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Ministerial Statement On Iraq: Abbott And Shorten Unite In House

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has made a Ministerial Statement on Iraq in the House of Representatives.

Describing the ISIL movement as a “death cult”, Abbott said “Australian aircraft have participated in humanitarian airdrops to people trapped on Mount Sinjar and, just yesterday, to the besieged inhabitants of the town of Amerli”.

He said in coming days Australian aircraft will take part in an airlift of supplies to the Kurdish government in Erbil.

Abbott said: “So far, we have met requests for humanitarian relief and for logistical support. So far, there has been no request for military action itself.”

The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, responded to Abbott’s statement, and offered the Opposition’s support to the government’s position.

  • Listen to Abbott (7m – transcript below)
  • Watch Abbott (7m)
  • Listen to Shorten (8m – transcript below)
  • Watch Shorten (9m)

Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Ministerial Statement on Iraq.

Many Australians are understandably apprehensive about the risk of becoming involved in another long and costly conflict in the Middle East.

The situation in the Middle East is indeed a witches’ brew of complexity and potential danger.

Doing anything involves serious risks and weighty consequences.

But doing nothing involves risks and consequences too.

As things stand, doing nothing means leaving millions of people exposed to death, forced conversion and ethnic cleansing.

So far this year, more than a million Iraqis have been driven from their homes.

We have all seen on our screens the beheadings, the crucifixions and the mass executions.

Peoples and cultures that have existed for millennia are faced with extermination.

Thousands of women have been forced into sexual slavery.

President Obama has labelled what is happening at the hands of the ISIL movement as a potential genocide.

I refuse to call this hideous movement “Islamic State” because it’s not a state; it is a death cult.

In good conscience, Madam Speaker, Australia cannot leave the Iraqi people to face this horror, this pure evil, alone or ask others to do so in the name of human decency what we won’t do ourselves.

It is right to do what we prudently and proportionately can to alleviate this suffering, to prevent its spread and to deal with its perpetrators.

So far, Australian aircraft have participated in humanitarian airdrops to people trapped on Mount Sinjar and, just yesterday, to the besieged inhabitants of the town of Amerli.

Yesterday’s airdrop was mounted in conjunction with American, British and French aircraft.

In coming days, Australian aircraft will join an airlift of supplies, including military equipment, to the Kurdish regional government in Erbil.

American, British, French, Canadian and Italian aircraft will also be involved.

This involvement has been at the request of the Obama administration and with the support of the Iraqi government.

So far, we have met requests for humanitarian relief and for logistical support.

So far, there has been no request for military action itself.

Should such a request come from the Obama administration and supported by the government of Iraq, it would be considered against these criteria: is there a clear and achievable overall objective? Is there a clear and proportionate role for Australian forces? Have all the risks been properly assessed? And is there an overall humanitarian objective in accordance with Australia’s national interests?

Like President Obama, Australia has no intention to commit combat troops on the ground.

But we’re not inclined to stand by in the face of preventable genocide either.

Australia is not a country that goes looking for trouble but we have always been prepared to do what we can to help in the wider world.

Madam Speaker, many Australians, understandably, will shrink from reaching out to this conflict on the other side of the world but this conflict is reaching out to us.

At least 60 Australians are fighting with terrorist groups across Iraq and Syria.

They are supported by about 100 more.

And we know – or at least should prudently assume – that many of them will seek to return to Australia.

They will return accustomed to kill.

Around two thirds of Australians who returned from fighting with terrorist groups in Afghanistan a decade or so back subsequently became involved in terrorist activities here.

A number are still serving long jail sentences.

The Australians and their supporters who have joined terrorist groups in the Middle East are a serious and growing threat to our security.

That’s why the Government is boosting counter-terrorism funding by $630 million and updating our laws so they keep pace with evolving technologies and the developing threat.

At the same time we have stepped up engagement with community groups here in Australia.

I want to stress now, as I always do, that the threat is extremism – not any particular community.

The target is terrorism – not religion.

We need to understand that people who kill without compunction in other countries are hardly likely to be law abiding citizens should they return to Australia.

They have come to hate us no less than they hate their victims in Iraq and Syria.

The don’t hate us for what we do; but for who we are and for how we live.

They hate us because we let people live and worship in whatever way they choose and I thank God that we do.

I am grateful that the Government’s actions so far have been fully supported by the Opposition Leader.

This is as it should be when our nation faces threats to its national security.

Obviously, Madam Speaker, the Parliament will have a chance to speak to this statement and that of the Opposition Leader in coming days.

That, too, is as it should be in a free and fair democracy such as ours.

