Jun 20, 2014

Interview transcript – SKY News First Edition

Subject/s: Iraq; Palmer United Party; Brandis comments on Israeli-Palestinian conflict  

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Albanese, thanks for joining us from Canberra this morning. What’s Labor’s position on this obviously very concerning and worsening crisis in Iraq? Will you back the Government in any action they might take to support the US and the al-Maliki administration in Baghdad?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll get proper briefings and respond accordingly but of course Labor supports the US alliance. What President Obama is saying is that he’s not supporting troops on the ground. We’re talking about a limited number of US advisers. My understanding is at this stage there’s been no request for Australia to assist but it should be weighed up of course in the context of our national interest. We have an interest in the world and we have an interest in stopping the sort of extremist elements such as represented by ISIL. These people are nut jobs. These people are threats mainly to their fellow Muslims it’s got to be understood here. It is their follow Iraqis who are suffering because of the extremist ideology that this group has.

GILBERT: Does Labor feel some sort of vindication given your position on the Iraq operation initially? Do you think that this is a flow-on effect, obviously with the dismantling of the Saddam Hussein regime had enormous ramifications for that country and the region but does Labor feel some vindication on its original position on that?

ALBANESE: I don’t think it’s a case of that Kieran, because the reality of what’s going on there means that I don’t think anyone can feel good about anything that’s happening there.  What I would say is that it is a reminder that you’ve got to work through what the end point is in terms of any intervention, and we went into Iraq based on falsehoods. We were told that there was evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction. There weren’t, and that intervention has been costly in terms of lives of Australians, but lives of course of many more Iraqis in years and years of conflict. So you need to be cautious about intervention I think, and there’s no doubt that what we’ve seen in Iraq is a great deal of uncertainty which is I guess playing out at the moment. I’m very concerned about what’s going on in Syria and some of the extremist elements that we’re seeing there. I think fundamentalism is a great threat of any kind. It’s not confined of course to people who happen to be Muslim. People who are fundamentalists who believe essentially that if you don’t agree with them 100% then you’re the enemy, this sort of ideology being played out at the expense of ordinary Iraqi citizens who just want to get on with their lives.

GILBERT: Yeah, it’s a tragedy, no doubt about it, an ongoing one. Let’s turn our attention to domestic politics and policy now with reports today in the Fin Review that Palmer and his party are going to be targeted individually by the government if there is defiance from Clive Palmer post July 1. This just makes sense as a senior parliamentary tactician and as a former Leader of the House yourself who had to deal with the crossbench you would think that this is just obvious wouldn’t you that the government would look at this scenario to pick off individual Senators within the Palmer United Party if Mr Palmer isn’t cooperative?

ALBANESE: They’ve got to round up their own side first Kieran. The Coalition are struggling to get support for a range of their budget measures from their own backbench. You have senators crossing the floor, senators clearly in revolt because this budget is so unfair. There are so many measures for which there’s no mandate. No one was told before the election that there would be cuts to pensions, to education, to health, to public transport, and no wonder they’re having difficulty. I do think that this government’s really suffering from a great dose of arrogance and it’s something that the Coalition need to come to terms with, this sort of idea that the Coalition is going to split people off. We saw that during the last term where you did have a minority government. We had 70 votes out of 150 on the floor of the House of Representatives. We needed to get 5 additional votes from the 7 crossbenchers who were there at the end of that term and we weren’t defeated on a single piece of legislation, and that was in part because the Coalition took people for granted. Tony Abbott of course botched the negotiations after the 2010 elections. And it seems to me that there’s this view that they have that somehow everyone else in Australia who is upset about this unfair Budget is wrong and they’re right. I really think they’re very much out of touch.

GILBERT: I want to ask you one final issue and this relates to East Jerusalem and the policy on it. The Government, the Attorney General last night maintained the has been no formal policy shift and yesterday the Foreign Minister reassuring ambassadors from the Arab nations that there has been no formal policy shift. You and Labor would welcome that, I guess.

ALBANESE: Well of course but what we don’t welcome is this foreign policy on the run. The sort of statements that the Attorney General made were provocative, were inconsistent with the international understanding, inconsistent with what the position that Australian Governments of both political persuasions have had over many years. The government needs to start actually acting like a government rather than a sort of rabble which is what we’ve seen from the comments from Senator Brandis. I mean how does an Attorney General just make statements that have really put at risk some of our business relationships with the region by being out of step? You don’t just make these declarations.

GILBERT: But there are differences of opinion in Labor aren’t there as well in Labor as well with the Victorian Right particularly seen as very close to the Jewish and Israeli thinking on this. What do you say to the suggestion that there is a real difference within Labor on this policy as well, and this stance?

ALBANESE: Labor is very clear. Labor is a supporter of Israel. Labor is a supporter of a Palestinian state. We support a two-state solution negotiated in the interests of both Palestinians and Israelis. This conflict is of course a cause of great difficulty in the Middle East beyond as well, and the US administration is very keen to progress a resolution to this conflict long term. I mean long-term, when you have got people who live geographically so close to each other, there can’t be a resolution at the expense of either party. It is in the mutual interest of both Israelis and Palestinians to have a two state solution.

GILBERT: Anthony Albanese, I appreciate your time early this Friday morning. Thanks for that.

ALBANESE: Thanks Kieran.