Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Q&A ADF personnel

16 January 2016

Taji Military Complex

Prime Minister

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

….Well thank you very much fellas, it is a great honor to be here and I’d like to thank you all as your Prime Minister for the great service that you are doing for Australia and the Kiwis here as well. [inaudible] I am not focusing on the New Zealanders I might say, it’s not just the World Cup, I’ll just make this observation for the New Zealanders; your Prime Minister John Key is an absolutely top bloke. But at an event, a public occasion somewhat like this, he persuaded me to have a bet whereby the Prime Minister who’s team did not win the World Cup would wear the other team’s tie in Parliament. Of course this was, given the All Blacks were the backable favourites, it was a bit rough. Anyway I did wear the All Blacks tie at the time in the Parliament. If any of you noticed I had my jacket buttoned up very, very tightly so only a real expert would have noticed that I was wearing it. But anyway it is great that you’re here.

This is the ANZAC tradition continuing and indeed continuing in the Middle East where the ANZACs have been for over 100 years. So this is a part of the world where our armed for some time have come back again and again.

I want to thank you all for the work that you are doing. You are so admired by the Australian people, indeed by the New Zealanders. We so admire your professionalism, your commitment, your courage and determination, to get the job done.

I want to relay to you today the great thanks from the Iraqi Government and its Prime Minister Mr al-Abadi with whom we met with at some lengths today, is so appreciative of the work that you’re doing. As you know the challenges that Iraq faces in knitting this country back together, torn by sectarian division which has been exploited by terrorists in particular Daesh, that you’re here to build an army to destroy.

You are here to rebuild, to train the Iraqi army that will destroy Daesh. And you have seen, all of you, your colleagues, your comrades, in our Advise and Assist Group, and we have just been with them in Baghdad, whose support in the battle for it to retake Ramadi was absolutely critical. Australians, New Zealanders, are making a vital difference in defeating Daesh, in rolling them back. That will be so important not just for Iraq but for the whole world, because the biggest single marketing point that Daesh has, whether it is here, whether it is in Syria, whether it is taking advantage of a young person in the United States or Australia, the biggest marketing point they have is the appearance of invincibility, the appearance that they are rolling on to one victory after another. And standing them up, pushing them back, turning them around, this is critical not just here in Iraq but in the campaign, in the global campaign against terrorism. The work you are doing is so important. You’re doing it so well. You’re doing it for Australia, you’re doing it for New Zealand, and you’re doing it to support Iraq, support the Government of Iraq. But what you are doing is having a global impact, it is making the world safe, it is making our homes in Australia and New Zealand safer. Thank you very much for your service and I look forward to spending as much time listening to you and hearing about your exploits, and your experiences here, this evening thank you.

[Applause]

CDF Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin:

I got a chance to farewell you just before you left and I just want to echo what was said. We’ve spent a fair bit of time with Prime Minister al-Abadi today and exactly what the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister is very appreciative of what we’re doing. He can’t speak more highly of Australian and New Zealand efforts to rebuild the Iraqi Army so that they can take the fight to Daesh and they can push Daesh back out and they can secure their own borders. So from my side of it, thank you for what you’re doing, thank you for how you’re demonstrating our professionalism and that good ANZAC spirit. It really is appreciated. We know what it means to be over here over Christmas. We know what it means to the families back home so when you do get a chance to talk to them if you can pass on my personal thanks to them as well. I know that you can’t be here doing this without their support. So very much appreciated. But I think we get a chance to walk around and just talk, and as the Prime Minister said, don’t hold back, he really wants to hear about the conditions, what you’re doing, where you see we are making a difference, where you think we might need to you know more, so thank you once again and looking forward to talking with you.

[Applause]

QUESTION:  How are you going with the White Paper?

PRIME MINISTER:

… It’s in, the White Paper is in very good hands, its coming along very well. It's classified.

[Laughs]

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Sir, understand we are here at the behest of the Iraqi Government and I know that recently we were asked to the Americans… has the Iraqi Government asked you for any change to what we’re doing?

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer is no to that question, the Iraqi Government has not asked you to do anything extra, although we had a very constructive discussion with the Prime Minister today and I think it was a very good engagement and CDF would agree. The nature of our commitment may evolve overtime, will undoubtedly evolve overtime. Just so you know the position about the American request for further assistance, the Americans send out a form letter to 40 countries which basically was in exactly the same terms. It went to 40 different nations and it said would you like to send some more of and it had a very long list. The fact is our commitment; Australia's commitment in this theatre is the second largest after the United States. It may be that the Italians will slightly overtake us at some point if they make a commitment they’re foreshadowing. But none-the-less it’s a very, very substantial commitment given the size of our Defence Forces and our distance from the theatre. So what we’re doing, we’re encouraging other countries, particularly other European countries, NATO countries, to step up and make a greater contribution to it. Just to be very clear we were not asked for any specific additional commitment. It was literally a form letter sent in exactly the same terms sent to 40 Defence Ministers.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, that’s right they were not seeking combat troops on the ground it was a general shopping list.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes Sir.

QUESTION:

What defines the Australian exit strategy from Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, this particular commitment here, this building capacity commitment here, it’s the tenth brigade is that right? Yes that’s right. So you’ve got a building partnership that will come to an end, but further commitments we were to make would depend on the circumstances. But we do not intend to be in Iraq forever. I mean it has been a long time. It’s been a very long-term commitment as you know. But the goal plainly - your goal, your mission, is to build capacity in the Iraqi Army so they can secure their own country. One of the things that is very clearly understood, I think from all the leaders around the world that I have spoken to including most relevantly the Prime Minister of Iraq, is that their victory, their fight-back and their victory against Daesh, has to be theirs. The most important boots on the ground are Iraqi boots on the ground, because they have to win back their own country. They have to reach the political settlement and reconciliation with their own people. We build capacity, train them, provide support, provide air-support of course above all, not above all in an actual sense but it is vitally important as you know. We can do all of those things, but in terms of the visible boots on the ground it has to be seen by the Iraqi people to be them regaining control of the own country. The political settlement is critical. As you know, all of you know better than me, Daesh has exploited, has taken advantage of, alienated minorities, alienated groups, and grievances within the community. So the mission, there is a military element here which you are building capacity for. But just as importantly there is a political element. That is if anything, even more the case, across the border in Syria. [Inaudible] No answer was the stern reply.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister I’d like to come forward if I may with a small presentation on behalf of our Taji group just as a token for you, it's been a busy year, clearly more to see and train down there. So hopefully that will find itself somewhere in your Office.

PRIME MINISTER:

It will. Thank you very much.

[Applause]