War in Afghanistan; dual citizenship, same sex marriage;

Well, the Turnbull Government has said it will consider any request to send more Australian soldiers to Afghanistan.

23rd Aug 2017

 War in Afghanistan; dual citizenship, same sex marriage;


FRAN KELLY:         Well, the Turnbull Government has said it will consider any request to send more Australian soldiers to Afghanistan. This followed Donald Trump’s announcement of a fresh strategy in the 16 year long war. US media is reporting that the US President will deploy around 4000 American soldiers extra to tackle the resurgent Taliban. Donald Trump has expressed confidence that allies, including Australia, will support his new war plan by committing more of their own forces on the ground. Christopher Pyne is the Minister for Defence Industry. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast. 

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Good morning, Fran. Thanks for having me.

FRAN KELLY:         The President’s returning to something closer to the original Afghanistan mission back in 2001 – not nation-building, he said, but killing terrorist; no set targets, no withdrawal dates the insurgents can try and wait out. Is this the right approach?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well, it’s a very important change from the Obama administration. It signals a determination on the part of the United States Government to defeat the Taliban using whatever means at their disposal, which is obviously extremely important from the point of view of the future of Afghanistan. The Taliban have been making inroads in the last few years. They have been strengthening their position in some parts of Afghanistan and President Trump and his administration have decided that they’re not going to allow that to happen, and that setting deadlines and troop withdrawals means that the Taliban have been able to – as he points out – wait out the United States. So it does signal a very significant change of policy and one which will hopefully, over the course of time, lead to the removal of possible terrorist cells that would threaten the West.

FRAN KELLY:         Okay. So Donald Trump says he will be asking countries like Australia for more troops. Has that request come in yet?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Not that I’m aware of. I heard what President Trump said yesterday. I’m sure that means that he will be asking allies like Australia and others for assistance. We of course increased our troop presence in Afghanistan in May this year by a further 30 to about 300 personnel, but we’ve had a lot more than that there in Afghanistan over the last 16 years – our longest-running war for Australia. And of course, if they do make a request, it’ll be considered depending on- and the decision that’ll be made will of course depend on the form that the request takes.

FRAN KELLY:         Well, if they do make a request, we are likely to say yes, aren’t we? I mean, the Prime Minister basically said as much in that phone call with Donald Trump back in January when he said – quote – you can count on me, I will be there for you again and again. And then just this month, he spoke of how Australia and the US are joined at the hip. We’re unlikely to decline any request are we?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well, it’s in Australia’s interests not to allow Afghanistan to revert to the Taliban’s control. Of course, it was used as a basis for terrorist attacks on the West before 2001, and we don’t want that to happen again. But the decision about what, if any, change there is in our force posture in Afghanistan is one that we will decide and consider at the time that a request is made and make the announcement then.

FRAN KELLY:         The biggest decision, I suppose, would be not necessarily how many troops but what those troops might be doing, given the shift in mission from nation-building to killing terrorists – to quote the President. I mean, is it likely that Australian soldiers will be required to go to fight again, not train?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well, the current operation in Afghanistan is a train and assist the Afghan defence forces to defeat the Taliban.

FRAN KELLY:         Yes, but the current American mission is to nation-build and that’s changing.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well, the Americans have flagged that they intend to move from nation-building to defeating the terrorists, and that is an important shift. Of course, they go hand-in-hand to a large extent from a common sense point of view, but we won’t make any hasty decisions about increasing Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan. We have made a significant contribution there. Australians have died in Afghanistan, and any decision to change our posture in Afghanistan will be a very serious one. We’ll take it seriously at the time that a request is made.

FRAN KELLY:         So if a request was made for Australian special forces to move in and take on the Taliban again, and ISIS, Australia would consider that or would say yes?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well, we’ll always consider a request from the United States – our most important ally – for assistance, but we certainly wouldn’t be making a hasty decision. The NSC – the National Security Subcommittee of the Cabinet – would consider it and a decision would be made with an announcement made at that time. So I certainly wouldn’t be pre-empting such a request or our consideration of it.

FRAN KELLY:         You’re listening to RN Breakfast. It’s 19 minutes to eight. Our guest is Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Defence Industry. He’s also the Leader of the Government in the House. The citizenship saga – fiasco, should we call it that? – heads to the High Court tomorrow for mention. The Government is now demanding that Bill Shorten release documented proof that he renounced dual British citizenship in 2006. Now, Bill Shorten says the onus is on the Government to prove that he didn’t; he says it’s time to put up or shut up. Do you have any reason to doubt Bill Shorten’s word here, or any evidence that he was still a British citizen or entitled to be one when he was elected to Parliament in 2007?


