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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6837

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:58 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister and the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I draw the minister's attention to the Prime Minister's comments suggesting pre-emptive strikes by the Australian government on people in other sovereign nations in order to prevent a possible terrorist attack. As the minister would be aware, the Prime Minister's comments have already received criticism from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Will the Prime Minister withdraw or, at a minimum, clarify these damaging and aggressive comments which have clearly damaged perceptions of Australia in our region, or will he follow the extraordinary advice of the Minister for Foreign Affairs that nations that misinterpret what the Prime Minister has said `have to live with the consequences of their misinterpretation'?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I have the words of the Prime Minister here. He was asked, if people in another country were planning an attack on Australia, would he be prepared to act. He said:

Oh yes, I think any Australian Prime Minister would. I mean, it stands to reason that if you believed that somebody was going to launch an attack against your country, either of a conventional kind or of a terrorist kind, and you had a capacity to stop it and there was no alternative other than to use that capacity then of course you would have to use it.

I totally endorse what the Prime Minister said. I think it is the position that every reasonable Australian would support and I cannot actually think of any acceptable alternative. If the honourable senator or those in the Labor Party who have gone out and attacked this statement therefore indicate that a Prime Minister would have to turn aside until Australia was attacked, I think that is beyond comprehension. It is beyond any realistic interpretation of responsibility and comprehension. Instead, I suggest to the Leader of the Australian Democrats that he recognise this as a responsible answer to the question as it was put, endorse it and stand by the Prime Minister, who is prepared to act to protect Australians and Australian interests rather than look for a short-term free kick that he thinks in some way will advance his interests.

Government senators interjecting

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the interjection from the government side saying, `You are either with Australia or with Saddam Hussein'. It shows the level of debate we have from government senators on this issue.

Senator Robert Ray —Was that from Senator Lightfoot?

Senator BARTLETT —No, I think it was actually from the front bench. If this partly quoted response from the minister is so reasonable, so clear-cut and so defensible, why has it drawn such strong condemnation from four very important near neighbours?

Government senators interjecting

Senator BARTLETT —I note also the comments from the government side by way of interjection that those countries can go jump and we will decide our own foreign policy rather than listen to them. Will the minister at least, by way of proper government approach, decide at a minimum to clarify these comments, or is the government basically going to stand by the interpretations that Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia have taken of these comments, as aggressive, illegal, inappropriate 19th century comments? Will he clarify them and clear up these misconceptions? (Time expired)

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I cannot speak for third parties, but I can say that the Prime Minister will act to protect Australians and he will do so within the law. Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.