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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4852


Senator BARTLETT (2:21 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. In the past week, President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have each released major documents and made major speeches setting out their case for military action against Iraq—




The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Kemp, Senator Ray and others are being disorderly. I ask you to come to order so that we can listen to the question. The football is on Saturday, not today.


Senator BARTLETT —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. In the past week President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have each released significant documents and made major speeches setting out their case in relation to potential military action against Iraq. Why has our own Prime Minister, Mr Howard, failed to provide this government's own independent, up-to-date assessment of evidence against Iraq, failed to outline the consequences for Australia of any support for military action and failed to clearly communicate the government's preferred course of action concerning Iraq to the Australian people? Does the Prime Minister intend to continue to sit in the background on this issue and simply follow the lead of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair? Minister, we have heard repeatedly from Tony Blair and George W. When is the parliament going to hear from John W?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I think the honourable senator fails to appreciate the position of the Australian government in this matter. Australia has not been asked to participate in any military campaign and has therefore not considered the question or taken a decision to do so. We do, however, share the concern of most of the international community that Saddam Hussein's program of weapons of mass destruction is continuing to develop, that it is a threat and that it must end. We are pleased to be supportive of the current process within the United Nations, in which we hope collective pressure will be brought to bear in a way that ends that program without the need for military action. If the honourable senator is referring to the evidence in support of the weapons of mass destruction, the Prime Minister and others—Mr Howard before he went overseas—have given evidence in the other place on that. The evidence is now supported by Mr Blair, in the release yesterday of his dossier, and I suspect that it will be supported by evidence provided by other international leaders in the time ahead.


Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. When is the Prime Minister of Australia going to start leading the debate in relation to Australia's role and Australia's approach to this particular issue rather than simply lending tacit support to the UK or the US?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The trouble with Senator Bartlett's question is that it is falsely premised. He is assuming that the government has reached a position which it has not reached and he asks that certain conclusions be drawn from that. The Prime Minister has set out, in a logical and sensible fashion, the evidence that is available on Saddam Hussein's program of weapons of mass destruction, the reasons for our demand—why we see the program as a threat and why we wish it to end—and our support for the United Nations, with its potential for collective influence to bring about an end to that program. Basically, that is the path we continue to move down.