Bill's Speeches

Speech to Parliament - Iraq








I thank the Prime Minister for updating the house – and I am grateful for the direct dialogue he and I have shared in recent days and weeks.

Last Thursday, at RAAF base Williamtown and RAAF base Amberley, the Prime Minister and I together farewelled some of the brave men and women of the Australian Defence Force who were leaving for the Middle East.

That is as it should be.

Keeping our people safe is above politics.

The security of our nation runs deeper than our differences.

We all admire the courage and dedication of the Australian Defence Forces.

And we are all committed to supporting the families of those serving overseas.

We will stand by these families while the people they love are far from their sides.


As we did last Thursday, again I promise those serving overseas or due to be rotated to service overseas, that the Parliament will stand by the families of the people whilst they are far away from them serving us overseas.


Labor fully supports Australia’s contribution to the international humanitarian mission in Iraq.

We do not offer this lightly.

Sending Australians into harm’s way is the most serious of decisions.

Our support for the Government on this issue is not a matter of jingoism or nationalism – it is a calculation of conscience and national interest.

There are four key principles that underpin Labor’s approach.

Firstly, we do not support the deployment of ground combat units to directly engage in fighting ISIL.

Second, Australian operations should be confined to the territory of Iraq.

Third, our involvement should continue only until the Iraqi government is in a position to take full responsibility for the security of their people and their nation.

Fourth, if the Iraqi Government and its forces engage in unacceptable conduct or adopt unacceptable policies – Australia should withdraw its support immediately.

These four principles will guide our response to the evolving situation in Iraq.

They represent the conditions we have set for our support – and the line we have drawn for Australia’s engagement in the region.

Again, this is consistent with Government’s approach.

We want Australian military personnel to carry out a clearly defined mission in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi Government – and then come home safely.

Madam Speaker

Military involvement to achieve humanitarian objectives is not our first instinct, and it is never our preferred solution to geo-political problems.

But we recognise that sometimes there is simply no alternative.

Put plainly, we cannot negotiate with ISIL, because there is nothing rational about what they seek to do.

ISIL and their like wish only to do harm, to spread the bitter hatred that fuels their genocidal intent.

And they are a breeding ground for terrorists bent on causing havoc not only in the Middle East but throughout Australia, throughout the world and in Australia and our neighbouring countries.



They are intent only upon desecration and destruction – with an insatiable appetite for crime and sectarian violence.



Right now, across Northern Iraq, families are being driven from their homes.



Innocent people are being murdered.



And women and girls are being oppressed, raped and forced into sexual servitude.



The vulnerable communities of Iraq must be protected and it is right and proper for Australia to make a contribution to this international endeavour.



Let us be clear about the differences between the situation in Iraq today – and the conflict Labor opposed in 2003.



The 2003 Iraq war was based on a flawed premise and false information.



It was a war embarked upon without a meaningful plan to win the peace.


And in part, it created some of the conditions that have necessitated this international response.

It was a war against a hostile Iraqi Government without the support of the United Nations and the international community.

As Labor said at the time, the foundations for possible military intervention were simply not there.

Today, a democratically elected national unity government of Iraq is seeking help from the international community to protect its people from genocide and other mass atrocities.

Today, we are part of an international effort that includes countries from the region.

We are fulfilling our responsibility as a good international citizen, our duty as a humanitarian, peace-loving nation.

By our involvement, Australia declares that we will not tolerate the spread of hatred.

We will not allow the contagion of hatred - the disease of fanaticism and extremism - to afflict the innocent.

We will not meet the brutality and ruthlessness of ISIL with silence.

But we face a long and difficult task.

Labor understands we can never drain the swamp of terrorism by military means alone.

Defeating jihadist terrorism requires extensive international cooperation in intelligence sharing and criminal law enforcement, and strong domestic homeland security measures backed by strong community support.

We go to Iraq not to topple a dictator but to support a democracy – to exercise our global responsibility to protect men, women and children at risk of mass atrocity crimes.

Our mission is not to pursue territory but to protect the vulnerable.

Our goal is not to assert the supremacy of one faith, or to advance the interest of one people.

It is to defend the rights of all people, to preserve the freedom of all faiths.

Ultimately, building enduring peace in Iraq, depends upon the people of Iraq.

