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Shorten Maintains Support For Abbott Government On Iraq; Also Outlines Conditions

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has reiterated the ALP’s support for the Abbott government’s “humanitarian” mission in Iraq, whilst setting out conditions for continuing support.


Shorten responded in the House of Representatives to a Statement on National Security by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

He said: “Labor fully supports Australia’s contribution to the international humanitarian mission to Iraq. We do not offer this lightly. Sending Australians into harm’s way is the most serious of decisions. Our support for the government on this issue is not a matter of jingoism or nationalism; it is a calculation of conscience and national interest.”

Shorten outlined four principles underpinning Labor’s support: not deploying ground combat units, confining Australian operations to Iraq, continuing involvement only until the Iraqi government can take full responsibility, and withdrawing if Iraqi forces engage in unacceptable conduct.

  • Listen to Shorten (13m – transcript below)
  • Watch Shorten (13m)

Hansard transcript of Statement on National Security by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:17): I thank the Prime Minister for updating the House and I am grateful for the direct dialogue he and I have shared in recent days and weeks. Last Thursday at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Amberley, the Prime Minister and I together farewelled some of the brave men and women of the Australian Defence Force who were leaving for the Middle East. That is as it should be—keeping our people safe is above politics. The security of our nation runs deeper than our political differences. We all admire the courage and dedication of the Australian Defence forces, and we are all committed to supporting the families of those serving overseas. As I did last Thursday, again I promise those serving overseas and those due to be rotated to service overseas that the parliament will stand by your families whilst you are far away.

Labor fully supports Australia’s contribution to the international humanitarian mission to Iraq. We do not offer this lightly. Sending Australians into harm’s way is the most serious of decisions. Our support for the government on this issue is not a matter of jingoism or nationalism; it is a calculation of conscience and national interest. There are four key principles that underpin Labor’s approach: firstly, we have indicated that we do not support the deployment of ground combat units to directly engage in fighting ISIL; secondly, that Australian operations should be confined to the territory of Iraq; thirdly, our involvement should continue only until the Iraqi government is in a position to take full responsibility for the security of its nation and its people; and, fourthly, if the Iraqi government and its forces engage in unacceptable conduct or adopt unacceptable policies then we should withdraw our support. These four principles will guide our response to the evolving situation in Iraq. They represent the conditions that we have set for our support and the line that we have drawn for Australia’s engagement in the region. Again, this is consistent with the government’s approach. We do want our Australian military personnel to carry out a clearly defined mission in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and then come home safely.

Military involvement to achieve humanitarian objectives is not our first instinct and it is never our preferred solution to geopolitical problems, but we recognise that sometimes there is simply no alternative. To put it plainly: we cannot negotiate with ISIL, because there is nothing rational about what they seek to do. ISIL and their like wish only to do harm, to spread the bitter hatred that fuels their genocidal intent. They are a breeding ground for terrorists bent on causing havoc not only in the Middle East but also throughout the world, in a Australia and our neighbouring countries. They are intent only upon desecration and violence with an insatiable appetite for crime and sectarian destruction. Right now across northern Iraq families are being driven from their homes, innocent people are being murdered and women and girls are being oppressed, raped and forced into sexual servitude. The vulnerable communities of Iraq must be protected, and it is right and proper for Australia to make a contribution to this international endeavour.

Let us be clear about the differences between the situation in Iraq today and the conflict that Labor opposed in 2003. The 2003 war was based on a flawed premise and false information. It was a war embarked upon without a meaningful plan to win the peace. In part, it created some of the conditions that have necessitated this international response. It was a war against a hostile Iraqi government without the support of the United Nations and the international community and, as Labor said at that time, the foundations for possible military intervention were simply not there.

However, today the democratically elected national unity government of Iraq is seeking help from the international community to protect its people from genocide and other mass atrocities. Today we are part of an international effort that includes countries from the region, as the Prime Minister has said. We are fulfilling our responsibility as a good international citizen and our duty as a humanitarian peace-loving nation. By our involvement Australia declares that we will not tolerate the spread of hatred. We will not allow the contagion of hatred—the disease of fanaticism and extremism—to afflict the innocent. We will not meet the brutality and ruthlessness of ISIL with silence.

