Bill's Transcripts

Lateline - Iraq; National Security Legislation;

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TELEVISION INTERVIEW

LATELINE

WEDNESDAY, 1 OCTOBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Iraq; National Security Legislation; Burqa; Abbott Government's unfair and disastrous Budget; Polls.  

 

EMMA ALBERICI: Our top story is about Australian Air Force planes beginning support missions in Iraq and the passage through Parliament of the new security laws, both with bipartisan support. I spoke earlier this evening to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who was in our Parliament House studio. Bill Shorten, welcome.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good evening, Emma.

ALBERICI: Do you have any concerns about Australia's military deployment to Iraq?

SHORTEN: Labor has supported the humanitarian intervention in Iraq, but we've spelled out principles for our engagement. It's an incredibly difficult and serious decision to make. We've said that it's important that the Iraqi Government is supportive of the intervention. We've made it clear that we see our role as confined to Iraq. We've also made it clear that we don't want to see ground combat units committed to direct conflict with ISIS. We've also said that we want to make sure that the Iraqi Government and its troops behave appropriately. We're pleased that there's an international coalition. We're pleased, I think very importantly, that Middle Eastern nations are shouldering some of the load here to deal with the terror threat in Iraq.

ALBERICI: Is there a fear of mission creep, any circumstances where you can envisage the ADF deployed to Syria or where boots on the ground might be ultimately necessary to fulfil the task of destroying ISIS?

SHORTEN: Well I think there's two points in what you're saying. First of all, it is important that we're vigilant about mission creep. Labor took a principled position against the Gulf War in 2003 and I think that was the correct call and history's vindicated that. In this case though, we're clear about our principles. The Government's been open with us about what they're doing and their objectives. In terms of further engagement in Syria or formed up combat units on the ground in Iraq, the case hasn't been made and the Government's made it clear to us that's not what they're contemplating.

ALBERICI: But you say you want to confine operations to Iraq and yet it's quite clear that Islamic State fighters started this campaign in Syria and continue to inflict a lot of damage in that country. If the ultimate objective is to destroy them, don't you need to attack them at their root?

SHORTEN: You're right. This ISIS - ISIL organisation, and indeed other terror organisations, are operating across the borders. But what's been made abundantly clear to us is the Iraqi Government does want our assistance. The Syrian situation is a lot more complex. The Americans are making their decisions, but there are other nations who are doing the same as Australia and confining their military contribution to Iraq. Ultimately the - I don't think that by military force alone you can drain the swamp of terrorism anyway. What we need to see is a government of national unity in Iraq reaching out to all of the diverse groups there. We need to see Middle Eastern countries stepping up, which they're doing here. Australian military contribution alone isn't going to fix these matters, but I believe that so far the steps we've been taken are measured, they're appropriate and it's clear that other nations have a similar view to Australia's.

ALBERICI: Now that Islamic State fighters are clearly melding into the population, they're not gathering in easily identifiable groups of soldiers, how do you target them with air strikes alone?

SHORTEN: Well they, there will have to be an effort made by the Iraqi Government in terms of reclaiming the security and stability of its borders and what happens within them.

ALBERICI: But if the Iraqi Government continues to prove impotent, its troops continue to prove no match for Islamic State militants, what next?

SHORTEN: Labor has made its position clear. There are some things that we can do, Australia can do in that region, but I don't think that Australian military engagement, further greater extensions into Iraq is necessarily going to solve the problem, and indeed, it could be adding to some of the concern and unhappiness in the region. We believe that the Iraqi national government needs to be in a position where it can stabilise and provide security for its citizens. We recognise that the Iraqi Government has asked for assistance. Australia can't solve the problems of the Middle East. Ultimately, it's got to be nations in the Middle East who do that. But as part of an international coalition with clearly-engaged principles about supporting the population in northern Iraq and Kurdish Iraq from genocide, from mass murder, we think that we are doing the right thing thus far.

ALBERICI: Is it clear to you how and when Australia's engagement in Iraq ends?

