Sky News Interview with Laura Jayes – 9 September 2015

QUESTION

Why aren’t we looking at those ISIS strongholds like al-Raqqa, which is further to the north?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well the region could extend as far as al-Raqqa, but where we’re not going is over into the west of Syria. We’re not going over into the areas of Damascus or Aleppo where the conflict with Assad and anti-Assad forces is going on.

QUESTION

By targeting ISIS we are essentially supporting the Assad regime though, and it does pit us against other strong nations, like Russia. How did this fit into your decision making and have you considered that?

MINISTER ANDREWS

There are two quite distinct issues here. Our involvement is that of the Iraqi Government and our operations are part of the collective self-defence of Iraq. That is all about Iraq. It’s not to do with the various forces, pro-Assad and anti-Assad, in Syria. It’s simply about the collective self-defence of Iraq, because the reality is Daesh do not respect the boarder between Iraq and Syria. This just gives our planes the ability to fly across that border and strike targets in eastern Syria.

QUESTION

What has been criticised is the United States and its inability to really articulate what the end game in Syria is, what the mission is in Syria. Can you explain why Australia is getting involved, how long for and what is the result at the end of all of this? What does victory look like?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Victory looks like a region where regimes do not commit genocide against their own people and do not export terrorism to other countries, whether in the immediate region or in the case of Daesh or ISIL to other places in the world, including Australia. So victory is about no more genocide and no more export of terrorism, and that’s why we’re there.

QUESTION

But we’re not going to achieve that just from bombing over the border. Can you rule out boots on the ground in the medium-term?

MINISTER ANDREWS

What we’ve committed to is what we have there at the present time. We have about 900 personnel, about 400 involved in the air operations, six Hornets or Super Hornets, air refueller a Wedgetail command and control aircraft, about 300 of our regular forces at Taji training Iraqi regular forces and about 200 of our Special Forces are training the Iraqi counter-terrorism units. So that’s a substantial commitment. If you look at the map of Iraq and the areas which ISIL or Daesh controlled, say a year ago compared to now, then they have gone backwards. So there has been quite a significant advance over the last twelve months.

QUESTION

But this is guerrilla warfare, essentially. Targets are very difficult to strike at. There is a risk, always, of civilian casualties. You’re not ruling out boots on the ground in future?

MINISTER ANDREWS

No, we’re not contemplating boots on the ground. What we are doing is an advise and assist mission and we are doing the Building Partner Capacity. So in terms of our Army personnel, it’s clearly about giving the skills to the Iraqi Forces so that they then can go and fight. Beyond that, it’s the Air Force which we are talking about today.

QUESTION

There can be quite incremental victories in this fight against ISIS. We heard the Chief of Defence describe in recent weeks that success is measured in the streets and buildings rather than huge swathes of land. Do you expect our forces, our Special Forces, and our aircraft, to be involved in this region in the next decade? This could be generational.

MINISTER ANDREWS

We’ve said we would be there for weeks, months, and possibly some years. We review our commitment on an annual basis. We obviously review all the time, but we specifically review this on an annual basis. And we do that particularly with New Zealand in relation to the joint operation training in Taji and we will continue to do that. But this is, as you said, part guerrilla warfare. We follow international rules, which include quite tight or restricted rules of engagement where it could have the impact on civilians.

QUESTION

Can I go to the humanitarian response now. 12,000 Iraq or Syrian refugees will be given permanent places. As I understand it, this will be women, children and families that will be prioritised from the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and surrounding. So, when will we start to see those places filled? I know the Prime Minister said there was no timeframe. Do you expect this might be months away or is it more like weeks?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well we will be sending our officials over there. The three countries that we are concentrating on are Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. And so there are people that are not just in camps, if you take Lebanon, as I understand from the briefing from the Immigration Minister, people are generally not in camps in Lebanon, they are in the community – they’re in the streets, in the towns and villages, etcetera. So it’s a matter of identifying them. We will concentrate on the persecuted minorities. Why them – because they’re the ones that are least likely to ever be able to return to their ancestral homes.

QUESTION

Sure, but is there a quota? I know you said you’ll concentrate on them, but will the entire 12,000 be made up of the Christian minority…

MINISTER ANDREWS

No, there’s no one set of minority group there’s a whole subset of groups. Some of them are Muslim, some of them are obviously Christian. There are also Jewish people are minorities who are being persecuted. So it’s a range of people, but we think it’s most appropriate to concentrate, in terms of this permanent offer of resettlement, on those whose chances of ever returning their own home is very remote.

QUESTION

Can I ask how you came to this 12,000 figure? Of course, there are 4 million refugees living in camps, another 8 million displaced within Syria. So why 12,000?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look it takes it to roughly 20,000 if you look at the next few years, because we are increasing the humanitarian and refugee intake. It’s now 13,750 this year and next year. It goes up to 16,250, and then up to 18,750.

QUESTION

The Prime Minister said you will be taking up that offer from the States. We’ve seen Mike Baird offer to house some of these refugees, also similar offers from Victoria. Have you thought any more about how they might be divided between the States? Will they be housed in military housing?

MINISTER ANDREWS

No, these are people who will go into the community.

QUESTION

Straight away?

MINISTER ANDREWS

That’s the expectation. So this is like an extension of the normal humanitarian and refugee program and people who come under that, they don’t go into places like Inverbrackie or Pontville in the past. They go into the community and that’s what we want to occur here. All the elements of the resettlement program in Australia will apply to these additional 12,000 people, as they apply to the 13,750 now, and they get them into the community, get them community support and hopefully get them into a job – so as quickly as possible, integrated into Australian society.

QUESTION

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, thank you very much for your time.

MINISTER ANDREWS

Thank you.

ENDS.