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Monday, 2 June 2008
Page: 3942


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (2:01 PM) —by leave—I rise to inform the House that Australian combat troops have lowered the flag at the conclusion of their mission in southern Iraq. The government, in bringing this about, is delivering on its commitment to the Australian people to withdraw our combat troops from Iraq. The Overwatch Battle Group (West) and Australian Army Training Team Iraq formally ceased operations at a ceremony in Camp Terendak, Talil a few hours ago. Iraqi, American and British commanders publicly thanked Australia, and the Australian troops, for their contribution during Sunday’s ceremony.

Australia’s commitment to southern Iraq included the deployment of an infantry and cavalry battle group for more than three years and a dedicated training team for almost four years. The training team commitment commenced in July 2003 but began in earnest with the formation of the Australian Army Training Team—Iraq in October 2004. The Australian Defence Force deployed a task group to al-Muthanna province in April 2005, initially to work with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces. Later, the group transitioned to an overwatch role and began providing convoy escorts and security for reconstruction projects, as well as training and mentoring for the Iraqi security forces in al-Muthanna and Dhi Qar provinces in the second half of 2006.

A total of 3,700 Australian Defence Force personnel proudly served in the battle group and training team and thankfully, only six were wounded during this commitment. In addition, specialist training has been provided in logistics management, combat service support and, importantly, effective counter-insurgency operations. The Australian contribution to the Iraqi army’s Counter Insurgency Academy is one of the lasting legacies of our commitment. The success of recent Iraqi security operations in southern Iraq is in part thanks to the dedicated and professional role of this Australian training team.

Over the period of their commitment, our soldiers have faced and responded to multiple improvised explosive device, indirect- and direct-fire attacks. Australian infantry and cavalry soldiers have been courageous and resolute in response. Iraq remains a dangerous place—as recently as two weeks ago, an Australian soldier was seriously wounded in an improvised explosive device attack on an Australian armoured vehicle.

Australian forces have been especially recognised for the way they have been able to work so successfully with the local population in helping to improve their lives, including through the provision of about $9 million in funding for civil infrastructure projects such as redevelopment of schools, sanitation programs and enhancement of health facilities.

About 550 Australian Defence Force personnel are now preparing to—or are in the process of—withdrawing from Iraq. They have performed their mission superbly in a complex, dangerous and unpredictable environment. In the great tradition of the Australia Defence Force, they have responded with absolute professionalism to the demands of the democratically elected government of the day in Australia and discharged their mission with distinction.

However, this withdrawal does not signal an end to the Australian Defence Force’s mission. Australian Defence Force personnel will, of course, continue to support the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Iraq through a variety of important roles:

  • the Royal Australian Navy will continue maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf, guarding oil platforms crucial to Iraq’s economy—part of a continuing Australian naval presence in the Gulf going back to the first Gulf War;
  • the Royal Australian Air Force will support the coalition through vital transport, sustainment and maritime patrol tasks;
  • the Australian Army will protect Australian diplomats, other civilian staff and senior visitors to Baghdad; and
  • the Australian Defence Force will also maintain headquarters, logistics and embedded support elements.

The Australian Defence Force will continue operations elsewhere in the Middle East Area of Operations—in particular in support of our operations in Afghanistan.

The decision to go to war in Iraq

Notwithstanding our government’s pride and appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our troops in Iraq, we on this side of the House did not support the decision to go to war. I presented the reasons for our opposition to the decision to go to war back in March 2003, as the then shadow foreign minister. Nor did we support the decision of the previous government to abandon its commitment prior to the 2004 election of no additional troops to Iraq and after the election to then send a further 450 troops to Iraq. The former Prime Minister presented four reasons in explaining his decision to go to war:

  • to prevent further terrorist attacks;
  • to prevent Iraq giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists;
  • to prevent other rogue states giving weapons of mass destruction to terrorists; and
  • to put an end to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

On every count we on this side of the House rejected these arguments then, as we continue to reject them now. Have further terrorist attacks been prevented? No, they have not been, as the victims of the Madrid train bombing will attest. Has any evidence of a link between weapons of mass destruction and the former Iraqi regime and terrorists been found? No. Have the actions of rogue states like Iran been moderated? No.

We are now informed that Syria has been building a nuclear capacity with North Korean assistance. Those reports remain to be fully conformed. And Iran’s nuclear ambitions remain a fundamental challenge. After five years, has the humanitarian crisis in Iraq been removed? No, it has not.

Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence—for example, the pre-war warning that an attack on Iraq would increase the terrorist threat, not decrease it—and a view that our alliance with the United States mandated our military participation in the invasion.

Our alliance with the United States is the first of the three pillars of our foreign policy. As I have said in previous parliamentary debate:

I come to this debate as a longstanding and passionate supporter of the US alliance, an alliance formed by Labor in 1941, an alliance that has delivered great benefit to this nation, to the region and to the world, and an alliance that continues to deliver great benefit ...

That is why at the time it caused me great pain as a longstanding friend of America to fundamentally part company with this administration’s policy on Iraq and the policy of global military pre-emption on which that policy was based.

