7 April 2017




SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming. I think the whole world has been horrified in these last days with the horrific chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria. An attack on men, women and children. An attack which is a war crime.

It is for this reason that Labor has previously said in the context of that, that action needed to be taken. And that is why Labor is supporting the action of the United States. On the basis of what we’ve been advised, this is a proportionate and targeted attack designed to reduce the regime’s capability of delivering further chemical weapons attacks on innocent civilians.

But of course military action is not the only thing which is required. We need the UN to ensure that those who are responsible for this action – this criminal action, the use of chemical weapons against men, women and children – are brought to justice. We need Russia and Iran to exert pressure on the Assad regime to behave in ways that are consistent with international law. But most of all, what the people of Syria need, and what the world needs, is a durable solution to the Syrian crisis, and that is what the United Nations and the great powers should focus on beyond the military action.

JOURNALIST: Do you think ordinary Australians should be concerned this is a flashpoint to something deeper and more telling. I mean if it goes a bit further and military assets were involved, then implicitly allies could be drawn into the conflict.

WONG: I would refer you to what the Prime Minister said in his press conference just a short time ago. He made it clear that Australia had not been asked for any further military involvement, he also made it clear that the mandate upon which the Australian military are engaged in Iraq and Syria is to target Daesh or ISIL. That is the basis of the mandate and we agree with him.

JOURNALIST: Do you think then Australians would not be concerned that this could go deeper and this is an ignition point to something?

WONG: I’d refer you to what the Prime Minister said…

JOURNALIST: But you’d have a view I’m sure.

WONG: I’d refer you to what the Prime Minister said, which reflects the same position that the Labor Party has. We have a clear mandate, which has been expressed over a number of years about the basis on which our defence forces are engaged in Iraq and Syria. There’s no suggestion of any change to that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that if it was asked for that it should be made available, military support.

WONG: The Prime Minister made clear we haven’t’ been asked, there’s been no suggestion of that.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the strikes will achieve?

WONG: On the basis of what we know, these are targeted and proportionate military actions designed to reduce the capability of further chemical weapons attacks being applied to civilians. That is the basis on which the Pentagon has articulated the position, and the basis on which the Prime Minister has outlined the position.

JOURNALIST: Does it then put a line in the sand, if you like, of this red-line proposition as in when to act?

WONG: I think we deal with the situation to hand, and the situation to hand is this. I think everyone across the globe – certainly in this country – were shocked and horrified at the images we saw of men, women and children suffering the consequences of this chemical weapons attack. We were shocked and horrified at the deaths that we saw. This is a single strike, a targeted response, a proportionate response to that action, and for those reasons we support it.

Thank you very much.