23 November 2015
Transcript - #2015052, 2015

Doorstop interview, Canberra

SUBJECTS: National Security

QUESTION:

The former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews is calling for boots on the ground – is that a particularly helpful comment from the former Defence Minister?

TREASURER:

The former Defence Minister and my colleague, Kevin Andrews, would be very well aware that in these situations Australia is not in a position to act unilaterally. You would also be very of the position of the other coalition partners, particularly the United States and you'd be very aware of the limitations on the various actions. Importantly, he'd be aware of the limitations around the fact that the Iraqi Government is the government that is sovereign in that territory and we are in Iraq at their invitation and so any actions that we continue to undertake is at their invitation. These are all the obvious things that come into those considerations. There are no requests before the Government in relation to what you put forward. There's no suggestion from our coalition partners that they are things that they are looking towards or nor indeed the Iraqi Government is asking for. So, I note his observations but as a former Defence Minister, he'd be very well aware of the parameters that currently has Australia with 780 personnel in that theatre, and those personnel there are doing a very important job at great risk to themselves, but it's an important task which has been getting results. When we first went into this task the job was to disrupt and degrade Daesh and there have been considerable advances made on that task. Daesh have been pushed pack through Iraq and that remains our key focus and working with our coalition partners.

QUESTION:

He said that a concerted campaign by coalition special operations forces is required to defeat Islamic State. Do we need boots on the ground and can Islamic State be defeated without it?

TREASURER:

Once again I don't think anyone is suggesting that Australia should be acting unilaterally on these issues and to suggest that we should take some unilateral action in this area, I would find very surprising. I'm sure that's not what the former Defence Minister would be suggesting. That would be contrary to everything that was previously being done and equally under his own administration. Australia is not in this theatre in isolation or unilaterally. We are there as part of a broader coalition force. We have the second largest participation in that force and we are doing important work there and we will continue to do that important work there. It's important that in these situations we remain very calm and we work in concert with our partners in this theatre and that we don't have some sort of hot-headed response to these issues, that we remain very measured and calibrated with our partners and we remain focused on getting the job done. What matters is getting the job done and you can expect the Government to be considering all matters that would ensure we do that and that means continuing the strong presence that we have.

QUESTION:

The former Defence Minister is suggesting that that job can't be done without forces on the ground, he says they are required to defeat Islamic State. Is it possible to win this battle with air strikes?

TREASURER:

Again, I simply say that our activities in the area, our deployment in that area, is part of a broader coalition force. We act in concert with the United States in particular, but others who are active in that area. So, any action Australia takes would need to be done consistent with the activities of those other groups and to consider any unilateral action outside of that would be folly.

QUESTION:

I guess I'd ask more broadly, why do you think Mr Abbott and some of his key supporters in the lower house, like Mr Andrews, Mr Nikolic in the last week or so have put forward on more than one occasion policy proposals at variance with the Government's position? So for example the NSC we have seen and also the boots on the ground proposals. What's the play here?

TREASURER:

You're the experts on the commentary on these things. My focus and the Prime Minister's focus and the focus of the Cabinet is on what makes Australians safe. That's what we're totally focused on – what will make Australians safe? And what will make Australians safe is not only our continued presence of the 780 men and women of our ADF in the Middle East, what will also make us safe is the outstanding work of the Australian Federal Police, State and Territory Police Forces of ASIO and other organisations that are out there every day trying to ensure that we have the best possible information and the best possible interventions, which is disrupting and preventing the dastardly work of Daesh in this country. Now, what we won't entertain is the sort of approach which will set one Australian against another because that's what Daesh wants. Daesh wants conflict in this country – it wants that and we're going to deny them that. I think Australians will also not be intimidated out of the free and open lifestyle that we enjoy in this country. We have taken extraordinary measures over the last few years to bolster our border security, to ensure that our intelligence services are well supported and well financed so they can do the job to keep Australians safe. Equally we have engaged in a coalition deployment into the Middle East which is doing the job that has been asked of it to do. If there were to be any change to that, that would need to be a matter which was considered amongst the coalition of forces, not by any unilateral position of Australia.

QUESTION:

But surely these interventions aren't actually helpful when it comes to getting that message across about the way forward that the Government's taking when it comes to national security, the interventions of some of these former ministers surely must be derailing that somewhat?

TREASURER:

The Government isn't distracted from its task. The Government's task is to keep Australians safe. That's what we're focused on. I will leave the commentary on all of these other matters to yourselves and others who may participate in the debate but as a government we have a responsibility to keep Australians safe and protect Australians. That's what we're focused on. That's what we are focused on every day and in everything the Prime Minister does and his colleagues do within the Cabinet is to achieve that goal.

Thank you very much.