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Public servants letter debated -

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Public servants letter debated


MAXINE McKEW: It wasn't the FTA and the protection of cheap drugs that caught Labor's attention
today during Question Time.

Instead the Opposition zeroed in on a plea for truth in Government by 43 prominent Australians.

As we've heard, the extraordinary collection of former service chiefs, diplomats and public service
heads has come in for a degree of ridicule.

The PM was more measured, suggesting that most of the signatories were in senior Government posts
at a time when the international security environment was very different.

But what of the central charge, that at the heart of our involvement in Iraq was a deception?

I've been joined by one of the 43, that's former chief of the Australian Air Force Air Marshall Ray
Funnell, who still serves as a member of the Government's immigration detention and advisory group.

He's in Canberra tonight.

And in Sydney, Michael Baume, former Liberal Senator and until recently consul general in New York.

He sees some very mixed agendas in today's letter.

Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

Ray Funnell, to you first.

Today you've been variously labelled, I think, one of 43 grumpy old men at the Commonwealth club or
one of the doddery daiquiri swillers.

How do you plead?


We put a substantial issue on the table and instead we get that sort of response from the

We're seeking something better from our politicians.

But if I could just respond along those lines.

I don't believe I'm doddery - I'm about the same age as the Prime Minister and I believe I'm as
physically and mentally able and I don't drink daiquiris.

But please could we get to the major issue - truth in Government.

MAXINE MCKEW: Well, why do you feel that truth in Government is now a fragile concept?

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Because we get across-the-board evidence that the Government is dodging
and ducking and weaving, but it's not just the Government, it's politicians of all stripes and it's
a sad reflection on parliamentary democracy in Australia 2004 - that the people that we elect to
represent us in the Federal Government are not being honest with us.

MAXINE MCKEW: Well, the PM's line of attack today was to say that the world has changed quite
dramatically since you were all in the senior leadership positions.

Now, he has a point, doesn't he?

Since Bali, since September 11, the world is a very different place.

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Yes, the world is a very different place and I and I'm sure the other 42
members who signed that letter have kept abreast of that fact.

But yes, the world is a very different place, but one thing is not different and that is that truth
is fundamental to a vibrant democracy.

MAXINE MCKEW: Michael Baume, to you, why can't a group of people who have served their country ably
over the years make a statement such as this without being subject to the kind of ridicule we've
heard today?

MICHAEL BAUME, FORMER LIBERAL SENATOR: I think they've got every right to make any statements they
like, but it would be nice if there was honesty in statements of this kind as well.

MAXINE MCKEW: Where is the dishonesty?

MICHAEL BAUME: Well, in my view, this statement is full of weasel words.

I mean, it has a lot of motherhood statements but doesn't actually attack the Government as such,
doesn't have the guts, if you like, to come out and say the Government lied.

What it says is always indirect, in passive voice, "Someone did it" - it's by inference only.

MAXINE MCKEW: Well, I don't think the Prime Minister got that impression today.

He sounded as if he was under attack.


That the whole purpose of the statement was to make it look as if it was a direct attack.

But, the fact is, many people in my view - I mean, a lot of my friends have signed this, very good
people - I don't think they would have been inclined to have signed it had it, in fact, been the
sort of direct attack that I'm certain the people who are behind it wanted to have.

We've seen that.

MAXINE MCKEW: So, what is it, there is some kind of deception in the statement or what is it?

MICHAEL BAUME: Well, in my view, yes.

For example - I will read you a bit.

"We're concerned that Australia was committed to join the invasion of, presumably by the
Australian Government...on the basis of false assumptions and the deception of the Australian

Now, who deceived...

MAXINE MCKEW: Sorry, what's not clear about that?

MICHAEL BAUME: Who deceived the Australian people?

They're not saying the Government deceived the Australian people.

In fact, the Australian people were deceived either by the CIA or the Americans or the British.

I mean, exactly the same situation as in Britain.


Ray Funnell, can you clear this up for us?

Are you being quite clear as far as you're concerned - you're a signatory to this - that in fact
the charge is it's the Australian Government that has committed the deception?


