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Thursday, 20 March 2003
Page: 9868

Senator CARR (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. Can the minister confirm that overnight the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said that today was `a sad day for the United Nations'? Can the minister also confirm that Hans Blix has said that it was `not reasonable to close the door to inspections after 3½ months' and that the use of force to disarm Iraq was `a disaster'? Given these statements, why was the government so eager to agree to the US request to join its attack on Iraq, responding within hours of receiving a phone call from George Bush? Don't the comments from Hans Blix and Kofi Annan make it clear that we had not reached the end of the inspection process and that there remained the chance that war could have been avoided?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I agree that it is a sad day for the UN because it is a demonstration of failure by the UN—a failure by the Security Council to meet its responsibility in providing international security on a collaborative basis. It is the Security Council's responsibility to enforce the resolutions that it has passed over 12 years—some 18 separate resolutions—but it has failed to do just that. As a result of that failure, certain nations that feel under threat have had no alternative but to take action, pursuant to resolutions, to disarm Saddam Hussein. So, yes, I do not think it is a good day for the United Nations. It sends a message to the Security Council and, in particular, the permanent five of the Security Council that they must look carefully at their international responsibility and make efforts in the future to ensure that the process and responsibility of the Security Council is properly met.

In relation to the second point of the question—that inspections have now been going on for just a few months and why were they not given more time—that fails to recognise that this process has been in train for over 12 years. Inspectors were, in effect, thrown out some four years ago. Inspectors were only finally admitted because of the projection of force by the United States, Britain and Australia. There is no willingness on the part of Saddam Hussein to meet the obligations of the Security Council at all. While there has been no willingness by him to meet those obligations he was never going to give confidence to the international community that his weapons program would be abandoned and that the weapons that he has—the weapons of mass destruction and chemical and biological weapons—would be destroyed. The point is that we have come to this because of a recognition, after 12 years of effort to achieve a peaceful resolution, that it will not work and that there is no alternative—if one wishes to disarm Saddam Hussein in accordance with what has been accepted as necessary by the international community—but to do it forcibly. It is regretful, yes, but there is no alternative if the objective of disarmament of his weapons of mass destruction is to be achieved.

Senator CARR —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It is quite clear that the UN Secretary-General and Hans Blix clearly thought that there was an alternative. How does the Howard government respond to Kofi Annan's statement that the war `could only make things worse—perhaps much worse' for the people of Iraq and that everything must now be done `to mitigate that imminent disaster, which could easily lead to epidemics and starvation'? Precisely what will Australia be doing to alleviate the terrible consequences of this war?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As I said yesterday, there is always a cost of war. That is why war is certainly not the preferable option. War is a last resort. We recognise that there will be suffering arising out of war, but we put that to the background of the suffering over the last 25 years of the innocent Iraqi people—men, women and children—who have lost their lives or have suffered in so many ways. We put it to the background of what is likely to happen to them in the future, because this is a dictator that has form. What Senator Carr does not seem to recognise is that the whole world—with perhaps the exception of Senator Carr—recognises that this is a brutal dictator who abuses his own people and abuses his neighbours. If his behaviour towards his own people is accepted, are we going to permit that brutality to continue indefinitely? After 12 years of trying to peacefully disarm him there comes a time—(Time expired)