Abbott Government Commits Defence Aircraft To Coalition Airstrikes Against ISIL In Iraq

The Abbott government will commit up to eight Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to participate in airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.

Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the decision at a joint press conference with the Defence Minister, Senator David Johnston, and the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, following a Cabinet meeting.

“This is not a decision the Government has taken lightly,” Abbott said. “Ultimately it is Iraq that must defeat ISIL, but it cannot do it alone.”

Australia will act as part of a large coalition of countries supporting Iraq.

  • Listen to Abbott, Johnston & Binskin (36m)
  • Watch Abbott, Johnston & Binskin (36m)

Text of email from Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Liberal Party mailing list recipients.

A few hours ago, I announced that the Government will commit up to eight Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to participate in airstrikes in Iraq as part of the international coalition formed to disrupt and degrade ISIL.

As a peaceful democracy, Australians are reluctant to reach out to conflicts many thousands of miles away but sometimes these conflicts reach out to us.

There are at least 60 Australians fighting in the Middle East with terrorist groups, principally the ISIL movement.

There are also at least 100 Australians supporting terrorist groups with funding and recruitment.

ISIL has effectively declared war on the world and you’ve all heard the murderous threats that leading ISIL spokesmen have uttered against Australia and Australians.

The world is responding, as demonstrated by the UN Security Council Resolution last week against Foreign Fighters.

The United States in coalition with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar has launched airstrikes against ISIL in Syria. As you also know the United States in coalition with the United Kingdom and France has launched air strikes against ISIL in Iraq.

Earlier this week, Royal Australian Air Force aircraft began flying support missions in Iraq.

Today, Cabinet has authorised Australian air strikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government and in support of the Iraqi Government. Also, subject to final legal documentation, Cabinet has authorised the deployment of Australian Special Forces into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi forces.

Only Iraq can defeat ISIL but Iraq shouldn’t be alone. As far as Australia and our allies are concerned, Iraq won’t be alone.

I have to warn that this deployment to Iraq could be quite lengthy, certainly months rather than weeks.

However, I want to reassure you that it will be as long as necessary but as short as possible. I also need to warn the Australian people that this is a dangerous mission, but I’m confident that the Chief of the Defence Force has put in place all possible measures to minimise risk.

This is essentially a humanitarian mission to protect the people of Iraq and ultimately the people of Australia from the murderous rage of the ISIL death cult.

ISIL must be disrupted and degraded at home and abroad.

It is absolutely in Australia’s national interests that this mission go ahead.

I spoke to Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, and he indicated to me his full support of the decisions that the Government has taken this morning.

Transcript of joint press conference with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Defence Minister Senator David Johnston and Chief of the Australian Defence Force Air Marshal Binskin.

PRIME MINISTER TONY ABBOTT: As I have often said, as a peaceful democracy, Australians are reluctant to reach out to conflicts many thousands of miles away, but sometimes these conflicts reach out to us.

As all of you know, we have at least 60 Australians fighting in the Middle East with terrorist groups, principally the ISIL movement. We have at least 100 Australians supporting – with funding and recruitment – terrorist groups, principally the ISIL movement. ISIL has effectively declared war on the world and you’ve all heard the murderous threats that leading ISIL spokesmen have uttered against Australia and Australians.

The world is responding, as is demonstrated by the UN Security Council Resolution unanimously carried a week ago against Foreign Fighters fighting with ISIL overseas. As you know, the United States – in coalition with Saudi Arabia, Jordon, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar – has launched airstrikes against ISIL in Syria. As you also know, the United States – in coalition with the United Kingdom and France – has launched air strikes against ISIL in Iraq.

Earlier this week, Royal Australian Air Force aircraft began flying support missions in Iraq. Today, Cabinet has authorised Australian air strikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government and in support of the Iraqi Government. Also, subject to final legal documentation, Cabinet has authorised the deployment of Australian Special Forces into Iraq to advise and assist Iraqi forces.

I want to stress that only Iraq can defeat ISIL, but Iraq shouldn’t be alone and as far as Australia and our allies are concerned, Iraq won’t be alone.

