Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Melbourne - National Security






SUBJECT/S: National Security.




Approximately two hours ago the Prime Minister called me to inform me of the Government's decision to commit Australia to military action against ISIL forces in Iraq. I reconfirmed to the Prime Minister Labor's support for this important development. When it comes to fighting terror, Labor and the Government are working together. I also thanked him for his willingness to directly engage with the Opposition.


Australians should understand these decisions are never made easily nor lightly. I believe the most difficult decision for a nation is the decision to send our troops in harm's way. But in the face of evil, nations of good conscience do have a responsibility to act. ISIL is not the enemy of one nation, or of one faith, or of one people. It is the enemy of all of us. They are the enemy of freedom, they are the enemy of tolerance.


I recognise that military action alone cannot drain the swamp of terrorism. I understand, Labor understands that the security of Iraq ultimately depends upon the Government of Iraq and the people of Iraq. Labor understand that peace and stability in the Middle East ultimately has to be driven by the nations of the Middle East.


But at this time, in the face of the threat, Australia does have a responsibility to join a very broad international coalition, both of regional nations and nations more broadly. Australia does indeed have a role to play in the global response.


Most importantly today, I would ask Australians that our thoughts be with the men and women, the brave men and women of our Defence Force who will undertake this mission in the name of the defenceless and the vulnerable. I would ask Australians today to put their thoughts with the families of our defence personnel serving in the Middle East. And again I would ask the Australian people to place their thoughts for the vulnerable people of Iraq.


It's just over 98 years ago that Australian airmen from One Squadron first took to the skies over this region in our country's name. Now 98 years later they return once again. I had the privilege of meeting, along with the Prime Minister, the men and women who are currently part of this important development. I can assure you that the professionalism, the skill of the people that I met would make every Australian proud. I indicated to them that watching their professional, skilled, committed faces made every Australian - would make every Australian proud to be Australian. We admire their bravery, we are proud of them.


Labor's support for this important development continues to be underpinned by our key principles which we've enunciated to the Parliament and we will continue to put the national security of our nation ahead of politics. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the Prime Minister hasn't put a specific time period on this, that it is quite open-ended?


SHORTEN: I don't think the Prime Minister could put a specific date in some weeks or months and say by then the mission will be complete. I'm not sure it's actually helpful to try and put a timetable on this today.


Clearly though, Labor sees that this task does have an end point; when ISIL is degraded, when the people of Iraq are much more safe than they currently are. But I don't think anyone should try and pick a date that will actually occur on. I do have, and I would stress again to the Australian people, that we should have confidence in the planning and the forethought of our Defence Forces when this comes to this most important question that you asked.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has said this isn’t a commitment to war. Do you see this as one?


SHORTEN: Well some of the use of language perhaps is a second order issue. Today the Government of Australia supported by the Opposition, are going to commit our FA-18 Hornets into the skies over Iraq to conduct combat missions to degrade and help defeat the ISIL terror menace in Iraq.


For our men and women who are there and for their families they have left behind here, they all need to hear that the Australian Parliament and that the major political parties in Australia are supportive of them and of their mission. And that is what they are hearing today.


JOURNALIST: Do you think this will make Australia more vulnerable to risks on our home soil?


SHORTEN: Some people say that but I don't believe that. I don't believe that if we did nothing, that there would be no threat of terrorism in the world or in Australia. I think also that the conditions which Labor has outlined indicate that this is a sensible decision in a most difficult set of circumstances, specifically we have said that the Government and people of Iraq have to seek the assistance.


We notice and we support the fact that Arab nations in the region are supporting this action. There is a broad international coalition. I'm confident that our military planners are capable of working out the rules of engagement to ensure that our humanitarian objectives are achieved. Like every Australian and no doubt like every citizen of Iraq, they wish that this ISIL terror men as hadn't come to Iraq, but it has. It reaches its links into a very few pockets of the Australian community as well. I do not believe that our action, which is being announced today, contributes to the menace which was pre-existing regardless of what we did today.


JOURNALIST: What do you make of the burqa ban idea in the Federal Parliament and the Prime Minister’s backflip if you like?


SHORTEN: Well, let me start off with the good news, I think the Prime Minister is right not to put a ban on the Parliament. I think this issue has been used for all the wrong reasons. We get that we need to make sure that there is security and safety in our public buildings. Parliaments around the world and in Australia have already dealt with this issue. It's very easy for people to identify themselves and see who they are. The idea that you just start the segregation and as the Prime Minister has said, that's not the way to go.


I think more broadly than that, though, we’re asking our troops today to risk their lives to promote a fight against intolerance, against religious sectarianism, against prejudice and fear. It's important that our Parliament measures up in the same way that we expect our young men and women to measure up overseas. Our Parliament should fight injustice, fight intolerance, fight prejudice, fight sectarianism. We shouldn't be part of the problem, we should be part of the solution. Now more than ever we need to encourage and bring people from the margins into the mainstream of our society. Someone famous once said that long after people have forgotten the comments of your enemies, they will remember the silence of our leaders. I think that it was overdue that the Prime Minister spoke up.


JOURNALIST: Do you think a decision on the burka should be left to the presiding officer. Isn't this is a security matter that should be dealt with by, say, ASIO or the Australian Federal Police?


SHORTEN: I think we should always, as a number one principle, be informed by our security, the best expert security advice. The way Labor looks at this is what are the security experts saying? How have other places dealt with this issue? What we don't need is knee-jerk politics dividing the country at a time when we’re sending our young men and women overseas to fight in the name of our country. We’re a clever country. We are capable of respecting diversity while adhering to one set of laws in this country. Australians and Labor included, know that when people come to Australia to live, they leave their conflicts behind in the old countries they came from. We adhere to one set of laws, we swear allegiance to Australia. But that does not mean that we should become intolerant of diversity. Our national anthem talks about people coming from many countries across the seas. It is important that we respect the diversity of our nation, that's the very thing we are fighting for.


JOURNALIST: You mentioned in your opening there that military action isn't the only way to try and get rid of a group like ISIS, then what else is there, what else can be done?


SHORTEN: Well I think support for the Government of Iraq in terms of its civic functions. I think encouraging diversity within the Government of Iraq that all peoples are represented within that Government. There’s a big job here for regional countries and for the nation of Iraq to handle. Also there’s a role for humanitarian relief. There are over a million refugees from this conflict in neighbouring countries of Jordan, in the neighbouring country of Lebanon. There’s plenty of non-lethal ways that we can engage in humanitarian support. It might also be that we consider taking refugees from this conflict.


JOURNALIST: Just during the briefing as well with the Prime Minister, as you mentioned that obviously he briefed you, were there any issues that you raised with him of concern about taking this military action?


SHORTEN: I recognise that this is a very difficult decision. These decisions are not made lightly. The support of the Opposition has not given us a blank cheque, but I also said that we did support this development, not an easy decision. I observe that we have great confidence in our Defence Forces. I also made it clear, and I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, that we see, Labor sees national security above partisan politics and with that of course he concurred. Thanks everyone, have a nice day.