Labor says “no” to al-Assad turnaround

September 27, 2015 by J-Wire News Service
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Labor leader Bill Shorten has said that “Labor has no time for the administration or the government of Assad” following a report that the Turnbull government will abandon its position that the Syrian leader should stand aside.


He made his remarks following yesterday’s front page story in The Australian which carried a report on Australia “being set to abandon the Abbot government’s long-held position that disgraced President Bashar al-Assad step aside as part of any durable peace settlement in Syria”.

Shorten told a media conference: “It has been a terrible government and it’s done terrible things to its population.”

Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby pointed out the marked contrast between Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s slide towards a pro-Iran, pro-Syrian position and the caution shown by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the Australian After coming after her meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was ‘part of the solution’ in Syria.

Shorten said at a press conference, “Labor has no time for the administration or the government of Assad. It has been a terrible government and it’s done terrible things to its population.”

Mr Danby said, “Since when is Australia on the same side as Putin, Assad and the Iranians? We were 100 per cent against them – how can we now be in a de facto alliance with them? Julie Bishop has let power go to her head.”

He continued: “We must have a full parliamentary debate before adopting such an unethical and impractical abandonment of Australian foreign policy.”

He concluded, “This is going from bad to worse. Bishop seems to have a daily dictator of choice!”

Shorten’s press conference was held in the northern NSW town of Casino.

J-Wire presents two questions asked of him with his responses:

JOURNALIST: Does Labor agree that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is part of that solution in the Syrian war, or do you believe that he must go?

SHORTEN: I don’t think it’s as simple as a yes or no. Labor has no time for the administration or the government of Assad. It has been a terrible government and it’s done terrible things to its population. So that’s one thing we really do believe that Assad and his government have been dreadful. We also understand that we are combatting ISIL and the terrorist organisations which are occupying parts of Iraq and Syria. We have supported the principle of collective self-defence in Iraq to see the Australian Air Force as part of a Coalition effort to go after the ISIL terrorists across the border, such as it is, into north Syria. I think this argument which we have seen advance, I have seen advanced for the first time not from the Government to myself, but through the newspapers, saying that there might be some greater support for Assad. We are going to be very careful before we go down that path. We want to hear what the security experts’ logic is in this. I do not believe Australia should be picking sides in Syria. As far as I can tell, between ISIL and Assad there’s not a great deal to separate them. What I also get is that the refugee crisis that’s been caused in Syria is a combination of a whole lot of bad operators and factions in that country. So we’re pretty cautious about this latest development in the doctrine which we are

Danby's billboard message

Danby’s billboard message

seeing and we will expect the Government to explain to us how this helps Australia’s long-term security.

JOURNALIST: There’s talk that he needs to be part of a political solution there, that’s the development today. Is Labor open to having that conversation about that?

SHORTEN: We’ll hear what the Government has to say to repeat my previous answer. But I want to put very clearly that Australia needs to be pretty careful about trying to inject ourselves into understanding Syrian’s civil war, Syrian politics. But it is a matter of record that Assad has been a dreadful dictator. There are a whole lot of people in that part of the world, ISIL and the other terrorist groups, which are genocidal, ethno fascists for want of another word – they are dreadful people. I’m very wary about Australia trying to pick winners. What we’ll do is hear what the logic is, hear what the intelligence is from European and American allies, but we are very cautious about trying to engage in some sort of moral debate about the benefits of any particular side here. I think a lot of them are very poor.

But The Australian’s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan has written that said that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has “executed an important, justified and probably overdue pivot on Australia’s policy towards Syria”. He has called it “on balance, the right call”.

In the meantime, Danby who made international news when he erected a billboard highlighting the website at a busy Melbourne intersection, has told J-Wire that he has plans to erect another one in Sydney on Wednesday “in the Bondi area”. The billboards have been financed privately



5 Responses to “Labor says “no” to al-Assad turnaround”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    It might well be that Shorten hasn’t looked at all the facts; it might also be the case that he hasn’t been privy to all the facts, not being in government. I am sure if he was in government rather than opposition, he would be carefully considering all aspects before making firm statements. Thus far bi-partisanship has been the name of the game in the last two years of Coalition government on issues of ‘national security’ and terrorism. Something I am not so happy with – we need good opposition.

