong interest in ensuring that Australia meets its international legal and diplomatic obligations and in guaranteeing that the appropriate force protection measures are in place for Australians serving in the region. This is part of Australia's responsibilities as a good international citizen, as well as providing important legal protections for our defence personnel. These decisions are too important to be rushed and we support the government taking the time to get them right.

In the days ahead our thoughts are with the men and women of the ADF. We wish them a safe and successful mission and a speedy return to the ones they love.