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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7277

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:10 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's comments last Sunday, when he said:

... if you believed that somebody was going to launch an attack against your country ... and you had a capacity to stop it ... then of course you would have to use it.

Did the Prime Minister mean what he said? If so, can the minister explain the implications for regional security if countries feel free to use force to remove threats to their security which are located in other jurisdictions? Minister, if the Prime Minister did not mean to say what he said, will you explain to the Senate what he actually meant to say?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The questions committee on the other side has been on strike or something, because that question was asked of me yesterday, but perhaps Senator Faulkner had other things on his mind yesterday. The Prime Minister has said subsequent to the Sunday program that he stands by what he said. He has asked those who are interested in what he said to read the whole of the question that was asked of him and the whole of his answer, rather than quote the bits that might serve someone's, such as Senator Faulkner's, political interests. For example—as I said yesterday, but I will say it again—the question asked was:

Does that mean that you ... if you knew that, say, JI people—

and that is being interpreted as a terrorist organisation—

in another neighbouring country were planning an attack on Australia that you would be prepared to act?

The Prime Minister said if there was `no alternative other than to use that capacity then of course you would have to use it'. He went on to say:

Now, that situation hasn't arisen because nobody is specifically threatening to attack Australia ...

I also said yesterday that Australia has good relations with its neighbours, and on the issue of terrorism we have been working constructively all year with them to address terrorists as they exist within the region and as they are a threat to regional states and to Australia and Australians. So what the Prime Minister said in those terms stands.

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister agree with commentators such as Paul Kelly, Anthony Bergin and Hugh White that the Prime Minister's talk of pre-emption is interpreted by our regional neighbours as aggressiveness and could be counterproductive to securing their cooperation in the war on terrorism? Minister, have any countries in the region other than Malaysia and the Philippines indicated they may go slow or break off cooperation with Australia over the Prime Minister's comments?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —It shows how bad Labor is going if the best it can do is to follow Senator Brown's line of questioning one day later. As I said, Mr Howard has asked those interested in his comments to read the question in full and to read his answer in full— and he stands by his answer. As I have said, we have good relations with our neighbours. We are working constructively with them to address the issue of terrorism, and we expect to continue to do so because it is in their interests and it is in our interests.