This analysis is not unique to the Australian Labor Party. It is shared by many people of goodwill throughout the world, by many allies of the United States and by many who continue to see, as we do, the United States as overwhelmingly a force for good in the world.

I have said before and I will say again: this government does not believe that our alliance with the United States mandates automatic compliance with every element of United States foreign policy. Notwithstanding our opposition to this war, the government has consulted closely with the United States and our other partners in withdrawing our combat forces from Iraq both prior to the election and subsequent to the election. Such a process of consultation is the responsible course of action of any ally.

Intelligence on WMD

Mr Speaker, we must learn from Australia’s experience in the lead-up to going to war with Iraq and not repeat the same mistakes in the future. The decision to go to war was taken without a full and proper assessment by the government of its consequences. A decision to commit Australian forces to such a fundamental course of action as going to war must involve a careful and deliberate assessment by government on the basis of the most rigorous assessment by the intelligence agencies and government departments of the consequences of such an action. This was not done.

In 2004 the former head of the Office of National Assessments was appointed to review the conduct of the Australian intelligence community in the lead-up to the war. He found that the lack of a national assessment or a formal intelligence estimate about Iraq and the implications of war ‘was regrettable’. It was particularly regrettable because we now know that the decision to go to war was based on flawed intelligence.

In 2003, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Defence Signals Directorate made the following finding:

There was an expectation created prior to the war that actual weapons of mass destruction would be found and found in sufficient quantities to pose a clear and present danger requiring immediate pre-emptive action.

After initial military operations, it became evident that Iraq had not reconstituted its weapons of mass destruction program. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) concluded that there was no evidence to suggest concerted efforts by Iraq to restart its nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs.

The Australian intelligence community, along with the international community, failed to judge accurately the extent and nature of Iraq’s WMD programs. The previous government’s own inquiry made the following finding:

There has been a failure of intelligence on Iraq WMD. Intelligence was thin, ambiguous and incomplete. Australia shared in the allied intelligence failure on the key question of WMD stockpiles ...

The government will continue to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the various inquiries commissioned by the previous government. The Australian government relies on the Australian intelligence community to prepare fully independent, professional and unbiased assessments. To do so, the intelligence community must be appropriately resourced. It must also be appropriately coordinated. And, on something as crucial as going to war, it should not simply be delivered with a pre-determined political decision.

We will continue to review and make adjustments to our intelligence arrangements, as and when required, to ensure the Australian government is always supported by the best possible intelligence. These agencies are a frontline in our nation’s defence.

The consequences of the decision to go to war

Mr Speaker, the decision to go to war has had a number of consequences for the nation:

  • The precedent created at international law;
  • The cost to Australia and Australians;
  • The suffering of Iraqi civilians; and
  • The obligations we have incurred to help post-war reconstruction.

The former government said that its actions in Iraq were justified under international law. We on this side of the House challenged the impact that the decision to go to war had on the integrity of the international system. Adherence to international law offers us great opportunities for a stable, global rules based order. Australia has a strong interest in those rules being upheld, as a middle power. In fact, Australia helped shape these rules back in 1945.

The UN Charter recognises two legal justifications for the use of force:

  • firstly, Article 42 of the UN Charter, which indicates that you can act together with other states once the action has been explicitly authorised by the United Nations Security Council—this did not happen in the case of Iraq; and
  • secondly, Article 51, which is about the right to self-defence—nor did that apply in the case of Iraq.

There is a further emerging principle surrounding the debate on the responsibility to protect, but that too in the current debate is centred again on the deliberations of the council.

Australia has to be very mindful of new precedents being established at international law and practice which justify the invasion of one state by another in the absence of any reference to these principles.

The cost of the war in Iraq

Thankfully, no Australian Defence Force personnel have been killed in action in Iraq since the commencement of operations in 2003. We offer genuine thanks for that. However, sadly, the Australian Defence Force has suffered two non-battle deaths:

  • Warrant Officer Class 2 Dave Nary, of the Special Air Service Regiment, was killed while undertaking battle preparation for a protective security task in the area of operations on 6 November 2005; and
  • Private Jake Kovco, serving with the embassy security detachment, died in a firearm incident on 21 April 2006 in Baghdad.

About 27 Australian Defence Force personnel have been physically wounded in Iraq.

The government is determined to ensure that those service personnel who have suffered from their service, and their families, are appropriately cared for. They deserve nothing less. The consequences of a decision to go to war are never simple, without suffering or without expense. In a financial sense, the net additional cost of our military commitment to the war in Iraq since 2003 has been $2.314 billion. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths that have occurred as a result of the war vary greatly. There is no ‘official’ statistic. The UK based Iraq Body Count currently estimates civilian deaths at between 84,000 and 91,000. Other figures range from 50,000 to more than half a million. Saddam Hussein led a regime that was brutal, repressive and murderous.

Despite recent successes, the Iraqi government, the coalition and the international community continue to confront significant challenges in providing the economic, security and humanitarian circumstances that the Iraqi people deserve. This is where our efforts must now turn, and our presence there now, in contrast to our initial commitment to the war, has clear international legal authority. That presence is at the request of the government of Iraq and has also been authorised by successive UN Security Council resolutions adopted since the conflict commenced.