    It is easy, due to the obscenity that is ISIS, to forget or put on the backburner the terrible reign of Assad and all that he has perpetrated over the past four years. Obviously the Syrian people are between a rock and a hard place. I, for one, am not going to automatically assume that it’s only a choice between the barbarians and Assad. One super-evil does not negate another evil that co-exists and indeed existed before. Russia, who has always supported Assad’s regime, is obviously taking advantage of the situation to assist him be reinstated within this chaotic climate. Difficult situation for the US and its supporters. France has been the most outspoken in regard to the necessity of not reinstating Assad. Another way must be found.

    • David Singer says:


      Look where we are now just 10 days later – Russian air strikes and cruise missiles being fired into Syria from the Caspian Sea 1500 kilometres away – all because Obama and Kerry refused to deal with the issue of Islamic State first and put Assad ‘s fate on the back burner.

      God help the Syrian civilian population that is on the receiving end of this display of armed military force.

      A United Nations Security Council Resolution could have prevented it. No doubt we will see frantic efforts at the UN trying to stop it.

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    David, you could extract up to half of the obscene actions you attribute to ISIL (I’m not disputing them, or seeking to minimise them) and place them at the feet of Assad where they belong, and you could also add use of chemical warfare by Assad against his own people.

    I am not saying that when stacked one against the other, measurably ISIL doesn’t prove to be worse, but we need to be comprehensively factual in any discussion of this kind. I’m also aware of the need to have someone with good authority in Syria to keep a semblance of order if and when ISIL is removed, to prevent chaos. We should learn from the removal of Saddam Hussein in this regard. However, I think Shorten’s caution and wish to examine things more carefully before ‘taking sides’ and changing direction is warranted.

    The US is a shocking player in the affairs of other countries (as is Russia, of course), and so completely concerned with its own affairs that that is reason in itself for examining all issues in relation to its suggestions.

    Oh, and this is nothing to do with your post, but we have the photo of Julie Bishop there alongside the article, smiling at her Iranian counterpart with what she probably assumes to be considerable charm. If she was going to bother to wear head-cover out of respect, you’d think she’d have done it properly; most of the top of her head is exposed. She’s taking advantage of a foreign culture to make a fashion statement and in so doing shows a pseudo acceptance of that culture’s practices. Very professional woman, Julie, and good at her job, however, I think time will tell as far as her ego and vanity are concerned.

    • david singer says:


      I was trying to be comprehensively factual by quoting from a UN Security Council Resolution.

      When stacked against one another ISIL is in my opinion measurably worse than Assad.

      Here is another report of conduct by ISIL (as noted by a UN Momitoring Team):
      “summary killings of detainees, many filmed and released on social media or video-sharing sites. These killings straddle many different communities. While minorities and Shia Muslims have borne the brunt of this violence, many Sunnis have also been murdered at the hands of ISIL and ANF. There are also credible reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence. ISIL and ANF threaten health and humanitarian workers from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic who are trying to alleviate human suffering. They have targeted and killed journalists for simply doing their job. They have taken and murdered hostages either in efforts to generate ransom payments or for political messaging.

      Has Shorten read these reports before concluding there is not a great deal to separate ISIL from Assad?

  3. david singer says:

    Bill Shorten states:
    ” As far as I can tell, between ISIL and Assad there’s not a great deal to separate them.”

    This is ISIL’s record as documented by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2170:
    “the indiscriminate killing and deliberate targeting of civilians, numerous atrocities, mass executions and extrajudicial killings, including of soldiers, persecution of individuals and entire communities on the basis of their religion or belief, kidnapping of civilians, forced displacement of members of minority groups, killing and maiming of children, recruitment and use of children, rape and other forms of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, attacks on schools and hospitals, destruction of cultural and religious sites and obstructing the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education…”

    Assad is definitely no angel and will have to eventually answer for the war crimes he has committed – but for Mr Shorten to not see the very wide gap between ISIL’s conduct and Assad’s conduct displays a great deal of naivety, poor judgement and political blindness.

    Mr Shorten would be better advised to urge America and Russia to get together to procure the passage of a Security Council Resolution to take armed action to destroy Islamic State first – then talk about Assad’s future after that mission has been successfully accomplished.

    So would Ms Bishop for that matter.

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