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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6350


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:17): My question without notice is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. Is the Prime Minister aware that the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki is fighting alongside Shia militias accused of ethnic cleansing, beheadings and death squads against the Sunnis in the fight against the Islamic State, which is committing the same gruesome crimes against the Shias? If so, what guarantee can you provide that the weapons Australia is delivering into northern Iraq will not end up in the hands of Shia militias and be turned on the new Iraqi government if it is a unity government including Sunnis?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:18): Regrettably, day after day, we get questions from the Leader of the Australian Greens, basically saying that Australia should not be part and parcel of the deal that has been done by democratic, peace-loving countries, now even endorsed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It really beggars belief that the Leader of the Greens would come into this place and ask the sorts of questions that she has—

Senator Milne: I rise on a point of order. I ask the minister to answer the question, not engage in a rhetorical attack.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Milne, the minister has not even completed a quarter of his answer.

Senator ABETZ: I do find it a bit strange that the honourable senator should complain about rhetorical attacks, really. But setting that aside, the reality is that the world is facing a gruesome situation in Iraq. Sometimes when you are faced with those circumstances, very tough decisions need to be made.

Senator Di Natale: You can make it worse.

Senator ABETZ: I accept Senator Di Natale's interjection, and put it on the record, that our involvement could make it worse. That is a possibility. But the Secretary-General of the United Nations does not agree with you. The United States does not agree with you. The United Kingdom does not. France does not. Italy does not, and the European Union does not—and the list goes on.

It begs the question: what would the Australian Greens do? They would say, 'Don't be involved at all. Don't provide the wherewithal for minority ethnic groupings and minority religious groupings to be able to protect themselves from the barbarity of ISIL. As a government, we will do all we can, in lock-step with the international community, to protect these minorities from what would otherwise be an absolute slaughter. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:21): I have a supplementary question. Will the minister detail the direct contact the Prime Minister has had with the Iraqi government to date and say whether Australia has exerted diplomatic pressure to ensure that it will be inclusive of Sunnis and other minorities in the new government of Dr al-Abadi, or are we leaving that to the United States?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:21): Of course I am not going to indicate to the Australian Greens—or indeed anybody else—the direct contact that may or may not have been held in these very difficult circumstances, where it may well stand to reason that logistical and operational matters may have been discussed. Of course we are not going to divulge anything of that nature.

But I think what the Australian people can be absolutely assured of is that the Australian government—and, if I might say, especially through the leadership of our Prime Minister—has shown international leadership in relation to this issue, and we have seen support from diverse administrations from the United States, the United Kingdom and the other countries I previously mentioned, saying this is the right thing to do. What is more, it is supported by the European Union and the United Nations. It seems the only ones not supportive are the Australian Greens. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I was not asking for operational details; I was asking what direct contact the Prime Minister has had with the Iraqi government. I ask now: what contact have we had with the Turkish government regarding sealing its borders to prevent the movement of jihadists through Turkey to Syria? Have we had direct contact with them?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:23): That nearly sounds like a question about border protection for Turkey, but we will not get into border protection with this one. Can I simply indicate to the Australian Greens that, when we are dealing with sensitive issues such as this, it behoves all of us to put the national and, indeed, the international interests of people first. When you have got the Australian Labor Party taking a bipartisan approach, and the United Nations, the European Union and a smattering of democratic, peace-loving countries all on board, one wonders in what parallel universe the Australian Greens are actually residing. It really is very disappointing that we have got a cohort of senators in this place that cannot for once put politics aside on such a very important issue, when all the other senators and parties in this place can. (Time expired)