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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4867


Senator BARTLETT (3:31 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to a question without notice asked by Senator Bartlett today relating to proposed military action against Iraq.

The simple thrust of the question, which continues to be recognised by most of the Australian community, is that we are not getting clear and decisive leadership from the Australian Prime Minister on the issue of Australia's potential engagement with Iraq. It is all well and good to have the leader of the United States and the leader of the United Kingdom putting forward the case and arguing strongly about it as they have been doing. The Democrats do not support their arguments but the least you can say for them is that they are out there strongly arguing the case. We are not getting that from the Australian Prime Minister. All we are getting are his general expressions of support for what the US and the UK are talking about.

There are specifically Australian ramifications of any support for military action. There are specifically Australian consequences, as we have just heard from Senator Bolkus, in relation to the impact on our defence forces as well as other issues such as the impact on our region. Those sorts of issues should be made public, out on the table, and the Prime Minister should be showing leadership on them. He should not be keeping his head down on those core Australian issues and saying, `No decision has been made yet so I do not have anything to say.' Everybody knows that if the US decides to take any form of action, with or without UN endorsement, George Bush will be seeking at a minimum political support and probably logistical support as well from the Australian government. Everybody knows that, if he seeks that support, this Prime Minister will give it. What we therefore should be seeing as a result of those facts is an outlining of the case and an outlining of the consequences for Australia before any call for support from the US. Once it comes, we all know what Mr Howard's decision will be.

It is completely inadequate, in terms of Australia's interests as well as in terms of showing very poor leadership, for the Prime Minister to continue to sit back and keep his head down on this, and to leave such running as is being made to the foreign minister, whose performance has been not only all over the place but also generally unhelpful, to be polite. Even if we had a capable foreign minister, it should not be left to the foreign minister; it should be the Prime Minister out there showing leadership in the same way as are the leaders of the UK or the US or indeed other leaders who are taking a contrary view, such as the German Chancellor or the French President, who have been out there.


Senator Ian Campbell —Jack Straw should stop doing his job too?


Senator BARTLETT —It is not a case of saying that nobody else is allowed to say anything, as has just been misrepresented by Senator Campbell; it is a matter of the Prime Minister being out there leading from the front.


Senator Ian Campbell —Who is over in London, then?


Senator BARTLETT —He should be here in Australia in the Australian parliament leading from the front. He is not doing that; he has failed to do that the whole way along. He is failing Australia's interests by doing so. Everybody knows that Australia will support the US if the US acts. Given that that is undoubtedly the case, the Prime Minister should be making the case for why he will do that. He should not be saying that it is just all hypothetical, as Senator Hill basically said in his answer today.

There are specifically Australian aspects of this issue as well as Australian perspectives on global issues—the issues of international law and international security, and of the best way to deal with war criminals such as Saddam Hussein. There is quite clearly, and the Democrats recognise and state repeatedly, no case for doing nothing. That is the worst option. But there are plenty of alternatives between doing nothing and sending in the warplanes and the Army. Those middle options have to be explored, and those are the areas where Australia should be putting its diplomatic efforts; those are the areas where the Prime Minister should be showing leadership. He has not shown much leadership of any sort but he should be showing leadership in relation to getting Australia to be pushing in a more positive direction in the global community. That is what would be in Australia's interests. That is what our Prime Minister should be doing rather than sitting back and leaving Australia and the future of Australia to the US. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.