ABC News 24 ‘Capital Hill’ Program – 9 September 2015

QUESTION

Minister, welcome. I was talking there about the legal basis for these airstrikes. What has the Government done to satisfy itself of this doctrine of collective legality or self-defence? Would you release any of that advice?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well we’ve got the advice that was the same advice when we went to Iraq last year. This is the advice that the United State relies upon; it’s the same provisions that the Canadians and the UK rely upon. That exception is the collective self-defence – in this case – of Iraq. Our advice has been clear that Daesh is a threat to Iraq; that the Syrian regime cannot stop that threat to Iraq, and therefore under this provision we are entitled, as our coalition partners are – the Americans, the Canadians and the UK – to rely upon it.

QUESTION

And why does that legal advice then draw a no go line for Australia when it comes to going further north or further West, and targeting the Assad regime assets?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Because it’s Daesh that we’re particularly concerned about; it’s Daesh which is threatening the stability and security and indeed – the future of Iraq, so this is all in relation to Daesh. The letter from US Secretary of Defence, Ash Carter, was specifically about Daesh, and this decision has been made specifically about Daesh. We are not interested in getting involved in Western Syria where the fight with the Assad regime is going on.

QUESTION

But the legal doctrine that you’ve cited for us – and you say that is shared by the US, by Canada – allows them to go and target more broadly in Syria. Why in Australia’s case does the same legal doctrine limit our areas of operation?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well we have decided that this is specifically in relation to Daesh and let’s be practical: Daesh cross the border willy nilly; they train in eastern Syria; they have command and control centres in Eastern Syria; they take equipment from Iraq into Syria and then back into Iraq. That’s what we’re trying to aim our fighters at. That’s what we want to destroy because…

QUESTION

That’s an Australian unilateral decision…

MINISTER ANDREWS

That’s our decision that we’re going to operate in the Eastern region of Syria, because that’s specifically – on our advice – that is where Deash is posing the threat to the security of Iraq.

QUESTION

And how much difference will Australia make in cutting off those lines of supply and limiting their freedom of movement?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well if you look back over 12 months there’s been quite a considerable advance in terms of the fight against Daesh in Iraq. If you coloured the map for Daesh 12 months ago, it was much more of the map coloured as territory which they controlled. That has shrunk quite considerably. Now, the air strikes are part of that and they’re an important part of that, because what we’ve seen is that it’s taken out significant facilities that Daesh have and is tending to drive Daesh underground, which means they don’t have the mobility that they had in the past.

QUESTION

And the frequency? Once these targets, I think they’re being identified right now, and I think the indication is the strikes could begin within the week. Do you see the frequency of strikes across the Syrian side being any higher than it’s been for the last 12 months within Iraq?

MINISTER ANDREWS

We expect a similar tempo of operation. As to where the strikes occur will depend on the intelligence identification reconnaissance of where there are particular targets. We operate within strict rules of engagement that means that we try to avoid at all costs civilian casualties and just strike against Daesh. So it’ll depend on the ability to target Daesh in their facilities; in their vehicles; in their operations, as to where the strikes will occur.

QUESTION

And is it the case, as reported in NewsCorp papers today that the Prime Minister had told Defence Chiefs that after today’s decision is made, he wanted at least one air strike by the end of the week?

MINISTER ANDREWS

The number of air strikes – where they occur – that’s entirely an operational matter for the air commander in conjunction with Coalition partners in that area. It’s not for me as Defence Minister, or Prime Ministers or others to decide that. They’re operational matters.

QUESTION

You’ve obviously taken advice and spoken a lot here about it. What does the advice say about duration? How long do you anticipate it’ll take now that I think – and you can clarify this for us – that success, as it has been outlined by the Foreign Minister, is stopping IS attacks against civilians. So if that’s the simple proposition of the objective, what advice do you have of that, how long that takes.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well we’re reviewing this operation every 12 months in a formal way. We’re obviously reviewing in an ongoing way, from week to week and month to month. We are there for the duration. We hope that’s in a shorter period of time rather than longer, but ultimately our aim; for the safety and security of the Middle East and indeed for Australia is to degrade and ultimately destroy Daesh.

QUESTION

The gains that you outlined over the last 12 months. Do they give any indication as to the timeline ahead?

MINISTER ANDREWS

There’s always ups and downs in warfare like this. We’ve, as I said, gained significant territory in Iraq, but there’s still more territory that has to be gained and that’s part of the ongoing operation.

QUESTION

As we heard in the media conference there is approval for up to eight strike aircraft, six are there at the moment. What’s the likelihood that we start to build up our numbers, both of aircraft and the personnel?

MINISTER ANDREWS

That will largely depend on the targeting. As the Chief of the Defence Force said today that currently he’s operating with six aircraft there, that is sufficient at the present time, but if there was need for a higher tempo in terms of the targeting ability; well then there’s already the permission to have eight aircraft there. At the moment the CDF has indicated that six is sufficient.

QUESTION

And does an expansion to eight if it were to happen, does that imply higher numbers of ground crew so the 400 in the Middle East for the air wing, going up further?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well either involves the current ground crew working harder or having some additional ground crew there. But as I said, these are operational matters for the CDF. He would obviously discuss it with me. But the indication at the moment is that the six Hornets that we’ve got is sufficient.

QUESTION

And this has all been sufficiently communicated back to the US now after some deliberation. How do you think the process plays out with the Coalition? Is this what they call iterative process where further requests will come in the months and years ahead?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well we’ll have a look at success over the next six to 12 months. Quite obviously we’re looking at reviewing it at on an ongoing basis. We’re in discussions with the US and other Coalition partners. The Foreign Minister and I will be in America in October for discussions with Secretaries Kerry and Carter and we’ll obviously review progress today.

ENDS.