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well Fran, I’m not involved or engaged with those matters. I read them in the paper. The Government…


FRAN KELLY:         …Well these are senior people making these calls, and you are the leader of the Government in the House.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well Fran, the truth is the High Court needs to consider what Section 44 means in the modern context. Obviously many years ago citizenship by descent was not a thing that we considered in this country. It’s obviously affected at least seven MPs. There are a slew of Labor MPs who have refused to release documentation. I assume Bill Shorten has refused to release it, because if he did, it would put pressure on some of his own people in the Labor Party. 


I know Anthony Albanese has released his documentation that proves that he’s not an Italian citizen. So that’s an interest development. It shows yet again that Anthony Albanese is paddling his own canoe, so to speak. But obviously the High Court will need to consider what Section 44 means. We have very clear advice from the Solicitor General, that citizenship by descent is not something that would disqualify you from sitting in the House of Representatives or the Senate, unless of course you’d taken steps to obtain that citizenship. But this will all be played out in the High Court and then the Government will accept the High Court’s decision, or move on.


FRAN KELLY:         So just to be clear – because you are a member of the Government’s leadership group – you’re not calling on Bill Shorten to release the documentation?


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Look I just think that the Australian public think it’s high time that we all got on with our day jobs of creating jobs, and invest in our economy, reducing taxes, helping their cost of living. And these kinds of inside the bubble discussions are very interesting, but it’s gone on long enough, and it’s just time to leave it to the High Court to make a decision.


FRAN KELLY:         Okay. And when it gets to the High Court – as you’ve said – the Government has submitted its advice. It’s now freely admitting that Barnaby Joyce was a citizen of New Zealand when he was elected, Matt Canavan was a citizen of Italy; that’s there in the Government’s legal advice. Considering that admission, why doesn’t that cast doubt onto what the court will decide and onto the Prime Minister’s very bold declaration that the Deputy Prime Minister was qualified to sit in the House and the High Court will so hold?


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well the Solicitor General’s opinion to the Government is very clear. That yes of course Barnaby Joyce was entitled to be a New Zealand citizen. Common sense would tell us that he doesn’t have an allegiance to a foreign power. Since he was born here in 1967 and his father…


FRAN KELLY:         …Yeah, but that’s not what Section 44 says.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well I haven’t been a lawyer for 24 years, Fran. So I’m not going to start pre-empting and making decisions on behalf of the High Court. We have clear advice…


FRAN KELLY:         …Well the Prime Minister did.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     We have clear advice from the Solicitor General. I’m quite happy to leave it to the High Court to make the decision. I’m focused on growing jobs and capability in the defence industry and in our Defence Forces. And that’s a much more important priority than me trying to pre-empt the High Court.


FRAN KELLY:         Okay. Can I just ask you a final question? Because we were speaking yesterday about this terrible poster – stop the fags’ poster – that was being put up as part of the same-sex marriage debate going on. This is in Melbourne. Those voting no put up this poster with horrible claims on it. The Prime Minister says he can’t be held responsible for hateful and denigrating comments now being made by some. But how much will the Government let people on the fringes get away with in the name of free speech?


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Well Fran, I did hear your interview yesterday, and your description of this poster. And I must admit, having known you for a very long time, I was surprised that you were giving it an airing at all. I mean what…


FRAN KELLY:         …Well I think it’s important to call things out though. I mean this was disgraceful lies that are being put around the place, which are upsetting for people to read. 


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     Yes and people tell lies in public debate all the time; starting from the Labor Party down. Not about this particular issue, I’m not suggesting that. But part of our democracy is it’s robust. Now of course I don’t condone that kind of lurid and mad claims being made in this debate. No one would. But this needs to be a respectful debate. The Australian public have managed that. I’m going to be campaigning for a yes vote. 


FRAN KELLY:         But that’s not respectful.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:     No, but Fran, there are crazy people out there who do say mad things. And it’s a bad thing, and we have to at that point in time reject those views, reject those people, and support those in our community who are offended by them. But we also shouldn’t give them an airing, and I won’t be giving those things an airing, because I think this should be a positive debate about giving everyone in Australia the opportunity to be part of the institution of marriage. Because I’m for marriage. I’m not in favour of marriage equality, because I’m a small L liberal, I’m in favour of it because as a conservative, I want more people to share in the institution of marriage. So let’s have a respectful debate; but let’s not give an airing to people with wicked views.


FRAN KELLY:         Christopher Pyne, thank you very much for joining us.




FRAN KELLY:         Christopher Pyne is the Minister for Defence Industry and the leader of the Government in the House.


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