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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 66


Senator BROWN (4:38 PM) —Until the end of February Senator McGauran opposed the deployment of hundreds more Australian troops to Iraq. He did that because the Prime Minister of this country, John Howard, had made a commitment to the electorates of this country in November last year that there would not be a large deployment of hundreds more troops to Iraq. The Prime Minister did that to gain electoral favour with the Australian people because he correctly read the mood of this country against a further large deployment of Australian troops, good and true, to Iraq for political purposes.

So what happened at the end of February? After quite a deal of lobbying from the British government and the US government, the Australian government changed its mind—to wit, the Prime Minister changed his mind. It is now on the record, although the Prime Minister’s statement today does not repeat it, that the Dutch had flagged their intention to remove their 1,400 troops from al-Samawah in the middle of last year. The Prime Minister knew this at election time. What is more, there was quite a lot of discussion amongst the coalition forces as to how they would be replaced to protect the 600 Japanese personnel, noncombatants, who were in the province of Al Muthanna, the capital of which is al-Samawah.

The Prime Minister knew all that in November but was not putting his hand up in the run to the election—at least he was not going to tell the Australian people about that. But his politics then came into play. He received a call from the Prime Minister of Japan, Mr Junichiro Koizumi, on 18 February asking him to deploy these 450 troops. Let us put this into perspective. Two days prior to that call, the Kyoto protocol was ratified globally with enormous celebration and coverage in Japan. There was major convention coverage in Kyoto city itself—I was there. There was a mood of condemnation of the Bush administration and the Howard government. The two recalcitrants from around the world will not do their duty to coming generations and join the international effort, represented in the Kyoto protocol, to turn around the coming scourge and the present scourge—it is manifest already—of global warming.

Prime Minister Howard’s government was in great disfavour in Japan. But in Japan there is massive publicity about the oncoming world expo. Australia has a $40 million pavilion. What is more, Prime Minister Howard is very intent on a free trade agreement with a reluctant Koizumi administration in Tokyo. Prime Minister Koizumi told Mr Howard he would be delighted if the 450 troops were provided. Let me shorthand what has happened: Prime Minister Howard decided that he would put at risk 450 Australian Defence Force personnel and send them to Iraq at the request of the Japanese government in return for getting red carpet treatment when he visits Tokyo in April. This is the Prime Minister, in his hubris, with a political intent of moving to a free trade agreement, deploying these Australian troops not for all the purposes that we have heard here but to score himself points in Tokyo in April in pursuit of this free trade agreement.

So the Australian troops are having their lives, their safety, their good office, put at risk for a political purpose which the Prime Minister has not had the gumption and courage to state clearly to the Australian people. That is what is happening here, and it is deplorable. Let me state something very clearly: this parliament, as with the original deployment, has not been consulted. The responsibility for this decision is Prime Minister Howard’s. The safety and wellbeing of these 450 excellent Australians is his responsibility alone. If there are deaths, if there is injury, if there is a terrible consequence from this deployment, that is on the head of this Prime Minister. It is his decision. It is made for the wrong reasons—he takes responsibility.

Senator Allison referred to the potential for contamination with depleted uranium in Al Muthanna province. Before we move to that, I want to dispel one myth which has again been put forward by Senator Hill in here today. It is very notable that he changed one part of the Prime Minister’s speech in the House of Representatives. On page 7 of the speech we see the Prime Minister saying:

Al Muthanna province has a small population and, relatively speaking, has seen a low level of violence.

Senator Hill read that as:

Al Muthanna province has a small population and, relatively speaking, has been free of violence.

That is simply not true. Insurgents have exploded devices in Al Muthanna province. Indeed, a key reason for the Dutch withdrawal is the death of two of their personnel in this province—one as a result of an exploding grenade; the other as a result of a vehicle being blown up. So, when the Minister for Defence comes into the Senate and says, ‘This place has been free of violence,’ it is simply not true. It is a risky place, and it is not the isolated place the government would have it. In fact, it is on the main road between al-Basra and Baghdad. The capital is the site of a crossing of the Euphrates river, where there was a pitched battle between the original invasion of Iraq and the death of 112 civilians in that city, in a battle that took a week to finally repress in the early days of this invasion. It is not the safe zone that the Prime Minister and, in particular, the Minister for Defence would have us believe.

On the matter of depleted uranium, it is estimated—and I am more conservative than Senator Allison here—that some 59 tonnes of depleted uranium have been exploded or utilised in weaponry that has been fired by the British and US defence forces since arrival in this country. There have been casualties as a result of that amongst the American forces. We know that the danger from depleted uranium is highest when the weapons are fired and the radioactive gases are given off. There has been great concern in this province with both the Japanese and the Dutch forces. The Dutch forces were originally put in a former US military camp and moved very rapidly due to radiation contamination. The Japanese forces have noted the radiation and each member of the Japanese forces wears a radiation dosimeter to register the level of radiation in the province.

I ask the minister, here and now: will Australian Defence Force personnel each be supplied with a radiation dosimeter to make sure they are not exposed to unnatural radiation as part of their deployment to this province? It is known that there are contaminated sites. They are not properly fenced off. Kids are playing in the region and there are extraordinarily high health risks involved. I ask the minister, who is in the Senate now, to report back to the Senate, as matter of urgency, on the situation regarding depleted radiation contamination in the area to which our Australian troops are going and the precautions which are being taken to make absolutely sure that there will not be health consequences for Australian Defence Force personnel going to Iraq so that the Prime Minister will have a better reception in Tokyo come April.

The Australian Greens have enormous admiration for the Australian Defence Force personnel who are involved. We believe their good office and their intention to defend our country as needed is being abused by the Prime Minister for a political purpose which does not warrant their deployment in Iraq. But, that said, we are with them all the way. Godspeed. May they come back to this country safe and sound. The Prime Minister bears an enormous responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of each one of these sterling Australian citizens.

Question agreed to.