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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6862

Senator BROWN (4:48 PM) —I endorse what Senator Bartlett has said on this matter and congratulate the Democrats for giving the Senate the opportunity to resolve that the Prime Minister should be contacted. I find the Prime Minister's response lacking in a couple of particulars and I want to talk about those points. The first issue is the Prime Minister's failure to commit himself to the democratic process. Without any real precedent in this country, the executive has developed a tendency to believe that the parliament is a subsidiary when in fact it is the other way around—the people elect the parliament and not the executive.

As Senator Bartlett has pointed out, we have had the Prime Minister reiterate over the weekend that he will determine when and if Australians are sent to Iraq at the behest of the Bush administration in the coming weeks or months. This is totally against the democratic principle that this parliament, and every member of it, is elected to deal with the important matters that confront this country. In the United States, the Congress has already debated this matter. What is more, it was done on the basis of informed debate. There were committee hearings, and then an informed parliamentary debate before Congress gave the President the authority. We have had no such process in this parliament. In fact, the first effort by the Greens to get a committee hearing into the potential destruction of Australia's interests—let alone those of Iraqi civilians, should there be an invasion of Iraq—went without support from any other component of the Senate.

Senator Kemp —You never come to committee hearings. The Greens never come.

Senator BROWN —Let me say this over the interjections of Senator Kemp and of other government members: this is a democracy. Power is invested in this parliament and it is quite arrogant and antidemocratic for the Prime Minister to assume for himself the power to involve Australians in a war before a debate has occurred and a vote has been taken in this parliament. Certainly, the Prime Minister is going to respond to President Bush much more clearly, quickly and directly than he will respond to public feeling in this country, should the eventualities of war become reality. The problem is that we are moving inexorably towards an invasion of Baghdad. Behind that invasion is a wish by United States corporations and the United States administration to get control of the Iraqi oil resources in an age when oil is an ultimate currency for the economic wellbeing of the United States in particular but the West in general.

This is a very dangerous road for Australia to be following the United States along. I point out that both ASIO and the CIA have warned that an attack on Iraq could well lead to increased terrorist activities against those who are involved in it. It is not some fanciful concern coming from people who are worried about standing up for the nation's interests; this is real information which has been presented to us as representatives and to governments in both Canberra and Washington and which ought to be taken note of. While I reiterate, because it is necessary to do so every time, what a brute Saddam Hussein is, I note that the Prime Minister has disagreed with those who say that Saddam Hussein is not directly connected with S11 or the Bali bombings through the al-Qaeda chain or whatever.

Nevertheless, this inexorable road to an invasion of Baghdad, with huge consequences—death and destruction—within and outside Iraq, is being undertaken by the Bush administration. They put maximum pressure on the United Nations, after Colin Powell explained to the President of the United States that the ramifications would be far more serious were the trajectory taken in the lead-up to an attack on Baghdad not to follow the United Nations path. Now that process has been undertaken, and the United States, with Britain and—although the pressure is much less—the Australian administration have put pressure to get the United Nations to sanction a resolution which effectively allows the United States to engage in an attack on Baghdad, whether or not the rest of the world wants it. We have this extraordinary persistence from President Bush and his advisers that, even if the United Nations countermands an attack on Baghdad, if it is in the United States' interest then they will do it. I tell you what: our Prime Minister will follow suit, because his interest, as he sees it, is with the Bush administration. But I follow Senator Bartlett in saying that is not necessarily at all in the interests of the Australian people, Australia's future, Australia's wellbeing or even the economy of this country.

I point out again that Nepal is currently undergoing an extreme period of terrorism with the Maoist uprising there, and the United States has done nothing except tell American citizens to leave, further damaging the Nepalese economy. This is because the Nepalese have made this great error: they do not have oil. So they are off the agenda. Nepal is a country terrorised. I was in Katmandu some months ago, and people there are talking about Katmandu becoming the next Phnom Penh under Pol Pot. But the world is turning its back on that—and it must not, because that would mean duplicity and hypocrisy in the way in which the word `terrorism' is used and the genuineness with which President Bush and, indeed, Prime Minister Howard say that we must tackle terrorism wherever it arises. Nepal is a friendly country to Australia. It has huge problems; it is one of the poorest countries on earth. Many Australians love the place— there are Australians there now—but we are doing next to nothing. I challenge any government member to get up and say what we are doing to assuage this terror stalking the lives of some 20 million Nepalese.

Finally, I want to talk about the pre-emptive strike business. On the weekend, Prime Minister Howard endorsed an earlier statement from Defence Minister Hill that Australia reserves the right to a pre-emptive strike on another country in the event that it sees there may be an attack by terrorists from that country. This was an unguarded, injudicious and damaging statement from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister normally goes right out of his way to dismiss hypothetical questions put to him by senior journalists. On this occasion he engaged. He took the question up, and he did not give the necessary precautions as he thought aloud about an area of potential Australian engagement which should never be discussed by the head of state of this country. The Prime Minister made a mistake; the Prime Minister made a gaffe. The Prime Minister's statement seriously damages this country insofar as its relationships with the neighbourhood are concerned, and he should withdraw it.

Prime Minister Howard is experienced enough in state affairs to know what the damage of leaving that statement hanging in the air, not properly qualified, will be as we go down the line in coming months and years in seriously fraught situations of international tension. He has to be big enough, on behalf of this nation, to withdraw that statement. The explanations given by the foreign minister today compounded the problem. The foreign minister cannot explain away the statement the Prime Minister made yesterday. It is up to Prime Minister Howard to withdraw that statement in the interests of this country, to show that he has the statesmanlike capability to put his country first, not his own political interests. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.