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Transcript of interview with Barrie Cassidy: Insiders, Melbourne: 23 August 2015: air strikes in Syria; Canning by-election

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Insiders, Melbourne - interview with Barrie Cassidy

Subjects: Air strikes in Syria, Canning by-election.

Transcript, E&OE

23 August 2015


Our studio guest is the Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, and while she joins us, here's the

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on the request from the Pentagon for Australia to join the bombing of targets in the



During my leadership of the Labor Party, there's been a high degree of bipartisanship when

it comes to national security, as there should be. When it comes to fighting terror, we're all in this together; Labor,

Liberal - we're all Australians first. But what we also want to make sure is that we get the right information and I've

certainly asked Mr Abbott to explain to us the legal basis of what's proposed and the case behind it because these

are not matters which should be just rushed into.


Minister, good morning. Welcome.


Good morning.


Is that the next step now, that you need to examine the legal basis behind air strikes in Syria?


Well that's right. We've had a formal request from the United States to join in the air strikes over

Syria. As you would be aware, we are already involved in the air strikes over Iraq. Indeed, Australian jet fighters

took out a number of Da’esh fighters the other day, including some of the senior commanders.

The legal basis for the air strikes in Syria has been laid out by the United States, some time ago, in a letter to the

United Nations. The Coalition have been invited into Iraq at the invitation and with the consent of the Iraqi

Government, and under the principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and its people, the Coalition have extended

that self-defence into Syria, because the border between Syria and Iraq is no longer governed. Neither the Assad

regime in Syria, nor the Abadi regime in Iraq, has control over that border.


But does that eliminate the need though for Syria to invite the Coalition forces in as Iraq did?


Well it's a very complex legal situation because of course the Assad regime is not recognised as

legitimate by the United States or the Coalition, but the US, Canada, Jordan, the UAE are taking part in these air

strikes. We'll consider any legal advice that the United States or Canada has and we'll certainly take our own legal

advice. The Prime Minister spoke to Bill Shorten on Friday and offered a briefing this week, so as we focus on the

legal advice that we are receiving, we'll be providing it to the Opposition.


Now you talk about a letter from the United States to the UN, but wouldn't it be better to have

a resolution from the United Nations on this?


It would be preferable always to have a UN Security Council resolution in these circumstances. In

the case of Iraq, the Abadi Government invited the Coalition forces in, including Australia, so we are there with the

consent of the Abadi Government. Indeed, I negotiated a memorandum of understanding if you like, an agreement

with the Iraqi Government as to the terms of our engagement in Iraq.

In the case of Syria, the border has been obliterated by Da’esh, the terrorist organisation. They've claimed it as

part of their caliphate. So it is ungoverned space at present and the United States believe that under the legal

principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and its people, it is legally able to take part in air strikes.


Nevertheless, more broadly, Syria is in effect in civil war right at the moment. Now would you

be comfortable about Australia getting involved in a civil war?


It is an exceedingly complex situation in Syria. The Assad regime is fighting the Free Syria

forces. Al-Nusra is there, Da’esh is there, the Kurds are there. Turkey has now become involved. It is an

exceedingly complex and complicated situation. Our concern is to support the Iraqi people. That's what we have

been asked to do and that's what we are doing with our Special Forces advising the 1st Special Operations

Forces of Iraq. We have regular army supporting the Iraqi Security Forces to build their capacity so that they can

take back the territory that's been claimed by Da’esh and they can assist in the protection of the Iraqi people.


When do you think a decision will be taken? I notice that the Prime Minister will be going to

Washington or to New York, immediately after the Canning by-election in fact, and he will obviously meet with

President Barack Obama at some point. Do you think those talks would need to take place before a final decision

is taken?


I would imagine that the Prime Minister will have a discussion with President Obama about this.

I'm not sure whether that will take place during the UN General Assembly Leaders' week in September or prior to

that. But first we need to ensure that we have a credible legal basis for taking part. The United States have asked

us to be engaged in supporting manned strikes, but also intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air refuelling

and the like - the sort of work that we are doing in Iraq - to extend into the border area of Syria. So we'll look at this

very seriously. I had a very long conversation with my Canadian counterpart in July about Canada's involvement,

the legal basis of Canada supporting air strikes and what Canada has done, and so we'll take on board that. I'll

also speak to my Jordanian counterpart, and of course Turkey's now involved, so we need to speak to our Turkish

counterparts as well.


And if the Canadians are satisfied with the legal basis and so are the Americans, it's likely that

Australia will be as well.


We'll take our own advice and we'll assess that against the legal advice that the US and Canada

and Jordan and the UAE are relying upon and indeed Turkey. But it does come down to this issue that Da’esh has

ignored the border between Syria and Iraq. They've claimed it as part of their caliphate. It's currently ungoverned

by either the Assad regime or the Abadi regime and the United States and others see that as part of the collective

self-defence of Iraq and the Iraqi people.


Now, clearly there's a humanitarian element to all of this as well, but when Tanya Plibersek

said she would prefer Australia dropped food to bombs, you accused her of advocating a terrorist picnic.


I pointed out that dropping food into Syria is likely to play into the hands of the terrorists. It's quite

obvious that there are numerous terrorist organisations and cells throughout Syria and the likelihood of being able

to target food parcels into Syria was pretty naive. So ...


But if you can't accurately target food parcels, how can you accurately target bombs?


Well, I don't believe that the fighter jets should be used to drop food parcels. So, my belief is that

the fighter jets should be used to take out Da’esh, that is causing so much misery and violence and brutality and

taking territory off sovereign nations. What Tanya Plibersek does is she says that she supports the Labor position,

the Coalition position, but then she always moves a little bit to the left and has a slap at Bill Shorten on the way

through. So it's something she's been doing for quite some time and ...


