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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15641

Mr JENKINS (5:51 PM) —My grievance today relates to the situation we confront in post-conflict Iraq. There has been an eerie silence on this since this parliament reconvened for the budget session; in fact, there have been only two speeches in this place devoted directly to Iraq and the consequences of the conflict. If you compare this to the two lengthy debates the House held on the ministerial statements of the Prime Minister in the autumn session, you will see how ironic the silence is. It is as if the job were all over—all finished. We have had the Prime Minister's ministerial statement, we have had a reply by the Leader of the Opposition and as yet we have had only incidental references to Iraq in the budget debate.

The two issues I go to today are the credibility of the reasons for the deployment of troops and the incursion into Iraq by the coalition of the willing, and the lack of a credible program in post-conflict Iraq for winning the peace. There has been plenty of discussion—and in recent times the amount of discussion has become even greater—about the fact that the weapons of mass destruction which were used as the reason for a potential UN action against Iraq have not been found. We remember the debates here in which the Prime Minister, supported by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence, said on the basis of intelligence reports from both the United Kingdom and the United States that it was imperative that Australia be involved in an action to remove weapons of mass destruction from the hands of Saddam Hussein and the regime that was then in control of Iraq.

Much of this discussion was on the basis that the inspection team, UNMOVIC, set up by the United Nations was not doing its job. But what did Hans Blix say in his reports? He described the extent to which the inspections had been made, the actions that had been taken and the fact that nothing had been found, and he asked for more time. At no time did he say that his job was complete. At no time did he indicate that; in fact, he said the work needed to continue. But what was the cry in return? The cry was that it was up to Saddam Hussein to ensure that there was no conflict in Iraq by destroying the weapons of mass destruction, whilst at the same time the message coming out of Iraq was that they claimed not to have those weapons.

So it is very important to note that the Prime Minister's February statement, especially, was totally devoted to the connection of Iraq with weapons of mass destruction and with terrorist actions. In his March statement the rhetoric of the Prime Minister was still about WMDs—weapons of mass destruction. But, following the decision to deploy Australian troops to the Middle East, slowly but surely there was a subtle change in the way in which the case for that deployment was presented in this place. We all remember that day after day dorothy dixers were asked of the Minister for Foreign Affairs about human rights abuses by Saddam Hussein's regime. It was never in question that some of the things Saddam Hussein had done during his reign in Iraq—the way in which human rights were abused—were things that we would like to have seen wiped out. But that was not given as the reason for Australia's involvement with the coalition of the willing in the conflict in Iraq.

It strikes me as strange that, even in the aftermath, there has been no debate about the reasoning behind our involvement, because the way in which the decisions were made to involve Australia in this conflict are sure to form the basis for future decisions about different conflicts. There is no doubt that the United States itself has given no indication that it is not determined to follow this up with incursions into other regimes. The doctrine of pre-emption is there; it is written in history. That is the problem. The Australian public, in the context of Australia's involvement, needs to be sure that the basis for decisions made by the Australian government is credible and is of sufficient strength to require placing the lives of our troops on the line.

It almost goes without saying that all Australians are proud and thankful that the Australian troops that were deployed to Iraq and the Middle East and were involved in the conflict have returned home safely. We admire the fact that they did the tasks that were given to them by the government with great diligence and efficiency. But, having said that, I do not wish to see them placed in a similar situation on the basis of information that now seems to be at least a bit flaky. That is the debate we have got to have. I have said all along that on a number of these questions I hope to be proven wrong. The fact that we may be proven right about the doubtful nature of the way in which we got involved is cause for a great deal of disquiet. It has been said that the term `WMDs' should mean not `weapons of mass destruction' but `words of mass deception'. That is what we have to avoid in future.

I turn in conclusion to post-conflict Iraq and the difficulties that we see. Next week it will be two months since the American marines rolled into Baghdad. It is two months next week since the visions of the toppling of the statues of Saddam Hussein were heralded as a conclusion, heralded with great reception by the Iraqi people. But the truth behind those scenes is a much different picture. If you look at reports that are coming out of Iraq at present, you see the difficulties. There are some estimations that there are more victims of looting, by gunshots or stabbing, in hospitals in Iraq now than there were victims of the conflict. That is a sad thing, because the winning of a peace in the Iraqi situation is going to be difficult. It is something that we should be concentrating on; it is something which we should be seeing our way clear to attain. There are reports that the incidence of diarrhoea and cholera in Basra are even higher than normal, and that is of concern because the chain of supply of medicines is being disrupted by looting and other problems. If we look at the repair of important infrastructure, we see that as quickly as it is repaired somebody goes around and pulls it apart. As these things are happening in Iraq today, we need to concentrate more on our efforts to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people are addressed.

We should also be looking at putting in place structures so that there is a sustainable administration to replace the discredited Saddam Hussein regime. This is important, and it will not be decided by military might. Perhaps the winning of the conflict was the easy part, because the technology was there. Now we have inspectors still looking for those weapons of mass destruction, and we remember that UNMOVIC, at the time of its last report, had something like 86 inspectors, at a maximum. There is now a 14,000-person Iraq Survey Group. Some 300 of those are inspectors; the rest will be interrogating people who have been captured as part of the conflict. I hope that they find more evidence than two empty containers that might have been used as laboratories, because it is important that a decision by a government to deploy troops into a conflict be on a better basis than we saw over the last few months in the run-up to sending troops to Iraq. It is important that, in future, the Australian people are treated with a great deal more trust about information—that we are not at the mercy of spin doctors who try to create a situation that is out of all proportion to the realities. I hope that the debate will be held, I hope that the truth will be known and I hope that the Australian public can have greater confidence in our decision makers. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. L.R.S. Price)—Order! The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question agreed to.