SHORTEN: Well I think it's a task-based function rather than setting a specific date. We can't be there indefinitely. But I don't think it'll be solved in a matter of a couple of weeks. What we need to see, and what the Prime Minister's briefed me on is it's not just Australian Air Force planes which are going to solve this issue; it relies on building a strong democratic government in Iraq, run by Iraqis for Iraqis, including all of the diverse groups - Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds. That's the long term answer. Our military force can degrade the build-up of ISIL, but in the long term it's going to rely upon people in that region saying - taking on the terrorist organisations.

ALBERICI: Back to domestic politics.

SHORTEN: Sure.

ALBERICI: You were calling this morning on the Prime Minister to show leadership over the issue of the Burqa. He addressed it today, saying the Burqa made him uncomfortable and that he wished it wasn't worn. Satisfied with his response?

SHORTEN: No, I was disappointed by that, actually. When migrants come to Australia, they pledge allegiance to Australia. They should leave their conflicts in their old countries. We have a system of law in Australia which everyone should sign up to. But having made those points, it is important in a liberal democracy, which Australia is, that we don't make all minorities have to agree to everything, every cultural pattern, every requirement of the majority. We should be smart enough in this country to understand that if people have got religious practices, if they've got cultural habits, if they've got clothes that they wear, I think leadership involves not saying that that's wrong, but rather just saying that's the choices people make within that earlier framework -

ALBERICI: Isn't that exactly - pardon me for the interruption, but isn't that exactly what the Prime Minister was saying. He did say they're free to wear what they like, but he simply made the caveat that it made him uncomfortable and he wished they weren't wearing it.

SHORTEN: As an individual citizen, Tony Abbott's entitled to his opinion. As Prime Minister of Australia, he's the leader of all of us. So when he says that a particular set of clothes or customs make him uncomfortable, it's different from the person in the street saying it to the leader of Australia. I wish he had just stuck to saying that people are free to make those choices. I don't think he should have taken that next step and editorialised his own opinion. He's - when you're the leader of the nation, everyone listens to what you say. And I wish he had just defended the right of people to practice their religion, within that - within those requirements that you don't bring your conflicts to Australia, that you adhere to the rule of law here, that you support Australian values. But I was disappointed by his statement. I think he missed an opportunity to build social cohesion and I think he's - I think he'll need to do more on the social cohesion front than what he did today.

ALBERICI: Now Labor MP Melissa Parke, a former international human rights lawyer, is uncomfortable with the Government's new national security laws. She says it strips protection for whistle-blowers which could see government and law enforcement agencies abusing their powers with impunity. Does she have a point?

SHORTEN: I've got a lot of respect for Melissa Parke. She's entitled to her opinion. Labor wants its MPs to be able to speak up and that's what she's done. In terms of the specific issue about journalists and whistle-blowers, Labor was part of the push to amend the national security legislation. There was a bill put forward, the relevant parliamentary committee looked at it, we proposed 17 amendments, we think we've put more protections around the rights of journalists and whistle-blowers than existed before Labor's intervention and that on that basis, we have supported the national security legislation. When it comes to fighting terror, it's not Liberal or Labor; it's one approach, that is, the priority of security. But Labor has been diligent and active and I'm grateful to the work of Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and others on the security committee who suggested amendments which the Government did accept.

ALBERICI: But as your colleague Melissa Parke points out, journalists and others doing their jobs in holding the Government to account, exposing abuses of power, will now face 10 years in jail. Is that appropriate in a democratic country that values freedom?

SHORTEN: I don't believe that journalists doing their job will face 10 years in jail. I don't accept that argument. I understand why some people make it. And again, it was Labor who's provided the driving impetus to amend legislation to put further protections around the very issue which you're raising and Melissa raised today.

ALBERICI: Now all these security and the deployment matters are going to be expensive. The Government says sending troops to the Middle East will cost $500 million a year. Given you support these measures, how do you expect them to be paid for?

SHORTEN: That's the Government's job to work out how we pay for things. What I understand, and indeed, tomorrow - the Government's finally dropped for the time being - they've put in their top drawer, they haven't put in the bin, but they've put in the top drawer some of their more radical, extreme right-wing proposals around pensions and social welfare. But they'll be putting up a bill which Labor's agreeing to to help them deliver some of what they want in the Budget. Labor is not opposing everything. Clearly by our approach on national security or indeed the fact that the Government's going to put up a measure, one of its Budget measures which we're agreeing to. We will take issues based on a fact-by-fact, merit-by-merit case, but when it comes to paying for our Defence budget, the Government's capable of running their Defence budget and they don't need to justify their Defence expenditure by cutting into some of the really unfair measures that we've seen the Government try and sell to Australia over the last four and a half months unsuccessfully.

