Monday, 1 September 2014
Questions without Notice
Iraq and Syria
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston. Can the minister update the Senate on current and proposed Australian government involvement in humanitarian and other action in Iraq?
I thank the senator for his question and I thank him for his contribution earlier today on a motion to suspend standing orders. As you know, the Australian government has taken a very strong position in condemning the actions of the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant, including the reports of atrocities against civilians, minorities and the security-force opponents of that organisation. ISIL's activities in Syria and Iraq are a major threat to regional and international security. The Prime Minister has said it is important to do what we reasonably can to overt a potential genocide.
We have agreed to joint airlift of military equipment to the Kurdish Peshmerga. This has been agreed to after a request from the Obama administration and with the permission of the Iraqi government. Other countries that are involved in the airlift of military equipment include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Italy. We will transport stores of military equipment, including arms and ammunition, as part of a multinational effort with Royal Australian Air Force C130J Hercules and see C17A Globemaster aircraft, as deployed to the task, as set out and planned by our coalition partners.
We stand ready to participate in further humanitarian airdrops in Iraq. Australia has conducted two humanitarian airdrops to this point, consisting of high-energy biscuits, bottled water and hygiene packs, the latest of which was conducted yesterday to civilians in the isolated Amerli region, which has been surrounded by ISIL forces. We have not yet received a request of any further potential Australian involvement in further military activity. I will leave it there, thank you.
As situations now stand, it would be important for me to underline that since we observed the mass executions, the beheading of a person on the internet, the threat to behead a further US national journalist on the internet, the readiness level of the Australian Defence Force has come up. We also—as the good senator would know—have about 60 Australians fighting with this and other terrorist organisations, so there is a domestic component to our consideration as to how we go forward. The Australian Defence Force is ready. We have received no request or participated in formal planning with respect to military operations. Our focus has been the immediate preservation of life at Sinjar, where we first carried out our humanitarian drops—and I can tell you I was with the team that did that work last Friday. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer so far. Will the minister make regular ministerial statements to the parliament on the current deployment to Iraq, to ensure the parliament and the Australian community is kept updated about Australia's military engagement?
Again, I thank the senator for his question and I can confirm that the government will make regular ministerial statements, in line with previous practice. Indeed, I see Senator Faulkner entering the chamber. I want to say that we would want to carry out ministerial information into this chamber, just as he did when he was the Defence minister. Today you should be aware that Prime Minister Abbott has given a detailed ministerial statement. That will be tabled in this chamber following question time.
I underline my appreciation for the bipartisan way in which we are going forward on this. This is something that the government is agonising over. We do not deploy young Australians into a theatre, such as we have observed in Iraq, lightly. Our risk assessment is deep and constant. We are very conscious of the very heavy burden of responsibility that sits upon us as we go forward with this problem.