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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26767

Mr LATHAM (2:46 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Why won't the Prime Minister tell the people of Australia whether he or his office saw Commissioner Keelty's clarifying statement or any draft version of it prior to the statement being made publicly available on 16 March?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I have already indicated to the Leader of the Opposition that, in the ordinary workings of government, there are numerous communications necessarily of a confidential kind. The stance that I am taking on this is no different from the stance that has been taken by my predecessors on both sides of parliament. Where I do have an obligation to the Australian people is to tell them of the advice that comes to this government regarding threat assessments in relation to potential terrorist attacks.

I would refer the Leader to the Opposition again to his interview with Neil Mitchell which was conducted on 19 March, only a few days ago. In answer to a question from Neil Mitchell, this is what the Leader of the Opposition had to say:

I think the risk has been there since September 11.

If I may correct the Leader of the Opposition, according to our intelligence agencies the risk has in fact been there since before September 11. He goes on to say:

It's a new world. We had that horrific attack and Western nations are obviously part of this shocking campaign.

Then, importantly, Neil Mitchell asks a question:

But don't you think it's wound up a notch?

And this is what the Leader of the Opposition has to say:

Well, the threat has been there, to our knowledge, since September 11. In terms of the level of threat, that is something that is best left to our intelligence agencies passing on the information to government and with the alert system if need be passing it on to the Australian people.

Let me say that, on that issue, I totally agree with the Leader of the Opposition. We should rely on our intelligence agencies. I can tell the Leader of the Opposition and the Australian people that the position we have taken in relation to the threat levels to this country consequent upon our involvement in the war in Iraq has been entirely consistent with the advice that we have received from all of our agencies. None of the agencies—and this goes to the very kernel of what is important to the Australian people—have moved away from the advice that they gave last year that there was no need to lift the general level of threat as a result of our involvement in Iraq. If we received contrary advice, that advice would be made available immediately to the Australian people. The suggestion implicit in the Leader of the Opposition's question that I have in some way held back vital information from the Australian people is totally wrong.