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Thursday, 27 November 2003
Page: 18202


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:09 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Does the minister recall his statement on 18 November that the Australian government had `underestimated' the security problems that would arise in Iraq at the cessation of formal hostilities? Given the Howard government's early commitment to the coalition of the willing, what specific plans did the government develop for its participation in the occupation of postwar Iraq? What specific actions did these plans recommend for the maintenance of security in Iraq, including Australia's role?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I think what I would have said was that, in my view, the coalition underestimated some of the security problems that might arise after Saddam Hussein was removed from office. I probably also said that obviously it was difficult to appreciate the full circumstances which would flow from events because the way in which those events were to flow was not known, the extent to which the Baathists were removed would not be known, the full ramification of Islamic extremists would not be known and how the various Shiah factions and their leadership would behave was not known. Many factors were difficult to predict. Having said that, the coalition parties, both before the conflict and during the conflict, nevertheless did put in place plans that would flow from Saddam Hussein's removal.

Senator Faulkner will recall the steps that were taken immediately after the conflict in establishing what came to be the Iraqi governing council; what came to be the coalition provisional authority—although that was via another body—and what has come to be in the establishment of ministries, the training of the new Iraqi army, the training of the new police force and the training of other security organs within the country. So I think it would be wrong to say that everything that has occurred was predicted in the exact form in which it has occurred. Nevertheless, a great deal of work was put into both the security aspects that were expected and the return to governance that was to be intended if it is to rebuild the Iraqi economy.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister's comment that the coalition underestimated some of the security problems in Iraq and found many factors difficult to predict. I ask the minister whether he is aware of comments this morning by former administrator for Iraq, Jay Garner, who said that the United States had made several `mistakes'—his word—in the reconstruction of Iraq after the war. Is this a view that the minister subscribes to? Can the minister say what mistakes have been made by the United States and the coalition of occupying powers, of which Australia of course is one?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I did hear those comments this morning. I remember that I met Mr Garner in April in Iraq, when he was in charge. I know that there has been some subsequent criticism of Mr Garner about the way he was operating. It would seem that he is now responding to that by criticising others. I am not going to contribute to that debate. I think the important thing is to move on, as quickly as reasonably possible, to pass governance to the Iraqi people, to help build the Iraqi economy, to help re-establish critical infrastructure and to give the Iraqi people a better future. I think, rather than trying to find differences of view between Jay Garner and his successors, it would be much more constructive to look towards a positive future. (Time expired)