CANBERRA – Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has issued a blistering rebuke to a former ministerial colleague for travelling to war-torn Iraqi Kurdistan and getting caught up in a firefight against Islamic State fighters.
Former federal assistant minister Wyatt Roy, who lost his federal Queensland seat at the election, has been in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region he has had a long standing interest in, spending time with Kurdish Peshmerga "who are facing off pure evil with incredible resolve."
In a phone call with The Huffington Post Australia, Roy insisted he did not travel in a "declared area" which would have led to criminal prosecution on terrorism charges on his return to Australia.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has a very clear 'do not travel' advisory regarding Iraq, which the Foreign Minister has declared Roy has blatantly disregarded.
"It is irresponsible of Wyatt Roy to travel to the front line of the conflict between ISIL and Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, in a region regarded as very high risk," Ms Bishop said in a statement.
"He has placed himself at risk of physical harm and capture, and acted in defiance of government advice," she said.
"The Government does not endorse or approve of Mr Roy's actions, and strongly urges other Australians to follow the official advice of "do not travel to Iraq"."
He was driving with a friend Samuel Coates and a translator near the town of Sinjar west of Mosul last Thursday when a confrontation between IS fighters and Kurdish Peshmerga erupted.
Five ISIS fighters were killed and the firefight ended with Coalition airstrikes.
Roy has disputed Australia's official travel advice for the region.
"Australia has very different travel advice to the United States and the United Kingdom," he told HuffPost AU.
"The Australian travel advice does not distinguish between Iraq and Kurdistan. That is almost completely unique."
"There are a number of Australians here working for NGOs. Of course there are journalists here and I think that context is very important."
The Foreign Minister has confirmed Roy's earlier statement that he did not seek nor receive assistance from the Australian Government for the Iraq trip.
'The Australian Government did not know I was here," Roy told HuffPost Australia while waiting to catch a plane from the Kurdistan capital Erbil.
He said his friend has connections with the Kurdish Government providing security and helping nation building.
"The only declared zone here is Mosul and I did not go anywhere near Mosul," he declared.
The Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong has also criticised Mr Roy for his actions.
"This is a very unwise, and dangerous act for a former LNP Member of Parliament, who should be expected to know better," the Senator said.
"Warzones are not places for people to act out their boyhood fantasies."
The former politician has indicated he would like a change in Australia's policy for Kurdistan.
"It is unique that we are a very significant military contributor to this region, but we don't have an official diplomatic presence here. We have a diplomatic presence in Baghdad but not in Erbil," he said.
"There are like 27 countries that have an official diplomatic presence in Erbil and Australia is not one of them."
He said Kurdistan is a region he has had a long standing interest in and he has been calling for an increase in the number of refugees from that area.
"It is something very close to my heart and something I have spoken about. Something I have been criticised for," he said.
"I thought it was important that I had a look at the situation here. As a politician, I would not have been able to make this trip," he said.
"You would have been in the bubble of political meetings."
Roy said he had been spending time with Peshmerga "who are facing off pure evil with incredible resolve."
DFAT Iraq Travel Advisory
- We strongly advise you not to travel to Iraq because of the extremely volatile and dangerous security situation. Australians in Iraq, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, should depart immediately.
- Armed opposition groups are active in many parts of Iraq, including in Iraqi Kurdistan. The situation could deteriorate further with little warning. The US-led coalition, including Australia, continues to conduct targeted airstrikes against militants in Iraq.
- With the current conflict, there is an increased threat to foreigners throughout Iraq, particularly journalists and humanitarian workers.
- Due to the challenging security environment, the embassy's ability to provide consular assistance to Australians is extremely limited.