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Tuesday, 30 March 2004
Page: 27551


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (2:39 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House how Australia's contribution of defence personnel to the Iraq theatre is serving Australia's national interests, and are there any alternative views?


Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for Maranoa for his question and note his very real interest in this, particularly in view of his role in the past as a minister for veterans' affairs and defence personnel. The ADF is plainly playing key roles in advancing Australia's and Iraq's national interests—and, I would think, the interests of peace loving people everywhere—through its involvement in Iraq at the moment. For example, the security detail is enabling the Australian Representative Office to perform vital representative work of a commercial and political nature in the Coalition Provisional Authority and, indeed, among new Iraqi leaders. The ADF is providing vital support for coalition and Iraqi efforts to stabilise Iraq against terror threats—and think of the very important work that is being carried out by our air traffic control operators over there, for example, and also through the training for the new Iraqi army.

I think the broader point should also be made that they are making a very valuable contribution to the broader war against terrorism in the Middle East through the activities of the HMASMelbourne, the P3 Orions and the various staff in the region. Iraqi leadership is overwhelmingly positive about Australia's role. They tell us and our representatives that they appreciate what we are doing. They offer their thanks. They say, `We still need you.' They also say that they will not forget what we are doing for them. Quite frankly, to pull out straight after Madrid, with the job not done, is nothing less than a slap in the face for the Iraqi people. It also sends a message to terrorists that we can be intimidated and that we will change course if they behave in certain ways.

I am asked about alternative views. I have to say that it is well known that the Leader of the Opposition's policy is in total confusion since the Madrid bombing. His rationale given on the Today show on the 25th of this month was:

... we are going to be much safer as a nation if we have our troops here instead of on the other side of the world.

I think we have understood for the last 100-plus years that very often our security at home can be well and truly advanced by our being active in other theatres, often at opposite corners of the globe. But at the very least, in terms of what is happening in the world today, he fails to understand in these remarks how Australia's ADF presence overseas in Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands is vital to Australia's national security. These matters of national security are, quite frankly, far too important for policy on the run. The Leader of the Opposition shows inexperience, weakness and a poor understanding of Australia's interests and society. I note with some interest that the Leader of the Opposition has a flyer that has been distributed in quite a few electorates. It says:

Mark Latham: A New Style of Leader.

I am quoting:

It's a shame, but some politicians seem reluctant to talk to real people, but I want to hear your views, not from advisers or pollsters—

or shadow cabinets—

but straight from you.

The Leader of the Opposition says he will not be poll driven—and in this case he probably was not, because if he had been poll driven, if he had gone out there before the event, he would have established that the Australian people feel the job should be finished. However, very interestingly—and I am indebted to a Nationals staffer who was in Sydney last weekend and was quick enough to realise he was being polled—it appears that the Labor Party went out after this decision to establish, by polling, what the Australian people thought about it, to clean up after the mess. Anyway, our staffer was quick enough, when he was rung on the weekend by ANOP, to grab a pen and paper and take down the questions as they were asked. There are about three pages of them. It was very long. They had all the routine questions about how you vote and what you think of the various leaders around the place, but then Labor's pollsters got to the real topic that they wanted to test, and our staffer was asked if he agreed or disagreed with the following statements. Firstly:

The Australian troops in Iraq should be withdrawn before Christmas.

Secondly:

If the Australian troops are withdrawn from Iraq it will damage the ANZUS alliance.

Thirdly:

The troops are needed more at home to protect Australia than they are in Iraq.

Fourthly:

We should leave troops in Iraq for an extended period if the United States asks us.

But then we got to key question—the question they really wanted an answer to:

Does Mark Latham's stance on the troops in Iraq make you more or less likely to vote for the ALP?

You should not make policy like this on the run; you ought to make policy like this in the national interest.