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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23823

Joint Press Conference, Darwin

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/09/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23823

Subject(s): Australian Defence Force contribution to international coalition against ISIL.

PRIME MINISTER:

Today we've seen further evidence of the pure evil of the ISIL movement which is now operating across much of the Middle East. The beheading of a British aid worker is further demonstration that this particular terrorist group does not just do evil, but exalts in doing evil.

We also know that this is a terrorist group which is reaching out to Australia because there are at least 60 Australians that we know of that are working with terrorist groups in the Middle East and at least 100 that we know of here and abroad that are supporting terrorist groups in the Middle East.

This is not just an international security situation, but it is a domestic security situation. As you know, for some time now the Australian Government has been considering how best to respond to the ISIL movement at home and abroad.

I can advise that we have within about the last 24 hours received a specific request from the United States Government to contribute forces to possible military action in Iraq. I can further advise that on Friday night I had a conversation with the new Prime Minister of Iraq who indicated to me that he would very much welcome an Australian military contribution to the restoration of order and security inside Iraq.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has met earlier today. Full Cabinet has also met to discuss this matter and the Government has decided to prepare and to deploy to the United Arab Emirates a military force. A military force that could, subject to further decisions, contribute to military operations inside Iraq.

The force will comprise up to eight Super Hornet aircraft and an early warning and control aircraft, an aerial refuelling aircraft and a Special Forces contingent that could act as military advisers to the Iraqi armed forces or to the Peshmerga.

Again, I want to stress that this is an international coalition, not simply something that is an American-Australian operation.

So far, there are a number of countries - Western and Middle Eastern - that have indicated that they are prepared to contribute to military operations inside Iraq; the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Australia.

Again, I stress that this is essentially a humanitarian operation to protect millions of people in Iraq from the murderous rage of the ISIL movement. But if we are to protect people from ISIL, it is important to have the capacity to disrupt and degrade ISIL operations. Again I stress that this movement is neither Islamic nor a State. It is a death cult reaching out to countries such as Australia. Again I stress that none of this has anything to do with religion. None of this has anything to do with communities here in Australia. This is about taking prudent and proportionate action to protect our country and to protect the wider world against an unprecedented terrorist threat.

I do want to indicate that on 24 September I will be in New York to attend the United Nations' Security Council which will discuss further measures to deal with the ISIL menace. I should also indicate that not only has the National Security Committee of the Cabinet and the full Cabinet met to consider this matter today, but I have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has offered the Government his full support for the decision that we have taken today. I want to thank Mr Shorten for the approach that he's taken to this. It is right and proper that when it comes to national security the Government and the Opposition should stand shoulder-to-shoulder and that's exactly what has happened today.

I'm now going to invite the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Binskin to speak to this announcement and then, obviously, I'll take some questions.

CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE FORCE:

Thank you Prime Minister. I'd like to emphasise to everyone that what we are talking about here is a highly complex operating environment in the Middle East and it is one that continues to evolve. As the Prime Minister alluded to, the decision to prepare and deploy Australian forces is not one that the Government has taken lightly here and I understand that as we go through this evolution over the coming weeks. We now have a fairly substantial amount of work to do in planning to undertake this deployment and that will include very careful mission planning, force preparation, intelligence gathering and importantly force protection measures for our force.

In doing this, as we move forward, the safety of Australian personnel is foremost in my mind. As we prepare to deploy my intent is to reduce, as much as possible, the risk our people will face in these operations whether in the air or on the ground.

I understand that people will have questions over the coming week; the exact nature, number of people we are going to deploy in the mission that they are involved in. I will keep those details at the operational level close held at the moment so we don’t give away any of our tactics to the enemy that we are going to fight.

I also know the added pressure that a decision like this will place on our defence families. They too are in my thoughts at the moment as we prepare this force to go into the Middle East. I know that for the families they have my assurance that the units will look after them to the best of their ability over the coming months. Disrupting and degrading ISIL will take comprehensive and sustained effort over the coming period, importantly, from the international community and more importantly from the Middle Eastern countries as a whole. I have to say, if we do nothing then the risk of allowing the shocking acts of ISIL to further destabilise the Middle East and spread beyond the Middle East region potentially back to Australia is a greater risk and therefore I take this direction I am getting from Government very, very seriously and look to act on this as best we can.

