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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25995

Senator STEPHENS (2:29 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Does the minister recall that the Prime Minister has, time after time, stressed the importance of valuing the experience of older Australians? Didn't Mr Howard, for example as recently as June this year at the Australian of the Year nominations, say that it was so important to value:

... the capacity of the older generation of Australians, who have lived through so many periods in the history of this country, to give of their wisdom and their experience to the younger generations.

Is the wisdom of people such as General Gration, Admirals Hudson and Beaumont and Air Marshal Fennell to be rudely denigrated by this government through demeaning insults? Why does the government have a problem with an older generation of Australians speaking from wisdom and experience on important issues such as truth in government?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I thought that was yesterday's question, but I guess 24 hours does not make a lot of difference. The questions committee must have had a struggle today: we have had three on former Senator Alston and they have gone back to the House of Representatives question time from yesterday and dredged out a few repechages. This government does not rudely denigrate older Australians, even if it disagrees with their—

Government senators—It is like Senator Faulkner and Mr Baillieu.

Senator HILL —Senator Faulkner defamed Mr Baillieu. The only mistake was that Mr Baillieu had been dead for years. The family still has not got an apology, I might say. This government have not rudely denigrated these individuals. We obviously do not share their views. We are surprised by their views because at the time of the—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator Chris Evans —They're all Labor Party hacks, are they?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators on my left! Senator Evans, you have been particularly noisy today. I ask you to come to order.

Senator HILL —At the time of the decision taken by the coalition to enforce UN Security Council resolutions, almost the whole world believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and a continuing program for development of weapons of mass destruction. It was the view of the intelligence services in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Australia, in France, in Germany and in Russia—and so I can go on. It was even the view of Mr Rudd, the shadow spokesman for the ALP in this country, who said, `Of course they've got weapons of mass destruction.' That was not the issue; the issue was what was the best course of action to take to reduce the threat from those weapons. If this esteemed group of elderly Australians hold a different view, so be it. Everyone is entitled to their own view. I am just saying to the Senate that their view is the exception rather than the rule. Their view is not consistent with the finding as to what evidence was put before the Australian government, findings by the committees of this parliament and also by Mr Flood. But if they wish to come out and express that they hold a different point of view, so be it.