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Thursday, 20 March 2003
Page: 9879

Senator BOLKUS (2:54 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In light of the damning indictment provided by ONA analyst Andrew Wilkie of this government's justification for joining in the US rush to war in Iraq, will the government now declassify and publicly release ONA advice to the government regarding the need to undertake the massive strikes that we are seeing on the population of Iraq? If the government refuses to do so in this instance, when it has released such material in the past, are we and the population of Australia not entitled to assume that this ONA advice contradicts the government's justification for blindly following the Bush administration into this pre-emptive war?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The Prime Minister has answered this question publicly, and he said that it was not his intention to declassify ONA information of this type. In relation to the mission, I simply remind Senator Bolkus that the international community as a whole has demanded the disarmament of Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction for over 12 years. For 12 years there has been an effort to peacefully disarm him and, after the failure of the diplomatic process, which is obviously a matter of regret to us all, there is no other alternative but to forcibly disarm him. Many countries, in fact over 40 countries, have already become part of the coalition of the willing to achieve that goal in the interests of the whole international community.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister once again to focus on the question and not to give the Senate empty rhetoric. I ask the minister: does the Howard government only release ONA advice when it believes that doing so is in the government's political interests, as in the `children overboard' affair? Again I ask: aren't we entitled to assume that this ONA advice does not suit the government's political interests in this case and therefore remains hidden from the public? Minister, isn't this the long-term damage the Howard government has wrought on the intelligence machinery of this country through such cynical misuse of intelligence product, as it did in the lead-up to the last election campaign?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I am sorry that Senator Bolkus does not seem to have understood my answer, which is that this is not just information given to the Australian government by its advisers; it is consistent with information given to so many governments by their advisers. The whole of the international community recognises that Saddam Hussein has these weapons of mass destruction and many countries now accept that there is no alternative but to forcibly disarm him. Therefore, it logically follows that the advice that they are receiving is consistent with the advice that Australia is receiving.