Thank you Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much.

Ok, are there any questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, does this mean that Australia is at war?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the decision today is to prepare and to deploy to the UAE an armed force. There are obviously further decisions to be taken before Australian forces will be committed to combat operations in Iraq. Nevertheless Australia is prepared to engage in international operations to disrupt and degrade ISIL because of the threat that this murderous death cult poses not just to the people of Iraq, not just to the people of the Middle East but to the whole world – including to Australia. This death cult is uniquely evil in that it does not simply do evil, it exalts in evil and this death cult has ambitions way beyond those of any previous terrorist group as the declaration of a so-called caliphate indicates.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, has there been any consideration to using forces to attack ISIL in Syrian territory – not just Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have discussed this matter with, amongst other people, President Obama and obviously President Obama is not ruling out US attacks on ISIL in Syria. At this point in time Australia is not intending to operate outside of Iraq. The legalities of operating in Iraq with the consent and welcome of the Iraqi government are obviously very different from the legalities of operating in Syria which has a government that Australia doesn’t recognise.

QUESTION:

Are you still travelling to Arnhem Land and can you stay across the national security issues there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, this is a good question. It is important that the government carry on as usual despite the grave decision that we have made this morning. So, yes, later on today I will be travelling to Arnhem Land and it is my intention to be in Arnhem Land for the week that I promised. I will be in Arnhem Land until Friday evening but I will be in regular contact with Canberra. There are secure communications available to me in Arnhem Land that are, in fact, being provided by the Australian Defence Force.

QUESTION:

What are some of the risks of the mission Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Should the commitment to prepare and deploy extend to a further commitment to engage in military operations inside Iraq, obviously Australian service personnel will be, potentially at least, in harm’s way. We will minimise the risks as best we can but flying combat missions over Iraq is a hazardous operation and acting as a military adviser or acting as a team of military advisers to Iraqi and Peshmerga armed forces again is hazardous, in some cases, highly hazardous. But our armed forces are all volunteers. They understand the risks that they run if they are deployed into combat zones and we will do our best to ensure that all appropriate precautions are taken.

QUESTION:

How long do you expect the situation to last?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have to warn the Australian people that should this preparation and deployment extend into combat operations, that this could go on for quite some time. Months rather than weeks, perhaps many, many months indeed. My conversation with President Obama a few days ago certainly gave me to understand that the President is prepared for quite a lengthy American contribution to this particular mission.

QUESTION:

Are there any Aussies held by ISIL at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not aware of any Australians that are held by the ISIL movement. Obviously, we would hold the gravest possible fears for anyone who was and one of the reasons why we have a heightened warning against Australians travelling or remaining in these areas is because of the absolutely diabolical risks that anyone would run should they come into areas that are controlled or influenced by this death cult.

QUESTION:

What's your response to the latest beheading?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, shock, horror, outrage, fury and a steely resolution to do whatever we reasonably can to tackle this absolutely unprecedented development.

QUESTION:

ISIL said it's beheaded the aid worker because of the UK’s involvement in Iraq. Do you then pause and reconsider Australia's involvement, or does it make you more determined?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that the evil and the exaltation of evil that was on display today should make all of us more resolved than ever to do whatever we reasonably can to disrupt, degrade and if possible, destroy this movement. As I say, it's never to be called by me Islamic State, because it's neither a State nor Islamic. It is a death cult and we should call things for what they are.

QUESTION:

The eight Super Hornets, is there any chance we will increase our military programme there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia is preparing to make a contribution which is prudent and proportionate as part of a coalition of nations that will be led by the United States, but which will be supporting the legitimate government of Iraq and will be acting in concert with a number of Middle Eastern countries. I don’t anticipate the need for a stronger force, but obviously these situations are things which are constantly kept under review.

QUESTION:

Where will the personnel and equipment come from?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll ask the CDF, but the Special Forces contribution will come from our ordinary Special Forces units. The Super Hornets will come from our squadrons and it will come from the usual sources, but I'll let the CDF get into the technical detail.

CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE FORCE:

The Prime Minister's doing very well on the detail there. The Super Hornets are currently based at Amberley as are the air-to-air refuelling aircraft and the Wedgetail will come out of Williamstown in NSW. Support personnel will come from around Australia to be able to support those operations and people know where the Special Forces are based on the east and west coast.

QUESTION:

The United States President has said there'll be no American boots on the ground, does that go for Australia as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is what we've constantly said and I'm happy to reiterate it again today. There is no intention for Australian forces, or as I understand it, any Western forces to be engaged in independent combat operations. Nevertheless, we do have in contemplation the use of our Special Forces in modest numbers to act as military advisers to the Iraqi army and to the Peshmerga. This is something that we have in contemplation, but again I stress the decision today is to prepare and to deploy to the UAE a military force. The decision today was not to commit it to combat operations in Iraq, although obviously that's something that we have in contemplation.

QUESTION:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

We could see the air elements departing in the next week or so. We could see the military elements departing sooner.

QUESTION:

Where does responsibility lie for the rise of ISIL?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that's a question that people are entitled to ponder. For myself, I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to practice the kind of barbarism against innocent people which we have seen on an abundant scale from the ISIL movement over the last few months. We've seen beheadings, we've seen crucifixions, we’ve seen mass executions, we've seen hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes. We've had women forced into sexual slavery, we've had the deaths of very young children. We've had tens of thousands of people besieged on Mount Sinjar. We have seen cruelty on an extraordinary scale. What we have seen is an exaltation in atrocity unparalleled since the Middle Ages. Where does this come from? What evil in the human heart gives rise to this? I just don't know. All I know is that decent people everywhere, regardless of their religion, regardless of their culture, should unite against it.

QUESTION:

[inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

The point I've made all along is that a peaceful democracy understandably shrinks from reaching out to conflicts thousands of miles from our shores, but this conflict is reaching out to us. The point that everyone needs to grasp is that there are at least 60 Australians that we know of fighting with terrorist groups such as ISIL in Syria and Iraq. There are at least 100 Australians that we know of supporting the work of those Australian fighters with ISIL in Syria and Iraq. So, this is a conflict that is reaching out to us. Whatever we do, this conflict is reaching out to us, that's why it's important that Australia do what we can in partnership with our friends and allies, including our friends and allies in the Middle East to protect people from this murderous rage and to disrupt and degrade the ISIL movement.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, does today's announcement, did it contribute to the decision to raise the terror threat level?  

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the decision to raise the terror threat level was made by the Director-General of Security, as David Irvine made clear the other day. Events over the last 12 months or so, particularly events over the last three to six months have led him to that decision. There are, as you know, dramatic increases in the investigations taking place into potential domestic terrorism, the numbers of Australians going abroad to participate in terrorist activities is increasing. The number of Australians seeking to go abroad to participate in terrorist activities is increasing, and the number of Australians supporting terrorist activities abroad is increasing.

So, given all of those developments over many months, the Director-General of Security made the decision during the week to raise the threat level and decisions about the threat level itself are made by the experts, they’re not made by the Government.

QUESTION:

But surely you must concede that involvement in Iraq surely makes Australia more of a target by terrorists?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sure this point will be put to me again and again by journalists, but the response was given by the Director-General of Security David Irvine a few weeks ago at the National Press Club where he said there was no correlation, no particular correlation between what Australia might be contemplating in Iraq and the malign intent of these people towards our country. The point I've been making again and again is that these terrorists and would-be terrorists are not targeting us for what we have done, or for what we might do – they are targeting us for who we are. They are targeting us for our freedom, for our tolerance, for our compassion, for our decency, all of which is utterly alien to their ideology.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can you give us a rough idea of how many personnel will be involved?

PRIME MINISTER:

All up we're talking about 600 personnel, about 400 air personnel and about 200 military personnel and we think this is a balanced and proportionate contribution to what is not our fight, but it is the world's fight. Australia has a long and proud tradition of doing what we can to help at home and abroad to make for a safer Australia and a safer world.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 23823