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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 27074

Mr RUDD (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's answer to an earlier question on the time frame for our troop commitment in Iraq. Does the Prime Minister recall specifically being asked on 4 May 2003:

Do you see it—

that is, our troop commitment—

as months or years ...

Does the Prime Minister recall replying:

Well I certainly don't see it as years.

Given that it is now more than one year since the Australian troop deployment began, do you today still stand by your statement made last year on the duration of our ADF deployment that it should be months rather than years?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I am very happy to say it should not be years, but I am also very happy to point out to the member for Griffith that what he said in November of last year was commonsense, and I commend him for it. He had a clear-sighted understanding of the fact that it would be wrong to set an arbitrary deadline. What I have expressed concern about, and it is an important issue, is the clear setting by the Leader of the Opposition of an arbitrary deadline. I can understand, and I respect—and I mean this—the fact that the Labor Party holds a different view from what we do on our participation in Iraq. But, as the member for Griffith so effectively pointed out in November of last year, although he disagreed with us he accepted that as we were there we had responsibilities. We had to put our shoulders to the wheel. We had to work with the people of Iraq to build a better future. You do not do that by saying, `I'll have them home by Christmas if I am the Prime Minister.' The Leader of the Opposition cannot deny the fact that on the Mike Carlton program yesterday he said:

Well at the point of sovereign hand over to a new Iraq Government. ... there is a time table ...

He said that that might be:

pushed back a while, but our intention is to ensure that once the responsibility is discharged—

I agree with `once the responsibility has been discharged'—

and that is at the time of the hand over to the new sovereign Government in Iraq ...

That is 30 June. So what the Leader of the Opposition is saying is that our responsibilities, in his view, will be discharged by 30 June. Can I say to the Leader of the Opposition that that is manifestly wrong. You can be the most passionate opponent in the world of our involvement in Iraq and still acknowledge that we will be required to be in Iraq beyond 30 June. That is really the point that we are making to the Leader of the Opposition. Okay, oppose what we did in Iraq, but if you are serious about the rebuilding process do not set an arbitrary deadline for withdrawal. The Leader of the Opposition has done that, and nothing he says now, and nothing the member for Griffith says now, can alter the fact that he has locked a Labor government, if it wins—

The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith has asked his question.

Mr HOWARD —into bringing the troops home by December.

The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith now deliberately defies the chair.

Mr HOWARD —Not only is that unhelpful to the people of Iraq but it does send a very bad signal to the terrorists in Iraq and it sends a very bad signal to our allies. We may differ and quarrel about the extent of our relationship with the United States, but this moment in our history is not a time to be walking away from an alliance, a very important coalition association, with the United States. It is not the time to be talking about troop withdrawals. If we want to further build the confidence of the people of Iraq, we will go the distance—we will keep our shoulders to the wheel—because, once again, to use the words of the member for Griffith:

The alternative ... would be disastrous.

Mr Rudd —I seek leave to table the Prime Minister's statement of 4 May 2003 outlining his timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Leave granted.