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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21314


Mr RUDD (3:48 PM) —The worm is turning for HMAS Howard Government—they know it, we know it and the Australian people know it. It is turning for two very simple reasons: truth and trust. They have not told the truth and they have breached the people's trust. We have Honest John, loose with the truth; and Honest John, breacher of the public trust. Of course, this is not just a one-off frolic or a one-off lapse of behaviour after a thoroughly pristine record on the part of this government. If that were the case, the people of Australia would readily forgive them.

The truth is that we have before us with this ONA affair a deep pattern of behaviour on the part of the Howard government. It is a pattern of behaviour that has, in fact, become a cancer within the innermost organs of this government—one which began right back with what Wilkinson and Marr have rightly described as the dark victory of the last election. This cancer reaches back to the deceptions over the training of paramilitaries in Dubai and it took full form with the complete prostitution of the truth in `kids overboard'. We here all remember the Prime Minister of Australia standing up in the National Press Club of Australia and quoting an intelligence document from the single most important intelligence agency of Australia for one purpose and one purpose alone: to defend a lie in order to win an election.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I remind the member for Griffith that he is skating on thin ice. I will listen very carefully.


Mr RUDD —This cancer has reached its most rampant state over Iraq, the Andrew Wilkie affair and the tangled web that has been woven by the Howard government in their handling of this affair in recent weeks. The question we in this parliament should all ask ourselves is a pretty simple one: why is the government so obsessed with Andrew Wilkie? There is an equally simple answer to this question: it is because this whole matter too is about the truth.

Some have compared Andrew Wilkie to David Kelly in the UK and the wife of former ambassador Wilson in the United States. I do not know the detail of those two matters and I do not particularly know Andrew Wilkie very well, either—I think I have met him once or perhaps twice. But the key issue at stake here is the whole question of governments pursuing individuals who have had the temerity to blow the whistle on them on the claims they make about national security when taking a government, a people and a country to war. That is what all of this is about.

When Andrew Wilkie resigned from the ONA back in March of this year, what happened in the innermost bowels of this government was that they unleashed the dogs of war on this individual. In public the Prime Minister was all peaches and cream, as he usually is, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs was all peaches and cream as well. They said: `Of course, it is wonderful that this fellow has done the right thing and resigned. He had a disagreement with us, but he has walked out into the snow and that is a jolly good show. Off he goes—no problem.' That was what was said in public. But what was happening in private at the time? At that very time, they unleashed the department of dirty tricks against Andrew Wilkie in a campaign of personal vilification against him as an individual.

Do not take our word for that, because, when the Prime Minister was recently asked about this matter in a question in this House, he confirmed that that had been the case. He confirmed that members of his own office had engaged in an act of personal vilification of Mr Wilkie for which the Prime Minister's office and his chief of staff subsequently had to apologise. Of course, it did not stop with this campaign of personal vilification; it goes much more broadly than that. It goes to the whole question of how you then go about destroying the public credibility of one of your critics. That is what this is all about.

We did not just have a whispering campaign about Andrew Wilkie the private person; we had the deliberate leaking of a national security document—a top-secret, code word AUSTEO document from Australia's premier intelligence agency—for one single opportunistic and partisan reason: to destroy the credibility of one of the government's critics. But, in doing so, those who did the deliberate leaking have, in all probability and potentiality, breached the Criminal Code and the Crimes Act. In this country, we take these matters seriously. At a very simple level, what is at stake here, when it comes to national security, is a system of government which has survived many decades in this country, whereby whoever occupies the treasury benches respects, and is custodian of, the national security documents of this country.

It is remarkable that, within this government, we have had someone—with whose authorisation we do not yet know—taking one of those documents and dropping it into the public domain, for one purely political and partisan purpose alone: to destroy Mr Wilkie's credibility. That is what has occurred in all of this. It is known by all those who sit opposite, by those in the intelligence community who are familiar with it, and by those in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who are familiar with it. In fact, the entire foreign policy establishment knows it, whatever the barking government backbenchers may say to the contrary.

Andrew Wilkie resigned in March and, for three months subsequent to that, had the temerity to take on the Howard government over the truthfulness of its claims on its policy on Iraq. As a result of that we had, some time in the lead-up to June this year, the leaking of the contents of that document to Andrew Bolt, the Melbourne journalist. We still do not know, 123 days later, the answer to the question: who did the leaking? The Prime Minister has said that he did not do it. The Prime Minister's office have said they did not do it. Which office has failed to provide such an uncategorical guarantee? Could it be the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs? Have we heard any clear-cut denial from the foreign minister?


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Griffith will address his comments through the chair.


Mr RUDD —Have we heard the foreign minister at any time say that he gives his office a clean bill of health? No. Have we had the foreign minister at any time saying that his office was not responsible for providing national security information to those who briefed Senator Macdonald? No. Have we had the foreign minister on any occasion saying that his office was not responsible for providing information from that document to Mr Bolt? No. This is quite remarkable. He was first confronted across the chamber with this question about a month ago. I asked him a pretty simple question:

Will the minister formally confirm to the parliament that neither he nor any member of his staff provided Mr Bolt with a copy of, a summary of or a briefing on the content of that report?

And what did we have by way of a foreign ministerial response? The visual draining of blood from the face, followed by silence, followed by a bleat: `I will cooperate fully with any police investigation.'

I am sure that gives you a lot of confidence. You would think that, if you were the foreign minister of Australia and your job was to have custodianship of national security documents, you would at least be able to come into parliament prepared to answer the basic question of whether you can give yourself and your own office a clean bill of health. But, no, he was not able to do that. Further, when this was taken up on Lateline last Thursday night—for those who watched it—again we had the same visible draining of blood from the face. In fact, it was almost a case of live on-air hyperventilation. Whenever the foreign minister is in difficulty, his voice rises, his breathing becomes more intense, the blood drains from his face and you know he is in trouble.

