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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17203


Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (4:30 PM) —If Eric Blair were still alive, he would be celebrating his 100th birthday on Wednesday this week. Known to millions as George Orwell, this great writer and thinker was, if anything, a constant seeker of truth. His disregard for conventional attitudes and resistance to orthodox belief systems led him to mark his own course and arrive at his own views on the big sociopolitical changes happening throughout most of last century. Attacked by the Right for his democratic socialist views, and by some on the Left for his withering criticism of and assault on totalitarian regimes, Orwell showed a courage and an independence few other social commentators could match. He also understood the power of language: its ability to break through the closed ideological positions but also its ability to be used as an instrument of deception. What he might have thought of the recent behaviour of some of our world leaders is anyone's guess, but with respect to the Iraq invasion he may have thought the policy came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Truth, the department found in his seminal novel 1984.

Truth was not in fact the first casualty of this war, because it was a casualty before the war began. As Senator Robert Byrd, speaking on Iraq on the Senate floor in the United States, said in May this year:

Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually.

It would appear that the Australian government, in particular our Prime Minister, have not been entirely candid with the citizens of this nation with respect to the reasons we went to war in Iraq. In March this year at the National Press Club the Prime Minister said:

I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn't justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime.

That is what the Prime Minister said three months ago. Last week, after the war was over, the Prime Minister tried to revise history by alleging that the opposition was calling for the restoration of Saddam Hussein as a ruler of Iraq, because he was asked what had happened to the evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Nobody in this place would argue that Saddam Hussein's administration was anything other than a violent, repressive and dictatorial regime. But the Prime Minister based his reasons for us to defy the United Nations conventions and go to war, with very few other nation states, primarily on the assertion:

The Australian government knows that Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq wants to develop nuclear weapons.

The fact is that the so-called coalition of the willing has not discovered the chemical and biological weapons used as the basis for the attack upon Iraq. In order to establish the truth, these issues must be resolved—questions must be answered. For that reason, Labor's call for an inquiry is a fitting response to what must be a worrying time for the Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister opposes an inquiry even though it is clearly evident that such inquiries are now taking place in London and Washington. The community might be less ready to question the veracity of this government if it were not for the revelations of last year on the `kids overboard' fabrications and questions being raised as to whether appropriate advisories were issued prior to the Bali tragedy. There also appears on the face of it to be little transparency on the apparent nexus between political donations to the Liberal Party and the use of ministerial discretion on the granting of visas.

These issues are of concern to the nation. Whilst it is fair to say this Prime Minister has had some success in distracting the public and some parts of the media, the fact remains that these issues are outstanding and they are yet to be resolved. The media, and more importantly the public, are starting to become more aware of the efforts by this government to avoid proper scrutiny and to evade questions. This government has already borrowed from Orwell's 1984 lexicon when it comes to conjuring up titles of proposed legislation. A number of bills I have spoken on or referred to in the last 18 months spookily remind listeners today and readers of Orwell's works how you can invert a language to try to suggest an objective that is not in fact apparent from the instrument that is being referred to. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Protecting the Low Paid) Bill 2003 comes to mind.

The Workplace Relations Amendment (Protecting the Low Paid) Bill 2003 was a great use of terminology to invert the objectives of the act. Its efforts and intentions were to prevent low-paid workers being paid a national wage increase by providing for the Industrial Relations Commission to have regard to all other matters so as not to forward on a wage increase to the lowest paid in this community. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Genuine Bargaining) Bill 2002 is another bill that refers to genuine bargaining but means the opposite. Indeed, the provisions of that bill were to prevent the capacity for the parties to a dispute or workers in a particular workplace to genuinely bargain. It was intended to do the opposite: it was to place things in the way of parties seeking genuine and proper negotiations, to ensure that the work force were not in a position to properly negotiate decent outcomes for themselves so they could ensure a decent quality of life for their families.

These bills say one thing but mean another. Again, what would George Orwell think of the way the language is being used? Even the terminology within the Workplace Relations Act is a rather spooky reminder of the novel 1984. An Australian workplace agreement is not Australian historically, never relates to a workplace and is rarely consensual. The no disadvantage test, used to compare current and prospective conditions of employment, in fact allows a disadvantage, as it compares not conditions contained in the current agreement but a minimum award that underpins that agreement. Again it uses language to invert its meaning.

As Senator Byrd said, the truth will eventually prevail, whether it be the way this government likes to invert the description of a bill to hide its true intent, the way it prevents inquiries from occuring or the way it avoids proper questioning. Whether there exists a deliberate evasion of the facts, a distortion of the truth or a deliberate misuse of terminology, the Australian public will, sooner or later, recognise it. The Australian public expects and wants honest, transparent and accountable government. The Australian public expects and deserves a government that will actually front up to its responsibilities and answer questions that are being asked of it by the opposition. If facts have been omitted, if questions need to be asked and if answers need to be found then the Australian public expects the government to have the honesty and the integrity to ensure that those questions are properly asked in this chamber and in the other chamber to ensure that the truth ultimately prevails.

We have seen now many months—indeed, years—of this government evading the truth on occasions and avoiding proper questioning, but I do not think in the end that its efforts will ensure the truth will be hidden. The fact is that the truth will prevail. This government has to come clean on some of the things that it knows and does not want to reveal. George Orwell, as I said, would have been 100 years old if he had been still alive on Wednesday. What an apt time to make reference to a great writer, a great social commentator, a person who always sought the truth and someone who should be raised in this chamber. Clearly it serves as a reminder of how little this government considers the truth an important element of our society.