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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26760

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (2:17 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the situation in Iraq one year on from the start of coalition operations against Saddam Hussein's regime? Are there any alternative views?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Maranoa for his question and for his interest. I know that his question reflects the interest of his constituents in this issue. The Australian government was right to take action against Iraq's persistent breaches of Security Council resolutions—in particular, the Security Council resolution 1441 that was passed unanimously in November of 2002. Military action was the only way of ensuring that Saddam's regime was disarmed, as the former head of the Iraq Survey Group David Kay has made perfectly clear. To quote Dr Kay, who was the head of the Iraq Survey Group until fairly recently, the Iraq Survey Group `learned things that no UN inspector would have ever learned given the terror regime of Saddam'. He went on to say, `Iraq was in clear material violation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1441.'

We are proud of the role we played in removing a brutal dictator—a man who we have discovered was responsible for some 270 mass graves containing between 300,000 and 400,000 remains; a man who sponsored terrorist organisations like the Mujaheddin-e Khalq and the Palestinian Liberation Front. Many members will be aware that Saddam Hussein's regime used to provide $US25,000 to the families of suicide bombers.

Those who think it was a mistake to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein must consider what the alternative reality would heave been. His regime would have still been in power with its record of torture, rape rooms and murder, with his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction—the fact that he had used these weapons against his own people, the fact that he obviously maintained weapons of mass destruction activities when they were barred by the United Nations Security Council. I do not think we would have secured the counterproliferation achievements that have been achieved in relation to Libya's abandonment of weapons of mass destruction, nor Iran and North Korea's increased cooperation with the international community.

Let me also say, for those who support the American alliance, a strong international voice in the world, a backdown in early 2003 would have, of course, substantially weakened the authority and credibility of America and its allies. But, more than that, it would have weakened the United Nations very substantially. It would have shown that United Nations Security Council resolutions—including chapter 7 resolutions, which are mandatory resolutions—were but debating points and nothing more.

As I said, this government is proud of the role Australia and our defence forces played in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. There will be much debate about this, no doubt, in Australia and the international community from now until the end of time. I think that, ultimately, there is one group of people whose views ought to be taken into account over and above our own. Those people are the people of Iraq. I do not think we should ignore them. And I think it is worth reflecting that not only are Iraqis glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein's regime but a recent opinion poll commissioned by the BBC and conducted by Oxford Research International found that 70 per cent of Iraqis are optimistic that life is going to improve for them over the next year. Whatever we think in this country and whatever we say in this country, whatever arguments we may put in this country, let us not forget that the people who will be the ultimate arbiters of this issue—the Iraqi people themselves—are overwhelmingly delighted that we got rid of that brutal dictator and they look to the future with an optimism that they could never have had under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.