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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11495


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (10:29): I move:

That this House calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to support a parliamentary debate during the current sitting on the Australian Government’s strategy in response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

For over a year, Labor have offered bipartisan support for Australia’s involvement in the defence of Iraq. We agreed that responding to the call of the Iraqi government to protect its people and its territory from the evil Daesh was the right thing to do. From the beginning, along with this support, we have called for greater involvement and scrutiny by this parliament. On 9 September, Labor again called for the government to outline to the parliament its long-term strategy in Iraq and Syria and allow for proper parliamentary debate.

In 1991, parliament was specifically recalled for two days to debate the first Iraq war. All 150 members of the House of Representatives spoke. In 2003, Australia’s commitment to Iraq was again subject to significant debate in parliament. In that debate, the member for Curtin said:

… it behoves this parliament to consider the likelihood that the military action will be over quickly and the Iraqi regime that has so traumatised its own citizenry will be abandoned and in flight. What next? What does the future hold for a liberated Iraq?

We could ask a very similar question about Syria today. If Daesh is degraded and defeated, as we all hope it will be, and Assad himself is gone—again, as we all hope—what is next for the future of Syria? In 2015, as we have military forces once again deployed in Iraq and now also in Syrian airspace, the foreign minister should once again support that same parliamentary consideration she praised in 2003.

Today we see geopolitical complexity that is even more finely balanced, and the long-term strategic outcomes are even less predictable. Russia has dramatically escalated its involvement in Syria, yet its strikes to date appear more targeted at anti-Assad rebel forces than Daesh. The Russian air force’s use of cluster munitions and its rules of engagement risk civilian casualties in great numbers. Despite an increasing number of countries entering the conflict to attack Daesh, Daesh continues to control large areas of territory in both Iraq and Syria. The Syrian rebel forces themselves are proliferating and radicalising, leaving fewer moderate partners for a future inclusive Syrian national government.

The Iraqi government is increasingly reliant on Iran’s active support, a concerning trend for Australia’s longstanding objective to support a non-sectarian, inclusive government in Iraq. Without a clear and realistic strategy, we are talking about the potential for the consolidation of redrawn national borders, the intensification of sectarian violence, the escalation of geopolitical tension and increasing numbers of displaced people in the region and beyond.

Against this backdrop of heightened uncertainty, the Australian public deserve a clear outline of the strategy for our personnel who are being placed in harm’s way. Yet the messages that we receive are often mixed. The government has said that the objective and, indeed, legal basis for Australian air strikes in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq. And yet the foreign minister has also said that Australia’s involvement in Syria would be complete:

When the terrorist organisation is prevented from carrying out attacks on the civilian populations in Syria and Iraq.

The government has talked in the past about the illegitimacy of the Assad regime, which has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Yet, on 25 September, The Australian newspaper reported that the foreign minister’s position had changed and that Assad was now ‘part of the solution’.

Labor remain prepared to support a strategic plan which will address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria. But we need to know what it is, and, more particularly, the Australian public deserve to know. They are entitled to hear the debate in this parliament which would answer these long-term questions and to know how this increasingly complex scenario will be resolved, in the government’s view.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Danby: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak later.