I have to warn that this deployment to Iraq could be quite lengthy, certainly months rather than weeks. I want to reassure the Australian people that it will be as long as it needs to be but as short as it possibly can be. I also need to warn the Australian people that this is a dangerous mission, it is a dangerous mission but I’m confident that the CDF has put in place all possible measures to minimise risk. It is an essentially humanitarian mission. Yes, it is a combat deployment but it is an essentially humanitarian mission to protect the people of Iraq and ultimately the people of Australia from the murderous rage of the ISIL death cult.

ISIL must be disrupted and degraded. ISIL must be disrupted and degraded at home and abroad, so it is absolutely in Australia’s national interests that this mission go ahead.

I should say that a few moments ago I spoke to Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition. He indicated to me his full support of the decisions that the Government has taken this morning. I have been ensuring that the Leader of the Opposition has been kept fully briefed throughout the development of this deployment to Iraq. I’m grateful for the support that we’ve received from the Opposition in this matter. It is good that when it comes to national security, both government and opposition should stand shoulder-to-shoulder and that’s exactly what’s happened here.

I’m going to ask the Defence Minister David Johnston to add to these remarks and then obviously I’ll ask the Chief of the Defence Force to say something as well.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE SENATOR DAVID JOHNSTON: Thank you, Prime Minister. Last week, I was in the Middle East and in Baghdad to see the establishment in the Middle East of our forces as they have prepared to participate in the US-led coalition in Iraq. Can I tell you that the skill, commitment and professionalism of our uniformed personnel going forward is simply first class. They will do a very good job for us. Now, we have gone forward very carefully in a very prudent way. We have engaged with the government in Baghdad and I can tell you that the new Prime Minister in Baghdad and indeed the Iraqi Ambassador in Australia is very gratefully welcoming of our participation in this coalition. We have a good relationship with the government in Baghdad. I’m certain that all Australians can be very, very proud of what the Australian Defence Force will do in coming weeks.

AIR CHIEF MARSHAL BINSKIN: Thank you, Minister. The deployment so far has been a significant achievement for the Australian Defence Force. From a relatively standing start we packed up an air task group, a potent air task group, and we moved it 12,000km. We also moved a commando unit over in that time as well with all their supporting equipment. The team is well trained, they’re well equipped, they’re well prepared, the air task group’s been flying supporting missions and some training missions over Iraq for the last couple of days and we’re ready to get on with the job.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, up until now, you’ve been studious in not ruling out the possibility of operating in Syria at some stage. Is that just based on pragmatic military reasons, is that why you need to keep that option open if it needs to be embraced in the future?

ABBOTT: Well, Phil, as I have on a number of occasions lately, could I counsel people against wanting to project too far forward here? Let’s focus on what’s been done today rather than speculate on what might be done in months or years to come. We are joining combat operations as part of a US-led coalition in support of the Iraqi government, that’s what we’re doing. We have no intention of doing anything else but there is useful work that we can and must do. It’s very much in Australia’s national interest that we do this useful work to disrupt and degrade ISIL at home and abroad.

QUESTION: How will you know when the job is done?

ABBOTT: Well, again I stress, we will be there for as long as we need to be but for no longer than is necessary. I want to make that absolutely crystal clear: we will be there for as long as is necessary but no longer than we need to be. It’s a very specific task that we have: to engage in airstrikes and to deploy our Special Forces in an advise and assist capacity as part of the campaign to disrupt and degrade ISIL. It could take quite some time, but we will know that we are succeeding when ISIL are in retreat, not in advance. We will know that we are succeeding when the Iraqi Government is restoring a modicum control over its own cities and towns. We’re not trying to build liberal pluralism in Iraq; we’re not trying to create a shining city on a hill. We are simply acting as part of a US-led coalition in support of the legitimate elected government of Iraq – that’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anymore about the limitations on Australian forces operating in this mission?

ABBOTT: They will have strict rules of engagement, as you’d expect. Our forces always operate under strict rules of engagement and our Special Forces will be involved in what are described as advise and assist missions. They will be helping Iraqi forces with the planning and coordination of operations. It’s not envisaged that we will be engaged in combat operations ourselves but we will be advising and assisting the Iraqi forces as they, they Iraqi forces, engage in combat operations.

QUESTION: Sorry, just about the air part of it?

ABBOTT: As you know, there are three elements of our air capability. We’ve got the refueler, we’ve got the Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft and we’ve got up to eight Super Hornet strike fighters. So, the refueler will be supporting combat operations over Iraq, the AEW&C aircraft will be supporting combat operations, the strike fighters will be available for strike missions inside Iraq.

