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Transcript - 23831

Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National

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: 16/09/2014

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23831

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

FRAN KELLY:

Prime Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

PRIME MINISTER:

Fran, it’s good to be with you.

FRAN KELLY:

I want to talk constitutional recognition with you in a moment because I know that is a big part of your agenda there in Northern Australia but first to Iraq and those countries attending the Paris talks pledged to, quote, “support the new Iraqi government in this fight by whatever means necessary including appropriate military assistance.” Does that mean we will see direct military intervention by Arab countries?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I certainly believe that it does and I think there are a number of Middle Eastern countries that are prepared to take military action against ISIL in support of the Iraqi government because as President Hollande has said, this is a global threat that requires a global response. It is obviously a very serious regional threat and that is why it requires a regional response and it is a threat to Australia because, as we know Fran, there are at least 60 Australians, mostly Australian born and bred, who are in the Middle East fighting with groups such as ISIL. There are at least 100 that we know of, Australians, mostly born and bred, who are supporting these terrorists and these people are reaching out to us. That is why it is important that Australia contribute to an international coalition to disrupt and to degrade ISILs operations.

FRAN KELLY:

You and others have always made the point though that it really needs to be a coalition with significant representation from the region. So far I think ten Arab countries have agreed to join the coalition but that statement overnight doesn’t have much detail of who is doing what. Should the Arab countries be sending in military personnel – soldiers or fighter pilots – as Australia is for this to be a meaningful contribution? Is that essential?

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly think that is what you will see in the weeks ahead because, as you know, President Obama is assembling a coalition. The Iraqi government is appealing widely for help because they know just how bad this ISIL movement can be. We have seen hundreds of thousands of people displaced, we have seen thousands and thousands of people wantonly murdered, we have seen the beheadings, the crucifixions, the mass executions and this is directed towards anyone Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Turkmen, Kurds, anyone who doesn’t share the particular ideology of this death cult. Now, that is why it is so important that all of the decent countries of the world rally to protect people in what I see as an essentially humanitarian mission.

FRAN KELLY:

The statement signed by the countries in Paris say the action will be, quote, “in accordance with international law to be implemented and followed up in the framework of the UN.” You are going to be attending the UN Security Council next week, will there or must there be some kind of Security Council resolution to further underpin the Iraq action and more importantly action inside of Syria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, certainly the Iraqi government is more than able, at law, to invite other countries to support its operations and that is what Australia has in mind to do. We have dispatched a force to the UAE. This force will be available for combat operations inside Iraq should further decisions be made by Government and that is perfectly legal to operate in Iraq with the support, the consent, the approval, the welcome of the Iraqi government is perfectly, perfectly legal under international law.

FRAN KELLY:

What about Syria? To go into Syria, and let’s be frank, without being able to follow and attack Islamic State inside Syria they really become an untouchable force because they can just retreat across a border at any time. This has to be an element of any successful assault on IS doesn’t it and do you need UN approval for that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Fran, first of all, please, I don’t think it helps to use that term ‘Islamic State’ because this death cult is neither Islamic nor a state. It has ambitions to create a terrorist state but it won’t be a state in any normal sense.

FRAN KELLY:

Ok, let’s call them ISIS then for this discussion but to really degrade and destroy ISIS which is the mission as you have stated it, it really needs, any force really needs to be able to go inside Syria where they operate from. Do you agree with that? And to do that do you need UN approval?

PRIME MINISTER:

President Obama has certainly indicated that US forces will strike ISIL inside Syria if needs be. That is not Australia’s intention at this time. I don’t rule it out but it is not our intention at this time because as you rightly say the legalities of operating inside Syria which is ungoverned space with a regime we don’t actually recognise, the legalities of operating inside Syria are quite different from the legalities of operating inside Iraq at the request and in support of the Iraqi government.

FRAN KELLY:

So, will UN approval be sought at the summit next week for Syria?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a meeting that will be chaired by President Obama. Yes, I will be there and let’s see how things unfold.

FRAN KELLY:

In terms of, legalities are one thing, complexities are certainly abound in this area and what we are contemplating. A number of analysts are now today suggesting that our SAS forces will be on the ground in Northern Iraq working with the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. Now, today the Fairfax newspapers have a report from one of their correspondents who went to the Peshmergas and found them working very closely with the PKK which is a banned terrorist group in this country – a Kurdish group. Will our SAS fighters find themselves working with the PKK?

PRIME MINISTER:

My understanding is that what we have in mind is a mission to act as military advisers to the Peshmerga or to the Iraqi security forces not to that other group. So, we are prepared to act as military advisers to legitimate forces inside Iraq, that’s what we intend to do, and in respect of the weapons Fran that we have helped to transport into the Kurdish parts of Iraq, we’ve been given very strong guarantees that these will only be used by the Kurdish Peshmerga.

FRAN KELLY:

You can see how in the heat of the battle though these things are going to be hard to control and manage. Similarly, with the laws that Attorney-General George Brandis plans to introduce into the Parliament next week regarding the Foreign Fighters Act, the US president last week pledged to arm the free Syrian Army in the fight against IS or ISIS in Syria. Is it still going to be a breach under the laws you are planning to introduce, a breach of Australian law for young Australians to go to fight for the Free Syrian Army then if America is going to be arming them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, our general position is that you should not go overseas to fight with forces that are not the properly constituted armed forces of a state that Australia recognises. So, I don’t encourage people to go overseas to do anything other than the sorts of things that Australians typically do; tourism, business, study, visit family, etc, all of that is fine - but the last thing that Australians should be doing is going abroad to leap in to service with organisations that are engaged in killing, possibly killing civilians. Now, this is not the sort of thing that it would be responsible of any Australian Prime Minister or politician to encourage.

