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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 76

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Following yesterday’s good news, will the Prime Minister provide an update on the wellbeing of Mr Douglas Wood? Can the Prime Minister provide any further details regarding Mr Wood’s rescue? Can the Prime Minister reveal any government plans to recognise those who contributed to securing Mr Wood’s freedom?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Can I start by apologising to the House for being a little delayed; I was speaking on the phone to the Iraqi Prime Minister when question time began. This provided me with an opportunity, on behalf of all Australians, to convey our great gratitude to his government, to the brave people of Iraq and, in particular, to the military forces of Iraq. It was a detachment of the Second Battalion, 1st Iraqi Army Brigade—supported, I believe, by force elements of the United States—that effected the military rescue and recovery of Mr Wood. Another Iraqi hostage was also released and two insurgents were arrested.

I very warmly welcome the fact—and I know that all members of the House will equally welcome the fact—that this rescue was accomplished by the Iraqi forces. What that says is that evidence is building of growing competence and capacity on the part of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi security forces. Whatever views people may have about the coalition operation in Iraq, we are surely united in the desire to see a free, independent and democratic Iraq. Strong security and military forces are indispensable to a free, independent and democratic Iraq.

Along with the Foreign Minister, I had the opportunity this morning after the news conference of having morning tea with Mr Wood’s family, a very impressive group of Australians—a group of men and women who care for their brother and brother-in-law and uncle but also understood what was involved. I want to say again that the strength, the dignity and the resolve of the Wood family have been an inspiration to everybody associated with this event. I again record my thanks to them.

The best advice I have is that, notwithstanding his current ailments, which have been documented in the past, Mr Wood is in a reasonably good physical condition. As to whether there will be any lasting psychological impacts, I am in no professional position to comment and am not in receipt of any advice in relation to that. He has clearly been through a traumatic experience and one that has come the way of only few people.

This is a remarkable event. I think perhaps only two or three out of the several thousand people who have been taken hostage in Iraq have been rescued. That is amazing. All of us can find whatever expression we want—whether he has a guardian angel, whether it is just sheer good luck or however we describe it—but it is a remarkable thing. Do not forget that he was rescued by the military forces of free Iraq. That is very significant.

The Leader of the Opposition has asked me about recognition. Specifically, attention has not been given to that. Generally, yes, it will be. There are many people to be recognised. I think, for persistence of effort, pride of place—apart, of course, from Mr Wood’s family—must go to Mr Nick Warner, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the head of the emergency task group that was sent within 24 hours to Baghdad. They worked in very close professional harmony with the Americans and also with the Iraqi forces.

I again record my thanks to members of the Islamic community of Australia for the compassion and support that they displayed. This was a united Australia trying to achieve the freedom of one of our fellow countrymen. That was a message that went around the world. It is also a reminder that countries should not give in when extortionate demands are made. It is a reminder of the importance of the resolve that was displayed on that particular score. As to the greater details of the operation, as more information is available either the Minister for Foreign Affairs or I, consistent with any operational considerations, will make that information available.

In my conversation with the Prime Minister of Iraq, he indicated to me a growing confidence in the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to deal with the security situation in his country. He took the opportunity of expressing his gratitude for the ongoing support of the Australian forces in Iraq, and I assured him on behalf of the government that those forces would remain in his country until their job was completed.