QUESTION: Is Australia now at war?

ABBOTT: I know that you’d love to have that headline, but it’s not strictly accurate. Yes, we are engaged in combat operations but these are combat operations against an insurgency in support of the legitimate government of Iraq. So, we are not in combat against another country. We are engaged in combat operations against an insurgency in support of the legitimate government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, on that point, if you could clarify for us, you’ve said that Australia is participating at the request of Iraq, but yesterday the Iraqi Ambassador said it was in fact a request from Australia for approval. Could you clarify that point for us?

ABBOTT: We certainly have said to the Iraqi Government that we need all of the approvals before we can conduct these operations, but the Iraqi Government has requested these operations; has welcomed our readiness to participate in these operations, and we are now operating at the request of the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: You distinguished time and again this conflict from the one in 2003 and you did so again indirectly today. In retrospect, do you think it was a wrong decision to become involved in 2003?

ABBOTT: Michelle, my general principle is to look forward rather than look back. My general principle is to do what’s needed today rather than worry about what happened yesterday. I accept that we have to learn the lessons of the past and that’s why I’m at pains to point out that we can be no more ambitious for Iraq than the Iraqi people are for themselves. We can’t fight Iraq’s fights for it but we can help them to fight their own fight more effectively and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re certainly not seeking to change a government, to change a society, to change a culture, only the people of Iraq, should they wish, can change their government, change their society, change their culture. But we want to help them in the fight upon which they are now engaged because it is in our national interests that we do so. It is in the interests of civilisation that we do so. It is in everyone’s best interests that the murderous rage of the ISIL death cult be checked and rolled back and that’s what we’re determined to do.

QUESTION: How soon could these strike missions commence and in answer to Phil’s question about Syria, you talked about decisions, it could be months or years away, could this mission and involvement actually last years rather than months?

ABBOTT: Well, the point I make is that it will last as long as it needs to but not a day longer than is absolutely necessary. This is not a fight we can or should shirk. It’s a fight which has been joined, one way or another, by upwards of 60 countries because as was absolutely crystal clear at the United Nations Security Council last week, the countries of the world realise that this is the world’s fight. It’s Iraq’s fight at one level, but at a deeper level it’s the world’s fight because ISIL has declared war on the world, ISIL is launching an assault on civilisation, not just upon the people of Iraq right now.

QUESTION: Sorry PM, you’re using the phrase disrupt and degrade rather than destroy, can this organisation be destroyed and, if not, and this gets back to David Speers’ question, what degree of disruption and degradation will be the signal that it’s ok for our troops to come home?

ABBOTT: Well, if we could degrade them to the point where they no longer existed that would be obviously the best possible result. It is very difficult to eliminate an idea. It is a pernicious, vicious ideology, the ideology that’s promoted by the ISIL death cult and I would like to see it banished but nevertheless it’s been around one way or another for quite a long time, it’s just that this is its most virulent form so far. One of the points that I’ve been making is that this conflict has created some unusual friendships. There are countries in the Middle East which were previously at daggers drawn, which are now cooperating quite closely with each other and that’s a good thing. It’s also my hope that as part of confronting the ISIL menace, it might finally happen amongst all peoples and in all cultures that we acknowledge that killing people in the name of God is never right. It’s never right.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, several weeks ago you reassured Parliament that before you got to the decision that you’ve made today there would be a full risk assessment on what lay ahead, what reassurance can you give us that a thorough risk assessment has been carried out and could you paraphrase for us the bottom line on that risk assessment? What’s the nub of it?

ABBOTT: Tim, I’m going to ask CDF to add to these observations but yes, there has been a very full risk assessment. The risks to our aircraft include small arms fire, anti-aircraft fire, so-called man portable surface to air missiles, the risks to our special forces, even though they will be operating to some extent at least behind the lines, the risks to our special forces include obviously roadside bombs, infantry attack, etcetera. So, there has been a very full risk assessment. Plainly, right now Iraq is a dangerous place, but we don’t lightly commit our armed forces, we don’t lightly put our armed forces in harm’s way. We only do it when it’s absolutely necessary and in Australia’s national interest and it is absolutely in Australia’s national interest to disrupt and degrade ISIL at home and abroad.

