Former Longman MP Wyatt Roy with a Peshmerga soldier in Iraq.
Former Longman MP Wyatt Roy with a Peshmerga soldier in Iraq.

Wyatt Roy defends trip to northern Iraq

FORMER Sunshine Coast MP Wyatt Roy has again defended his trip to northern Iraq, questioning the reliability of the government's travel advice in the area.

The former Member for Longman, who at 20 was the youngest ever to be elected to federal parliament, said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's advice was different to that of the US and the UK.

"The United States and the United Kingdom make a big distinction between the Kurdish region of Iraq and the other parts of Iraq," the former Liberal MP told the ABC's 7.30.

"They are very professional people, they do a great job, but they simply don't have the presence on the ground that the US or the UK does."

The ABC reports that DFAT has strongly advised Australians not to travel to any part of Iraq and wrote on its website: "Armed opposition groups are active in many parts of Iraq, including in Iraqi Kurdistan."

However, the UK splits up Iraq into "advise against travel" and "advise against all but essential travel" areas.

Speaking on triple j's Hack program, Mr Roy also said he hoped the row would not ruin his friendship with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull has described the trip as "very stupid".

"I hope that friendship endures beyond what is a bit of a disagreement," Mr Roy said.

But Mr Roy travelled to Sinjar, which is marked "advise against all travel" by the UK authorities.

Mr Roy told 7.30 he went to the town, which is around 50 kilometres from the Syrian border, to meet victims of Islamic State militants.

"The Kurdish regional Government had set up time for us to spend with the Peshmerga," he said.

"We were spending time in the town of Sinjar, which is a liberated town a few kilometres from the front line, and given my personal connection to ensuring we are taking persecuted minorities, the Yazidis, that was an opportunity I took."

WHAT WYATT ROY HAD TO SAY ON THE 7.30 REPORT

Q: No doubt you have read some of the reviews of your trip back at home. They're not all that good. The Prime Minister says you were very stupid. Scott Morrison said it was a bone-headed thing to do. And Julie Bishop said you were irresponsible.

A: I have seen some of those reports but let me provide the context. This is a part of the world that I have a longstanding interest in. As a member of Parliament I went to the Golan Heights post.

I also went on a delegation to Baghdad. The town of Sinjar where the evil Daesh forces committed horrible atrocities, as President Obama called it, really genocide against the Yazidis people, I was the first politician to at least call for the doubling of the refugee take, focusing on the minorities.

In terms of why I was in Iraq, a friend of mine who works for a private company, does work for the Kurdistan Government on nation building, helping to build a civil society in

Kurdistan and counter radicalisation, using a political skill set, social media, talking to young Kurds to ensure they're not radicalised.

He invited me out to Iraq to see what they're doing, to have a conversation about the sorts of things that they're trying to achieve. I spent much of my team in the Kurdish region of Iraq talking to young university students. Talking to policy think-tanks, talking to academics, talking to people who are trying to support entrepreneurship in Iraq.

Q: I can understand you meeting the people you did and what you did, but why the need to go so close to the frontline.

We were spending time in Sinjar, a liberated town a few kilometres from the frontline. Given my personal connection to ensure we are taking persecuted minorities, the Yazidis, that was an opportunity that I took when the Peshmerga had offered that.

Now, we were incredibly unlucky in terms of the unfortunate events that the media that has been reporting on. There has been some sensationalisation and I think there has been an enormous lack of context around.

There is over 1,000 kilometres of the frontline and we managed to find the one location, the two minutes in the last month, that there was an attack.

That was incredibly unfortunate, unlucky, but the Peshmerga were incredible professional. As we hit the ground, and we got back up, the Peshmerga soldiers were dusting the dust off our clothes and they handled the situation incredibly well.

Within half-an-hour we were back in Sinjar.

Q: Can you understand at least some of the criticism of your former colleagues back here?

Of course. I understand the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister has a job to do. The Foreign Minister has to take the advice of their department and I don't want to make their lives or their jobs more difficult. I would make one observation.

I think the travel advice to the Kurdish region has been a bit misunderstood. Our travel advice is very different to the United States and the United Kingdom.

They make a very big distinction between the Kurdish region of Iraq and the other parts of Iraq and that's not reflected. The other reality is Australia is the largest military contributor outside the United States yet we don't have a diplomatic presence in Erbil when over 27 other countries do, including smaller European and Asian nations.

If you have that presence on the ground, the travel advice is inevitably nuanced. I'm sure if this system had have happened when I was a British

incident, the advice of the Foreign Office in the UK would be different to the Minister than what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing in Australia.

But they are very professional people, they do a great job but they simply don't have the presence on the ground that the UK and the US does.

Q: Would you encourage other young Australians to do what you have done?

Well, I think, again, the context is important. I would ever in support anyone -- I would never support anyone coming to this region to take up arms, to fight, to do any of those stupid things.

But there are young Australians in this region, they're working for NGOs, participating in a civil society, helping build a prosperous Kurdistan in the future. If people want to contribute to that, then, absolutely, that is a good thing.

There are many Australians doing that. There are very significant political and economic challenges for the Kurdish people, but I think that we should support their aspiration for an independent nation and we should support them when it comes to developing that civil society.

It is very easy to provide a military contribution to a region and global history has shown what happens when we do that.

And I think that's important. But we must also follow that up with civil society building, that longer term ability to grow the economy of Kurdistan to provide an inclusive society.

The West has a one Iraq policy. I appreciate and understand that, but it doesn't reflect the status quo on the ground. And I'm not alone in saying things like this. The Israeli Prime Minister has said almost the exact same things.

Q: Did you have any help from Australian officials during your visit to the Middle East?

No. No, not at all.

As I said, my mate, Sam, who works for a private company, which works with the Kurdish Regional Government, that's how it was organised and the trip, and particularly the trip to Sinjar was organised through the Kurdish Regional Government.



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