So you don't think you're getting the full support you really need from the Opposition?


We're certainly getting it from Bill Shorten.


But not from Tanya Plibersek?


She always takes another position.


On the Free Trade Agreement with China, is it not possible to question an aspect of that

agreement without the Prime Minister accusing his opponents of racism?


The Prime Minister was referring to an utterly disgraceful media campaign by the unions against

the China Free Trade Agreement - not any other agreement that's been entered into - just the China Free Trade

Agreement, suggesting that Chinese workers are going to take jobs off Australian workers. That is absolutely

false. There will be more Australian jobs under the China Free Trade Agreement, not less. So the Prime Minister

was pointing directly at that union campaign and calling on Bill Shorten to show some leadership and distance

himself from the campaign.

And we have learned via Mark Latham, the man that Labor wanted the Australian people to elect as Prime

Minister in 2004, that Bill Shorten has form on these free trade agreements. He'll say one thing to the union

members and he'll say another thing publicly and then he'll have another view privately. So I think we're seeing

that being played out in relation to the China Free Trade Agreement, as we did with the US free trade agreement.


Isn't the problem though that it's largely discretionary as to whether or not the market is tested

and workers will have to rely on the Government's guarantees on this?


Barrie, the wording of the Free Trade Agreement with China does not have to be altered to protect

the jobs of Australians. Even former Premier Bob Carr, the former Foreign Minister of the Labor Party, Bob Carr,

confirmed that the text of the Free Trade Agreement does not have to be changed. This is a scare campaign and I

guess we're going to see it played out in the Canning by-election. But the fact is the China-Australia Free Trade

Agreement will provide enormous opportunities for more Australian jobs and more opportunities for businesses,

small, medium and large, in this country to export their goods and services into one of the largest consumer

markets in the world.


Now, I'm sure you heard what Gerard had to say about the Andrew Hastie story yesterday, but

notwithstanding what he has said about that since, what Andrew Hastie himself said about it, is it not legitimate

though for the media to examine this and to point out that he was in fact the captain in command at the time?


Barrie, this incident is years old. It's not a new incident, and I question the motivation of Fairfax for

putting it on the front page, when Andrew Hastie was not present, he was not there. He was in fact the officer who

called for an investigation into the matter. He's not involved, and yet for some reason, it now becomes front-page

story. As he pointed out in his speech to the West Australian Liberal conference yesterday, there is a current

serving SAS soldier under investigation and has been for some time. This man is obviously undergoing a lot of

stress because he's under investigation. Andrew Hastie is not, and so I do question why it became a front-page

story, given the fact that it's two years old and a soldier is under investigation, and it's not Andrew Hastie.


A couple of State Labor MPs in WA, it has now turned out, have retweeted some rather poor

taste jokes around this situation. What do you make about that?


As Andrew Hastie pointed out, this is a very serious incident. He called for an investigation into it.

A number of soldiers were cleared of any wrongdoing. There is one currently-serving SAS soldier under

investigation. And for Labor MPs to now ridicule that soldier over the incident, because Andrew Hastie's not

involved, is simply appalling. Labor wonders why our troops question their commitment when they ridicule a

serving SAS soldier and when Labor cut $16 billion from the Defence budget. That's what Andrew Hastie was

having a go at yesterday. He's no longer in the SAS, he's

free to say what he thinks. And when he said he felt

Labor didn't have his back, what are the troops on the ground meant to think when the Federal Labor Government

cuts $16 billion from the Defence budget while they were serving? What are the troops meant to think when Labor

MPs make jokes about a serving soldier who's under investigation? Now, again, Bill Shorten ought to pull these

people into line, show some leadership and tell them that this is just not on.


Now, are you comfortable about the Canning by-election being portrayed as a make-or-break

moment for Tony Abbott?


The Canning by-election is all about the people of Canning. It's all about finding a replacement for

a very popular member in the late Don Randall. And we have pre-selected whom I believe to be one of the most

outstanding candidates that I've seen on either side of politics for a very long time.


Yeah, but given that now though, if there was to be a double-digit swing and you have got, as

you say, a very strong candidate, wouldn't that be an even bigger reflection on the Prime Minister's leadership?


Well let's see how the Canning by-election turns out. It is all about the people of Canning and their


And Andrew Hastie is moving into the electorate. The Labor - the hipster Labor lawyer - does not live in

the electorate. He lives in Mount Lawley by the way. His family lived in the electorate, but that's just a small point.

As Andrew Hastie pointed out, he's been living in Defence housing for a long time, so he wants to make Canning

his home and I'm looking forward to campaigning with him next week. It's about the issues that concern the people

of Canning and who they trust to represent them in Canberra.


But when you say let's see how it turns out, are you conceding that people will be watching it

very closely within your own party?


Of course, by-elections are always the subject of a national focus - when it's a federal by-election

- and there will be a lot of focus. We've already seen our candidate make national news. But he's an outstanding

Australian who has committed so much of his life to serving his country. He's done three tours of Afghanistan. He's

advised us on border protection matters. He's spent time in Jordan advising and assisting in relation to the fight

against terrorism. And so he's now prepared to devote his life to representing the people of Canning.


Well then let me put it quite bluntly and finally: if the Coalition, if the Liberal Party was to lose

the by-election, is that the end for Tony Abbott's leadership?


I don't believe we'll lose the by-election. I believe that with Andrew Hastie and with the kind of

policies that we have on promoting jobs and growing the economy, that the people of Canning will make a

decision that's in their interests and I believe that will be to elect Andrew Hastie as their representative.


Thanks for coming in this morning. Appreciate it.


It's been my pleasure.

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