But we face a long and difficult task. Labor understands that we can never drain the swamp of terrorism by military means alone. Defeating jihadist terrorism requires extensive international corporation in intelligence sharing and criminal law enforcement, and strong domestic homeland security—measures backed by strong community support. We go to Iraq not to topple a dictator but to support democracy; to exercise our global responsibility to protect men, women and children at risk of mass atrocity crimes. Our mission is not to pursue territory but to protect the vulnerable. Our goal is not to assert the supremacy of one faith or to advance the interests of one people; it is to defend the rights of all people to preserve the freedom of all faiths.

Ultimately, building enduring peace in Iraq depends upon the people of Iraq. No matter the size of the coalition our involvement cannot by itself guarantee the stability of this region. If freedom and democracy are artificially imposed from the outside they will not last. Above all, a stable Iraq depends upon an inclusive, unity government: a government that rejects sectarianism and the alienation of minorities; a government able to move past ancient hatreds and unite the nation.

Helping the Iraqi government protect its citizens from the threat of ISIL is vital to the long-term security and stability of Iraq, the broader region and the international community, including Australia. The humanitarian assistance we offer should not be confined to military aid. As a safe and prosperous nation made great by immigration, Australia should take more refugees from Iraq and Syria. We should reach out a caring arm to people who have been traumatised by this brutal conflict. For more than two centuries we have given those who come across the seas a second chance. We should be part of an international effort to offer safety and security to vulnerable people who have been displaced by the ravages of this conflict.

These are uncertain times and that uncertainty can breed suspicion. That is always the insidious goal of terrorism: to spread division and to nurture intolerance; to create a world where people fear the unknown and resent difference. They want to change the way we live, the way we see ourselves and the way we treat each other. We cannot allow this. Prejudice and bigotry jeopardise the harmony of our society and they feed the fanaticism that they thrive on. We must jealously guard our diverse, tolerant, welcoming and caring society.

Multiculturalism is one of our nation’s greatest gifts. It is a miracle of modern Australia. We should never make the millions of Australians who have become Australians—people from every nation and from every faith—feel less safe or less welcome. We will not overcome hatred with hatred. We will not overcome intolerance by being intolerant. Ill-informed and inflammatory comments about Islam are as unhelpful as they are unfair. Muslim Australians should not be stigmatised for the crimes of ISIL. And ISIL has no right to use the name of Islam. The medieval barbarity that it is inflicting upon the innocent has no part of religion. The twisted aetiology of ISIL bears no relation to a faith of peace and tolerance followed by millions of people. That point should be made time and time again.

Labor will study the government’s new security legislation in detail. And we will continue to be constructive, because the safety of the people of our nation is a priority that unites us all. Like the Prime Minister, I clearly reject the assumption that our engagement in Iraq has made us more of a target. I accept, however, that Australia must always be vigilant in the face of extremist threats. A very few Australians, poisoned by fanaticism, travelling to this war zone with the intention of participating in this conflict, do represent a threat to our national security. We will give the legislation that addresses the problem of these foreign fighters the careful consideration it deserves. Labor believes that our security agencies and national institutions should have the powers and resources they need to keep Australians safe from the threat of terrorism.

We also believe in safeguarding fundamental democratic freedoms. We must ensure that in legislating to protect our national security that parliament is careful not to damage the very qualities and liberties that we are seeking to defend from terrorist threat. As we work through the government’s legislation, Labor will continue to ensure that the national security imperatives are appropriately balanced with the importance of protecting our democratic freedoms. Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of these proposals is essential. I welcome the intelligence and security committee’s recommendations to improve the first bill dealing with the national security law reform, which is due to be debated in the other place this week. I thank the government for accepting the committee’s 17 recommendations to improve scrutiny and oversight of that legislation. I know that this constructive approach will be maintained as we finalise this bill and deal with further national security legislation.

All Australians were shocked by the events of last week; shocked by the closeness of a threat that is often seen as remote; shocked at the thought of the scenes from the towns of northern Iraq and Syria being played out in our streets. We do take a certain comfort in our distance from other parts of the world but we should also take comfort from the success of our security agencies. Their professionalism and their expertise helps keep Australians safe. Their response to these threats has been swift and sure. Our police and our intelligence agencies are more committed and better equipped than the people who would seek to threaten our way of life. This should reassure us. This should give Australians the confidence to enjoy their lives without anxiety.

Australians will not be intimidated by the threat of terrorism. We will be true to ourselves. Australians never give in to fear; we will not start now. We do not back down to threats. Whenever we are challenged, we prevail. Our values of peace, tolerance and love will overcome hatred. They always have; they always will.

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