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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17208

Ms VAMVAKINOU (4:50 PM) —I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the member for Burke, who has left the chamber, on the speech he made on his grievance and to say that my grievance is also about the emerging controversy regarding Australia's involvement in the war. I am particularly concerned that the Prime Minister has not been frank and up front with the parliament and the Australian people.

They say—and it has often been said—that the first victim of war is the truth. And it appears that this saying is fast attaching itself as a by-line to this government's and to this Prime Minister's refusal to come clean over the case for war with Iraq. The exclaimed motive for war was an emphatic assertion that Iraq possessed and intended to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and indeed had the ability and intention to use them. This, we were told, was based on the most compelling, credible and substantial evidence. When pressed at question time last week over reports that two trailers found in Iraq did not contain mobile germ warfare laboratories, thus belatedly providing the elusive `smoking gun' to justify the case for war, the Prime Minister's outburst was:

Those from the opposition who now seek to denigrate what this government and this country did are, in effect, calling for the restoration of Saddam Hussein ...

Leaving aside the lack of moral maturity, the PM's outburst belies a sore point for a man who wants to go down on the `right' side of history. But what the PM fails to understand, and eventually to deal with, is that our insistence on an inquiry into the case for war is simply our determination to uncover the truth. We owe it to the parliament and to the people of Australia to ascertain on what evidence this government, the Prime Minister and the cabinet made the decision to go to war. What information convinced them that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat to the world?

Let us be perfectly clear what is at stake here. As Professor Robert Mann pointed out in his article in the Age last week, the government's refusal to hold itself up to public scrutiny on the gravest issue, that of going to war, constitutes a serious threat to democracy. And that is what is at stake here. In examining the casus belli for war in Iraq, the Prime Minister stated in his address to the nation on 20 March 2003:

... the Government has decided to commit Australian forces to action to disarm Iraq ... we are determined to join other countries to deprive Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, its chemical and biological weapons.

Again, on 4 February this year, in his ministerial statement on Iraq, the Prime Minister stated:

At the heart of this debate must be ... the ... proliferation of nuclear weapons and the spread of chemical and biological weapons.

... ... ...

The Australian government knows that Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq wants to develop nuclear weapons.

I ask the simplest of questions: how did this government know for certain that Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons and was close to developing those nuclear weapons? According to the PM's statement of 4 February 2003, his knowledge was based on:

The intelligence material collected over recent times, to which Australia has contributed ...

The war has come and gone, and to date no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Yes, Saddam Hussein has gone—and that is a good thing; no-one disputes that—but failure to find the weapons of mass destruction thus far and the emerging controversy over the quality of material and the manner in which intelligence information was used by politicians now brings into question the credibility of the Prime Minister and his very reason for going to war in the first place.

While inquiries are taking place in the United States and the United Kingdom on the collection, briefing and presentation of intelligence relating to Iraq, here in Australia our Prime Minister thumbs his nose at growing calls for a similar inquiry. Thankfully, however, the opposition parties in the Senate are conducting one as we speak. The PM's response, of course, is to denigrate this inquiry by labelling it as being politically motivated—surprise, surprise.

Hugh White in an article in last week's Age newspaper described the debate on the weapons of mass destruction as irrelevant and noted that the real issue was whether the Prime Minister was up front with the Australian public or, like the Bush and Blair governments, just using the weapons of mass destruction argument because it would win support for the war. I concur with this because central to the inquiries now being held in the United States and the United Kingdom is the question of the existence of the weapons and the quality of the intelligence, with particular emphasis on the possibility of manipulation and exaggeration of information by politicians.

Let us remember that, as members of the coalition of the willing, we were more than prepared to sidestep the United Nations. We ignored world opinion, flouted international law and set a course for a new but dangerous concept of military engagement known as pre-emptive action. As the reasons for this new international military boldness now appear to be shaky, it is not good enough for the Prime Minister to try and avoid scrutiny by stating that our cause was just and right because we liberated the people of Iraq, especially given that we stand by and watch the generals in Burma and dictators elsewhere torment and torture their people without any sign of intervening. To say that this is a hypocritical and perverse double standard is to state the obvious.

A senior analyst from the Office of National Assessments, Andrew Wilkie—he has become well known to all of us in recent days—resigned prior to the war because he believed that the decision to go to war was, in fact, dumb. The Prime Minister's response, once again, was to denigrate Andrew Wilkie, suggesting that he was merely a low-ranking officer who worked in the immigration area and was not that important a player. But Andrew Wilkie has testified before the British inquiry. They seem to be taking him seriously, but not our Prime Minister. So why is the Prime Minister not concerned? If he has nothing to hide, why not have an inquiry? How can the Prime Minister pontificate about honourable and humanitarian causes when he refuses to act on a situation which reeks of discrepancies, contradictions and exaggerations?

I know that most Australians are concerned, and in particular my constituents. We are concerned that the coalition of the willing disregarded the findings of the Blix report and the UN inspection team's plea for more time to finish its job, because it had long determined to go to war no matter what. Ironically, the same people who refused to grant the UN teams more time but instead claimed that Iraq's noncompliance gave them a clear mandate for war are now seeking their own hiatus. They are pleading with the world community for more time to discover the alleged weapons of mass destruction, asking for patience and promising results but showing no signs of wanting, at the very least, to consider the mounting evidence which contradicts their claims about weapons of mass destruction.

A great number of Iraqi senior military officials and intelligence and scientific figures have been captured, but there are still no traces of weapons of mass destruction. Over 200 of the most plausible sites for the storage of weapons of mass destruction have been turned upside down, and there is still nothing. The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, provided so-called evidence of a link between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, yet he is the same official who argued, following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, that the US should not invade Iraq because no link had been made to terrorist groups, saying that this action would militate against world support for the war on terror. Yet the CIA and MI5 have continually stated that there are no proven links between the old Iraqi regime and terrorist groups. The allegations relating to Iraq's nuclear capacity were undermined before the war began, with the International Atomic Energy Agency calling the documents that detailed Saddam's alleged attempts to procure uranium forgeries and fakes, and still the coalition of the willing remained determined to proceed.

The United Kingdom government relied on the now discredited and questionable documentation. The UK dossier was published in February. A week later it was revealed that the dossier was, in fact, an amalgam of a 13-year-old PhD thesis, intelligence reports and publicly available briefings. Our Prime Minister conveniently dismisses these inconsistencies. He expects us to do the same and to be satisfied that, in the end, it was worth it after all because we liberated the Iraqi people. That is a noble act, I agree, but it does not change the fact that serious questions have arisen. Sadly, the future for the Iraqi people remains grim. International agencies agree that we will never know how many civilians were killed. It is estimated that up to 10,000 were killed.

I am a representative who cares about the reason our country went to war. I have always been concerned about the United States's ulterior motives regarding Iraq and I worry about the future stability of a country that has been devastated by a campaign of shock and awe. The Labor opposition and brave Australians such as Andrew Wilkie will fight to hold this government accountable and will critically question the spy agency advice we received and the way this government presented it to the Australian public to justify war. We will do this because we live in a democracy and, as such, we have the right to ask questions. To not do so makes a mockery of our responsibility as parliamentarians. I ask on behalf of my electorate and the many other Australians who want to know the truth: will the government be up front on the quality and reliability of intelligence? How much complicity does the PM share on the US determination to go to war? (Time expired)