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Tuesday, 25 May 2004
Page: 28954


Mr LINDSAY (2:10 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of the purpose of his visit next week to the United States, the United Kingdom and France?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Herbert for that question. As the House is aware, I will be visiting next week the United States and after that going on to the United Kingdom and briefly to France to join the 60th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day landing. When in Washington, as well as meeting President Bush and other members of the administration, I will have the opportunity—

Honourable members interjecting


The SPEAKER —I expected, when the Leader of the Opposition asked his question, that he would be heard in silence. Precisely the same courtesy will be extended to the Prime Minister.


Mr HOWARD —As well as conferring with President Bush and other members of the administration, I would hope to have a wide range of political contacts. I will also have the opportunity of meeting senior Republican and Democrat senators, congressmen and key business leaders to further advance the case for the American Congress to ratify the free trade agreement. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition is nodding. I hope that connotes that the Labor Party may be moving towards supporting the free trade agreement. In addition to those discussions in Washington, I will on the way over to Washington call on the Governor of California.


Mr Melham —It's Twins again!


The SPEAKER —The member for Banks will be dealt with shortly!


Mr HOWARD —I will be accompanied by Mr Don Argus, who is the Chairman of BHP Billiton. The purpose of this call is to join BHP Billiton—and I will be accompanied, as I said, by Mr Argus and senior executives of the company—to lobby for the company's bid to develop an offshore terminal to permit Australian LNG to be supplied to southern California.

This terminal in itself, and its associated upstream facilities, is a project that is worth several billion dollars. If this project can be won for Australia, it will be an enormous additional export victory for this country and it will add increasingly to the export earnings of the natural gas and resource sector. The terminal in itself, with its associated upstream facilities, is a project worth several billion dollars. The associated gas supply from the gas fields off the Western Australian coast would last over several decades and would be worth billions of dollars more to the Australian economy. The value of these deals to the Australian economy, if they can be achieved, would be worth about $15 billion.

As the House is aware—certainly those on this side of the House are aware—when it comes to winning many of these major resource contracts, cooperative effort between the government and business leaders is necessary. Just as the involvement of senior members of the government was instrumental in winning the LNG contract with Guangdong province in China, so it is that the association of the government with BHP Billiton's effort—and there are quite a number of competitors and the company has no more than an even money chance of winning the contract—is important. It is important that the voice of the government be the same as the voice of BHP Billiton. I will be promoting the Australian national interest. I would have thought that the purpose of prime ministers going overseas was to promote the national interest of the country.

I also would have thought that it would have been in the national interest of this country for the alternative Prime Minister to feel able to visit Washington. But apparently the alternative Prime Minister of this country felt unable to visit Washington because he would not receive much of a welcome. That is a matter that the alternative Prime Minister of Australia will have to deal with. But, as for the rather phoney excuse that we were about to have an election, as I have said on numerous occasions, I can promise the Leader of the Opposition that we are not going to have an election in June.

I will be looking after the interests of Australian companies and the Australian national interest. After visiting Washington I will, as I said, have a meeting with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in London and then attend the commemorative celebrations for the D-Day landing in France the next day.

While I am on my feet could I just say that, inevitably, the issue of Iraq will come up during the time that I will be in Washington. Can I take this opportunity of welcoming the speech that was made by President Bush earlier today, setting out in greater detail the goals of the United States and the coalition in relation to Iraq. I take this opportunity of repeating—particularly in the context of some opinion polls that reflect current Australian opinion on our participation in Iraq—that this government has absolutely no intention of altering its position in relation to being part of the coalition in Iraq. We did not enter the coalition on the basis of opinion polls last year and we have absolutely no intention, on the basis of opinion polls, of altering our position at the present time.

I would remind the House and, through the House, I would remind the Australian people that the policy of the Labor Party is not that Australia should leave Iraq in December; the policy of the Labor Party is that Australia should leave Iraq immediately after 30 June. In the current context of what is occurring in Iraq, nothing could be more calculated to encourage anarchy and further bloodshed. What Iraq needs after the handover of sovereignty is the continued presence, at the request and with the consent of the Iraqi people, of international forces.

However much the Leader of the Opposition may argue, `We're effectively arguing for troops to come out by December'—because that is based on his not unreasonable calculation that he cannot pull them out unless there is a change of government and, for practical purposes, that would not be until December of this year at the earliest—it is very interesting, when you analyse what he said and what the member for Griffith has said, that what they are advocating as a matter of policy is that we should go after the handover. I cannot imagine anything which is more irresponsible and more calculated. If that advice were taken by others, I think that would condemn Iraq to a very, very dangerous future.

So let me take the opportunity of saying to the House again that this government did not decide that Australia should join the coalition of the willing as a result of an opinion poll and, equally, we have no intention of changing our position on the basis of an opinion poll.