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Christine Milne on war in Iraq: "Australia needs an independent foreign policy"

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Christine Milne 22 Sep 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, addresses the Senate in response to a statement issued by the Prime Minister on national security.

Senator MILNE: I rise to take note of the Prime Minister's statement to the parliament today on national security. Australian troops have now been deployed to a new war in Iraq. Young men and women have been asked to put their lives on the line for this country. And at the very least, this parliament ought to be able to explain to them why we are doing it.

What is the purpose of this new war in Iraq? Why is it in Australia's best interests to participate in a military engagement in Iraq? For how many years will we be back in the Middle East? Will we be constrained to just being in Iraq, or will this blow over into Syria? What is the long-term plan?

There are no answers to these questions. All we have seen is mission creep. We had the Prime Minister commit Australia to following the United States into a new war in Iraq, blindly following the United States from day one. We were the first country there saying, 'We are with you with the bombing raids, we are the first country to do it,' with no defined objective and no defined statement of what success would look like.

The shift has been immense. First of all, we were going to Iraq to disrupt and destroy ISIL. We were going to destroy ISIL. That has now been changed. Since we have deployed our young men and women, we are now going to disrupt and degrade the ISIL movement. But everybody knows that you cannot disrupt and degrade ISIL if you are only in Iraq because they will retreat from Iraq and regroup in Syria. So you are buying into a conflict that includes at least Syria, if not more countries.

And exactly how are we going to look after our young men and women? Are they going to be like those troops that we committed to Iraq on the basis of a lie in 2003? Are they going to be like our returned soldiers from Afghanistan-many of whom are suffering from post-traumatic stress, not to mention the physical injuries that they incurred. Many of them would be asking the questions: was it worth? What was achieved? What was our long-term objective in Afghanistan? Essentially, in the end the question was: how do we get out of there at any particular time? There was no defined objective.

My point to the parliament today is: what is the link between the Prime Minister's decision to return to war in Iraq and the increased terrorism threat in Australia? I would argue that there is an increased risk of terrorism in Australia because we have followed the United States back into Iraq. I say that based on previous investigations that have been made. Australia did not have an inquiry into why we went into Iraq in 2003. But our police commissioner in 2004, Mick Keelty, said:

... the US-led war in Iraq was a motivating factor for terrorists.

He was, at that time, shouted down by the government of the day and not allowed to continue to prosecute that. Since then the former Director General of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller, has said that Britain's involvement in Iraq had also radicalised some young people in Britain who saw its 'involvement in Iraq and in Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam'. The former head of the Federal Police, Mick Keelty, to his credit, said that in Australia we needed:

... to ensure that the Islamic community was properly engaged and was not marginalised ...
That was an incredibly important decision that he took as head of the police. He oversaw an arrangement whereby the Federal Police reached out to the communities in Australia to make people feel included, to have good lines of communication and to make sure that there was no marginalisation or victimisation.

What have we seen in Australia since our Prime Minister committed our troops to Iraq? I will tell you what we have seen. We have seen real victimisation of people just because they are Muslims. That is the fact of the matter. You can see that the word 'evil' has been put on mosques by those people out there who are seeking to cause harm. You see a senior cleric trying to leave the country to attend a religious event overseas only to be held at Sydney airport for a long time and miss his flight. As if that is not going to increase anger and frustration in those communities in Australia who are feeling like they are being victimised and blamed. Why is it that those communities feel like they have to keep on saying that they are not terrorists? We do not ask that of any other community in Australia, to come out and prove themselves time and time again. The fact is, if we want to make Australia safer the best thing to do is to bring all Australians together and not follow the United States into an unwinnable conflict in the Middle East.

We need to make sure that the new Iraqi government is inclusive. We need to de-escalate the sectarian tensions while at the same time make our own community more inclusive. We need to think about tolerance in Australian society. We need to make sure that the people who have broken the law actually face the full force of the law as they deserve to be punished-of course we agree with that-but we do not want fear to take over in this country. I wonder if the people listening felt safer two weeks ago than they feel now. I would argue that there is a sense of fear and anxiety throughout the Australian community because the Prime Minister committed us to a new war in Iraq. The consequence is the radicalisation of people who see the West once more engaged in a war in the Middle East.

I make this point about Syria: anyone who thinks that there is a defined mission in Iraq is quite wrong. The Leader of the Government in the Senate's inability to respond to me today on what Australia will do in relation to Syria makes that point. We have armed militias in Syria. There are people in the Free Syrian Army who have now joined ISIL. There are all kinds of militias who are stealing the weapons of other militias, and frequently they are weapons that have been provided by the United States at other particular times. This is going to be long and horrendous and there is still no statement from the government as to why we are there or how it is in Australia's best interest to be involved with the United States in Iraq without a plan.

I was surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, referring to Mr Shorten's remarks saying that there was a clearly defined objective. There is no clearly defined objective. We have seen mission creep from the start, from what were humanitarian drops of aid, which then became weapons that were being taken in by aircraft and then we got to the deployment of the Super Hornets and the SAS. Far from no boots on the ground, Australian boots are on the ground in Iraq. And far from being humanitarian we are now involved in a war. I do not think that it is reasonable to say to Australians that we are now less vulnerable to terrorism than we were before the Prime Minister committed us to war. That does not make sense.

What we need to do is to recognise that Australia needs to have an independent foreign policy. We need to look at what is in our own best interests, we need to bring our community together at this time and we need to ask the serious questions, and not be silenced by a government and opposition that are choosing to take the same position and to deny the Australian people straight answers to what actually is the end objective of our involvement in a new war in Iraq.

[End]

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