Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20021


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) (3:24 PM) —The government reject this motion. We reject this motion for several very simple reasons. The first and most important reason that we reject this motion is the mistaken belief on the part of the Leader of the Opposition that the publication of this material represents—



The SPEAKER —I ensured that the Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence. The same courtesy will be extended to the Prime Minister.


Mr HOWARD —the injection into this debate of some blinding new revelation. At no stage has this government set out to mislead the Australian people on this issue. At no stage have we sought to commit the young men and women of this country to military conflict based on a lie.



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Rankin!


Mr HOWARD —The reality is that the opposition, from the very beginning, could not summon the courage to support the government's decision to join our allies in disarming Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. No matter what the opposition leader does, no matter how much he flourishes a report of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, nothing can alter the fact that if the world had listened to the Australian Labor Party Saddam would still be in Baghdad.



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Hasluck!


Mr HOWARD —If the world had listened to the Australian Labor Party, the tyrannical regime that was removed by the coalition of the willing—



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Braddon!


Mr HOWARD —would still be terrorising the people of Iraq. If the world had listened to the Australian Labor Party—if the world had waited for the United Nations to move at the pace of the slowest of the permanent members; namely, France and Russia—action would not have been taken to remove Saddam Hussein. Let us understand at the very beginning of this debate that if we had listened to the Australian Labor Party Saddam would still be running Iraq. That, of course, is a fundamental reality and a fundamental difference.



The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition! The Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence.


Mr HOWARD —Let me go to the issues that have been raised by the Leader of the Opposition. Let me go very directly to the issue of this British Joint Intelligence Committee report. Let me repeat for the benefit of the Leader of the Opposition: in terms of the report itself, reports of that kind are not routinely passed to ministers. They are provided to our intelligence agencies. If he bothered to talk to the member for Brand or if he bothered to talk to Senator Ray or if he bothered to talk to the member for Griffith they would inform him that that is the normal procedure. I made it perfectly clear in question time that, in providing the various assessments that Australian intelligence agencies provided to the government before the commencement of military operations against Iraq, those Australian agencies would have drawn on information contained in the Joint Intelligence Committee report. There is nothing remarkable about that, and I counsel the Leader of the Opposition not to get excited about that and not to suggest that there is some kind of giant cover-up.

The reality is that it is absolutely impossible in the day-to-day life of a minister or Prime Minister to read in full all of those individual reports. That is why you have assessment agencies, and just as the Leader of the Opposition was wrong about the CIA material in relation to uranium from Niger he has been wrong about the chain of events in relation to this Joint Intelligence Committee report. If he had bothered, in between his fervent interjections in question time, to actually listen to what I said, he would have heard me say that it was the judgment of the government, and rightly so, that the longer term proliferation and terrorism risks of leaving Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in place outweighed the shorter term risks addressed in the JIC report. That is what I said in my answer but, of course, the Leader of the Opposition is so intent on making noise at question time rather than trying to inject a bit of understanding and intelligence into a debate that he does not even bother to listen to the answers to the questions that he has addressed to me.

It has always been the argument of the government that the action we took in Iraq to disarm Saddam of weapons of mass destruction was designed to prevent a situation arising whereby, if one rogue state such as Iraq were allowed to keep those weapons, it would encourage other rogue states to do the same, thereby increasing the possibility that those weapons of mass destruction would fall into the hands of terrorists. That was the construct of the argument that I presented to the Australian people back in March of this year, and nothing that the Leader of the Opposition has presented today, nothing in the Joint Intelligence Committee report and nothing that has been presented by anybody else since March of this year has shaken or altered that fundamental construct.

So you have Iraq, a rogue state, possessing, on our intelligence assessment, weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is left undisturbed by the international community, which is what the Leader of the Opposition wanted to happen—that was the effective result of the stance taken by the Australian Labor Party. There is Iraq, a rogue state, keeping weapons of mass destruction. Other rogues states say, `We will do the same thing; we will also get hold of weapons of mass destruction.' The more rogue states that have them, the greater the likelihood that they will fall into the hands of terrorists. If they fell into the hands of terrorists, the threat posed to Australia would be lethal and real. That was the construct of our argument. That was the fundamental justification of the decision that the Australian government took in March of this year—a decision which resulted in the removal of the tyrannical regime that on conservative estimates was responsible for the murder of probably a million people, a regime that posed a direct threat not only to the state of Israel but to other countries in the Middle East.

The Leader of the Opposition talks as though the possession of weapons of mass destruction is some kind of light matter. The possession of weapons of mass destruction represents a very serious threat to the stability of the world. No country has been more prominent, under both Labor and Liberal governments, in promoting a cause of action which is designed to prevent the spread and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As we speak, the Australian Navy is engaged in a training exercise titled the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is designed to equip the navies and the military forces of the countries participating to take effective action against the transportation of weapons of mass destruction.

I ask the Leader of the Opposition to remember the fundamental terms of the debate that occurred in this place six months ago. It was a debate where there was a government that was prepared to assert the courage of its own judgments. It was a debate where there was a government that was prepared to make its own independent judgment according to its assessment of Australia's national interests. It was a government that was prepared, notwithstanding the unwillingness of certain permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to make a judgment that the long-term national interests of this country lay in joining the United States and the United Kingdom in taking military action against Iraq.

By contrast, we heard from the Australian Labor Party a view of the world that simply went as follows: `No matter what the circumstances are, you don't do anything without a further United Nations resolution.' In other words, they were handing over the conduct of the foreign policy of this country to the governments of France and the Russian republic. They were not prepared to summon the courage to make a judgment in Australia's national interest. We made the judgment that it was in Australia's interest to join the United States and the United Kingdom. We believed that the action would reduce the likelihood of proliferation and of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists, thereby reducing the likelihood of a lethal threat to this country constituted by the possession of those weapons by terrorist groups. It was a judgment made courageously by this government in the medium to longer term interests of this country, and it is a judgment from which I will never resile.


The SPEAKER —The mover of this motion to suspend standing orders was heard without any interruption from the Prime Minister, and when the Leader of the House interrupted him I took action against the Leader of the House. There was a good deal of enthusiasm from his own side—that is to be understood. I have applied precisely the same law in recognising the Prime Minister, but the Leader of the Opposition has persistently interjected. I expect greater restraint.