Just cause and the conflict in Iraq - Breaking Politics, Monday 15 September

With news that Australian troops are headed back into Iraq, I joined Chris Hammer and Andrew Laming on Breaking Politics to talk about the humanitarian importance of their mission. Here's the transcript:





SUBJECT/S: Australian military involvement in Iraq; Joe Hockey dragging his feet on multinational tax avoidance; Indigenous affairs

CHRIS HAMMER: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that some 600 Australian military personnel will be deployed to the Middle East as part of a coalition combating ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Joining me to discuss that and other issues is Andrew Leigh, the Labor member for Fraser here in the ACT and also the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. And from Brisbane, Andrew Laming, the Liberal MP. Andrew Laming, where are you?

ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: I'm in the black swamp, the home of the famous flying foxes up here in Southeast Queensland so hopefully I won't be dodging any guano by flying foxes this morning.

HAMMER: Ok, Andrew Laming to you first: Australia is deploying troops to the Middle East, what do you understand their mission is and what do you understand the timetable is?

LAMING: Well it's very clear to everyone that ISIL is an emerging threat and that standing by and doing nothing will only guarantee the further movement of this group. I think Tony Abbott is absolutely right to commit Australia to this coalition; there is a reason for joining this coalition. We have high-level partners supporting us and finally there really are no voices proposing that we do anything else. I mean to sit by and allow what we're seeing in Northern Iraq to continue, we simply cannot contemplate that.

HAMMER: But what exactly is their role, what is the mission? 

LAMING: Well, a Special Operations Taskforce works with the US coordination of these efforts. Obviously there are smart ways and not-so-smart ways to combat ISIL and Australia has a very strong and proud record of collaborating with other Western powers. We'll do that again, we'll bring our expertise to the table. We'll have an important background role in making sure the mission stays on track. Of course Australia has already had a reputation as a civilized democracy that stands up for those that are being oppressed and I think you have a clear example of this in Northern Iraq.

HAMMER: Ok, Andrew Leigh, can you tell us what the mission is?

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well Chris, it is fundamentally a peacemaking mission and Australia has a responsibility to protect the people in Northern Iraq who are at risk of enslavement, rape and genocide from one of the most brutal forces we've seen rampaging in that part of the world. The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine turns on whether there is a a just cause, legitimate authority and a reasonable prospect of success. I think those tests are met in this case. I think it is important that Australian makes a contribution to targeting ISIL, to reducing its capability – in concert with other nations.

HAMMER: You say its peacemaking, you say it's in Iraq. So it's not in Syria? And is it simply peacemaking or is it indeed out there to degrade and destroy ISIL?

LEIGH: Degrading and destroying ISIL is fundamental to making peace in that part of the world. I was at a memorial yesterday for the site of the new peacekeeping memorial that recognised the many thousands who have gone overseas to make and keep the peace around the world. This is in that spirit. We've been assured by the government that there will not be military action by Australia within Syria and that there won't be formed up combat troops. 

HAMMER: Ok, Andrew Laming, something like 200 Special Forces troops in Iraq. They inevitably will fight because if they were there for training, why wouldn't you send specialist trainers?

LAMING: Well, I expect that they can train as well. My understanding would be they would be supporting the work of troops on the ground. Technically, that does mean precisely that: training and supporting and enabling. That can mean that it can be undertaken without any direct involvement of our troops so I think that's completely consistent with the words of the PM.

HAMMER: And you're confident then that the SAS and other special force won't be in combat?

LAMING: They'll be sticking to the commitment made by the Prime Minister and obviously you won't be saying one thing in announcements and doing a different thing on the ground in Iraq.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, the Opposition has been very supportive. Are you confident that that's the fact? 

LEIGH: We've had briefings directly from the Prime Minister and we're confident that the Australian commitment will be in line with what the government has said.

HAMMER: Ok Andrew Laming, the Attorney General says that ISIL poses an existential threat to Australia – is it credible that they actually threaten our very existence, or is that language overblown? 

LAMING: They certainly threaten the lifestyle and the peace and the civil democracy created in this nation. There's an enormous among of uncertainty around the activities of extremist Islam overseas and whether Australians can return home and format the exact same kind of activities in Australia. We need to make sure that Australians don't overreact, that we don't take attitudes towards an entire faith based on the actions of these extremists. But George Brandis is calling it exactly right, this can change everything. It is a game-changer because young, impressionable minds can be stimulated towards activism and ultimately terrorism. We have to act early and make sure that this does not become a credible threat.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, what do you think of this language? Is ISIL an existential threat to Australia?

LEIGH: Chris, I think the outgoing head of ASIO, David Irvine, put it well when he said that this is a real threat but a manageable one. Australians need to recognise that...

HAMMER: But an existential threat to Australia?

LEIGH: The formulation that David Irvine put, I think, is the appropriate one. And Australia has strong national security resources. Labor increased resourcing to ASIO by 40 per cent during our time in office and I'm confident that our national security authorities are focusing on the risk posed by what David Irvine said was a couple of hundred radicalised Australians. 