The question from Tony Jones on Lateline was an interesting one. He asked:

Can you state to us right now that to your knowledge no-one in your office passed on any such material?

He was referring to the report or the contents thereof. Mr Downer replied:

Well, look to the best of my knowledge no-one gave the document to Andrew Bolt.

Note that he said, `the document'. Tony Jones continued:

Or information related to the document, taken from the document in some detail and then passed on?

What did Mr Downer then do? He retreated to where they always retreat to. He said, of course, that it is subject to a police investigation, yadda, yadda, yadda. You would think, under these circumstances, that if the foreign minister knew that his hands were clean and that his officers' hands were clean he could simply say to Tony Jones on Lateline, and also to me across this table in parliament, that there is not a problem. The fact that he remained silent on it and simply ducks and weaves, demonstrates that there is a problem.

We had it again today in the question relating to Senator Macdonald. The foreign minister simply answered that, no, Senator Macdonald was not given a document. In answer to the follow-up question on whether Senator Macdonald had been given information based on the document, what did we have? We had `Foreign Ministerial Duck and Weave 101' yet again. Then, in response to the further question about Mr Bolt and where he got his information from, we again had duck and weave of the first order. I find it absolutely remarkable that a foreign minister can come into this parliament unprepared to answer such basic questions which go to the heart of his ability to discharge his functions as foreign minister.

Of course, volume 2 of this saga involves good old Sandy Macdonald. A lot of us know Sandy; Sandy is a good bloke.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Members should be referred to by the name of their seat.


Mr RUDD —Senator Macdonald is an exceptionally good bloke, but I have to say that, when it comes to this particular matter and the briefing he got from the minister's office, frankly, Sandy left a lot to be desired when it came to how he performed in the Senate inquiry.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Griffith has a short memory.


Mr RUDD —Can you picture them sitting in the minister's office getting the briefing? There are the advisers—the member for Flinders used to be one of them, and he is about to deliver the case for the defence in the absence of the foreign minister, who does not have the guts to present it himself—with Sandy, saying: `You have this inquiry coming up. We have Wilkie coming along. How are we going to destroy this individual's credibility? Sandy, here is the brief and here are the questions. On top of that, here is the rest of the briefing.'


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Members should be referred to by their position title.


Mr RUDD —The only problem was that Senator Macdonald got it rather wrong. When it got to the inquiry itself, he got the first question right because he had to indicate that he actually did not have possession of the contents of the ONA top-secret classified report. So the opening question got a tick from the advisers, because it was, `Could you confirm that you had written just one report on the question of Iraq?' That is a fair enough question, but then of course Senator Macdonald got carried away. His following question was:

Didn't your report suggest that Iraq could use chemical and biological weapons on its own people?

And then:

Did your report also suggest that there would be a mass panic of refugees who had fled his biological weapons, and that has turned out to be correct?

This is remarkable. Questions about the existence of a report are one thing, but this was quoting directly to Mr Wilkie, in the parliamentary inquiry, what were purported to be extracts from his report. And we are supposed to conclude here that Senator Macdonald did not have access to the contents of the report. What do you take us for—a bunch of unreconstructed dills?

This simply does not add up, and you know over there that it does not add up. Of course what all this is about at the end of the day is the truth—whether or not you are truthful with the Australian people and whether or not you continue to breach the trust of the Australian people. Everything reached its nadir today when we had the Minister for Foreign Affairs come in and his defence was to point to a press release of mine dated 13 March where I make three references to comments by Mr Wilkie. The foreign minister had the temerity to imply from the dispatch box that I may have somehow been quoting a national security document in my press release dated 13 March. What the foreign minister in this government—which is very loose with the truth, for whom the truth is a foreign country, in fact for whom the truth is an outer galaxy—did not tell the parliament was that those three references to Mr Wilkie were in fact contained explicitly in the Bulletin magazine of the day before. That was the source of my press release of 13 March. For the foreign minister, in a piece of adolescent university politics, to say, `We don't know whether you've had access to the top-secret, national security, code word AUSTEO document from ONA,' is an appalling, prejuvenile attempt to distract attention from his own culpability and that of his office in this matter.

As the office watches this through the in-house cameras—given that none of you are here and the minister does not have the guts to be here—confront yourselves with this very basic question: what is at stake here? What happened in the lead-up to the Iraq war was that one mistruth after another was told to the Australian people. The first mistruth—as stated by the Prime Minister on multiple occasions—was that Iraq at the time we went to war possessed stockpiles of ready-to-use chemical and biological weapons. That was the claim—not a research program, not a loose capability, not a capacity, but stockpiles of weapons capable of inflicting destruction. So far we have no evidence that that was the case.

We had the claim from the government that Iraq was importing uranium from Africa to reconstitute its nuclear program. That was not the case and the foreign minister had to admit as much in this parliament under questioning. We had the claim that attacking Iraq was necessary to reduce the terrorist threat. In fact they had in their possession a February 2003 British intelligence document which said it would increase the terrorist threat. They said to us prior to the war that attacking Iraq would reduce the possibility of WMD finding their way into the hands of terrorists. The British intelligence report of February this year said exactly the reverse. There was one mistruth after another. Why have they taken, like dogs of war, to the destruction of the character, professional standing and personal credibility of one man—namely, Andrew Wilkie? Because Andrew Wilkie, whatever his faults may be, has stood outside the tent and said, `You, government of Australia, have been wrong and untruthful in your dealings with the Australian people.' (Time expired)


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I call the Attorney-General.


Ms Roxon —The minister for truth overboard.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand will be dealt with.