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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26162

Senator MARSHALL (3:26 PM) —It really does surprise me that we can come into this chamber and have a senator from the government so casually rewrite history in terms of truth and honesty in government and the war in Iraq. Senator Fifield should understand that weapons inspectors were in Iraq prior to the coalition of the willing going to war in Iraq, and the weapons inspectors clearly asked for more time to complete their work before they could make a determination on whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction. I am somewhat surprised that on such an important decision you can so casually ignore the facts before us, which have been well debated here and which you should have been aware of.

I am surprised that the government senators find this issue so hilarious. When we are talking about truth in government and honesty in government, all they can do is make a joke of it. They have not taken any of this seriously. A leading candidate of the Liberal Party, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, was at a candidates' forum very recently—in fact, it was on the very same day that we received a statement by 43 concerned former chiefs and Australian diplomats criticising the Howard government for its actions in Iraq and its constant failure to tell the truth to the Australian people. On that very same day Malcolm Turnbull, the candidate, was also telling the truth as he sees it in respect of the war in Iraq. Of course, his position is very clear. He is quoted as having said at the meeting that it was an error, an absolute failure, and that history would judge it so.

I know that Mr Malcolm Turnbull, supported by Senator Brandis, initially said that he was misquoted. But, as a result of the claims that he was misquoted, we hear of person after person who was at the meeting and heard what Mr Turnbull said coming out in the press and giving us their version of what he said. It seems that the consistency of all those versions clearly lines up with and supports what was originally reported by Mr Malcolm Turnbull. Take Robert Henry, for instance, a resident who attended the meeting and who is quoted in today's Sydney Morning Herald. He said that Mr Turnbull prefaced his answer with a general observation that history judged all wars on the basis of their outcomes. Mr Henry said:

But then he said: `History will judge Bush's invasion of Iraq as an unadulterated error.'

He cannot be plainer than that. We also have Lee Cass, Barry Du Bois and others supporting the general thrust of that position. Everyone knows that Malcolm Turnbull is looking for a quick promotion to the Liberal Party parliamentary frontbench if he happens to be successful in the forthcoming election. I guess what he is trying to demonstrate is that he has the one serious quality that you need to get on the Liberal Party frontbench—that you can be very loose with the truth; and he is proving that he can be. He can say that he believes in something and he can make that statement. But, when he is brought to account and it gets into the national press, he wants to claim that he has been misquoted. But when you test that evidence with people who were actually there, he gets caught out.

One would have to wonder what prompted Malcolm Turnbull to make such a statement in the first place. If he is the Liberal that he claims to be, is it that he truly believes, like most Australians do, that the war in Iraq was an unadulterated error? Whether or not he believed in the statement he made, does Mr Turnbull recognise the mood of the electorate and the feelings of the constituents in Wentworth and was he merely emphatically reflecting those views with his answer? Or were his comments really a bid to differentiate and distance himself from the Prime Minister and Mr Costello on the issue of Iraq and therefore offer himself as the next Liberal leader, someone not tarnished by the current government's poor and unpopular decision to go to war in Iraq? Possibly that is the case. That may be why he has done it.

By Mr Turnbull's comments at Monday night's `meet the candidates' forum in Wentworth he not only distanced himself from the government and his colleagues on the issue of Iraq; he also distanced himself from the Prime Minister's poor record with Indigenous Australians and reconciliation. Mr Turnbull told the meeting that, if he were Prime Minister, he would apologise to Australia's Aborigines. `It was a free-for-all, I tell you,' Mr Turnbull was quoted as saying after the meeting. In today's Australian Financial Review—(Time expired)

Question agreed to.