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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 22015

Mr Andren asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on18 March 2003:

(1) Would he define precisely the roles of the Governor-General and Prime Minister in relation to membership of, and authority over, the Australian Defence Forces.

(2) In respect to the decision of the Prime Minister made at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on or about 10 January 2003 to commit an advance deployment of Australian Defence Forces to the Persian Gulf; (a) was the Governor-General present at this meeting; and (b) what prior reference was made by the Prime Minister to the Governor-General in making the decision to advance deploy Australian service men and women.

(3) What was the stated purpose of the advance deployment and has that purpose changed since the decision was made.

(4) In reference to the article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11-12 January 2003 that reported that the advance deployment would likely take part in sabotage, reconnaissance and incursion; is the quote attributed to the Prime Minister in this article accurate as reported; if not, what are the inaccuracies in the newspaper report and what did the Prime Minister actually say to the press on that occasion.

Mr Howard (Prime Minister) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) I am advised that the Governor-General's title of `Commander-in-Chief' of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) conveys the title only and not a role in approving the dispatch of troops overseas. No specific action is therefore required of the Governor-General or the Executive Council to commit the ADF to an overseas operation. The commitment of the ADF to operations overseas is a matter for the Executive, which is responsible to the Parliament.

(2) (a) No. (b) It is not the custom of the government to comment on the detail of advice to or consultations with the Governor-General, by convention such consultations are confidential. However both the government and the ADF pay proper regard to the Governor-General in his titular role as `Commander-in-Chief of the ADF'.

(3) On January 10, I announced that some forward deployment of ADF troops was possible to ensure that, should they be required, the ADF troops would be properly prepared for their task. I then stated that: “... if we do make a commitment we have to have prepared for that commitment and our men and women are entitled to the opportunity of that preparation in the interests of their own safety and their capacity to execute their obligations in a very professional way. And in that context it could be over the weeks ahead there will be some forward deployment of assets and personnel.”

In addressing this issue in Parliament on 4 February, I also referred to the diplomatic value of the military deployment in applying pressure on the Iraqi regime to meet its international obligations. In my statement, I further noted that the decision to pre-position our troops was made in light of advice from the ADF that “... if, at some time in the near future, we wish to participate in military action our troops would be advantaged by having the opportunity to prepare and acclimatise.”

(4) The quote in question was not attributed to me and was not a quote of any statement made by me. Instead it reflected speculation by the journalist as to the possible role of the SAS.

In reference to the possible inclusion of Special Forces in any pre-deployment of ADF troops, on 10 January I said: “... if Australia were to join some international military operation against Iraq, and we certainly hope that is not necessary, then the sort of contribution that Australia would make in that event would be broadly comparable to the contribution that we made in Afghanistan quite recently. There would be in those terms special forces with appropriate support units; there would be naval vessels ...”.