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Tuesday, 13 February 2007
Page: 1


Mr McCLELLAND (2:01 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Does he stand by his view that the member for Moore brings some common sense to this parliament? In relation to the Prime Minister’s recent comment on Iraq, on reflection, does he now share the member for Moore’s common-sense view that ‘spreading it to the Democrats wasn’t probably such a good idea’?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I think all of my colleagues bring common sense into the parliament. That is my view about the member for Moore. This morning I have been caught rather more by some remarks made by somebody else—namely, the Leader of the Opposition. It is very important that everybody listens to this. The Leader of the Opposition was twice asked this morning on News Radio by Marius Benson what he thought would be the consequences of an American withdrawal from Iraq. It was hardly an irrelevant question. The debate of the last 72 hours has been all about the future of Iraq and the consequences of an American withdrawal. He was asked by Marius Benson the very direct question:

If the United States did withdraw all its troops from Iraq—


Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The direct question was actually asked of the Prime Minister—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member will come to his point of order.


Mr Albanese —Under standing order 104, could you ask him to answer the question.


The SPEAKER —The member will resume his seat. The Prime Minister was asked about some comments that were made. He is entirely in order.


Mr HOWARD —The question was very direct and very simple:

If the United States did withdraw all its troops from Iraq as Barack Obama advocates, what do you think would happen in Iraq?

That is a very simple question. It is a very direct question. It goes very directly to what we are debating. What was the reply of the Leader of the Opposition? Typically, he cut and ran. Listen to his answer. He was asked what he thought would happen and this is what he had to say:

On the question of the future direction of US military strategy in Iraq, like Mr Downer my role is not to provide a rolling commentary on the merits or otherwise of twists and turns in the US military debate.


Mr Kelvin Thomson —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister was asked whether he shares the member for Moore’s—


The SPEAKER —The member for Wills will come to his point of order.


Mr Kelvin Thomson —I ask you to draw him back to the question he was asked, which was about the statements made by the member for Moore.


The SPEAKER —The member for Wills will resume his seat. The Prime Minister was asked a question and he is very much in order. His answer is relevant to the subject of the question.


Mr HOWARD —The Leader of the Opposition was asked yet again what he advocates in relation to withdrawing troops from Iraq and what he thought the consequences of that would be. The Leader of the Opposition replied:

No, what I’m an advocate of is to withdraw the Australian combat component ...

We know that. We have known that for several years, but what we do not know is what the Leader of the Opposition believes would be the consequence of a coalition withdrawal by March 2008. Over the last day and a half I have been attacked and lacerated by the opposition for expressing my view, but the Leader of the Opposition does not have the guts to express his. I want to know what the opposition believes. I would like to know—


Mr Fitzgibbon —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. When the Prime Minister’s Minister for Defence was asked the same question last night he said it was too hypothetical—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Hunter will resume his seat.


Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: this is clearly orchestrated disruption and an abuse of standing orders. It is orchestrated by the Leader of the Opposition and it must be dealt with.


The SPEAKER —The point of order was a question of relevance, if I heard the member for Hunter correctly. The Prime Minister is clearly in order. He is responding in part to comments made by the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr HOWARD —The debate here in Australia over the last two days has centrally been about what would happen in Iraq if coalition forces were withdrawn, what would happen to the cause of terrorism in the Middle East and what the security consequences for Australia would be.

We have the extraordinary situation where I am attacked because I have had the courage to express my views on the consequences of that. The Leader of the Opposition, in typical fashion, is trying to maintain an attack on us without having the courage to express his views as to what would happen if coalition forces were to withdraw in March next year. That is the central security issue. The reason the Leader of the Opposition is remaining silent is, I suspect, that he knows in his heart that the real answer to that question is the same as the one that I have given, and that is that Iraq would descend into chaos and terrorists around the world would be emboldened. The Leader of the Opposition was twice asked this morning, ‘What do you think will happen if coalition forces are withdrawn from Iraq in March 2008?’ and on both occasions the Leader of the Opposition did not have the courage to tell the Australian people what I have told the Australian people to be my belief. That is the central issue in this debate. It has got nothing to do with individuals in another election campaign; it has everything to do with the future of Iraq—


Ms King interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Ballarat is warned!


Mr HOWARD —and the central security issue facing this country. I have told the Australian people where I stand. Why won’t the Leader of the Opposition do the same?