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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


27th February 2005




MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER GREG TURNBULL: Hello, and welcome to Meet the Press. This morning, out of
the blue and at the double, the dramatic escalation of Australia's commitment in Iraq. 450 more
troops now preparing for deployment to southern Iraq. Doubling our boots on the ground, we'll talk
to the Defence Minister Robert Hill and a defence expert about the wisdom of it all, or otherwise.
But first to what the nation's press is reporting this Sunday, February 27. In Perth, the 'Sunday
Times' covers the return of the Gallop Government in yesterday's election. Labor backed comfortably
with Opposition Leader Colin Barnett saying he'll cop the blame. In Sydney the 'Sunday Telegraph'
quotes the father of expelled diplomat Amir Laty saying his son was never involved in spying. The
Melbourne 'Age' covers the move to fingerprint suspected illegal immigrants to try to avoid another
Cornelia Rau mix-up. And the Adelaide 'Sunday Mail' covers the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in a
nightclub that has left five people dead and more than 50 injured.

To the troop deployment. It's two years since Australia first got involved in the war in Iraq and
throughout that time the Government's throughout that time the Government's denied plans or
intentions to significantly increase our troop numbers there. The PM itself put it this way in
April last year.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD (EARLIER MEDIA APPEARANCE): So I can definitely say we won't be adding
hundreds. I can definitely say that we're not going to have a capacity to put more regular soldiers
on the ground.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, this week hundreds were added, and to discuss the implications, our guest this
morning is the Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill. Senator Hill welcome to the program.


GREG TURNBULL: Well, Senator, you heard the PM there, were the Australian people misled about the
Government's intentions in Iraq?

ROBERT HILL: No, they weren't misled. We're now two years on as you said. Circumstances have
changed. We believe that post the election in Iraq, in which the Iraqi people showed enormous
courage, it is important to actually build momentum towards the success of the mission, and there
was a extra contribution that Australia could make in that regard and we believe that for the
benefit of the Iraqi people we should make that contribution.

GREG TURNBULL: Is it the fact now that the Government has learnt the lesson of what you might
describe as loose remarks over the last two years and the form of words now will be much more
precise, that you'll keep our troop numbers under review?

ROBERT HILL: Well, we've always said that, but it's true we didn't ever have in mind an increase of
this size. We have not only reviewed but we've changed the construction of our force a number of
times during that two years, as jobs are being completed, for example the air traffic controllers
in Baghdad, they have been taken out. As new tasks have been presented to us that we've accepted,
such as providing a medical team, we've sent new force elements in. But we didn't ever have an
intention for an increase of the size that we've now agreed.

GREG TURNBULL: Let me go to the question of what the public has a right to know in relation to such
an important deployment, and I want to play in a moment your own words from national television,
ABC's 'Insiders' program, last Sunday.

INTERVIEWER: More troops?

ROBERT HILL: We've never ruled out more troops, but they are decisions that Government takes in the
circumstances of our ongoing evaluation.

GREG TURNBULL: There you were one week ago Senator, you'll recall those words from the 'Insiders'
program. The fact of the matter is at that time you knew perfectly well that Australia was about to
announce this deployment. I think the National Security Committee had met a couple of days earlier.
You yourself had been involved in discussions about the deployment as early as January. What I'm
asking you is, as a politician and as the Defence Minister, what goes through your mind when you're
asked straight out, will there be more troops, you know there will be, but you don't say so?

ROBERT HILL: Well, I can't pre-empt the decision of Cabinet. Cabinet makes its decision and then an
announcement is made. I foreshadowed that there could be increases. I didn't foreshadow an increase
of the size that was announced because that decision hadn't been made.

GREG TURNBULL: I'm just wondering - I appreciate the Cabinet factor...

ROBERT HILL: I'd be in a lot of trouble if I pre-empt Cabinet, if that's what you're asking me to

GREG TURNBULL: I guess so, and call me naive, but is it out of the question on such a matter that
the public be told that it's in contemplation instead of what's happened, which was the public was
told of a fait accompli?

ROBERT HILL: I think if you can't - if you open up the Cabinet process then it won't work. In other
words, if I had of said it's being contemplated then there would have been a degree of pressures
and debate and I think most people would say that's not the way in which a Cabinet system can
reasonably work.

