CHRIS KENNY Julie Bishop, welcome to Viewpoint again.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you Chris. Good to be with you.
CHRIS KENNY Cabinet is going to be meeting in the next day or so to approve specific military action in the Middle East. I know you’re not going to say exactly when that’s going to happen but can you give us some idea of when you think this mission will be completed?
JULIE BISHOP The process will be that the National Security Committee will meet first to consider a request from the Iraqi Government and then depending upon the decision of the National Security Committee and the advice that we receive from the Chief of the Defence Force, our intelligence agencies, Federal Police and others, then we would take that decision to the Cabinet.
But I stress that we first need a specific request from the Iraqi Government and we need to ensure that all of the legal frameworks that are required would be in place. So this could take a little while.
CHRIS KENNY We’re aware of the military hardware that Australia has sent to the region. We’re aware of your commitments that there will be no boots on the ground and the rest of it, but what I’m interested in is how long do you think this operation could last? How long Australia’s military involvement against Islamic State is expected to endure?
JULIE BISHOP It will depend what we are asked to do. We were requested by the United States to give an indication of the military hardware and the personnel that we could provide in general terms and we did that. We spoke about aircraft that have now been pre-deployed and Special Forces but we haven’t been asked to specifically undertake a particular mission yet. The United States and Iraq are well aware of our capability and our capacity and they’ll take that into account but there are many international partners who are willing to be part of this coalition.
Our role will be proportionate and it will depend upon how many other countries are involved in any particular mission. So I can’t tell you precisely the end date for this but I would imagine it is going to take us some time to rid the region of ISIL and its ilk because it’s not just the one terrorist organisation, there are a number of splinter groups operating across Iraq, Syria now into Lebanon and beyond.
CHRIS KENNY Tony Abbott has spoken about months previously, the British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking in the House of Commons on Friday, talked about the battle, the UK’s battle against Islamic extremism lasting years and many years. Do you agree with that assessment?
JULIE BISHOP He’s absolutely right. It will take years to change this fanatical ideology of people that leads to such extreme violence. The United States was attacked by terrorists in 2001. There have been terrorist attacks before that. Australians were attacked in Bali in 2002 and 2005. So extremism has been around for a long time, terrorism has been around for a long time.
We’re seeing a particularly virulent form of it in the Middle East at present through ISIL, through Khorasan group, a whole raft of these Al-Qaeda offshoots. So we will have to be ever-vigilant to ensure that we can not only degrade the structure of these particular terrorist organisations but that we change people’s acceptance of this ideology as the norm because it is not. This is an abuse of Islam and we need to counter it, combat it on many fronts.
CHRIS KENNY Well that brings me to the broader ‘War on Terror’ which a lot of people were saying in recent years was over. Julia Gillard releasing a national security strategy for the country just 18 months ago said the 9/11 decade was over. You’ve mentioned some of the other groups around the world. Of course the Islamic State challenge now is the one at the forefront but we have Boko Harem tearing away at Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. Of course there are other groups hitting other countries in Africa - Al Qaeda still active in Yemen, and yet the West is looking at withdrawing completely from Afghanistan soon. Doesn’t there need to be international resolve on all these fronts to crush extremism wherever it is trying to get a foothold?
JULIE BISHOP Of course, this is a global problem, it is a global issue. Over 80 countries have now identified foreign fighters from those countries leaving their home countries to fight in the Middle East. That’s 80 countries have already identified foreign fighters in their midst. But it’s worth remembering that in the case of Afghanistan it was the government of the day, back in 2011-2012, that asked the United States troops to be confined to barracks and it was the former Iraqi Government under Maliki that asked the US forces to leave. And so we are now faced with a situation where the international coalition is having to be established and go back into places where Western forces were previously asked to leave or to be contained.
But what we need to do is focus on the immediate threat – that is ISIL and its ilk across the Middle East - in Syria and Iraq. But of course we see terrorism activities in Spain, in Britain, in Pakistan, in Nigeria, Yemen. It’s occurring in many places across many fronts. That’s why there has to be this international coalition of countries willing to stamp it out, willing to take military, political, diplomatic, humanitarian action, starving these terrorist groups of funds, of fighters, of resources.
CHRIS KENNY You mention the withdrawal of US troops in 2011 and that Prime Minister Maliki didn’t want US troops to remain. Nonetheless Barack Obama was keen to get troops out, didn’t negotiate a residual force. Whatever people think about the invasion in 2003 by the ‘Coalition of the Willing’, I think everyone can see that that total withdrawal of US troops in 2011 has led to the situation we’ve got now with Islamic State, has enabled Islamic State to get that foothold.