FRAN KELLY:

I understand that but I guess what I am asking more specifically is will people be sent to jail under the new laws if they have been to fight with the Free Syrian Army – given the Free Syrian Army is about to be armed by America – it is confusing, it’s a confusing message isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Fran, look, I know what journalists want to do. I mean, they want to leap about 15 steps ahead of where we are and where we are is that we have got an Australian force that is on its way to the Middle East to act in support of the Iraqi government, to disrupt and degrade the operations of ISIL. We have got a murderous, terrorist organisation – a death cult no less, which doesn’t just do evil, exults in doing evil – which many Australians, sadly, foolishly, inexplicably, have sought to join. Now, last thing I want to do is speculate what may or may not happen and shades of grey when it comes to these different organisations. There will be legislation coming into the parliament about terrorist offences, obviously it will be subject to consultation with the Opposition, with the Parliamentary Committee and let’s see the final shape of that in a few weeks’ time.

FRAN KELLY:

Prime Minister, let’s leave Iraq for a moment and come back to what you are doing there in Arnhem Land. What are you hoping to achieve as a Prime Minister from spending several days in indigenous communities?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is important, Fran, that senior leaders of our country do have a deeper engagement with indigenous people, particularly at a time when we have in contemplation a constitutional recognition referendum. So, this is something that I have been doing one way or another for quite a few years now. I made a promise to Galarrwuy Yunupingu, one of our country’s greatest indigenous leaders that I would come back and spend some time here should I be Prime Minister and I am honouring that commitment. So far I have had some quite extensive discussions with Galarrwuy and other senior leaders from this area. I have also been out and about looking at the various things that they are doing to boost economic opportunities to try to turn their land from a ceremonial and cultural into an economic asset too. I will be doing a lot more of that today and tomorrow and the day after. It is important that we deepen the engagement and I certainly hope that as long as I am in public life I can do something like this for a period every year.

FRAN KELLY:

You have been speaking about the referendum, holding a referendum on indigenous recognition within our constitution and you have been in a sense, I think, over the last 24 hours lowering the bar of expectation, talking about being spiritually ambitious but perhaps more realistic…

PRIME MINISTER:

Constitutionally conservative…

FRAN KELLY:

Constitutionally conservative, exactly, which is broadly interpreted as dashing the hopes of those who want change added to the constitution outlawing racial discrimination. If we accept that’s where you are headed what if the people you meet there this week tell you they want more than of course change the constitution. That they want more than just a statement of prior ownership written into the preamble, that they want to have real meaning and bring real change for them in their lives. What will you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am all in favour of bringing real change to indigenous people’s lives. I want the kids to go to school, I want the adults to go to work, I want communities to be safe and I do want people to be proud, I want Aboriginal people to be proud of who they are, I want Australian people to be proud of what we are and we are a country, as Noel Pearson often says, with an indigenous heritage, a British foundation, a multicultural character – these are important foundational dimensions of our national story. I want to see people reconciled to this and full of hope and optimism for the future based on that kind of historic reconciliation. What I don’t want to see, Fran, is a divisive debate and a proposition which either just gets up or just goes down because that is not conducive to national unity.

FRAN KELLY:

What about a proposition that also includes some kind of mechanism for real engagement or contribution of indigenous Australians into our democratic process. Noel Pearson made the point last week that with three per cent of the population it is impossible for indigenous communities to vote as block to get there leadership into our Parliament and he is suggesting some kind of Aboriginal body of leaders to sit alongside our Parliament to be listened to. Jacqui Lambie wants seats in the Parliament set aside for indigenous Australians. Are you attracted or persuaded by any notion like this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, Fran, we’re getting quite a few steps ahead of ourselves here because we are really still at the beginning of this journey rather than near the end point. What I would like to do over the next few weeks is finalise a timetable, confirm a process and then I think we are in a better position to start talking about what the precise changes might be. I think it is important that Aboriginal voices be heard and you’ll be unsurprised that I cite Ken Wyatt, the Member for Hasluck, who is a Member of the Coalition – first indigenous Member of the House of Representatives, you have Nova Peris, who is a Labor Senator. So, we do have two indigenous Members of the Parliament. I would like to see more indigenous members of the Parliament but I would like to see my Party preselect more indigenous people as their candidates and I suspect Bill Shorten would want to the Labor Party to do the same.

FRAN KELLY:

Prime Minister, I will let you go, but just briefly on another issue that is in the news, there has been some criticism from the EU Climate Commissioner that you are not planning, as the leader of Australia, to attend the Leaders Meeting of the Annual Climate Summit at the UN next week. Now, President Obama will be there, David Cameron will be there, you won’t be there but you are going to be at the UN the next day. Why won’t you attend the Climate Summit?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it’s also important that I attend Parliament. My first duty, in a sense, is to the Australian Parliament and that is where I will be early in the week. There are quite a lot of things happening in the Australian Parliament in the next week or so. Julie Bishop will ably represent Australia at the climate conference and as you know Australia is committed to a five per cent reduction to our emissions. We are confident we can do it without a job destroying economy wrecking carbon tax. I noticed that people associated with the Labor Party are still banging on about a carbon tax but we want to establish a better environmental outcome without damaging our country economically.

FRAN KELLY:

Prime Minister, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks so much, Fran.

[ends]

Transcript - 23831