BINSKIN: We’ve done a full threat assessment, risk assessment for the mission. We’ve briefed Government on that. We’re well away of the risks and as part of the mission planning, good intelligence and through our tactics, techniques and procedures and understanding what we have to do and not rushing it.

And to answer the question about when this will start – it won’t be rushed, it will be over coming dayS. We aim to mitigate the risk as low as reasonably practical. At the end of the day the risk is always there and we are fully aware of that and we keep a very close eye on it.

QUESTION: What is the risk of civilian casualties and what is being done to avoid civilian casualties in any operation that Australia participates in?

ABBOTT: You can never entirely prevent civilian casualties. When you are conducting combat operations, you can never guarantee that there will be no collateral damage – you just can’t. I can say, though, that the Australian armed forces never ever deliberately target civilians. It would be criminal to do so. We never do it. We always – always – do whatever is humanly possible to minimise civilian casualties, to minimise the risk to civilians, as well as the risks to our own personnel and that’s absolutely central to the rules of engagement.

BINSKIN: Unlike the threat that we’re going against – the insurgents and terrorists that we’re going against here – we’re compliant with international law, we’re discriminate and we’re proportionate in everything that we do.

ABBOTT: The only people here who deliberately target civilians are the ISIL terrorists. One of the features – the distinguishing features – of a civilised society is that its armed forces never ever deliberately target civilians. The whole point of terrorist movements is to deliberately target civilians.

QUESTION: Can I ask the CDF just to give us more detail on the nuts and bolts of the daily operation and you’ve got what appears to be a very comprehensively tailored and potent force that has its own eyes and ears, basically refueling capability and a strike capability. Now, in terms of rules of engagement that go with it, in 2003 there was at least one occasion when an Australian officer put up a red flag on a strike that was going to be carried out in Iraq because he wasn’t satisfied that the target had been clearly identified. Will we have that capacity built into our system? Will we have a capacity to rescue downed pilots should that happen, for instance?

BINSKIN: The answer is not will we – we do. We have the force that you describe, a very potent force. We won’t be operating unilaterally here; we’ll be part of a US-led coalition. For the air side of it, that will mean that we’ll fly under the combined Air and Space Operations Center – the US Air and Space Operations Center in the Middle East that runs all this, coordinates it. We have our Air Component Commander who is a very experienced Hornet pilot who is in that air operation centre. He and his deputy will be responsible for ensuring any tasking that we do will be compliant with all our rules of engagement and our targeting directives and then they always have the red card and anyone down the chain right to the men and women that are on the cockpit of the Hornets have the ability to play that red card should the situation arise where they’re not happy that the targeting or what they’re doing, or there’s a potential for collateral damage in there.

QUESTION: Do we have a capacity to recover downed pilots?

BINSKIN: For that, there is a robust search and rescue – combat search and rescue capability – in theatre provided by the US and other coalition forces. It is coordinated through the Air and Space Operations Center through the Joint Personnel Recovery Organisation.

QUESTION: Do we have some female crew members?

BINSKIN: We have men and women in all aircraft that are flying over there.

QUESTION: And CDF – can you just clarify the special forces role, it’s training, mentoring, will they actually be firing weapons against the enemy?

BINSKIN: It’s not a doctrinal term that we use but a term that we’re using is the ‘advise and assist’ and they’ll be advising and assisting headquarters level at the higher headquarters, the brigade and battalion level. They’ll be doing that from central locations as well as some forward operating bases. But they’ll be maintaining their coordination, helping the battalion level, the brigade will be able to plan, integrate intelligence, integrate the joint fires whether it be artillery, mortar, air, and then be able to provide that advice so they’ve got the best chance of achieving the effect that they’re after.

QUESTION: Do you have a clear picture yet of whether they’ll be operating in a particular part of the country for example or how their role will be fine-tuned?

BINSKIN: Yes, I do, but I’m not going to cover those operational aspects openly here.

QUESTION: You said in your opening remarks, Prime Minister, that there’s still some paperwork or something to be done with regard to the special forces. How long do you envisage those finalities will take before they become operational?

ABBOTT: In the end, we are dependent upon the Iraqi Government for the finalisation of some of the legal documents. We’ve been promised it within 24 hours, but I’m also conscious of the fact that there is a holiday coming up which could slow things down.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

ABBOTT: We have all the authorisations that we need to conduct strike missions. We believe that it’s important to have what’s described as a third person note before we deployed inside Iraq on advise and assist missions, our special forces contingent.

