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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 6992

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:23 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence and the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Hill, and it concerns the important public policy matter of Australia's potential support for a first strike on Iraq. Minister, given that Mr Howard has in the past said that he expects Australia to be invited to take part in any military action against Iraq—and he has previously described military action as probable—why is the government continually publicly supporting the justification for a first strike on Iraq? Given that there is still no evidence that Iraq has direct links to the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks or for the Bali bombings, given that there is still no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction that will reach Australia, unlike several other countries, or that Iraq is considering attacking Australia, and given that this country is sufficiently unconcerned about the way in which Saddam Hussein treats his citizens and that he is consistently trying to return asylum seekers from Australia to Iraq, why is the government continuing to refuse to rule out Australian support for a first strike against Iraq?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not think the government has actually been talking about a first strike on Iraq; the Australian Democrats might be. What the government has said is that it wishes to see an end to Saddam Hussein's program of weapons of mass destruction and that it wishes to see his existing weapons destroyed. The government is particularly pleased that the United Nations has risen to its responsibility, finally, and passed an appropriate resolution and sent in inspectors to give confidence to the international community that that objective can be achieved. So the government is pleased that there is an opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully. But we do believe that it has to be resolved in a way in which the threat of weapons of mass destruction is removed. That is the key issue here. As we said, there is now the chance of a peaceful resolution, which everyone would prefer, and the efforts of this government go towards achieving that goal.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, the purpose of the question was to ascertain why the government continues to indicate its support for `potential and likely military action against Iraq', in its own words. Given that the minister has said it is in order to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists, I draw the minister's attention to a recent Australian Strategic Policy Institute publication entitled Beyond Bali: ASPI's strategic assessment 2002, which states:

And Iraq's WMD are more likely to find their way into al-Qaeda's hands in the chaos that might follow a US invasion, than under Saddam Hussein's closely-controlled regime.

Given that an attack against Iraq is clearly more likely to put weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists, why is the government continuing to allow itself to be seen as supporting a potential attack against Iraq?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —We certainly want to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists; that is true. But we also want to get weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of Saddam Hussein, somebody who has used those weapons on his own people, somebody who has invaded his neighbours and somebody who—according to the British government, anyway—still has regional aspirations. We believe that that weapons program—the weapons he holds and the weapons he wishes to continue to develop, including the prospect of nuclear weapons—is a threat that should be alleviated through international pressure. Hopefully, as I have said, that can be achieved peacefully.