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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17169

Mr RUDD (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to his comment in the Sydney Morning Herald on 18 June 2003, which states:

... an intelligence claim about Iraq's effort to acquire uranium from Africa proved to be erroneous.

Minister, when did the government first learn this claim was false? When did you inform the Prime Minister or his office that the Prime Minister's statement to parliament on this matter on 4 February 2003 was also false?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —Firstly, the Prime Minister's reference in his statement to parliament on 4 February to Iraq having sought uranium from Africa from the country of Niger was not an Australian judgment and the Prime Minister made that clear in his statement. This is what happens the whole time. The member for Griffith takes a little bit of a quote and turns it into something entirely different. The Prime Minister made it clear that this was an assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Committee. I suppose it does not count that the Prime Minister said it was an assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Committee. As usual, a convenient piece of information was left out. He did say it in his 4 February statement. That statement was accurate and was made in good faith. The government had no reason at the time to doubt the accuracy of the Joint Intelligence Committee report.

As time has gone on, the Joint Intelligence Committee has begun to change its judgment, and the government has made it perfectly clear that that judgment has changed. But I make this broader point: this government has no doubt about the judgments made before the war against Iraq that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and that is a point that apparently the Leader of the Opposition and other opposition spokesmen used to agree with. Sometimes they do agree with it; sometimes they do not agree with it—it just depends what is convenient to them.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question was when the minister found out that the report was erroneous and when he informed the Prime Minister.

The SPEAKER —I was listening to the minister's response. The minister was asked a question about uranium in Africa and whether or not a statement was accurate or in error, and it is in that context that what he has subsequently said is relevant.

Mr DOWNER —I have made it perfectly clear that, as time has gone on, the Joint Intelligence Committee has made a reassessment of the information. As that information has become available to us, we have been happy to make it public, and I have made it public.