Australia will remain a friend to the Iraqi people for the long term in the postwar reconstruction of their country. Even if we disagreed with the decision to go to war, we will continue to discharge our responsibilities to aid that reconstruction. Our responsibilities to help the people of Iraq come about from the various UN resolutions on Iraq and our role as one of the initial countries to participate in the invasion. These responsibilities cannot be handed off to another power. In committing to the war, Australia also committed to the reconstruction. This will be a long-term project requiring the assistance of many countries over an extended period of time and, equally importantly, it will require the commitment and goodwill of all Iraqis, particularly Iraq’s leaders.

Where to now?

The 2008-09 budget provided a significantly expanded Australian program of assistance to Iraq. Total development assistance will increase to $313.4 million, including: first, the provision of a third and final tranche of debt relief of $238 million; second, an expanded program of assistance through AusAID of $60 million; third, $10 million to support Iraqi refugees, provided by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; and, fourth, $5 million to increase police capacity building by the Australian Federal Police.

The AusAID program will be focused on key sectors which will contribute to progress against the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. In the first year, one-third of the program—$20 million—will be directed towards humanitarian relief. This will enable Australia to make a more significant contribution to international relief efforts, with an emphasis on vulnerable women and children.

Food insecurity remains a critical problem for the Iraqi population. We will make an additional food aid contribution this year, which will complement Australia’s work in the agricultural sector and will be in partnership with the World Food Program and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. The remaining program will include reconstruction and support of infrastructure including better water, better sanitation and rural development. Importantly, it will also include building the capacity within Iraqi institutions. We will continue to support the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance.

When I was in Baghdad just before Christmas last year, I offered to assist the Iraqi agriculture sector through 100 agriculture scholarships for training in Australia. This was in direct response to a request from my Iraqi counterpart when I simply asked him, ‘How can we help for the future?’ The first Iraqi students in this program are due to commence language training later this year and postgraduate studies in January 2009.

National security decision-making processes

Australia’s commitment in recent years to a wide range of military operations, in places as diverse as East Timor, the Solomons, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Sudan, are a reminder of the breadth of our engagement and the complexity and the danger of the world in which we live. They also remind us, as a government, that we must be clear and rigorous in our understanding of the national interests which might lead us to commit military forces to such an operation, because there is no more fundamental decision a government can make than taking Australia to war.

Getting our national security right is the first responsibility of any government. Our government is committed to ensuring that our national security arrangements are focused, coordinated and effective and that the actions of government are accountable. To that end, the government is preparing Australia’s first national security statement, which we will soon present to the parliament. It will set out a broad, comprehensive and integrated approach to our national security—an approach capable of meeting the breadth and complexity of the security challenges that our nation will face in the 21st century.

We live in a complex, highly connected and changing world, which holds great opportunities, equally great challenges and some threats for Australia. National security spans many strands of government, industry and the community. We must ensure that all the necessary sinews of this country are harnessed and coordinated to produce the most appropriate, affordable and effective national security preparations possible. Australia must also play an active, positive and energetic role in the affairs of the world and the affairs of our own region—and, where our interests are engaged, we will continue to work with allies and partners to prevent or respond to threats that undermine our national security or our collective security.

To ensure that the Commonwealth’s domestic security arrangements are as effective as possible, upon taking office the government commissioned the former Secretary of Defence to examine the better coordination of our national security arrangements. That report will be presented next month. We are also well underway with the preparation of a new Defence white paper. The white paper will take a comprehensive look at our strategic interests, our military and defence capabilities, and the arrangements we have in place to build and sustain a modern, capable Australian Defence Force. We are determined that the Australian Defence Force will remain a force able to protect Australia, and Australia’s interests, well into the future. That is why the government has committed to the forward provision of a three per cent real increase on average per annum for Defence out to 2018.

In combination, the National Security Statement, the Defence white paper and the review of Australia’s national security decision-making processes will establish the foundation for the pursuit of Australia’s long-term national interests.

Conclusion

Australian troops comprising Overwatch Battle Group West ceased formal operations on 1 June, and the last of our combat troops are scheduled to depart Iraq by the middle of June. They have performed magnificently in a difficult and dangerous environment and fully achieved the mission they were assigned in the finest traditions of the Australian military.

But Australia’s commitment to Iraq does not end with the departure of our combat troops. We will continue to help the people of Iraq rebuild their country in the difficult decade that lies ahead. And we will continue to work in this effort with our partners, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and the United Nations and the international community more generally. Our aim is to build a relationship with Iraq anchored in economic, training and humanitarian initiatives to help the people of Iraq so bloodied by this war and their recent history to stand on their own two feet.

Mr Speaker, I salute the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, who once again have done this nation proud. The nation will have the opportunity to salute them in an official welcome home parade later this month. We commend their service to the House and the nation.


Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I draw your attention to whether the member for Mayo was in fact in breach of standing order 91(f) for most of the Prime Minister’s statement to the House.