But, in a way, that misses the point.

The point is about truth in Government.

We want politicians of all stripes to be frank with the Australian people.

But certainly in this case, because it is the Government that makes these decisions, particularly a
very substantial decision like this - we are concerned that the issue wasn't properly put on the

Instead, there was deception involved in the way in which we got ourselves into the war in Iraq.

And I'm sure that everyone else who signed up to the letter was equally clear, as I was, that this
is what we were accusing the Government of doing.

MICHAEL BAUME: But, Ray, who did the deception?

You're saying that - personally you're saying - the Government did the deception.

This statement just says there was deception.

There is no doubt we were misled.

We were misled by the information that was given to us by the Americans, for example.

There is no doubt about the question of being misled.

What there is doubt about and what is a political issue and deliberately raises a political issue
by this statement, that the Government deliberately set out to mislead.

That's what deception means.

Now that's why I think this statement is quite dishonest because it doesn't actually say the
Government deceived, and it doesn't prove, it doesn't provide any evidence whatsoever to establish

MAXINE MCKEW: Ray Funnell, the Prime Minister made much the same point during Question Time today.

He said, "Yes, the intelligence is flawed, but where is the deliberate deception?"

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Well, I think it goes back a long way, Maxine, but essentially the
deception comes about from the reasons we went to war.

And I believe that most thinking Australians are well aware of the reason we went to war.

We went to war because we had signed up with our strong and great ally, the USA, to the war on

We'd been there in Afghanistan and I believe, from last year onwards, we were signed up as part of
the war on terror to the invasion of Iraq.

Now that is a substantial reason for going to war.

Why wasn't that put on the table?

Why wasn't it put on the table and publicly debated?

Instead, what we got through that whole series of statements through the end of last year and the
beginning of this year, "No, no, we're not committed. No, no, it's all about weapons of mass
destruction. It's all about links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda."

I don't believe that is true and I believe most of the other people who are signatories to that
letter believe that we were deceived.

MAXINE MCKEW: So, essentially, this letter is not so much concerned about the flawed intelligence,
but about the fact that the incorrect rationale was set out to the Australian public, is that

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Yes, the letter mentions nothing about flawed intelligence.

We didn't raise the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

There is a whole range of things that have been said that we said, that weren't said.

Just read the letter, for God's sake and that would come out.

MICHAEL BAUME: Yes, I read the letter all right and I see that so many of the people who signed it
have also gone on the record saying that they believed there were weapons of mass destruction.

Now, the thing is - you notice Ray's comment was, "I believe the real issue was such and such."

In other words, he has made a subjective judgment that the issue that the Government said prompted
the war was not, in his view, his very subjective view, the real issue.

In other words, this is a subjective disagreement, not a question of deception.

MAXINE MCKEW: Michael Baume, aren't you splitting hairs here?

MICHAEL BAUME: Not at all.

MAXINE MCKEW: It seems to me whatever you think about the motives for various people, and you are
probably right, there are mixed agendas here - there are people who have been badly treated by the
Government. The fact is, this letter signed by 43 Australians has really nailed the real reason we
went to war.

It was because of the alliance and because George Bush put it on the line and said, "You're either
with us or against us."

That's inescapable, isn't it?

MICHAEL BAUME: That may well be an arguable case.


Is it the case or is it not?

MICHAEL BAUME: No, I tell you, the case is very simple.

The case is we understood, everyone understood, the world understood, there were weapons of mass

The argument was - what do you do about it?

That was what the argument was about.

This business about...

MAXINE MCKEW: Sorry, what came first, our decision to go with George Bush into Iraq or the argument
about WMD?

I put it to you the decision came first.

MICHAEL BAUME: Well, you must know a lot more than I do.

What I know is that the issue was Iraq has weapons of mass destruction - what are we going to do
about it?

The argument went forth and forth, through the UN.

A lot of the people here said they would support a war if the UN supported it.

Now, the UN thought there were weapons of mass destruction.

Now, that is the issue and the issue also is this - the question of the agendas of the people
involved in this.

