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PM denies misleading Australians -

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PM denies misleading Australians

Reporter: Narda Gilmore

TONY JONES: John Howard is fending off claims that he deliberately misled Australians over future
troop commitments in Iraq in the lead-up to last year's election. The Prime Minister insists it was
a last-minute decision to double troop numbers after developments in recent weeks. This evening, Mr
Howard has signalled that just last month, the government rebuffed a British request for more
Australian forces. From Canberra, Narda Gilmore reports.

NARDA GILMORE: In Darwin, preparations are in full swing. The Army's 1st Brigade will provide most
of the 450 soldiers going to Iraq, and according to their commander, there's plenty of enthusiasm.

BRIGADIER JOHN CANTWELL (1ST BRIGADE COMMANDER): All of the soldiers that we'll send will want to
be there. In fact, we'll be besieged with soldiers who want to go and carry out this task.

NARDA GILMORE: The Opposition insists the soldiers shouldn't be going at all. Labor's accusing the
government of misleading Australians over future troop commitments in Iraq in the lead-up to last
year's election.

KIM BEAZLEY (OPPOSITION LEADER): The government has attempted to deceive the Australian people on
Iraq, just as they deceived them on interest rates during the course of the last election campaign.

NARDA GILMORE: Anti-war protesters had a clear message for the Prime Minister in Perth today.

PROTESTERS: 1, 2, 3, 4, we don't want your stupid war.

NARDA GILMORE: John Howard says he expected a backlash.

JOHN HOWARD (PRIME MINISTER): I do not apologise at all for the fact that the government has
changed its position. I acknowledge that I'll be criticised for that, but in the end, I've got to
take decisions that I believe are right in the interests of this country.

NARDA GILMORE: The Prime Minister says that at the end of last month, when Alexander Downer was in
London, the British Government did request a boost to Australia's commitment. Three days later, Mr
Howard told the Bulletin magazine there were no plans to significantly increase troop numbers.

JOHN HOWARD: It wasn't a misleading answer. It was a correct statement of our then position.

NARDA GILMORE: This evening, in an interview with Lateline to be shown later in the program, John
Howard signalled that his government initially rebuffed the British request. He says it wasn't
until after the success of the Iraqi elections that the government began to review its position.
Fresh pleas from Britain and Japan in the past week sealed the decision to boost troop numbers.

JOHN HOWARD: But the Japanese element of this is very important, because Japan is a strong regional
ally and partner of Australia.

NARDA GILMORE: Mr Howard is now refusing to rule out a further increase. But after meeting
Britain's Deputy Prime Minister in London, John Anderson thinks it's unlikely more troops will be
needed.

JOHN ANDERSON (DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER): I don't anticipate and the government doesn't anticipate any
further requests or need.

NARDA GILMORE: Kim Beazley says it's time the government made its plans clear.

KIM BEAZLEY: How many troops, for how long and what is your exit strategy? No more wriggle room on
this, Mr Howard.

NARDA GILMORE: While he's opposed to the troops going, Mr Beazley has concerns for their safety and
says reinforcements might be necessary.

ALEXANDER DOWNER (FOREIGN MINISTER): I would have thought the Labor Party's position on this was
about as muddled and confused as a political party's position ever could be.

NARDA GILMORE: The troops will leave in 10 weeks for an initial deployment of a year.