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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23826

Interview with Chris Uhlmann, ABC AM

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: 23826

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

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Tony Abbott, why is this Australia’s fight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s a fight which is reaching out to us, Chris. There are at least 60 Australians that we know of that are fighting with ISIL and other murderous movements in the Middle East. There are at least 100 Australians that we know of supporting them. We are understandably and rightly reluctant to reach out to conflicts that are, in one sense, happening thousands of miles of away, but these conflicts, whether we like it or not, are reaching out to us. That’s why it’s important that we are prepared to participate in a broad coalition to strengthen the Iraqi Government, to strengthen the Kurdish forces so that these people are better able to defeat this terrible movement.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

This fight has been going in Syria for three years now. Those Australians joined that fight there, so why is Australia now getting engaged?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously, the situation is getting worse all the time. The ISIL movement has become much, much, much stronger in recent months. We’ve seen it burst out of Syria across vast swathes of Northern Iraq. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands people displaced, we’ve seen thousands of people wantonly murdered, we’ve seen the beheadings, the crucifixions, the mass executions. This is not just your standard fight in the Middle East. What we saw on our TV screens yesterday was a Briton decapitating a Briton in the name of this murderous death cult which is neither Islamic nor a State.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Now you’ve committed 600 personnel. Is that likely to be the limit of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we’ve done is deploy to the UAE – the United Arab Emirates – some significant air capability and a modest contingent of Special Forces that could act as military advisers to the Iraqi and the Kurdish forces. This is a prudent and proportionate contribution, and I stress, Chris, that it’s not just Australia, not just the United States, not just the United Kingdom, France and Canada, but so far, you’ve got Jordan, the UAE itself and Bahrain that have also committed to deploy military force against ISIL. President Obama, to his great credit, has put together a large international coalition to tackle what is undoubtedly a serious threat, not just to Iraq and the Middle East, but to the whole world.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

But Turkey, who’s a member of NATO and of course borders Iraq, won’t even close its border to the oil trucks that fund these militants, so how can you win this fight if that’s the case?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think you should assume that this is Turkey’s final position. Let’s not forget that there are about 50 Turkish hostages currently held by ISIL in the city of Mosul and for understandable reasons, the Turkish Government is cautious about doing anything that might put those hostages at risk. But, this is a broad coalition. It is a necessary coalition, because the last thing we can do is wring our hands in the face of the grinning evil that we have seen now, time and time again. This is not your normal fight; this is not your normal terrorist organisation. This is a group that does not just do evil, but it exults in doing evil. No group in modern times has been so open about the evil that it does.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

And this mission can’t succeed though, can it, without troops on the ground? They have to be Iraqi troops, and if $25 billion and a decade of training wasn’t enough to make sure that they didn’t melt away last time, how can you be sure they’ll fight this time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Chris, you’re fair enough and right enough to ask the questions, but I don’t think you should despair. This is a new Iraqi government – a new Iraqi government which has pledged to be much more inclusive, much more unifying than the one it replaced. There are new commanders going into the field. There is, I think, a new confidence that this Iraqi Government will have the backing that it needs to do the job that it has to do for the protection of its own people because none of us who have seen the beheadings, the crucifixions and the mass executions can feel anything other than horror that this humanitarian catastrophe is being unleashed on the people of the world. The same intention, the same malice, which is driving the assaults in Northern Iraq is, in its own way, directed against countries like us, because, I stress – and I can’t stress enough – that there are at least 60 Australians involved in ISIL and ISIL-like organisations and there’s at least 100 who are supporting them.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

And I guess it’s not a matter of despairing, Prime Minister, that the Australian people may well be with you on this, but they would want assurances that these are the kinds of questions that you were asking in the National Security Committee of Cabinet as you commit Australian forces.

PRIME MINISTER:

And look, not only in the National Security Committee of Cabinet, but in the full Cabinet. We had a long and careful discussion, and all of these issues, as you'd expect, were raised and they were dealt with as best they can be. We cannot promise perfect success. We cannot promise risk-free operations. As I've often said, Chris, the Middle East is a witch's brew of complexity and danger. All courses are hazardous. No course has a guarantee of success. The one course that has a guarantee of failure is inaction.

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Well, in 2001, I asked every politician and military person I interviewed how long we'd be in Afghanistan. Not one said that we'd be there in 2014. How long will our troops be in Iraq this time?

PRIME MINISTER:

And I can't say that this will be over in weeks, or even in months, but I can say that we will be operating with our allies, with a broad coalition, with the full invitation, welcome, support and cooperation of the legitimate Government of Iraq. It's a very different government; it's a very different coalition, to the one that we last saw in this part of the world. 

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Now it's constantly repeated that there will be no Australian boots on the ground, but the very nature of the work of our Special Forces means that they will, at some stage, be on the ground, fighting, advising, or targeting in Iraq, won't they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we've got a modest Special Forces contingent, which we’ll deploy to the UAE, possibly into Iraq in the weeks ahead, as military advisers. Should they be further committed, they'll be working with the headquarters of Iraqi or Kurdish units to ensure that these units are fighting at their optimal capability. What we're certainly not intending are independent combat operations by Australian forces. 

CHRIS UHLMANN:

Now, we've heard from an Indonesian terror expert this morning, who says there's chatter among radicals that Westerners will be targets in Indonesia because of this. Are you aware of that, and what's your advice to Australians who are heading off for holidays?

PRIME MINISTER:
 

As you know, Chris, we have long been targets, and interestingly, the first Bali bombing, in which 88 Australians were brutally murdered, took place long before Australian forces ever went to Iraq and the September the 11th atrocity took place long before US forces ever went to Iraq. There's no doubt that those who wish us harm will cite things like this as an excuse, but it's not the reason. The reason why we are targeted is not because of anything we've done, but because of who we are and how we live. That's why we're targeted. These people – this death cult, which is neither Islamic, nor a state – this death cult targets everyone and anyone who does not conform to its particular ideology, and we've seen this time and time again. The people who are being murdered in Iraq are not Westerners; they're Muslims, they're Yazidis, they're Turkmen, they're everyone and anyone who doesn't conform to the particular narrow barbarism of this group. 

CHRIS UHLMANN:

So Prime Minister, as you said it started well before 2001. When do you see an end to all this? This of course is the third time that we've been engaged in a war in the Middle East. 
 

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there are many things that need to improve as time goes by. Obviously, the capacity of the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces needs to improve. Obviously the security situation in the Middle East needs to improve. Obviously there are cities and towns in Iraq that need to be restored to the control, such as it can be, of the legitimate Government of Iraq. Over time, I would hope to see a world where the golden ethical rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, is better accepted. I would like to see, over time, an understanding by all people, and cultures, and religions, that there should be separation of church and state, that there is a sense of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God’s. 

So, that's the sort of thing that I would like to see over time, but obviously, we're talking here about major cultural shifts, and it's important that decent people say their piece and that responsible governments do what is necessary to protect people, because again I stress, Chris, this is a fundamentally humanitarian mission – it’s a fundamentally humanitarian mission – not just to protect people in Iraq, but ultimately to protect people here in Australia. 

[ends]

Transcript - 23826