HAMMER: Is there a risk here for Labor, in backing the government so thoroughly with this mission? That if there is mission creep that Labor really isn't in a position to criticise or even to question it?

LEIGH: We'll seek briefings as we go. But I'm confident based on the arguments that people like Gareth Evans have made, which have been that we have a responsibility to play a part in protecting against a real danger to people on the other side of the world, and a danger which could also have an impact on Australia.

HAMMER: Ok, if we move on now, the G20 finance ministers are meeting in Cairns later this week. They're moving to close some loopholes as far as profit shifting goes. Andrew Leigh, this is something that you pursued in government. Are governments on the right track here?

LEIGH: We clearly need to do something about multinational profit shifting, Chris. We're in an environment where it's increasingly easy for companies to move their profits around because it's more and more a service based economy. The government has dropped the ball on this: they had a $4 billion package put together by Labor last year, which is now whittled down to $3 billion package; effectively giving a billion dollar tax break back to multinationals. Joe Hockey beats his chest in the parliament about multinational profit shifting. When you look at what he actually does, the tax measures he's willing to legislate, they're pretty soft compared to what Labor would have done. So he's hard on pensioners but he's soft on multinationals. 

HAMMER: Moving to US based reporting standards; Australia encouraging other countries to do the same is a really important step. This is not just a domestic issue, it really needs multilateral action, doesn't it? And in that regard, you'd have to applaud what the government is doing. 

LEIGH: The government is going down the path that Labor had in office but moving more slowly. So in terms of reporting standards, there's an ‘Early Adopters Group’ covering over 40 countries. Australia is not part of that. I think if we're hosting the G20 we want to be in the vanguard of change rather than being a laggard. 

HAMMER: Andrew Laming, Australia has postponed its adoption of these international reporting standards, reportedly, at the behest of the banks. Why are the banks deciding Australia's policy for it?

LAMING: Well of course they're not deciding them, we're chairing the G20 this year and obviously we've just assumed government after six years of doing nothing in this area by Labor. We're really arguing whether Joe Hockey is sprinting or jogging with the baton having only had it for the few months that we've been in government and been able to be involved in the G20 agenda. It's firmly on the agenda for later this year and starting this week, you've already seen the ATO tax amnesty organised for people who have international undeclared taxable income. I think here with profit shifting, there's been support on both sides of politics, it's an absolute head knotting no brainer and I think doing it in step with the G20 meetings coming up later this year is exactly the right time to do it.

HAMMER: Ok Andrew Laming, the Prime Minister is in Arnhem Land this week, do you have any concerns that he's sort of out of the loop with these big international issues, not just the G20, but of course strategies being developed on Iraq?

LAMING: This is a really testing week for the Prime Minister, but I've got no doubt that our IT capabilities with senior public servants based up there with him can prove that this is possible. From Yirrkala for this week, we'll see international challenges of previously unwitnessed dimension being managed from a remote community, while at the same time Tony Abbott is engaged minute by minute in our greatest domestic policy challenge which is Indigenous Australia. Tony Abbott is up to it, it's just important that sometime in a Prime Ministerial year that they can spend a week in a remote area. Tony Abbott is the first person to do that and he's sticking by his word.

HAMMER: If he can coordinate a response in Iraq from Arnhem Land why couldn't he coordinate – a couple of weeks after the fact – a response to events in Ukraine from Palau and go to the South Pacific forum?

LAMING: Well these are calls for the Prime Minister, what to attend and what not to. That's a slightly different question of prioritisation, what we're talking about here is obviously fulfilling the role of PM from a remote community and I believe that that will be in interesting exercise for this week, challenging but doable. But more importantly, keeping that commitment that he made pre-election to stay one week in a remote area every year of his Prime Ministership.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, would you be in any way critical of the Prime Minister dedicating this week as he has promised to spend a week every year, to spend time in an Indigenous community?

LEIGH: I think it's a good thing, Chris. It's a beautiful part of the world with many challenges. Bill Shorten's been there twice this year already. I think as the Prime Minister looks to make a commitment to closing the gap, he ought to ask himself whether ripping $500 million out of frontline services for Indigenous Australians is the right thing; whether it's appropriate to have Indigenous legal centres closing because money has been ripped out of the budget; whether it's appropriate to have 38 Aboriginal child and families centres closing because they've lost resources in the budget. This is a Prime Minister who has talked the talk but I don't think we've seen him walk the walk.

HAMMER: Andrew Laming, your response to that?

LAMING: Clearly there are services that are working and services that aren't. There are services that need to be run by state and territory governments and services that are not. The Commonwealth is sticking to what it's committed to, to supporting improvement to social norms, employment, and managing alcohol. The stuff we’ve done on a regular basis since 2007 in the Northern Territory continues. But the Indigenous agenda is one like everywhere else, you have to justify your spending of public money. And if not, like everywhere else, you can be subject to changes in that funding.

HAMMER: Ok gentlemen, thanks for your time today.      



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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.