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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20132


Mr RUDD (2:24 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's comment yesterday that the government was always open about the risks outlined in the British Joint Intelligence Committee report of 10 February 2003. Prime Minister, where and when did you tell the Australian parliament and people about the specific risk outlined in the British Joint Intelligence Committee report that chemical and biological warfare technology or agents could find their way into the hands of terrorists as a result of the war with Iraq?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has already explained, as I did yesterday, the content of the travel advisories that warned about the potential danger in particular Middle Eastern countries. I can only repeat, as I will, what I have said on earlier occasions, and that is that, in accordance with normal practice, the Joint Intelligence Committee report was only handed to Australia's intelligence agencies. I notice that yesterday the Leader of the Opposition—and he repeated it this morning on radio—dismissed the proposition that this document did not come to ministers. I also observed a number of the newspapers this morning, including the work of a columnist in one of the national broadsheets who I think knows more about security matters than the Leader of the Opposition does. One of this particular person's previous jobs was to work for the former Leader of the Opposition when, I think, he held a ministry in the Hawke government, and so this person is clearly better informed on these matters than the Leader of the Opposition is. The truth is that this document was not itself handed to me or to ministers. But, clearly, it would have—


Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. The Prime Minister was asked when and where he told the Australian people about the risk of WMD proliferation.


The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith will resume his seat. The Prime Minister is relevant.


Mr HOWARD —The reality is that this document was handed to our intelligence agencies, and in making its decision to commit our forces to war the government had available the assessments of our intelligence agency. We also had announced and stated publicly a speech made by Mr Dennis Richardson, the Director-General of ASIO. He made this speech on 17 February 2003. This is what he had to say:

A war in Iraq, with or without UN sanction, may well influence the timing of some terrorist attacks.

He went on:

But of one thing we can be certain; a peaceful solution to the current situation will be irrelevant to bin Laden's intent and purpose.

- Al-Qa'ida will seek to follow through on whatever it may be planning at present; and

- Its targets of first choice will remain innocent civilians.


Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Again, the Prime Minister evades the only question I have asked—


The SPEAKER —Is the point of order on relevance?


Mr Rudd —which is when and where did he warn the Australian people about WMD—


The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith will resume his seat. The member for Griffith is well aware that standing order 145 requires the answerer to the question to be relevant to the question. The Prime Minister was asked a question about the British intelligence report and its advice on the Iraqi war. He is entirely relevant.


Mr Rudd —With respect, Mr Speaker, my question was not as you described it. My question asked the Prime Minister specifically: when and where did he warn the Australian people of the WMD proliferation—


The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith will resume his seat. I will deal with the point of order. As the member for Griffith is well aware, the British intelligence report deals with the question of the Iraqi war. The precision with which a question can be answered is not covered in the standing orders. The requirement is for the answer to be relevant, and the Prime Minister is being relevant.


Mr HOWARD —Mr Speaker, I thought the whole point of this was about the impact on terrorist threats of the decision to go to war in Iraq. I thought that is what it was all about, and I thought I was quoting from the Director-General of ASIO, who was addressing that very issue.


The SPEAKER —I have indicated to the Prime Minister that he is in order.


Mr HOWARD —The Director-General of ASIO said:

But of one thing we can be certain; a peaceful solution to the current situation will be irrelevant to bin Laden's intent and purpose.

- Al-Qa'ida will seek to follow through on whatever it may be planning at present; and

- Its targets of first choice will remain innocent civilians.

That was from Mr Dennis Richardson on 17 February this year. The point he was making was, very simply, that the outbreak of the war would be irrelevant to the purposes of bin Laden, and I think that is very directly relevant to this whole issue.


Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order: can I ask the Prime Minister to table the document from which he was reading?


The SPEAKER —Was the Prime Minister quoting from a document?


Mr HOWARD —I was quoting from some notes.

Honourable members interjecting


The SPEAKER —I have dealt with the matter.