GREG TURNBULL: But the Government's not adverse to occasionally running an issue up at the flag
pole to see if it flies. Wouldn't it have been possible to say ...

ROBERT HILL: These are not the sort of issues that we run in an opinion poll. These are grave
decisions, a full process must be completed and Cabinet's got the right to say yes or no.

GREG TURNBULL: Could I ask you about your discussions with Geoffrey Hoon the British Defence
Minister in January, where did you leave it with him? Was it something you'd take back to the
Government? I asked you because the Foreign Minister has discussed his conversations with Jack
Straw. I'm wondering whether you said no, yes or maybe to Geoffrey Hoon?

ROBERT HILL: Geoffrey Hoon said the British would appreciate assistance. They are very stretched, I
knew that. They have a large troop contingent in Iraq as well as many other deployments around the
world at the moment. The retirement of the Dutch contingent presented them with a real problem. So
I listened to his argument and said I'd take that back to Government.

GREG TURNBULL: And so, in other words it was pretty much, it certainly wasn't a refusal and it was
something that you set the wheels in motion in terms of that ultimate decision?

ROBERT HILL: Yes, it wasn't for me to say yes or no. I listened to his case, I engaged in some
discussion and debate on the issue, and said that I would take the request back for consideration
of our government.

GREG TURNBULL: Isn't it the case, though, that the British had already indicated that they would
fill the gap left by the Dutch and, therefore, the question of the Japanese pulling out because
they were unprotected would not have arisen?

ROBERT HILL: The British would have had to fill the gap in the sense that their agreement with the
United States is they have a responsibility for security across southern Iraq. So they would have
had to stretch their forces even further. Whether they would have had the manpower to meet the full
security requirements of the Japanese, I'm not sure.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, Senator, we'll come back to the deployment in the second break with the panel,
but before we go to a break, the Western Australian election, very disappointing for Colin Barnett
and the Liberals. Your response?

ROBERT HILL: It's disappointing for the Liberals, but we're political realists. With a strong
national economy, a first-term government, State Government's now awash with money from the GST. It
was always going to be difficult.

GREG TURNBULL: Alright then. That's where we'll take a break. When we return with the panel we'll
continue the search for Australia's exit strategy from Iraq.

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet the Press, and our guest is Senator Robert Hill. And we're joined by
our panel, Mark Forbes from the Melbourne 'Age' and Brian Toohey from the 'Australian Financial
Review'. Well, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says the new deployment in Iraq is unwise and policy
on the run and he's posed some hard questions for the Government.

and they are these - how many troops, for how long and what is your exit strategy?

GREG TURNBULL: Questions from Kim Beazley to John Howard and now a question for Senator Robert Hill
from Mark Forbes.

MARK FORBES, THE 'AGE': Senator, the Australian commander in Iraq says that the Iraqis must be able
to secure control of that southern province before the Australian troops can go home. This could be
years away, couldn't it?

ROBERT HILL: Well, considerable progress has already been made. As you know, we, together with some
British, are replacing 1,200 Dutch. So that in itself indicates that progress towards creating a
stable environment is being made, and it's true, we would want to leave the province when the
Iraqis are able to adequately provide for their own secure. That's clearly their wish as well.

MARK FORBES: 450 is a relatively small number. Did the British originally want more? And what are
the contingency plans if more reinforcements or even air support are needed? Who's going to provide

ROBERT HILL: Well, the British explained their dilemma. It was up to us to decide whether we would
make a contribution and what the force composition that would be. So the 450 really flowed from our
decision as to what tasks we could undertake which was basically to provide the security for the
Japanese humanitarian force and also to provide training for the Iraqi security force. We then took
advice from our military advisers, the CDF and the chief of army, and they said a force of 450
would be necessary to do that job and gave us the framework for that force.

BRIAN TOOHEY, THE 'AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW': Your request for those 450 troops came from Japan
and the British. Iraq is now a democracy. When did you get the request from Iraq?

ROBERT HILL: Well, Iraq, of course, through the interim government, has constantly stated its
appreciation for the contribution that we've made, but also said that if we're ever able to make
any further contribution they would appreciate it. But after the invitation from the Japanese, an
invitation from the British, we then communicated through our embassy with the Iraqi leadership,
and Dr Allawi in particular, who indicated our troops would be very much appreciated in that
particular operation.

