Iraq and Syria

In the last sitting fortnight the Deputy Leader of the Opposition called for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the government's response strategy regarding the crisis in Syria and Iraq. I rise today to second the motion and again call for greater scrutiny.

As we all know, the current situation in Syria and Iraq is incredibly grim. Large sections of both countries are currently under the control of ISIS. Australians have seen the horrific actions of ISIS militants and the drastic actions many are forced to take to escape them. We have seen the footage of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes, waiting at EU borders to try to find safety. We have all seen the image of Aylan Kurdi, whose little body washed up on the shore—that horrific image that will stay with us forever.

There is no question of just how little regard ISIS has for human life. We have seen public executions, we have seen slavery and we have seen systematic sexual abuse. We have seen some of the most unspeakable acts of sexual violence, where rape and sexual abuse are not just a by-product of war but used as a deliberate military strategy to degrade the enemy. Horrifyingly, we have learnt that girls from Iraq and Syria have been stripped and sold and, in some cases, made to undergo over a dozen virginity restoration surgeries. These are just some of the reasons why the international community must fight and defeat ISIS. Our response must be as coordinated and effective as possible, and it also has to be compassionate when it comes to the refugees. I welcome the government's commitment to taking on an additional 12,000 refugees, after Labor called on the government to increase our existing intake.

Labor is now calling on the government to make Australia's objectives in Iraq as transparent as possible. Australians have the right to know what the objectives are, what the strategy involves and what our exit strategy would look like. In 2003, while talking about the situation in Iraq, the then foreign minister said to this House, 'What is next? What does the future hold for a liberated Iraq?' Those questions remain relevant today. If the government's strategy truly is as effective and well-thought out as it maintains, then it should welcome some scrutiny from this parliament. This is particularly important at a time when the government strategy appears to be mixed, appears to be confused and appears to be constantly subject to change. The government must clarify whether it sees the Assad regime as part of the short-term solution, as part of the medium-term solution or as part of the long-term solution. It has had a position that has jumped all around on this in recent months. It has been all over the place on this and you have seen varying reactions from the Russians in terms of the role that the Assad regime was playing in the short, medium and long term. The government must also clarify our objective in Iraq. What does the strategy aim to achieve and what is the long-term vision?

While I welcome the government's $44 million commitment to the situation in Syria and Iraq, this is more mixed messaging from a government that has also reduced our aid budget for the Middle East and North Africa by 82 per cent. This government cut the foreign aid budget by $11.3 billion in this year's budget, at a time when the UNHCR estimates there are more than 60 million forcibly displaced people in the world. What does this say about the coherence of the government's response and approach? The government's strategy must be clearer and it must be more transparent, because the situation we face is complex, as we have heard today from the member for Wakefield. It has many elements, which include the military strategy, the political strategy and the humanitarian aid and assistance strategy for refugees. Increased parliamentary scrutiny of the government strategy in Iraq is something that I believe many Australians would welcome. I know that most Canberrans would welcome it too. They are entitled to hear the government's plan for how this increasingly complex scenario in the Middle East will be resolved.

Labor is and always has been prepared to support a strategy that will adequately address the horrific humanitarian crises of Iraq and Syria. Labor believes that the Australian people have a right to know what the government's proposed objective is and what the government's strategy is—and to be able to judge whether it will work. It is very important to have the people onside on this issue. We have a number of ADF staff members deployed to the region and it is so important that they actually know the purpose of their mission. One way to secure Australia's confidence in their plan is to open it up to parliamentary debate, and this is what Labor calls on the government.

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