SUBJECTS: IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry; Australia’s relationship with China

JIM WILSON, HOST:  Well New South Wales Supreme Court Judge Paul Brereton has handed down his long-awaited report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and it’s shocking. The report found there was credible information relating to 36 alleged matters, some involving multiple alleged unlawful killings in 23 separate incidents. The Inspector General of the ADF has recommended investigations be launched into 19 serving and former Special Forces Soldiers over 39 unlawful killings committed in Afghanistan, which will see 19 present and former soldiers possibly facing criminal charges. We did invite Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on the show today, but she hasn’t replied to our requests. She did send out a statement which we reported earlier. On the line though, instead, is Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles. Richard, welcome back to Drive.


WILSON: Well, I wish we could be talking in better circumstances, 39 people dead, clearly a toxic culture within some parts of the SAS. What was your reaction when you heard Angus Campbell this morning?

MARLES: I was very sad is the answer to that question and deeply shocked. I mean, I’ve had the benefit of a briefing in the last 24 hours so I had some sense of what was coming. But this is a really sad day in the history of the Australian Defence Force, actually in the history of the nation and when listening to General Campbell, you couldn’t help but feel the weight that he was feeling around the gravity of what’s being reported here or what’s being alleged. And it makes really difficult reading and it leaves you with a very heavy heart. The only point I would make is that the report itself is searingly honest, it is really thorough. I actually think the process of the inquiry, like, is really remarkable. I mean, what Paul Brereton was willing to look at, the (inaudible) of it and to be fair, that the opportunity that he gave everyone who’s involved in respect of it and its led to, I think, a profoundly significant report. And at least says something about our country that we are willing to face up to our mistakes and to deal with them and I think we should pause for a moment about that. Because in a global context, what is going on here is really remarkable and very unusual.

WILSON: And we should remember the majority serve our country with great distinction.

MARLES: Absolutely and I should say that too Jim, and I’m glad you said that, because part of me, obviously we feel for first and foremost for the victims and their families and that comes through in the report and the government had done the right thing today, in apologising on behalf of the nation to those people and to the people of Afghanistan. And I too, join in that apology. I really feel for the thousands of Australians who served with distinction in Afghanistan, and it would be a real tragedy, if we saw Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan solely through the lens of these allegations, because it was important that we were there. The Australians who served did a remarkable job. We went there to begin with to deny Afghanistan as a base to international terrorism, we should never forget that Australians lost their lives on September 11. That the organisation that perpetrated the Bali bombings, used training camps in Afghanistan and basically that mission was successful. Afghanistan has been denied as a place for international terrorism now and the thousands of Australians who served with distinction should make us proud, they should be proud themselves. And we owe them a continuing debt of gratitude and it’s a really important point to make on this day.

WILSON: A couple of other things that before I let you go; I know you’ve had a bit to say on the government’s lack of relationship with China. What’s your reaction to China’s list of 14 reasons why they don’t like us?

MARLES: Well, it’s important that Australia stands up for its values, clearly. And it’s important that we stand up for our national interests. You know, we’ve got a really significant national interest in the South China Sea, for example, where most of our trade traverses that body of water. And freedom of navigation, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides that, is profoundly essential to Australia’s national interest. We need to stand up for that. And so we’ve been making pretty robust comments, which is appropriate in respect of that. And, you know, China is seeking to shape the world around it, which is what great powers do and that includes in the South China Sea. It’s important that we stick up for human rights and speak out on behalf of the Uighurs and we talk about Hong Kong, for example. We also need though, Jim, to get a sense from the government about how they’re going to get this relationship back on track because it is our largest trading partner as well. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country which are reliant on that relationship and the relationship is in terrible shape at the moment and we really need to understand, we need to understand from our government, how they’re going to hold China to account in terms of the obligations that China has under the Free Trade Agreement. But we really need to understand how this relationship is going to get back on track because it needs to.

WILSON: Richard it’s been a very, very difficult day and I do appreciate your time this afternoon.

MARLES: It’s a pleasure Jim, thanks for having me.

WILSON: That’s the Shadow Defence Minister, Richard Marles.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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