Hansard transcript of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s statement on Iraq.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:08): I thank the Prime Minister for keeping me updated as events unfolded of the weekend. I thank him for agreeing to Labor’s request for a statement to the house today. Labor’s support for the government on this question is underpinned by three key principles: (1) responding effectively to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq to prevent genocide and prevent suffering; (2) promoting a unity government in Iraq that is inclusive and can achieve national cohesion—a government that would reject sectarianism and the alienation of minorities, enabling effective security and control of Iraqi territory. Indeed, we do not believe we should act in a way that would leave Iraq in a worse position. The third principle is: denying motivation and opportunity for Australian foreign fighters. We must reflect carefully on what we do. We should not confuse empty jingoism and aggressive nationalism with steady decision making; neither can we ignore the dreadful consequences of fanaticism and extremism.

Today all members and all parties have the opportunity to express their views in this place and in the Federation Chamber. Today is also an important opportunity for all of us in the opposition to place on the parliamentary record Labor’s support for the dedicated and professional men and women of our Australian Defence Forces and Labor’s unreserved condemnation for the evil of ISIS and the genocide it is inflicting on minorities in Iraq. Labor has promised to take a constructive and cooperative approach to this most important question, and the fact that Labor regards the role of international cooperation, featuring Gulf and regional nations’ engagement as crucial, especially after a new Iraqi government is formed on or around 10 September.

National security is, and always will be, for Labor above politics. Whilst we deplore violence and war as instruments for achieving solutions to geopolitical problems, we acknowledge that sometimes it is necessary for the international community to take strong steps to end death and destruction. The decision to send Australian men and women into harm’s way is never taken lightly. Carrying out this mission in a region torn by violence and under the risk of attack from an aggressive enemy, capturing weaponry as it advances, brings with it a deadly risk. We can have full confidence in the skill and bravery of our Australian Defence personnel. In providing assistance to the people of Iraq, Australia will be represented by some of the best-trained and best-equipped service men and women in the world. Australia along with the air forces of several countries will be resupplying Kurdish Peshmerga troops—the front line against the terrorist incursions in northern Iraq. Australians can be proud of the part we have already played in this international mission. Our Australian forces in Iraq are assisting an international humanitarian effort to prevent genocide against beleaguered minorities in northern Iraq.

Let there be no doubt about this use of the word ‘genocide’: the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, is indeed a barbaric organisation. It is fuelled by poisonous hatred and extremism, engaging in the wilful massacre of innocent people and the unforgivable degradation of forcing women into slavery. Theirs is a most egregious abuse in the name of Islam. Their every action is a betrayal of millions of good people of conscience who follow that faith. That point deserves to be made again: the Islamic State does not represent the Islamic faith. No follower of that religion of peace and tolerance should be made accountable for the crimes of these fanatics, especially in suspicious times when unfounded resentment can run high. No citizen of Australia or any nation should be driven into the arms of extremism by intolerance.

The events unfolding in Iraq have horrified the international community. A United Nations report based on 480 interviews and documentary evidence reveals the breadth and the depth of the atrocities being perpetrated. The report says:

“Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range … Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents.”

The evidence is overwhelming. The Islamic State is an enemy of humanity engaged in crimes against humanity. For the forces of ISIS, the enemy is not one nation, one faith or one people. The enemy is the very existence of peace; it is the presence of justice; it is freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom itself.

More than a decade ago Simon Crean stood at this dispatch box as Labor leader to support our troops but oppose a war. History has vindicated his judgement. The decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 was based on false evidence. It was a rushed position devoid of an effective plan to win the peace and devoid of widespread international support, but, as the government has said, the situation we face today is very different. This is not 2003. In 2003 we went to Iraq without international support, without the support of the majority of the Iraqi population. Today the Iraqi government is speaking with the international community, seeking our assistance. Today we have a United States administration adopting a methodical, internationally-inclusive approach. Today we can look to the nations of the region, the Arabic leaders, for their part in a solution to this problem.

It is truly terrible that, more than a decade after a war which inflicted so much loss on the Iraqi people and divided the international community, fanaticism and sectarian ethnic hatreds have again pushed this region to the brink of disaster. I am conscious that there are still details to be worked through and that the situation is evolving, but Labor’s principles on this question are clear. We must respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, to prevent genocide and alleviate suffering. We must promote an effective, inclusive unity government in Iraq that eschews sectarianism and the alienation of minorities and that builds national cohesion, enabling effective security and control of Iraqi territory. We must deny motivation and opportunity for Australian foreign fighters.

We are committed to these principles just as we are committed to the support of our brave service personnel and just as we are committed to taking a constructive approach to this question. Australians listening to this parliament and throughout our country can be certain that Labor and the coalition stand as one on the importance of national security. We share a resolute commitment to keeping our people and our country safe, now and always. When Labor declares our opposition to ISIS and all its works we understand that we are not dealing with rational people. The religious hatred that we are seeing is not rational and never has been. Religious factions who violently hate one another are an anachronism in Australia. We certainly expect people who come here to leave such causes and arguments behind. Our citizens are rightly shocked by the brutality of this evil sectarian struggle, but the inescapable fact is that genocide is being perpetrated against defenceless people. We cannot cooperate with this evil by refusing to support the innocent.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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