JULIE BISHOP But that was the request ofthe sovereign government of the day, the sovereign government of the day requested the US to leave.
CHRIS KENNY But didn’t Barack Obama make a massive mistake by not forcing that issue and convincing the Baghdad Government to allow some US troops to remain?
JULIE BISHOP Chris, it’s all very well to be wise in hindsight but we have to respect sovereign governments. That’s why we’re being so very careful, as is the United States, with the sovereign government of Iraq at present who has invited Western and other forces in to their country. We’re being very careful about the status of our troops - that is our personnel and our aeroplanes, should they go into Iraq, to make sure we have the appropriate immunities and protections and privileges for our personnel, as is the United States. So you have to respect the sovereign government’s wishes. The United States did it previously and they’re doing it again now.
CHRIS KENNY I suppose I’m coming at this from a different perspective than a lot of your interviewers would come of, who might criticise Australia being involved and the West being involved. I suppose my point here is that the problem in the past is the Western Governments, the international community if you like, it’s failure to see the job through, it’s failure to secure the security that it won through the cost of many lives and many billions of dollars and I’m worried at this stage that given these commitments from the US, the UK, Australia and others to not put boots on the ground, to not get too heavily involved, whether we’ve actually got the commitment to make any hard won security stay this time?
JULIE BISHOP It is always difficult for liberal democracies to commit to open ended conflicts and wars because we answer to our public, we answer to the electorate every election and the public can be very weary of longstanding conflict commitments because we do lose troops, we do lose forces, it takes a toll on a country, it can cost a fortune. And so what price do you put on freedom? What price do you put on trying to combat this kind of extreme ideology that is committed in the name of Islam in this instance, or people who try to control others by this brutal, violent measure? So it is difficult but in this case we are working in partnership with the Iraqi Government. The Iraqi Government has asked for an international coalition to be put together to assist it, and I think what is important and worth remembering is that a number of Arab States have committed to support the Iraqi Government, have committed to take action in Syria. So for the first time in a long time we’re seeing Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Jordan, Turkey, Bahrain, others supporting these governments in trying to tackle this form of extremism, the likes of which we’ve not seen before.
CHRIS KENNY Barack Obama has been very successful in getting a broad coalition of Arab and Muslim nations to help out in this cause, but are you convinced that countries, I’ll name two in particular – Saudi Arabia and Qatar - are not offering that support on the one hand, yet on the other allowing individuals and organisations within those countries to fund Islamic State?
JULIE BISHOP I have met with theForeign Ministers of both Qatar and Saudi Arabia and they are committed to crushing ISIL. Whatever has happened in the past, they see that this is a direct threat to their countries.
CHRIS KENNY So they can see that funding has gone from their countries in the past to this group?
JULIE BISHOP They won’t concede it but it’s been widely reported that funding has come from Qatar, has come from Saudi Arabia, that’s been widely reported. What I’m saying is that the governments of these countries recognise the fundamental threat that ISIL and its ilk are posing to these countries and they’re doing all they can, not only to assist militarily, but also to starve ISIL of funds.
We had a meeting, a global counter-terrorism meeting, last week where about 26-30 countries committed to work together to try and destroy the structure of these terrorist organisations and that includes cutting off their funding and stop trading with them, stop the black market trade in oil and the like that has been going on in the past. ISIL is well-resourced, well-funded and has access to very sophisticated military weaponry. We must take away that support in order to defeat them.
CHRIS KENNY You mentioned previously the resolve required from Liberal democracies, Western countries to stay with a fight against the Islamic extremist terrorists. In Australia of course we’ve got 60 Australian citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq. We know we’ve had three Australian home-grown suicide bombers in that part of the world and of course we had an Australian teenager killed in a terrorist incident in Melbourne last week, yet still so many in the media in Australia, particularly the public broadcaster, the national broadcaster, and fringe groups like the Greens and the like, are accusing the Government of talking up the terror threat in order to justify international action. You have a [inaudible] of work ahead of you to keep the international community onside in Australia.
JULIE BISHOP If that is the view of the public broadcaster and the Greens well then they are terribly misguided. The Prime Minister and I have spent, between us, a week at the United Nations talking to the Foreign Ministers and leaders of dozens of countries around the world, dozens of them, and they all see this as one of the most serious terrorist threats that the world has seen. They all see it in terms of the domestic security situation and all see it as possibly the greatest threat that the globe is facing at present, most certainly the greatest immediate threat. And so there is a very high level of cooperation between many countries around the world who see the need to destroy this terrorist organisation as an absolute priority. So if there are political parties or sections of the media who think that this is something that the Australian Government has come up with, they are desperately, sadly mistaken. This is a global threat, a regional threat, a threat not just in our country but other countries around the world.
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