QUESTION: CDF – my understanding there’s about 50 Iraqi battalions. Is that about right? Are we going to be just helping a handful of those or all of them and how many special forces would be attached to each battalion?

BINSKIN: Again, I won’t go into the specific details. We won’t be spreading ourselves across the entire Iraqi security force organisation. We’ll be concentrating on some specific areas that are suited to our special forces working with them.

QUESTION: And the Peshmerga?

BINSKIN: At this stage, no, it’ll be Iraqi security forces. We see that as very important for developing their capabilities as well.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, do you accept that community relations with the Islamic community may have taken a bit of a setback this week and that you may have played some role in that?

ABBOTT: I’m happy to deal with that question, but I’d rather finish up Iraq questions, questions about the further evolution of our deployment which I’ve announced today before we get on to that.

QUESTION: Are you confident and comfortable you have all you need for this mission and what will trigger you to perhaps ask for something more?

BINSKIN: No, in fact as the CDF I’ve been able to sit down throughout this evolution and through the investment that we’ve seen in defence over a number of years, we have the equipment we need, we’ve got the people trained that we need, we’ve got the interoperability with the US forces and other coalition forces. No, we’re well prepared for this and we’re ready to do it.

QUESTION: CDF, may I ask you how do you rate the competence of the Iraqi forces at this point?

BINSKIN: You’ve seen the performance over a number of areas. Our aim is to go in there and disrupt and degrade ISIL, give the Iraqi forces time to regroup, get themselves together here and give them the wherewithal to go back and reclaim the sovereignty of their nation.

QUESTION: There’s a small bit of confusion about how many Super Hornets. Have we got eight or six?

BINSKIN: The approval from Government was up to eight. I’m mindful of parking space, the costs of deployment, all that in trying to minimise what we need to put forward. Six aircraft is what we need to be able to do the task at the moment, but obviously depending on how this goes, I can put a couple of extra airplanes in.

QUESTION: Do many of them have female pilots or observers?

BINSKIN: I’ll have to check. There could be because that force does have females involved but I wouldn’t go into specifically pointing out where they may be – I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.

QUESTION: Just to clarify – and apologies if this has been raised before – when’s the earliest that operations could start?

BINSKIN: Over the coming days. I won’t be specific – over the coming days.

QUESTION: Just on that six or eight – the number of Super Hornets – do we have six or eight in the United Arab Emirates at the moment?

BINSKIN: We have six in the United Arab Emirates at the moment.

QUESTION: But you can deploy two more?

BINSKIN: The Government has given approval of up to eight.

QUESTION: CDF, regarding the Super Hornet missions – will they be assigned specific targets each time or will there be capacity for them to be assigned areas in which to hunt?

BINSKIN: It depends on the targeting of the time. They may be given deliberate targets that may go and strike or they may do what we call dynamic targeting, where they’ll be on-call to support Iraqi security forces for any of the threats that they may face.

QUESTION: Has there been any assessment about whether or not the introduction of air strikes in Iraq could increase the security risk back home?

ABBOTT: Look, the point I’ve long made is that we have been a terrorist target for a very long time. At the risk of saying again what I’ve said to people before – Australia was bombed in Bali long before our involvement in the 2003 Iraq campaign. The United States was targeted on September 11 2001, long before the Iraq campaign. We are a terrorist target, not because of anything we have done, but because of who we are and the way we live. We are a terrorist target because we are a free, secular, liberal, pluralist society. That’s what makes us a terrorist target, because regrettably there are still some people out there, people of malice, people of capability, who hate in the marrow of their bones the kind of free and liberal society that we are. That’s why it’s so important that this ISIL movement be disrupted and degraded at home and abroad.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Presiding Officers to take heed of your advice in relation to women who are wearing head coverings and are in the public gallery?

ABBOTT: Ok, have we finished with the Iraq deployment?

QUESTION: You mentioned the British and the French involvement in the air strikes, in terms of the special forces, are you able to tell us are other countries doing similar as we’re going to do with the special forces?

ABBOTT: Look, the Americans certainly have quite a substantial special forces component on the ground already. My understanding is that there are UK and Canadian special forces already inside Iraq. So we’ll be operating on a much smaller scale but in an entirely comparable way to the United States special forces.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about your judgment on the effectiveness so far of the airstrikes that have been carried out by our partners, the US, Britain and France? Are they having the desired effect in stopping ISIL from moving around; stopping them from mobilising out in the open?

