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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13299


Mr DUTTON (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister inform the House as to the measures the government is taking to freeze the assets of the Iraqi mission in Australia?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for his question and for the interest he shows. First of all, all Iraqi assets in Australia have been frozen since 1990. That was done as a result of Security Council resolution 661, and that resolution was manifest here in the banking foreign exchange regulations. The Iraqi embassy was given permission to use its accounts on a case by case basis, to allow for the operation of the embassy, which was of course a reasonable thing to do. In any case, we had to do that in order to comply with our obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It was consistent also with action that is taken by other states, such as the United States of America.

As the House will know, we have asked the staff of the Iraqi embassy to leave. Although they were due to leave last night, because of a delay in their Qantas plane from Canberra to, I think, Sydney—it was either Sydney or Melbourne—they missed their subsequent flight and have had to stay for a further 24 hours. They will be taking the international flight tonight to the Middle East. In any case, they have certainly left Canberra at this stage. In that context, no further access will be allowed to the embassy's bank account until further notice. Also, it is not of course necessary for us to confiscate Iraqi assets in Australia in order to secure them for the future use of the Iraqi people, because those assets are already frozen. But, in relation to the assets of the embassy, we naturally do not want to feel that the regime of Saddam Hussein will have any further access to those assets—and they will not, because they will not be returning to diplomatic representation in Canberra. But consistent with the various provisions in Australian law—and there is a bit of a proviso there—assets will be left for the incoming diplomats from Iraq, when diplomatic representation is resumed once the conflict has ended.