BRIAN TOOHEY: Did you ask anyone after the election in the party that got the majority of the vote
and is likely to provide the new PM?

ROBERT HILL: I'm not sure of the full details because that was at the diplomatic level, and there,
of course, is a difficulty in that regard, because the transition government is still not in place.
But I think there was some sounding out of individuals to the extent, perhaps not provided with the
detail of what we had in mind, but the advice we got back from Baghdad is that we would have every
reason to believe that an incoming government would be equally supportive of us filling this
particular niche.

BRIAN TOOHEY: The biggest threat, though, it seems to me, to our troops in southern Iraq, would
occur if the United States bombed sites in Iran, a Shi'ite country which is suspected of having a
nuclear weapons program. Given that the person who is likely to become the PM in Iraq is strongly
supported by Iran, he might not be too keen then in those circumstances to control Shi'ites in
southern Iraq who wanted to retaliate against foreign forces there. Nevertheless, would you support
the US bombing sites in a country suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction, which is
after all why we invaded Iraq?

ROBERT HILL: Well, there's no suggestion that the US is going to bomb Iran. We're looking for a
resolution of that issue. But that's being done diplomatically and particularly under the
leadership of the European Union. The greatest threat or threats to our forces in this particular
province would be the possibility of some Sunni insurgence, although there hasn't been a lot of it,
criminal elements, threats of that nature. Certainly I'm not expecting a scenario of the type that
you've outlined.

MARK FORBES: Are our troops there in Iraq going to be adequately resourced? I mean, we've had the
annual report of Defence finding a series of deficiencies in the 1st Brigade's preparedness. This
month the National Audit Office also released a report that detailed a survey of 1st Brigade
vehicles and found that only 4% of them were fully functional. Have you given our military the
tools to achieve these dangerous goals?

ROBERT HILL: Well, of course, and you've only got to look at the record in recent years. But that's
the advice of the CDF. He advises what force can be provided, and it's on the basis that they're
fully trained and fully equipped. As you know, the LAV vehicles, the new LAV3s in particular, have
done extraordinarily well in Iraq. Although they've been attacked on a number of occasions the skin
of the vehicle hasn't been pierced, so in terms of protection they're very good. 1st Brigade
members, many have been to Iraq already, serving either in the security detachment in Baghdad or in
the training teams, so they are familiar with the environment and the risks. This will be a 450
task force fully equipped, fully-trained and experienced in doing the job effectively.

BRIAN TOOHEY: The PM has justified the deployment on the grounds that Iraq is now at a tilting
point following the election. Are you happy that our troops will essentially be helping tilt the
decision in favour of a government whose platform - if the majority party, if they're the ones who
form the government - whose platform includes making Islam the state religion, adopting what is
essentially a socialist economic policy and adopting anti-US, anti-Israeli anti-foreign policies?

ROBERT HILL: Well, one thing about a democracy is you can't dictate the outcome. And we shouldn't
try. We've given the Iraqi people the opportunity to determine their own future. They're grabbing
that opportunity, as we've seen, with a 60% vote despite all the difficulties and the intimidation.
And the transition government will be put in place. It will determine its own policies, but it is a
transition government. The major challenge then is the drafting of the constitution and doing it in
a way that draws within the governance all of the major groups within Iraq is going to be a huge
challenge, and then there'll be ultimately another election later this year which will achieve the
full sovereignty. So there's quite a way to go in terms of the development of governments for Iraq
and the policies of those governments. So whilst I wouldn't' necessarily agree with all of what
you've said in relation to the policies of this transitional government, it is transitional. It's
designed to lead to full sovereignty, and it's that process that we're supporting.

GREG TURNBULL: Senator Robert Hill we're out of time. I thank you sincerely for coming into our
studio in Adelaide this morning. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

ROBERT HILL: Thank you.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, after the break - a defence expert Allan Behm on the likelihood that even more
Australian troops may be needed in Iraq. And our cartoon of the week this week comes from Warren in
the Sydney 'Telegraph', who has Tony Abbott saying, " I must protest about sending our sons to
Iraq," and John Howard replying, "Knock it off, Tony, you've only had one for five minutes."

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet the Press and we're joined from Canberra now by former Defence
bureaucrat turned strategic analyst Allan Behm. Allan Behm, welcome to the program.


