PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 23828

Interview with Virginia Trioli, ABC News Breakfast, ABC Television

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: 23828

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

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

The Prime Minister has warned that the military mission against Islamic State is likely to be long and dangerous. And Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, joins us now from Arnhem Land where he’s on a week-long visit. Tony Abbott, good morning and thanks so much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER:

A pleasure, Virginia. Thanks for having me.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Now, this is an open ended commitment that you’ve announced, so describe for us what victory against IS will look like, how will you know when you’re done?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are clear and achievable objectives should our forces go from deployment to commitment to combat operations and that's a further decision that the Government has yet to take. But it's a clear and achievable overall objective. It's to work with the Iraqi forces, to work with the Kurdish forces, to ensure that they are reasonably able to control their own country, to protect their own citizens, to disrupt and degrade ISIL operations inside Iraq.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

So the clear and achievable objectives for you, if you can just outline them particularly for us this morning, would that include taking back towns that have been captured for example, anything else?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, obviously, this is a job for the Iraqi and the Kurdish security forces but what we have in contemplation is military advisers from other countries, including Australia, who will be able to assist the Kurdish and the Iraqi forces to do the job that they want to do. So we’re not talking here about nation building as such; we’re talking here about an essentially humanitarian mission, to protect the people of Iraq by helping the people of Iraq and their security forces to be able to disrupt and degrade ISIL and essentially not just to protect the people of Iraq, but to protect the people of the wider world, including Australia from a murderous death cult with universal ambitions. This is not a tribal war. This is not a localised conflict. This is a conflict in which 60 Australians at least, that we know about, are fighting. People whose rage against us is no less intense than the rage we’ve seen on our television screens. The decapitations, the crucifixions, and beheadings are directed against everyone, including Westerners, who doesn't share their perverse ideology.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

But if I can just move you, Prime Minister, to those particular measurable objectives, can you tell us what it is then that you believe might be achieved and that means that the Australian job is done. Are you speaking here about particular towns? Is there a measurable objective for when IS is degraded enough?

PRIME MINISTER:

If the Iraqi government, the Kurdish regional government, are able to maintain reasonable control over their substantial towns, if they are able to provide reasonable protection for their own people, that will be a success. We’re not trying to create a liberal pluralist democracy, we’re not trying to create a shining city on the hill. What we’re trying to do is to help the people of Iraq to help themselves, so that people based in their country will no longer threaten us, as is currently the case. Let’s not forget that just yesterday we saw a British citizen, it seems, decapitating another British citizen. We’ve got Australians there of like mind. This is an international conflict, long before Australia ever thought of getting involved, this was an international conflict.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Alright, well if I can just clarify that point then. You’re saying to get the country to the point where the local army, the local authorities, the administration itself, can actually take care of its own citizens, take care of the country, if that's the measurable objective, I just wonder what assurances then we’ve received from this very new administration that the army is prepared to stand up and fight for their country because of course the US-trained Iraq military was completely caught off guard by the rise of IS. How persuaded are you that once we’ve been involved that the local forces will be able to do this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm totally persuaded that to do nothing would cause a bad situation to become catastrophically worse.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

I’m sorry, Prime Minister, that wasn't my question. I have to jump in there, that wasn’t my question. How persuaded are you that this army that has not proven itself so far able to do this, that it will be able to do it and achieve your measurable objective as you’ve outlined this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if you don't mind, Virginia, I am entitled to say my piece and to get to your question, having said my piece, we are confident that the Kurdish forces, if properly armed, are capable of resisting the ISIL advance. We are confident that the new Iraqi government – it is a much more broadly based government. It will be, I believe, a non-sectarian government, a government which attempts to be inclusive, we are confident that the new Iraqi government is capable of rallying its people, is capable of re-motivating its forces and we are there to help.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

We might have to stay there for quite some time in order to achieve that, though?

PRIME MINISTER:

Virginia, you're right. You're right. This is not the task of weeks or even necessarily just a few months, but this is not Australia on its own. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Jordan, the UAE, and Bahrain, have all committed to military action against ISIL should the circumstances be right in a week or two’s time, all of these countries are committed. President Obama is building a broad coalition and I want to thank President Obama for the leadership he’s provided here. It's careful, it's considered, it's measured, it's prudent. There’s nothing hasty or precipitant about this. This has been very careful consideration and careful coalition building by the US President.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

