Topics: Paris terror attacks
Greg Hunt, good afternoon.
And good afternoon Tom.
Did you feel like, obviously when you woke up Saturday morning and you just missed the terrorist attacks in Paris by a matter of hours, did you feel like you had a narrow escape?
It – look I just felt for the city because at that stage, I was back on the other side of the world, back in Australia. And so there wasn't any personal sense of ‘gee I’m lucky’.
But because I knew the areas and understand the threat, you just think – wow, is our embassy safe, are our citizens safe – and then of course there's a terrible tragedy unfolding.
I have to say that many of the French officials with whom I spoke – because we talked about not just the climate talks but in particular, security – said they felt that France was at risk of another attack, as did some of our embassy officials.
They were very up front about the risks. The French were ready…
Well, just on that though, you've got a series of climate talks back in Paris coming up in a few weeks time.
Do you think they should go ahead and if they do, will you attend them?
Yes I do and yes I will.
And the reason why is one – obviously, it's an important issue. Two – the unthinkable thing would be to hand these barbaric terrorists the victory that they would want.
I would have to say that virtually everybody is more committed to going than they might previously have been.
In our case, of course, the Prime Minister and myself and Julie Bishop at different times will be there.
We remain equally focused.
But frankly to in any way bend or bow or scrape to the intent of these people would be unthinkable.
So we will be there and the talks will go ahead.
Okay now, I want to ask you about what you think our response should be.
I mean, there are two very different responses that have emerged out of the terrorist attacks on Saturday morning.
First was yesterday, hundreds of people gathered at Federation Square here in Melbourne.
They had Peace for Paris signs, people were wearing t-shirts that wouldn't have looked out of place at a gathering of hippies in the late 1950s with peace signs, they played John Lennon songs like “Give Peace a Chance”.
On the other hand, ten French fighter bombers dropped 20 bombs on suspected IS sites in Syria.
So, which is the right response here?
Do we just sit there and hope it will all go away and give peace a chance or do we get on the front foot and send in the – well, send in our troops, send in the Air Force and the Army, do that sort of thing?
Well, there's no question that the Daesh or ISIS…
Sorry, Mr Hunt, I'm going to have to interrupt.
[Unrelated item – breaking news]
Sorry Mr Hunt, there was – well, it sounded…
No, I understand.
…there was a bomb scare across the road. It turns out it was a box of shoes in a plastic bag. But anyway, can't be too cautious.
But, can I say, that's probably a response to what happened in Paris, the police are going to take everything seriously.
But, sorry, to go back to the question I asked you, what is the correct response to these Islamic State attacks?
Do we just live our lives or do we get on the front foot and try and do more to destroy IS?
You need two things. In terms of what happens abroad, in terms of what happens in Syria, there is no question that no accommodation will ever be enough for some of these people.
It is a medieval perversion of ideology, as I think some very wise commentators have said, it's an attack on Islam, not a representation of Islam…
Well, I don't know about that but anyway…
…but let me say this, hard military force is the only way to deal with the central core of ISIS. Now, that…
Well, that's interesting. Barack Obama has already said to his own Senate that he does not contemplate sending boots on the ground into Syria.
You know, they've had two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, involving large numbers of US troops.
Apparently the Americans don't have the stomach for a third.
The second part of this is there has to be a political accommodation which sees a transition in Syria.
Now, at home, we can't be caught in the game of demonising a general community which is overwhelmingly peaceful, which is overwhelmingly focused on being part of Australia – or in comparable countries doing the same thing.
They are part of the solution and the general Islamic community is a fine community that adds to this country.
But there are two things here – one is a strong, military response, because these people are carrying out genocide, crimes against humanity, atrocities, as well as wanting to take action – whether it's around the world, or in their own backyard.
And secondly, you have to take care…
Okay, so this all clear, you support…
…of communities in Australia.
No, I'm not saying put our troops on the ground.
I am saying that air power and naval power are fundamental.
…Okay, but we know from history that air power by itself, and naval power which is just ships offshore launching missiles and things at targets, does not win wars.
If you really want to win a war, if you want to root out people who are in bunkers or whatever, you have to go in there on the ground.
And you say a transition – a transition to what in Syria?
I mean, you've got Assad who still governs part of the country, you've got Islamic State, you've got a handful of pretty rag tag group of other forces.
Who do you anticipate control in Syria might transit to?
Sure. There are no easy solutions and anybody who pretends that there are I think is doing a disservice. So what are the best elements?
Firstly, this may be the one prospect for US and Russian cooperation and we have seen signs of that over recent days.
Secondly, the notion that we work to transition Assad out – that is something which may take quite a deal of time.
And in the meantime, it's ensuring that the first task is of trying to defeat ISIS, Daesh – whatever you want to call it – on the ground.
That's simply something which cannot be avoided.
Because at the moment a genocidal practice, the treatment of women, of children, of minority groups is unspeakable and unthinkable.
And we have to do it as best as we can without endangering our troops. Those are difficult asks but…
…those are the principles.
…well, but I would say – yeah, but I'd say they’re are impossible.
I mean, I'm sorry, but in Afghanistan we tried to get rid of the Taliban and it's been replaced by, well, pretty much and nothing and now the Taliban are coming back.
In Iraq, we went in and we knocked over a secular dictator in Saddam Hussein and in that – in his place has sprung the thing we now know as Islamic State.
In Syria, we've – a couple of years ago, we're saying how terrible Assad was and he was evil and we had to get rid of him and again, Islamic State has spread into the vacancy.
I mean, are we not learning from this?
Well, with respect, Tom, what are you suggesting?
You know what I would do? I would just build a wall and just let them fight it out.
I mean seriously, I don't see why we keep – want to get involved in these situations.
Now, quite frankly, I just don't think it's our fight. I don't think it's a fight we can win.
Well, I think the – what we find is the West stayed out of Syria. So there are no good solutions.
The West, famously, stayed out of Syria.
And the idea that we would suddenly be putting troops on the ground is not something that I think people are looking at.
I think we need to be incredibly…
If we had gone into Syria, we would be in the middle of a three-sided civil war.
I tend to agree that if there were troops on the ground that would be an incredibly dangerous situation.
However, right now we know that we have seen attacks in Lebanon, attacks in Turkey, attacks in Paris, the bombing of a Russian airliner.
So this is a real and present danger – it's a clear and present danger. And so…
Well, I agree with you but recent…
…we have to try and limit their capacity.
And one of the things which is occurring is on the ground because of the air and naval response, they are less successful than they were and there is progress being made.
But the danger is real, it's ongoing, and any Western government has a duty to protect its citizens.
…well, that's true. Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment. Thank you for your time. Greg Hunt there.