Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 4 November 2022


SUBJECTS: Repatriation of ISIS brides.

NATALIE BARR: The Federal Government has been accused of playing politics with national security after the wives and children of Australian Islamic State fighters were settled in Western Sydney. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has met with community leaders to hear their fears over the resettlement plans. Residents have voiced their concerns after it was revealed the wives will not be forced to wear an ankle bracelet or be constantly monitored by police.

For their views let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley, who is joining us from Dubai. And we apologise in advance for the delay on her satellite.

Jason, let’s start with you – you’ve got 20 community groups in Western Sydney saying: “We weren’t consulted, please meet with us and tell us how you are going to integrate these people into society.” Have you made a mistake here?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Nat. Look, I live in Western Sydney. My family is there. This is my community. I want our community to be safe. I tell you what – I trust our police and I trust our national security agencies. And we do this on their advice. It’s important to note, too, Nat, that this is not the first time this has happened. The Morrison government did exactly the same thing three years ago. They brought families home – women and children – from the Middle East three years ago. And guess who was the Home Affairs Minister who brought those women and children home? Peter Dutton.

So, for the Coalition to now say that they’re against that makes them hypocrites because they did exactly the same thing.

BARR: Okay. Well, let’s go to Sussan. Talk us through when you brought those others back, were there different circumstances, and did you consult the community first?

SUSSAN LEY: Completely different, Nat. And I’m really worried about the threat of these ISIS brides. As part of a week-long visit to the region, I stood at the Golan Heights yesterday on Israel’s northern border with Syria – similarly Lebanon. We have had ISIS, we’ve had Hezbollah, we have had and do have extremist Islamist groups that threaten the security of our biggest ally in the region. And remember, people left Australia to join these groups and participate in activities that are just too horrible to talk about on your program. But cast your mind back – beheadings of journalists in public, the sorts of atrocities to the Yazidis that were done that we have then offered support to.

And, you know, this is a job, Jason, bigger than the police force, for goodness’ sake. This is about reassuring the communities of Western Sydney, who are genuinely worried. Where’s the transparency? We heard about this a few months ago and now, all of a sudden, these ISIS brides are here and there’s been so little communication with the communities into which they are now moving, and it’s just not good enough. And it really does need to be addressed by this Government, by the Prime Minister, to give that level of reassurance. These are terrorist regimes. They have threatened Australia and our way of life. And we have to be extremely cautious.

BARR: Yeah, Jason, hasn’t Sussan got a point here? It’s great that you trust the police, and I’m sure most people trust the police. But what these 20 community groups are asking for here is consultation. They want to know. They want to meet with the Government and know exactly what’s happened. Have you – do you think you’ve underestimated the concerns of the community in this case?

CLARE: It’s important that government and law enforcement agencies work closely with the community. We always should do that. But Sussan just said that this is completely different to what she did, what Peter Dutton did, when they brought women and children home three years ago. How is that the case? That’s a rubbish argument. Those women and children were brought back to my community, to my electorate, and no-one consulted me. Peter Dutton didn’t ring me and tell me that they were moving into my electorate. This just makes everything that Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley are saying now hypocritical because they did exactly the same thing and now they’re taking exactly the opposite approach.

BARR: Okay, let’s move on to – sorry, we’ll give you right of reply, Sussan.

LEY: Nat, it’s completely –

BARR: Just tell us what the difference is.

LEY: The difference is that the women that are now coming back as ISIS brides deliberately left Australia to join a terrorist state which had at its heart the destruction of the Western way of life. And that is a completely different situation to repatriating, on a humanitarian level, persecuted minorities. These are people who deliberately left Australia to join a terrorist regime, to fulfil a terrorist project in the Middle East. It’s not enough to simply say now they can come home because things haven’t worked out for them.

CLARE: We’re not talking about – Sussan, you can’t mislead the Australian people on national TV. You brought home women and children three years ago. We’re not talking about persecuted minorities here. You brought home women who were married to ISIS fighters. You brought home their children as well. I wasn’t told. I didn’t criticise it then because I trust our law enforcement agencies. What I’m saying is you are a hypocrite for doing it then and attacking it now.

BARR: Sussan?

LEY: I completely disagree, Jason. And the reality is that there’s been so little transparency about this. It was raised, suddenly it’s appeared that decisions have been made –

BARR: Sussan, not on this. Could you answer Jason’s question?

LEY: The Home Affairs Minister, the Prime Minister were not upfront. The circumstances were different. We had the assurances of our agencies, and this Government does not appear to have the assurances of the same agencies now.

BARR: Well, they’ve got the assurances now.

LEY: And if they did, they would actually repeat those assurances to the people of Western Sydney instead of pulling a smoke screen over them and having these 20 community groups gather in Western Sydney absolutely demanding answers. So never mind about me demanding answers here on breakfast television, Jason – how about those answers are given to the communities of Western Sydney?

BARR: Well, look, it’s definitely a consultation issue. Jason, I’m sure the Government would understand that – that there has to be more consultation if you’ve got that many people. But the differences –

CLARE: Consultation is important. I don’t disagree. But I’m not going to take a lecture on transparency from Sussan Ley when people were brought home and put into my electorate, and no-one picked up the phone and told me.

BARR: Yep, look, it is a big issue. It’s an emotive issue, and we’re going to be hearing more in the next few days, I’m sure. Thank you, both, for joining us.