ANDREW BOLT Two months of allied bombing in Syria, and three weeks in Iraq, have slowed the Islamic State, but in no way stopped it. In Syria, the Islamic State now looks like capturing the border city of Kobane. In Iraq, the bombings have helped the Kurdish government forces in the north recapture some towns, but the Islamic State still controls the key cities of Mosul and Fallujah, and it's now reported to have captured Hit and reached even into Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad's airport. Joining me is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Thanks for joining me.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREW BOLT Um, the air war is simply not doing enough to stop the Islamic State. True?
JULIE BISHOP As we've said from the outset, this is an extremely complex and dangerous strategic environment, and it will take quite some time. Australian Air Force planes are part of a coalition that is identifying and targeting the ISIL vehicles, personnel, infrastructure in Iraq, and we are doing that, we've had a number of successful missions. But this is a clever organisation. They are now adopting guerrilla tactics and they are embedding themselves in urban centres. And, of course, should we identify a target where there's too high a risk of civilian casualties, then, of course, we've authorised our pilots not to go ahead with such missions.
ANDREW BOLT But that's the problem, isn't it? I mean, Australia's planes have dropped just two bombs in the, I think, first week. Doesn't that show the targets just aren't showing themselves, and this war cannot be won from the air?
JULIE BISHOP I don't accept that it can't be won, but not just from the air, you're right, and there have been significant air strikes by the United States, the Saudis and others, in Syria and in Iraq. Australia is part of that coalition, but we have a very clear and proportionate role. I believe that the training of Iraqi defence forces is absolutely essential. That's why we've offered up Special Forces to help advise and assist. So -
ANDREW BOLT But they're barely fighting. They’re on the retreat. This is the whole thing, you see. The Iraqi forces aren't doing much. In Syria it's a complete mess.
JULIE BISHOP Well, I don't accept that Andrew. This is going to take a long time, and we've said that from the outset what we're battling is an ideology. We're trying to battle against people who are coming from all over the world to support a murderous terrorist organisation, and other organisations. So not only are we physically engaged in combat from the air and others will be on the ground, we're also having to fight an ideology back here in Australia –
ANDREW BOLT I agree with that –
JULIE BISHOP And other countries around the world.
ANDREW BOLT I'm totally on board on that. The problem is, you say, we're sending 200 soldiers, for example. Now, we want ground forces. No Arab nation is sending one soldier. In fact, we've even seen footage of the Turkish army's tanks overlooking a hill, right with Kobane right across the border, not firing a shot in that city's defence.
JULIE BISHOP That is an exceedingly complex situation in Kobane, and what they are seeking to do is train the Syrian opposition in Turkey, that's a step forward, so the Turks and the US Special Forces will be training Syrian opposition forces. But also..
ANDREW BOLT It'll take a year, at least, before those forces are back in the field won't it?
JULIE BISHOP Also, I expect, at some point, Kurdish forces will be able to go into Kobane and seek to combat ISIL.
ANDREW BOLT Turks will let them through?
JULIE BISHOP Well, that's what's being discussed at present, and hopefully that will come to fruition in the next couple of days. But Andrew, we don't want to suggest at any time that this is going to be easy. This is a really complex struggle. But not only is it a humanitarian mission, we are supporting a Muslim government in a Muslim country that is made up of Sunni and Shia representatives in that government. So this undermines all of the talk that we're actually anti-Muslim or we're fighting Muslims. We are supporting a Muslim government in a Muslim country to take back its territory and protect its people from a murderous, barbaric organisation.
ANDREW BOLT Well, take Kobane for example which is just near Syria's border with Turkey. One reason Turkey won't get involved to support the Kurds trying to hold that city against Islamic State is that those forces are linked to the Marxist PKK, which Turkey and Australia have listed as a terrorist group. I mean, don't you think it's a bit crazy that the West is supplying an air force, essentially, for a terrorist group to defeat another terrorist group?
JULIE BISHOP Well Andrew, Australia has committed to supporting the Iraqi government. We appreciate the complexities and the difficulties involving Syria. We are focused on supporting the Iraqi government. Our role is clear, it's proportionate. It's supplying air force planes to assist in a coalition to identify and destroy ISIL targets. And we're also assisting in the advising of, advise-and-assist of the Iraqi forces. So that's our role. But, sure, the situation in Syria is indeed complex, and the United States is working through all of the options, all of the complexities. I spoke to Secretary John Kerry just a short while ago and they are really focused on ensuring that they can contain ISIL in Syria, and that we can destroy, defeat them in Iraq, starve them of funds, starve them of foreign fighters, starve them of equipment and resources.
ANDREW BOLT Talking about starving them of foreign fighters, do you support the banning here of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Australian Islamist group?
JULIE BISHOP What I do support is the change to the legislation to have an offence, the promotion of terrorism.
ANDREW BOLT I agree with you, but support Hizb ut-Tahrir? We've just had a look at what they're about.
JULIE BISHOP If Hizb ut-Tahrir then promote terrorism under the new laws, then of course I support the..
ANDREW BOLT But from what you saw in the footage I was showing before do you support banning them?
JULIE BISHOP They have to have been engaged in a sufficient level of activity that our security agencies would deem to be a threat to national security. I mean, we ban..
ANDREW BOLT So not on that evidence that you've seen?
JULIE BISHOP Well, I've not seen evidence that would ban it under our current laws. But if we were to change the laws to include the promotion of terrorism then of course it could be captured by those laws. And the reason we're doing that, Andrew, is that it's not just about free speech. I mean, I'm a great supporter of free speech, but there are limitations on free speech. There are legal limitations on it, and we're trying to strike a balance in this country. But if someone is promoting..
ANDREW BOLT That footage I showed, do you think that stepped across that line?
JULIE BISHOP Well, that's why we want to change the law to have an offence of the promotion of terrorists..
ANDREW BOLT No, I know, but you saw it, do you think that stepped across the line?
JULIE BISHOP It was offensive, it was shocking to listen to it, and I don't believe there's any place in Australia for people who promote violence, murderous violence, and are trying to poison the minds of others to take part in extremist activities on the part of a terrorist organisation.
ANDREW BOLT So, ban that kind of talk?
JULIE BISHOP Don't ban the talk, that's not what I'm saying. But if there is an offence of promoting terrorism, then I believe we could have a look at Hizb ut-Tahrir in that light. Because what they are doing is poisoning the minds of young people in particular, to get them to take part in illegal activities overseas - that is aiding and abetting and promoting terrorism. Now we want to make that an offence in Australia.
ANDREW BOLT Julie Bishop, I was going to ask you about this push for a United Nations Human Rights Council seat, joining China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Gee, I hope our human rights qualify to join that august body, but we've run out of time. Thank you very much.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555