View from The Hill

Australian role in Iraq engagement set to go up another notch

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said ISIL did not simply do evil but advertises its evil in a way never before seen in the modern world. AAP/Alan Porritt

Australia’s reach is not unlimited, Tony Abbott told parliament on Wednesday, “but we will do what we can to help our friends and to uphold the rule of law around the world”.

As part of the reach it has, the government is preparing to move to the next stage of its Iraq commitment, and is looking at what help it can give Ukraine as it faces an aggressive Russia.

The government has now received a “general request” for further assistance in the effort against Islamic State.

Abbott said there had been “no specific request to engage in actual military action against ISIL”. But the government was “considering what we may be able to make available” in reply to the general request.

The way the process operates, a range of countries are approached; later, after discussions and planning, a specific request formalises what is to be done. Defence Minister David Johnston has previously said options include the provision of Super Hornets.

With the world galvanised by news of the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, the Iraqi situation will be discussed this week at a NATO meeting in Wales, attended by United States president Barack Obama. Foreign Minster Julie Bishop and Johnston will be there.

A White House statement said: “The President will be consulting this week with NATO allies regarding additional actions to take against [ISIS] and to develop a broad-based international coalition to implement a comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners in the fight against [ISIS].” Obama is sending extra troops to strengthen protection of US facilities and personnel in Baghdad.

Abbott said ISIL did not simply do evil but “it advertises its evil in a way almost never before seen at any time in the modern world.

"You have to go back to the Middle Ages to see this arrogance in atrocity which we have seen from the ISIL movement in recent months,” he said.

“So, along with our allies and partners Australia will do what it can to respond to this developing situation.”

He said Australian aircraft had twice delivered humanitarian air drops, and were now in the process of air lifting equipment including military equipment to the Kurdish forces.

The Prime Minister also had announcements to make about Ukraine and Russia.

Australia will open an embassy in Kiev, with part of its task to support the nine Australian Federal Police investigators who remain in Ukraine.

As well, “along with our European partners and allies, we are considering short-term humanitarian assistance and non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, and in the medium term, we are considering civil and military capacity-building assistance.”

“I am pleased that our flag will shortly fly alongside Ukraine’s as a sign of our support in these troubled times.”

He said Australia was truly grateful for Ukraine’s help in recovering the victims of MH117 and for its strong support for the criminal investigation into the plane’s downing.

“The government – and I believe the Australian people – would like to repay Ukraine for its support and friendship, especially as Ukraine continues to be subject to active destabilisation and, indeed, outright invasion from Russia – a country it has never, ever, sought to harm.”

In reply to a question from Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt Abbott said there would be “no uranium sales to Russia until further notice.

"Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law, as Russia currently is.”

There has only been one shipment of Australian uranium to Russia, in 2012.

Earlier this week, the government beefed up its sanctions on Russia, bringing Australia’s regime into line with the recently-increased European Union sanctions. Ukraine will be a major topic at the NATO meeting.

After question time Abbott flew out for his visit to India where uranium will be on the agenda when he meets new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He is set to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement that will enable uranium sales from Australia to India.

India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But selling uranium to India is a bipartisan position.

When she was prime minister, Julia Gillard won support from the ALP national conference for sales and discussed uranium when she visited India in 2012, starting the process for negotiating the needed agreements.

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