You’ve said at this point that you don't intend operating beyond Iraq. But how do you defeat this group if you don’t go into Syria? Do you believe it's possible to degrade IS to the point where it’s no longer a threat without in anyway engaging across the border into Syria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that’s a fair question. It’s not an intention that Australia currently has. The US President has certainly indicated that American forces are prepared to strike into Syria if that’s what’s needed to disrupt and degrade the ISIL movement, but that’s not a decision that Australia has taken. Obviously, the legalities of action in Iraq, with the full permission and the cooperation of the Iraqi Government, are quite different from action in Syria which is essentially an ungoverned state with a government that we don’t actually recognise.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Since 1991, every US administration has used force in Iraq with questionable outcomes in some circumstances. In this instance, US intelligence agencies have concluded that IS poses no immediate threat to American interests. Why is this a job for Australian Defence personnel?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is plainly a threat to Australia because there are at least 60 Australians that we know of fighting with groups such as ISIL and there’s at least 100 Australians that we know of supporting these groups. The number of Australians seeking to go to the Middle East to fight with ISIL and other groups is increasing all the time. We’ve got tens of Australian who have returned from this conflict radicalised and brutalised. So, the best thing we can do for our domestic security right now is to try to extinguish this particular conflict, and that’s why Australia is prepared to take prudent and proportionate steps in conjunction with a broad coalition of countries from around the world, including the Middle East.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Now, you were speaking yesterday about the humanitarian mission that this largely is to protect millions from the murderous rage of ISIL and were discussing Syria and the critical role that that country plays at the moment. More than 8,000 children have been killed in Syria so far in that civil war, more than 200,000 people all up. Why has that not been enough to prompt a US-led and Australia joint effort such as this to save those people from murderous rage and forces?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia and other countries are understandably slow to get involved here, because, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, Virginia, the Middle East is a witch’s brew of complexity and danger. There are no easy options; there are no options without risk. If you look at the full-scale intervention in Iraq in 2003, we are at the present pass. If you look at the less intense intervention in Libya, that has hardly had happy consequences, but if you look at the complete non-intervention in Syria, the consequences seem to be even worse.

The fact that all options have difficulties and dangers, the fact that there is no certainty of a happy outcome no matter what we do, that doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility of doing what we can to protect our citizens, to secure our interests, to advance our values, and these values are fundamentally humanitarian. We want to avoid the genocide – the potential genocide – that was unfolding in Northern Iraq just a few weeks ago before the first US air strikes and the humanitarian air drops by countries such as Australia. We want to prevent Australians from joining this conflict. We want to stop this conflict from reaching out to Australia. These are good and worthy objectives and that’s why I was very pleased yesterday to have the full support of the Opposition on the deployment that we announced.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Prime Minister, just before we let you go, a few questions on the reason that you are there in the top-most part of Australia for this week. Are you attracted to the idea of specific Senate seats being reserved for Indigenous representation similar to the system in New Zealand?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it's far too soon to be talking about the specifics of a proposal, let alone the Government committing to a specific proposal. We're really at the beginning of this journey; not at the end. There's enormous good will. There's a strong intention on the part of the Government and the Opposition to move forward with a referendum. I think the immediate priority is to try to work out a timeframe that people are happy with. Once we set a timetable then we can work on the proposal.

The worst thing that could happen here would be for a proposal to go forward and get defeated. So, my intention is to work on establishing a timetable. I'd like to do that fairly quickly and then to work on establishing a consensus around a possible proposal so it's premature to start speculating on what that might be.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

A number of very high profile people have been working quite hard to stymie the success of the ‘Recognise’ campaign, one of them in particular the columnist, Andrew Bolt, who describes the entire idea as racist. What do you say to people like him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's important to try to ensure that that's not what it is.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Does it look like it possibly could be at this stage?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's important to ensure that the Indigenous recognition referendum is one that doesn't fail and the best way to ensure that it won't fail is to come up with a proposal which can unite Australians, that will enable Australians to go forward together, to enable us to go forward together not "them" and "us", not so much black and white but as a greater, more unified us in the years and decades to come.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

In saying that, Prime Minister, are you suggesting perhaps there be a change to the way it's being suggested it will be worded, some sort of changes made that would mollify critics such as Andrew Bolt and others?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, plainly the proposal that came out of the expert committee a year or so back does have some problems. I've been on the record saying that there were some problems with that proposal. Many people have been on the record saying that there are some problems with that proposal. Noel Pearson, to his great credit, who was a member of that committee, has now moved away from that proposal and he's come up with some other ideas which he's put into print in, what I understand, is a rather moving and powerful essay. One of the people who I'll be talking with up here in East Arnhem Land over the next few days is Noel Pearson. I want to stress, Virginia, we are at the start of this process not near the finish. It's important that we do this but it's most important of all that we get it right. We want to work to a unifying moment that brings Australians together and if we can't do that, it's better that it doesn’t happen and we wait until a time when that can happen.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Tony Abbott, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you, Virginia.

[ends]

Transcript - 23828