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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11832

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the position of the British government on the issue of Iraq's serial defiance of UN resolutions and update the House on the forthcoming meeting between Prime Ministers Blair and Howard in London? Also, is the minister aware of any domestic commentary on the British approach to Iraq?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Casey for his question, because I know he is one of many members of this House who admire the position that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain, has taken on the issue of Iraq. As the Acting Prime Minister made clear, the Prime Minister is meeting with Prime Minister Blair this evening, Australian time, in London following on from his discussions in Washington and New York. Clearly, although the two Prime Ministers will discuss a number of issues, Iraq—and, in particular, how to maintain Security Council pressure on Saddam Hussein to disarm—will be the focus of their discussion. We on this side of the House believe that Prime Minister Blair has proven to be an extraordinarily courageous and principled leader in this debate. The meeting between the Labour and the Liberal Prime Ministers will, I think on this issue, be a genuine meeting of minds.

Tony Blair has recognised from the start that the global threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the important role the United States must play in leading international efforts to disarm Iraq, is very real and fundamental. In answer to the honourable member's question, I think he would be interested in something Mr Blair said. He said the other day:

Some people think I'm going down this path because Britain is a strong ally of America and I don't want to divide off from America. It is worse than that. It is that I genuinely believe it. If America were not doing it, I would be saying to them, `You should be doing it.'

Those are the words of a leader who has the strength of his convictions, who does not hide behind process and who is prepared to confront—that is, he is prepared to do something that I have not seen much of in the sister party of the British Labour Party—antiAmericanism within his own party. In part, what drives Tony Blair's concern is clearly the intersection between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Again, I quote him. Tony Blair, the leader of the British Labour Party, said:

It is only a matter of time before these threats come together in a devastating way.

The Australian government certainly shares that view. Like the Australian government, the British government recognises that the pre-deployment of military force has been essential in keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein to comply with Security Council resolutions. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the United Kingdom has deployed 30,000 personnel, which includes a range of different ships, different types of aircraft and other commitments. As Prime Minister Blair said:

If the process of disarmament can't happen through the United Nations inspectors then it will have to happen by force.

Let me finally make this point, because I know the honourable member is interested in this: like the Australian government, the British government is unapologetic about its alliance with the United States. Let me remind the House of what Tony Blair has said on that matter:

I will defend that relationship absolutely and solidly, because I think it's important for us and for the wider world. I do not think it right that the United States is made to face these issues alone.

That is the leader of the British Labour Party. The honourable member asked me if there was any domestic commentary on Tony Blair. There certainly is from this side of the House, but I notice an eerie silence coming from the other side as I talk about Tony Blair. Usually, when you stand at the dispatch box, there is a fusillade of abuse, but this time there is an eerie silence. There is an eerie silence as we speak of Tony Blair. So too was there an eerie silence during the speeches of opposition members during the debate on Iraq. We have counted 75 speeches by opposition members—that is, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives—and I understand that George Bush was unceremoniously mentioned some 275 times. That is not all that many more times than Saddam Hussein, but it is more times—interestingly, since it was meant to be a debate about Iraq—than Saddam Hussein. How many times did the name `Tony Blair' spill out of any brave opposition member's lips? It happened 24 times—not 24 members and senators—and 24 times in 75 speeches is not a lot. We know that, of those members sitting over there, who sit in front of us day by day, just about all of them think, hour by hour, day by day and week by week, `I wish we had a leader like Tony Blair.'