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Transcript - 23825

Interview with Karl Stefanovic, Today, Nine Network

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: 15/09/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23825

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

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Good morning to you, PM.

It looks like war, it sounds like war, why isn't it war?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Karl, the decision that the Government made yesterday with the full support of the Opposition is that we will prepare and deploy to the United Arab Emirates a force that is capable of combat in the Middle East inside Iraq. But this is a fundamentally humanitarian mission. It is designed to protect people in Iraq from the murderous rage of this ISIL movement which we saw yet again on display yesterday. In order to protect people, we do need to have the capacity to disrupt and degrade its operations.

The other point to make is that this is about Australia's domestic security at least as much as it's about international security because there are at least 60 Australians fighting in the Middle East with terrorist groups such as ISIL.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

We will need combat groups on the ground though, won't we? To be won't realistic here; air drops alone won't work?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we have been engaged in humanitarian air drops over the last few weeks. We've also been engaged in transporting military equipment to the Kurdish forces in that part of Iraq. What we've sent to the Middle East is some F/A-18 Super Hornet jets and we've also sent a contingent of Special Forces who can act as the military advisors to the Iraqi and the Kurdish forces.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Do we have an exit strategy here in regards to this conflict? You've said yesterday that it will be open-ended at this point. But do we have an exit strategy being formed?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we are trying to do here, should the decision to commit to combat be made, is to help the Iraqi forces, to help the Kurdish forces, to try to ensure that people who are at the risk of dislocation and death from the murderous rage of ISIL have some better means of protection.

So, we are working with the Iraqi and the Kurdish forces. We had a specific request from the United States to be prepared to commit and we have been welcomed by the Iraqi government. So, this is one of the fundamental differences between this potential commitment and the commitment that was made 11 years ago.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay, but in regards to this though, we will have what, a time limit of some point or some capacity or there will be some way that we know that we've won the fight against Islamic State and how will that be measured?

PRIME MINISTER:

If the ISIL forces inside Iraq have been defeated, dislodged, if the Iraqi government is once more reasonably capable of maintaining control over its own territory, maintaining internal security, that will be certainly a success.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

The problem is that, as you know, the Iraqi government doesn't seem capable of doing that though at this point. Also, the other Middle Eastern countries who deplore this group, as you know, they haven’t manned up – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Lebanon, the list goes on. Will we continue to fight a war that should also be their responsibility?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you're not right there, Karl. First of all, there is a new Iraqi government, a much more broadly based and inclusive government than the one of Mr Maliki which has gone. The other the point is that Jordan, Bahrain, and the UAE, are committed to military action and there are a number of other Middle Eastern countries that are preparing to commit to military action. This is President Obama, it's not President George W Bush, it is President Obama, a very different President who is slow – rightly and properly slow – to reach for the gun and he has put together an extensive coalition, including about 10 Middle Eastern countries.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Ok, so all of those, as well as us, those countries that I mentioned, will be supplying some level of military personnel then?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't want to go into specifics of what they might do, but certainly the three countries that I named – Jordan, Bahrain, and the UAE – are committed to military action against ISIL.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Ok, in terms of – just to backtrack just a second – in terms of the exit strategy, come what may and when that comes and when it’s articulated if that comes any time soon, again back to what level of judgment will be beyond and how you will measure success, given that there are still significant problems inside Iraq. Are we talking about a 10 year campaign here or are you ruling out a 10 year campaign?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to put a time limit on it. But the point I made is that it will certainly be months rather than weeks and quite possibly many, many months…

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Years?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is an important duty that we have, not just to people overseas but to people at home. The point I make, Karl, is that yes, as a pacific democracy, as a peaceful pluralist democracy, we are reluctant to reach out to conflicts overseas, but this conflict is reaching out to us, whether we like it or not, this conflict is reaching out to us. We've seen the beheadings, we've seen the crucifixions, we’ve seen the mass executions, we've seen the blood curdling threats, and indeed the murders directed towards Westerners and we know that there are at least 60 Australians fighting mostly with this particular group. These are people who have murderous intent towards everyone who doesn't share their particular ideology and that includes us.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

And something needs to be done about it. Finally, you are in Arnhem Land and good on you for being up there while this is all going on. You've said to the Australian people you’ve got no difficulties in handling this crisis from there, when will we see a referendum on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians? When will we see that? Do you think that plan will formulated by the end of your time there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Karl, the ordinary business of government must go on and this is a commitment that I've had for a long time now, to come up here to East Arnhem Land. I am very serious, the Government is very serious, both sides of politics are very serious about an Indigenous recognition referendum. I think the important thing is to start to set a timetable. Then we can start to work on the precise wording.

The most important thing of all though is that any proposal must pass. We've got to build a consensus for change and this is part of the process. I'm not going to say that at the end of this week we'll have a precise timetable and precise wordings, but we are working towards a timetable and once we've set the timetable, then we can work towards some proposals that the Australian people, I hope, will be able to unite around.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

All the very best with that, PM. We appreciate you being with us today. That is important work in a busy time for you.

Thanks again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, Karl.

[ends]

Transcript - 23825