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Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Page: 9640

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:17): Today the crisis unfolding in Syria presents us with a new and important decision, a decision that Labor never takes lightly. The Middle East has long been a complex and volatile region fractured by ancient fault lines. Now it is menaced by the new and emerging threat of Daesh. Australia's mission in Iraq has had Labor's consistent bipartisan support, and, until today, both Labor and the government had the view that the Australian Defence Force should confine its operations to Iraqi territory. But in recent times it has become apparent to our allies and partners in this international effort that protecting the people of Iraq requires the option of operating in Syrian airspace.

We have received clear advice that Iraq has the right to defend itself against cross border attacks, given that the Syrian government is unable or unwilling to prevent such attacks by Daesh. Iraq also has the right to request help from other nations, under the United Nations principle of collective self-defence, and has done so. So today I reaffirm Labor's bipartisan support for Operation OKRA and our brave and professional personnel who are serving in a very dangerous place. We believe Australia has a role to play in helping the government of Iraq to protect the people of Iraq. Our support will extend to the operations in Syrian airspace, subject to the assurances that I mentioned earlier, before question time, and will detail further here.

ADF operations in Syria must be constrained by the proposed legal basis of the collective self-defence of Iraq. We have called on the government to confirm that any Australian use of force will be of a level necessary to halt and prevent the cross border attacks on Iraq or to defend Australian personnel. Our use of force must always be proportionate to those threats and subject to international law. Today we ask the government to provide the parliament with the assurance that an effective combat search and rescue capability will be put in place to meet and mitigate the risks for any RAAF member brought down in hostile territory. We believe that this assurance should be given before any ADF operations in Syrian airspace.

Fulfilling our duties as good international citizens demands respect for the United Nations. That is why we asked the government to formally notify the United Nations Security Council of Australia's decision, including our assessment of the legal basis for action. Australia should advocate strongly for the United Nations to renew and redouble their efforts in crafting a long-term multilateral strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Fulfilling our responsibility to the Australian people and their parliament requires a detailed and considered explanation of our objectives in Iraq. So I ask the Prime Minister to commit to a parliamentary debate where he can outline the government's long-term strategy regarding Australia's changing role in the defence of Iraq.

I also want to acknowledge that our nation is not necessarily of one mind about the extension of the mission. There are legitimate demands to understand the exit strategy—to ask: 'What does success look like?' and, 'What kind of peace are we seeking to build?'

There are also some who are concerned that this decision will improve the ability of Daesh to recruit more members to their cause. And, because the Assad regime—the Assad dictatorship—in Syria has an abominable record, others are concerned that it could be an indirect beneficiary of this action, which would be a terrible outcome. These are all legitimate questions.

I also make some fundamental points in response. This is not the second Gulf War, and we are not in Iraq seeking regime change; nor does the extension of RAAF air missions seek regime change in Syria. Our actions have always been at the request of the Iraqi government. They and our allies and international partners have requested that we extend our operations to Syrian airspace to deal with cross border attacks. Further, and above all, the quality of peace that we pursue has to be superior to that which would prevail if our military action was not undertaken. I and Labor believe that the actions of the ADF in Iraq are contributing to that good. The further incursion into the cauldron of Syria must also support the prospects of peace in Iraq. The issue of proportionality and precision of military force is fundamentally important. The greatest gift we could donate to Daesh would be indiscriminate action.

The battle against Daesh is an asymmetric conflict. Our opponent knows that they cannot beat us by force of arms. Rather, they rely upon drawing us into the morass of conflict. Daesh know that they can only defeat us in our great liberal democracy—like many comparable Western liberal democracies—by damaging our moral authority. Daesh have no moral authority. They have nothing to lose, because they have nothing to start with. But Australia and indeed the West do have moral authority. The conditions under which we commit the tactical, strategic and moral reasons must present our moral authority.

To justify this extension on the basis of alliance management alone is simply not enough. It must be the practical effect, not mere symbolism, that we are contributing to a superior peace in Iraq, that motivates us. Australia must also devote the same energy and effort to improving governance and assisting reconciliation amongst the Iraqi people, because the long-term stability of Iraq depends most upon the people of Iraq.

Any escalation of Australia's military engagement in the Middle East must be matched by a new and substantial commitment to addressing the escalating humanitarian crisis in the region and in Syria in particular. We are very pleased that the Prime Minister has offered, on behalf of his government, 12,000 humanitarian places above and beyond the 13,750 which were scheduled for this year—and I thank him for that. But I do call upon the Prime Minister to confirm once and for all that these additional places will be offered this financial year. As I said earlier, it is important that these places are offered on the basis of need, without discrimination nor qualification. It is not for us, it is not for this parliament, to weigh one human soul against another. No-one can do that. Our duty as a compassionate, decent nation is to help those most in need regardless of who they pray to.

At the heart of our response to the crisis in Syria is the recognition that the world Australia belongs to, the world of prosperous, peaceful and stable democracies, has failed the people of Syria. It is time for us to play an engaged and constructive role in addressing this. The Australian government should use all available diplomatic and political means to support a cooperative international multilateral solution to this current crisis. This means access to humanitarian assistance in Syria. This means meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of the region. It means supporting an inclusive political process which can resolve the conflict in Syria.

We cannot hope to drain the swamp of terrorism by military means alone. There will be concern in the Australian community that using our ADF to bomb ISIL will further exacerbate the problems and conflict in that region. Australians, regardless of what they think about the extension of the ADF mission, recognise that we no longer live in an era of a repercussion-free environment. I personally believe that ISIL would target Australia regardless of what we did. I personally believe that our overdue response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria is welcomed and timely. But I also say that the decision which Labor makes is guided by the priorities and principles which I have outlined. They are the priorities and principles which guide our party more generally—that is, to work for the betterment of humanity, not just at home but wherever we can lend a helping hand.