I mean, so many of the DFAT people, the foreign affairs people, are people who have frankly been
discredited by their adherence and support for the dreadful policy the Foreign Affairs Department
maintained, sustained and promulgated which involved keeping East Timor as a colony of Indonesia,
and that was totally improper.

Mr Woolcott has been fighting that fight ever since.

And they've been wrongly claiming that this Government doesn't know how to deal with Asia, when in
fact our relations with Asia are better than they've ever been.

MAXINE MCKEW: Ray Funnell, is the document somewhat tainted by all of these mixed agendas that are

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Oh, come on, Maxine.

What we're trying to do is get the issue of truth in Government.

That's the thing we want discussed.

Instead, we get these attacks on the messenger.

Let's get to the message, not the messenger.

What about truth in Government?

We want it from all our politicians.

This is not a team tended to be partisan, anything but, but it just so happens that the coalition
is in power and so they're making the decisions.

What we seek from our elected representatives is for them to be frank with the people who sent them
to Canberra to represent them.

That's what we're seeking - truth in the Government.

MAXINE MCKEW: Ray Funnell, if it's not partisan, why time the release of this on the eve of the

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Do you know when it is?

I don't know when it is.

MAXINE MCKEW: Pretty soon.

Pretty soon.

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Well, it is pretty soon, but what we get in Australia at the moment is
constant campaigning.

When can you release something that's not going to be described in these terms?

MICHAEL BAUME: It took you a fair while after the British had a similar sort of exercise.

Goodness me, if this was such a vital thing, truth in Government, how about coming out with it to
sit closer to the event?

It seems to me it is only after there's been clear evidence that there is going to be an election
that you've suddenly come out with this and to pretend, to pretend that it is not partisan, strikes
me as extraordinary because the use of words like 'deception' and so on, clearly give an

As I said to you, a lot of this is motherhood stuff - everyone agrees with it.

If you wanted to push that line, goodness me, if you'd had the last paragraph, I'd have signed it
if you wanted me to as a former diplomat.

MAXINE MCKEW: Ray Funnell?

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Oh, please don't impute motivation in this.

This is not the reason that I and everyone else with whom I discussed it - this is not the reason
why it came forward at this time.

We really were concerned with this issue of truth in Government and that's what we wanted to put

MAXINE MCKEW: Ray Funnell, General Gration made the point this morning that current service
personnel and serving diplomats also share these concerns about truth in Government.

Is that your understanding as well?

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: As far as military people is concerned, yes, it is.

I haven't been discussing this issue with people in foreign affairs and trade or diplomats, but I
have discussed it with numerous serving officers and many of them shared my views.

MAXINE MCKEW: That's widespread then, is it?

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Widespread, I couldn't say that because the Australian Defence Force is a
very large defence force spread right across Australia and overseas.

And I just don't get out and around all that much to those places.

MAXINE McKEW: But to those serving officers you have spoken to, what reservations do they have or
concerns do they have about the issues that you're raising and the consequences?

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: I think it's a general concern on this issue of truth in Government.

MICHAEL BAUME: Well, the ADA, the Australian Defence Association doesn't share your view.

As I understand it there will be a letter in tomorrow's Australian in which they are very strongly
critical of this letter, in fact saying, "It's unfortunate timing during a virtual election
campaign detracts from the signatories' claim to a non-partisan intent and therefore the general
credibility of the criticism."

And it says it is inappropriate and the clear impression is they would like to know the people who
didn't sign it.

AIR MARSHAL RAY FUNNELL: Well, that's the Australian Defence Association and they're entitled to
their view.

I don't know who didn't sign it.

I know a few people who were reluctant to sign it.

I myself was reluctant.

I've never signed a letter like this before.

I was reluctant to sign it because one of the things that I suspected would happen has happened and
that is that it has been cast as being a partisan attack on the Government.

That was never its intention.

It was never my intention.

What I'm seeking is truth in Government from politicians of all stripes.


Gentlemen, I know we've only touched the surface on this issue and it is a much more complex one
that we've got time for, but for your time tonight. I thank you, Ray Funnell and Michael Baume.

Thanks, indeed.



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