As Parliament gets underway for another two weeks of sittings, I joined Sky's AM Agenda to talk about Australia's relationship with Indonesia under new President Joko Widodo and Australian commandos getting the green light to begin training missions in Iraq.
SKY AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: burqa ban at Parliament House; inauguration of Joko Widodo; Australian commandos authorised to enter Iraq; Mathias Cormann’s remarks.
KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. This morning we've got the Shadow Assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh and Liberal Senator Zed Seselja – good morning. The burqa ban has finally been overturned, the Speaker has agreed to the Prime Minister's request. Not much of a surprise but they took their time didn't they?
ZED SESELJA, SENATOR FOR THE ACT: It's not a surprise and these were interim measures. I think they've landed in a better place in terms of the arrangements. I think what's most important is that we have proper security arrangements in Parliament House. That shouldn't be about religion, it should be about ensuring that we can protect key buildings and key assets and if that involves people having to be identified then we need to take the best security advice on that. So I think we've landed in a good place. If there are adjustments needed down the track I suppose they can be looked at but they were interim measures and it seems now we're in a firmer place.
GILBERT: That all sounds fairly reasonable?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: I think Zed has hit the nail on the head there, Kieran. I'm just wondering why it took the Government so long to make this back-down. We wrote to them on the day these measures were introduced two weeks ago and said that they were ill-considered. You know, you've even got someone like George Christensen, who has fairly extreme views within his party but who didn't support this ban on the burqa. Sending people wearing burqas up into the kids gallery I think was just entirely...
GILBERT: You said it's taken a while for the back-down, but the Prime Minister responded very quickly, didn't he, and suggested that this ban be overturned?
LEIGH: And yet the Presiding Officers have taken a fortnight.
GILBERT: So the Government responded quickly, the Presiding Officers haven't.
LEIGH: They're appointed by the Government, Kieran. I don't think anyone regards them as anything other than sitting in the Party room, being part of the Liberal Party. It's taken a while, but the Government has certainly gotten to the right place.
SESELJA: They don't speak for the Government, I think that needs to be made clear, they make their own decisions and clearly they've taken their time to make their decision.
GILBERT: Let's move on to Joko Widodo, the inauguration today of the seventh Indonesian president, the fourth to have been democratically elected. I guess that's part of the key point here, it's still a nascent democracy. It's extraordinary what they've achieved in the last couple of decades but there a fragilities in it. How confident should we be that Widodo has a strong 10 years, or five years at least, like we have seen in recent times from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono?
LEIGH: I think the trajectory of his rise ought to give us that confidence, Kieran. If you look at where this man has come from: furniture salesman, regional mayor, stepping up to run Jakarta and then being pushed ahead for the Presidency. He's an extraordinarily likeable man from all accounts and as Indonesia's second democratically-elected president I hope he will do very well. I lived in Indonesia for three years when I was a child and it's a country with which I have a very strong affinity. But I think sometimes Australians downplay the importance of Indonesia in the region. On current growth trajectory…
GILBERT: They've still got enormous challenges though, is the point. I guess his opponent would have been a real threat potentially to the democracy?
LEIGH: The race did tighten up. I think it's unfair to say that Prabowo's election would have threatened the democracy but it certainly was a tight race. But on current estimates, Indonesia is a top six country in the world by 2030 on its growth trajectory so that's important. It's also important that we get the diplomatic relationship right. I think it's telling that Jokowi used his first interview in front of the Australian press over the weekend to signal very deep concern with the asylum seeker policy being pursued by the Australian Government and the incursions by the Australian Navy into Indonesian waters. We need to get that right because this is such an important relationship.
GILBERT: That's part of the reason why Mr Abbott is at the inauguration today just as John Howard did with SBY in 2004. Zed Seselja, it's extraordinary that we prioritise our trade relationship with New Zealand more than Indonesia when you're talking about a population of a quarter of a billion people.
SESELJA: I think that shows where the growth potential is. As we see Indonesia grow, we should see much stronger trade relationship with Indonesia. We've been repairing things, I think the live cattle ban damaged things in the short term. Obviously we can overcome things like that but that was a damaging thing in the short term which we've had to repair. We want to see better two-way trade, and things like the New Colombo Plan with Australians studying in Indonesia will help foster those ties. I think that builds on a very good relationship that's already been building over decades and I'm very confident that this relationship will improve over the next few years.
GILBERT: We've seen the deal, or the Status of Forces agreement, the paperwork essentially done now for our commandos to enter into Iraq and play a role. It's taken a while, I guess it's another sign of just how problematic governing in Baghdad is if this has taken so long just to get our commandos in there to help them.
SESELJA: I think it is challenging. I think it highlights the fact that nothing is going to come easy here. But in the end, what we want to see in Iraq is the Iraqis primarily taking responsibility for their own security. We're there to assist, particularly with air support and other logistical advice. This is a good step forward, we don't want to see the continuation of ISIL's reign. We don't want to see ISIL continuing to expand their territory, in fact we want to see them destroyed. Australia will play an important role in that going forward.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Labor would welcome this given the bipartisan support for the deployment. The question is, is it inevitable that Australian commandos, SAS, will be involved in gun fights and ending combat even though they're going in as an advise and assist role?
LEIGH: I certainly hope that's not the case Kieran. As you've said, Labor is supporting this bipartisan mission but with a number of conditions attached. We don't support incursions into Syria, we don't support the use of formed up ground troops and our support is conditional on the Iraqi Government working strongly with the Australian forces. In that sense that makes this different from the 2003 Iraq intervention which I think history will judge very poorly because it didn't have that international law backing behind it. Zed's absolutely right when he talks about the Iraqi Government's role here. The transition from al-Maliki to al-Abadi I think is a hopeful sign, and will get the Iraqi Government governing for all Iraqis. There's got to be the future of getting the region under control.
GILBERT: There's only about 30 seconds left but on a lighter note, Mathias Cormann quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "economic girly man" towards Bill Shorten, what'd you think?
SESELJA: I think only Mathias could pull it off, I think the accent probably helped. But he really does highlight the problem Bill Shorten has, which is he claims that he wants to be economically responsible but he doesn't support any of the savings we've made. Mathias' point is this: Labor has to say how they're actually going to bring the budget back into surplus if they were ever back in Government.
GILBERT: I said lighter note, but for many people it's not because he's been accused of sexism in the comment. Your thoughts, Andrew Leigh – just quickly because we're almost out of time.
LEIGH: We've got an Attorney-General who supports the rights of bigots, a Prime Minister who wants to bring back Knights and Dames, and now a Finance Minister who is a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator. These guys make the Addams Family look like the Brady Bunch.
GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Zed Seselja, thank you gentlemen. Have a good day.
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