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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4999

Senator BARTLETT (2:23 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I ask the minister if he is aware of statements made by the former Governor-General, three former prime ministers, a former Leader of the Opposition, three former defence chiefs and the National President of the RSL, stating:

... it would constitute a failure of the duty of government to protect the integrity and ensure the security of our nation to commit any Australian forces in support of a United States military offensive against Iraq without the backing of a specific United Nations Security Council resolution.

Does the government accept this statement that Australia's participation in a US-led pre-emptive strike against Iraq would be contrary to the best interests of Australia and its people? Will the government finally make a commitment, once and for all, to the Australian people that it will not participate in or support any such pre-emptive military action?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I appreciate the question from the alternative Leader of the Australian Democrats. At least it is covering an important subject matter. I am a little surprised that I have heard nothing on these important subject matters relating to defence this week from the Labor Party. Instead, they see allegations of sex scandals within DSD as apparently more important. The position has not changed. The government supports the Security Council addressing this issue. We hope that it will address it effectively and bring sufficient influence to bear upon Saddam Hussein so that the weapons of mass destruction program can be brought to an end and the existing weapons of mass destruction can be destroyed. That is our objective, and we would like to see it achieved without the need for military intervention. If there is a need for military intervention, we would prefer it to be under the auspices of the Security Council. Nevertheless, that does not totally answer the threat to an individual party, who is entitled to use self-defence under the Charter of the United Nations.

Senator Chris Evans —Which article is that?

Senator HILL —I think it is article 51. We hope that it does not reach that stage, because we would prefer the Security Council to act effectively. However, if a party that is threatened by a weapons program resorts to self-defence, it is open to that party to seek the support of other states and, if it is the United States, it might seek the support of Australia. If it gets to that stage, it would be considered by Australia according to Australia's national interests. The Prime Minister has made that position absolutely clear. Whilst I have seen the statements in the press to which the honourable senator referred and whilst I understand the sentiment that a preference should exist for these matters to be resolved under the auspices of the Security Council, we cannot, unfortunately, be certain that that will in fact occur.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, why is the government ignoring the views of the RSL, and people such as experienced former defence chiefs, in relation to a pre-emptive strike? Why will the government not accept that pre-emptive military action is illegal and is likely to contribute to ongoing instability in the Middle East, rather than improving the prospects for stability and peace?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —We are not ignoring any advice at all. We have great respect for the President of the RSL and distinguished former national leaders, and we share their view that a collective response under the Security Council is preferable. But, as I have said to the honourable senator, the right of self-defence is entrenched within the Charter of the United Nations. It is therefore the right of a party that is threatened to defend itself if that is the case. These days, that has to be looked at against a background of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism which is significantly changing the circumstances in which self-defence is necessary.