No matter the size of the coalition, our involvement cannot, by itself, guarantee the stability of this region.

If freedom and democracy are artificially imposed from the outside – they will not last.

Above all - a stable Iraq depends upon an inclusive unity government.

A government that rejects sectarianism and the alienation of minorities.

A government able to move past ancient hatreds – and unite the nation.

Helping the Iraqi Government protect its citizens from the threat of ISIL is vital to the long-term security and stability of Iraq, the broader region and the international community – including Australia.

The humanitarian assistance we offer should not be confined to military aid.

As a safe and prosperous nation, made great by immigration, Australia should take more refugees from Iraq and Syria.

We should reach out a caring arm to people who have been traumatised by this brutal conflict.

For more than two centuries we have given those who’ve come from across the seas a second chance.

We should be part of an international effort to offer safety and security to vulnerable people who have been displaced by the ravages of this conflict.

Madam Speaker

These are uncertain times and that uncertainty can breed suspicion.

That is always the insidious goal of terrorism.

To spread division and to nurture intolerance.

To create a world where people fear the unknown – and resent difference.

They want to change the way we live, the way we see ourselves, the way we treat each other.

We cannot allow this.

Prejudice and bigotry jeopardise the harmony of our society, and they feed the fanaticism that it thrives on.

We must jealously guard our diverse, tolerant, welcoming and caring society.

Multiculturalism is one of our nation’s greatest gifts.

It is a miracle of modern Australia.

And we should never make the millions of Australians or people who have become Australians – people of every nation and every faith – feel less safe, or less welcome.

We will not overcome hatred, with hatred.

We will not overcome intolerance, by being intolerant.

Ill-informed and inflammatory comments about Islam are as unhelpful as they are unfair.

Muslim-Australians should not be stigmatised for the crimes of ISIL.

And ISIL have no right to use the name of Islam.

The medieval barbarity that they are inflicting upon the innocent has nothing to do with religion.

The twisted ideology of ISIL bears no relation to a faith of peace and tolerance followed by millions of people.

And that point should be made, time and time again.

Labor will study the government’s new security legislation in detail – and we will continue to be constructive.

Because the safety of our people, of our nation, is a priority that unites us all.

Like the Prime Minister, I clearly reject the assumption that our engagement in Iraq has made us more of a target – I accept, however, that Australia must always be vigilant in the face of extremist threats.

Very few Australians, poisoned by fanaticism, travelling to this warzone with the intention of participating in this conflict, represent a threat to our national security.

We will give legislation that addresses the problem of these foreign fighters the careful consideration it deserves.

Labor believes that our security agencies and national institutions should have the powers and resources they need to keep Australians safe from the threat of terrorism.

But we also believe in safeguarding fundamental democratic freedoms.

We must ensure that in legislating to protect our national security, the Parliament is careful not damage the very qualities and liberties that we are seeking to defend from terrorist threat.

As we work through the Government’s legislation, Labor will continue to ensure that the national security imperative is appropriately balanced against the importance of protecting our democratic freedoms.

Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of these proposals is essential.

I welcome the Intelligence and Security Committee’s recommendations to improve the first bill dealing with national security law reform, which is due to be debated in the other place this week.

I thank the Government for accepting the Committee’s 17 recommendations to improve scrutiny and oversight of that legislation.

I know that this constructive approach will be maintained as we finalise this bill and deal with further national security legislation.

Madam Speaker

All Australians would have been shocked by the events of last week.

Shocked by the closeness of a threat that is often seen as remote.

Shocked at the thought of the scenes from the towns of Northern Iraq and Syria being played out in our streets.

We do take a certain comfort in our distance from other parts of the world.  But we should also take comfort from the success of our security agencies.



Their professionalism, their expertise keeps Australia safe.


Their response to these threats has been swift and sure.

Our police and our security agencies are more committed and better equipped than the people who would seek to threaten our way of life.

This should reassure us – it should give Australians the confidence to enjoy their lives, without anxiety.

Australia will not be intimidated by the threat of terrorism.

We will be true to ourselves.

Australians never give in to fear – and we will not start now.

We do not back down to threats.

Whenever we are challenged, we prevail.

Our values of peace and tolerance and love will overcome hatred.

They always have, they always will.