BINSKIN: There’s no doubt they are having that effect at the moment. So they are containing ISIL’s movements and we are seeing ISIL starting to react to that and change their tactics. And to be honest with you, what air power does, it stops people being able to mass forces on the ground in a land campaign and that’s exactly what we aim to do and therefore that gives a change for the Iraqi security forces to be able then build themselves back up and then be able to regain Iraqi sovereignty themselves.

QUESTION: Just before we move on, this decision has been widely case by us as an open and shut decision. Can you just reflect on how difficult, if it was difficult, the decision was for NSC and Cabinet this morning?

ABBOTT: Well, I think that it was clearly in Australia’s national interest to take on this death cult at home and abroad. That doesn’t mean that it’s an easy decision to commit the armed forces of the Commonwealth to combat; to put the armed forces of Australia in harm’s way. I have to say that it was a very broad ranging discussion, first of all in the National Security Committee of the Cabinet and then in the general Cabinet. Every member of the Cabinet had an opportunity to say his or her piece and almost everyone exercised that opportunity. I think it would be fair to say that we were all acutely conscious of the gravity of the decision that we were making. We’ve been acutely conscious all along of the seriousness of the business upon which we are embarked, but we are absolutely confident that this is right for Australia and it is right for the world.

QUESTION: Going back to that question, do you accept that relations with the Muslim community in Australia may have suffered new strains this week and that you may have been instrumental in that?

ABBOTT: Well, Mark, the point I want to make is that we are committing to combat operations in support of an Islamic government. We are committing to combat operations to, in the first instance at least, protect a largely Muslim people. So, we are doing what we can to help the Government and the people of Iraq to protect themselves against a murderous death cult, which in the words of so many senior Muslim leaders such as Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the King of Saudi Arabia, is against God, against Islam and against our common humanity. So, there is no reason whatsoever why what the Australian Government has embarked upon from today should upset the vast majority of Muslims here in Australia.

Now, I know there’s been a bit of agitation about the burqa over the last few days and I can understand why people do get excited about it, because as I’ve said on many occasions, I find it a pretty confronting form of attire and I wish that people chose not to wear it. But as I’ve also gone on to say on every single occasion – and regrettably not everyone has included my subsequent comments – I’ve gone on to say that in a democracy such as ours, in a free and pluralist democracy such as ours, it’s not the business of government to tell people what they should and shouldn’t wear. So, I repeat today what I’ve said on a number of earlier occasions.

I should also say that there is a difference, obviously, between what people may be entirely permitted to do in the ordinary public spaces of our country and what might be required in a secure building. So, in public areas of this building, people ought to be allowed to wear what they want. In secure areas of this building, obviously people need to be identifiable and that normally includes having your face visible. Now, yesterday the Presiding Officers made an interim decision that people wearing burqas and other attire that obscured the face wouldn’t be allowed in the public galleries, they’d have to go into the glassed-in galleries. I asked the Speaker to rethink that decision and my understanding is that it was an interim decision, that it would be looked at again in the light of security advice that will come in coming days and I’m sure that the matter will be fully resolved before the Parliament comes back in a fortnight.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, were you aware of the decision of the Presiding Officers before it was announced?

ABBOTT: Look, someone gave me a bit of paper at the close of Question Time. I regret to say that I didn’t have a chance to read it and the first I was aware of the decision was some time yesterday evening.

QUESTION: Was your office aware of that decision before it was announced?

ABBOTT: Look, I don’t honestly know. I don’t honestly think it matters. The important thing is that this matter is going to be further considered. It was an interim decision by the Presiding Officers and as they said right up front, it was something that will be looked at further in the light of further security advice and I imagine that advice will come in coming days and the matter will be fully resolved – fully resolved – well before the Parliament comes back in a fortnight’s time.

The point I want to make is that there’s got to be a very standard rule. There are some places where it isn’t appropriate to obscure the face; whether it’s a motorbike helmet or some other garment, it’s not appropriate to obscure the face. There are other places where people should be free to do absolutely whatever they like, to wear absolutely whatever they want, because that’s right and proper in a free and open society such as ours.

Thank you.

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