7 Aug 2019

Ron Mark apologises for 'misspeaking' about Iraq deployment

7:31 pm on 7 August 2019

The Defence Minister has apologised for "misspeaking" about Australia's deployment to Taji Camp in Iraq during an interview with RNZ, saying he was tired at the time.

Defence Minister Ron Mark

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

He told RNZ that New Zealand and Australia had both made decisions about the withdrawal, and one couldn't stay without the other.

However, Australia has not yet announced its plans for the deployment and when it intends to pull its troops.

In the original interview, which RNZ did not broadcast, Mr Mark was discussing New Zealand's decision to withdraw from the joint training mission next June after the release of the Cabinet papers.

"We have discussed the matter with Australia and it's fair to say we're of a like mind, we're moving in the same direction - one couldn't stay there without the other and, as we announced, we're extracting from Iraq", he said.

He referred to Australia again when asked if funding the Taji operation was a factor in New Zealand's decision.

"It's not about money, it was about the fact that we see our job as being completed.

"Australia likewise has made its decisions, we couldn't stay there without Australia, Australia clearly couldn't stay there without us, this has been a joint programme and our drawdown has been sychronised with what Australia has decided to do."

Today he said there was "a bit of misspeak in there" and apologised if he had created the wrong impression.

"We're sychronised in the sense that we had said to them we're withdrawing, that requires them to make adjustments and that's what's happened; what Australia intends on doing, I'm looking forward to hearing what those decisions will be."

He said he should have said "will" make a decision not "has" made a decision.

"I apologise for any misrepresentation I might have caused... but maybe [I was] a bit tired on the day when I did the interview, I think you can tell that by the sound of my voice, actually but it was a bit of a misspeak."

Mr Mark texted the Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds today to clarify his comments.

In a statement, Senator Reynolds said she had told Mr Mark there was no problem.

"Australia remains a proud contributor to the US-led Global Coalition to combat the Daesh terrorist threat in Iraq and Syria. There has been no decision to alter this commitment.

"Australia was consulted on, and respects New Zealand's decision to gradually drawdown its commitment," Senator Reynolds said.

"We continuously assesses its overseas deployments in light of our national interests and evolving priorities.

"All decisions take into account requests from the Government of Iraq, our other military commitments, security developments closer to home and our national security priorities.

"The Australian Defence Force, together with New Zealand, has played a crucial role in supporting Iraqi forces to prevent the re-emergence of Daesh in Iraq. Since 2014 our forces have trained over 44,500 Iraqi security personnel."