ALBERICI: Joe Hockey says the Government will have to find new budget cuts in the mid-year economic review. What should he be looking at?

SHORTEN: I think Joe Hockey needs to spell out what his plan is. He was quizzed on Melbourne radio today that he's got ideas for new budget cuts, but he wouldn't share it with us. He wouldn't share it with the listeners on that radio station. I then followed that up with a question in Parliament today asking the Prime Minister to share with the Parliament and the people of Australia what is your Plan B, seeing as your unfair Budget's not faring very well. They won't tell us. I think this is a government who needs to be upfront with the Australian people. But today what amazed me is, on one hand they know Australian people don't like those measures, and some of them I mentioned, you know, cutting pensions, cutting education, cutting health –

ALBERICI: Well you must have some ideas for alternatives.

SHORTEN: We do, and before the next election, we will provide them and we are more than happy to work with the Government on measures such as will be put in the Parliament tomorrow. But seriously, do we need to accept that the best that this government can do is make sick people pay $7 to go to the doctor, which is the thin edge of the wedge? Do we really need to cut pensions when the Government said they wouldn't do it before the election? Do we really need to double and treble the cost of young and mature aged people going to university? This is a government devoid of imagination, except inflicting pain, generally on the less well off in our society.

ALBERICI: The Senate won approval for a parliamentary inquiry into the Queensland Government. Does this really constitute anything more than a political vendetta by Clive Palmer?

SHORTEN: Well the Senate often has inquiries into matters. It's up to the Senate to decide, based on whether or not it has the resources, what it investigates. That's been the function of the Senate for a very long time.

ALBERICI: It does look a little like the Labor Party is doing Clive Palmer's bidding, that he's running your agenda as well as the Government's.

SHORTEN: The Senate ultimately decides these matters. A majority of people in the Senate, elected by Australians, voted to have this inquiry. When the Government wants to complain about politics, it's a little ironic. Before the last election, they promised all Australians that there would be no cuts to - no change to pensions, no new taxes, no changes to taxes, no cuts to education and health. And they've broken every one of those promises. And today in the Parliament, they've said they're going to keep trying to break their promises. So, for them to complain about politics in the Senate when in fact the Australian people have told them their whole Budget is deeply unpopular is a little rich.

ALBERICI: Finally, well-regarded long-time Labor pollster Rod Cameron said recently that Tony Abbott's low popularity will not stop him winning re-election and that you, Bill Shorten, will never be Prime Minister because you're blind to Labor's problems. He says Labor lacks a narrative and division and that you're not cutting through. What's your response?

SHORTEN: Well, everyone's entitled to an opinion, but on the other hand, I'd just simply say this to Rod Cameron and to others: the Labor I lead will stand up for the creation of jobs, we'll stand up for properly-funded higher education, we won't be cutting pensioners, we'll stand up for Medicare. We've got a clear narrative, and in good time before the next election, we'll further develop our policies. One thing we won't do is mis-lead the Australian people like Tony Abbott's done and inflict an unfair Budget on Australians. I mean this government's got all the wrong priorities, haven't they? They've –

ALBERICI: Can I just interrupt you for one second –

SHORTEN: Sure.

ALBERICI: Because one of the things you said was a priority was looking after university students and before the last election you stripped $2.8 billion from the university sector.

SHORTEN: I think any fair-minded analysis of our six years in government showed that we increased the number of places for university students and we increased the expenditure on universities in Australia. And again, this government's made higher education a battlefield for the next election. Well we're up for that. So to Mr Cameron, all I say is: the election hasn't been held yet, but we are definitely nailing out ground around health, education and the maintenance and creation of new jobs for supporting a smarter Australia and we'll keep working on that narrative.

ALBERICI: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for your time.

SHORTEN: Lovely to talk to you. Thank you.

 

ENDS

 

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