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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9147

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahPrime Minister) (14:01): by leave—I rise to address the House on the developing situation in Iraq. Many Australians are understandably apprehensive about the risk of becoming involved in another long and costly conflict in the Middle East. The situation in the Middle East is indeed a witches’ brew of complexity and potential danger. Doing anything involves serious risks and weighty consequences. But doing nothing involves risks and consequences, too. As things stand, doing nothing means leaving millions of people exposed to death, forced conversion and ethnic cleansing.

So far this year, more than a million Iraqis have been driven from their homes. We have all seen on our screens the beheadings, the crucifixions and the mass executions. Peoples and cultures that have existed for millennia are faced with extermination. Thousands of women have been forced into sexual slavery. President Obama has labelled what is happening at the hands of the ISIL movement a potential genocide. I refuse to call this hideous movement an 'Islamic state' because it is not a state; it is a death cult. In good conscience, Australia cannot leave the Iraqi people to face this horror, this pure evil, alone—or ask others to do in the name of human decency what we won't do ourselves. It is right to do what we prudently and proportionately can to alleviate this suffering, to prevent its spread, and to deal with its perpetrators.

So far, Australian aircraft have participated in humanitarian airdrops to people trapped on Mount Sinjar and, just yesterday, to the besieged inhabitants of the town of Amerli. Yesterday’s airdrop was mounted in conjunction with American, British and French aircraft. In coming days, Australian aircraft will join an airlift of supplies, including military equipment, to the Kurdish regional government in Erbil. American, British, French, Canadian and Italian aircraft will also be involved. This involvement has been at the request of the Obama administration, and with the support of the Iraqi government.

So far, we have met requests for humanitarian relief and for logistical support. So far, there has been no request for military action itself. Should such a request come from the Obama administration, and be supported by the government of Iraq, it would be considered against these criteria: Is there a clear and achievable overall objective? Is there a clear and proportionate role for Australian forces? Have all the risks been properly assessed? And is there an overall humanitarian objective in accordance with Australia’s national interests?

Like President Obama, Australia has no intention to commit combat troops on the ground. But we are not inclined to stand by in the face of preventable genocide either. Australia is not a country that goes looking for trouble but we have always been prepared to do what we can to help in the wider world. Many Australians, understandably, will shrink from reaching out to this conflict on the other side of the world—but this conflict is reaching out to us. At least 60 Australians are fighting with terrorist groups across Iraq and Syria. They are supported by about 100 more. And we know—or at least should prudently assume—that many of them will seek to return to Australia. They will return accustomed to kill. Around two-thirds of Australians who returned from fighting with terrorist groups in Afghanistan, a decade or so back, subsequently became involved in terrorist activities here. A number are still serving long jail sentences. The Australians and their supporters who have joined terrorist groups in the Middle East are a serious and growing threat to our security. That is why the government is boosting counter-terrorism funding by $630 million and updating our laws so they keep pace with evolving technologies and the developing threat. At the same time we have stepped up engagement with community groups here in Australia.

I want to stress now, as I always do, that the threat is extremism, not any particular community; the target is terrorism, not religion. We need to understand, though, that people who kill without compunction in other countries are hardly likely to be law-abiding citizens, should they return to Australia. They have come to hate us no less than they hate their victims in Iraq and Syria. They do not hate us for what we do, but for who we are and for how we live. They hate us because we let people live and worship in whatever way they choose. And I thank God that we do. I am grateful that the government's actions so far have been fully supported by the Leader of Opposition. This is as it should be when our nation faces threats to its national security. Obviously, the parliament will have a chance to speak to this statement and that of the Leader of the Opposition in coming days, and that too is as it should be in a free and fair democracy such as ours.