GREG TURNBULL: You're on the record as being opposed to the original involvement in Iraq, but now
of Australian troops in Iraq, but now you support this new deployment. Why?

ALLAN BEHM: Well, the situation, as Senator Hill said, is completely different now. Prior to the
war in Iraq in 2003 it was my judgment that we did have nothing like enough strategic justification
for joining the coalition of the willing. There wasn't enough evidence and our interests weren't
deeply enough engaged. This time, I think it's entirely different and for that reason I do support
the Government's decision to deploy more forces into Iraq.

BRIAN TOOHEY: But Australia has long held a policy of not favouring imposing democracy at the point
of a gun. We've not supported regime change. We went into Iraq because we wrongly thought there
were weapons of mass destruction there. But really all we're doing now surely is trying to cement
the new regime in place. Where do we stop? Why not invade China to put a democratic government in

ALLAN BEHM: Brian, that's a very good question and that's certainly why I opposed it at the
beginning. I don't think it is our job to impose regime change on anybody. I think it's for them to
decide if and when they're able to do that. But at this stage we're dealing with what's in hand.
We're dealing with the consequences of earlier action. The place is in my view past a tilting
point. I think that the situation on the ground in Iraq is close to chaotic. You have an insurgency
running with attacks against the United States forces all the time and then you have a civil war
running between Shias and Sunnis, so I think there is a need for members of the international
community to get in there and try to do what is needed, and that is stabilise the place so the
people do have a chance of surviving and living decent lives.

GREG TURNBULL: Can I just come in there? There's the question also of having broken the
undertakings of the last two years and now sending more troops into Iraq. It raises the question
well how many more will go if they're sought or requested by the Iraqis, the British, the Americans
or in the recent case, the Japanese Prime Minister. One of your fellow commentators, Aldo Borgu
from the Strategic Policy Institute, addressed this question through the week.

DEFENCE EXPERT ALDO BORGU: But there's also a number of other European countries that are going to
be pulling out their troops over the next 12 months in different parts of Iraq. And let's face it,
the UK and Australia are the two countries that Americans are relying on, so we could be expected
to fill in further gaps in the future.

GREG TURNBULL: You agree, Allan?

ALLAN BEHM: Um, maybe I agree. Greg, I think that the issue here is that it is important for the PM
and for Senator Hill to articulate the grounds on which we would take any further decisions and
this is lacking from what the Government has said to us at this point. We know the reasons for
going into Iraq with a bigger force and I think that they're justifiable reasons, but the issue
around an exit strategy and so on is very murky. So until the Government clarifies that, Aldo may
be right. But it seems to me there are some fairly clear principles we could look at. First of all,
the Japanese that we're there to protect are carrying out engineering works and at some point one
would expect that those engineering works will be completed. So one scenario could see us leave
when the Japanese decide to leave. Another scenario may well be that the Japanese may decide to
stay on for some period longer than we would want to, so it would be useful perhaps that we
approach other countries who might themselves see utility in supporting the Japanese in that
enterprise. I think there are a number of ways of handling it. The important thing is that the
Government needs to do that fairly quickly. This is where the parallel with Vietnam is. In 1962 we
were in exactly the same position when we sent the training team to Vietnam. We didn't know the
answer to the question - how long is this piece of string?

MARK FORBES: Do you think this commitment emerges from independent Australian assessments or do you
think we're really about following the United States' lead? In these big strategic questions that
are facing us at the moment, is the primacy of the US alliance the main factor?

ALLAN BEHM: Mark, I don't think so on this occasion. We have a reputation as you know in Asia and
in Europe for being something of a Mary's lamb country, that is wherever the United States go we're
sure to follow, but on this occasion I think the tilting point of the decision was actually the
role of Japan in the game and the direct request from the Japanese PM Koizumi. You see, we have
been trying for a long time to put some flesh on the otherwise fairly exposed bones of a strategic
relationship with Japan. We worked with Japan very effectively in Cambodia when General Sanderson
was leading the UN contingent. And to work with them in Iraq in stabilising a country, which is
important to the balance of the Middle East, I think is a very substantial strategic argument for
the decision. It hasn't been given much air, but I think that is the nub of the decision.

GREG TURNBULL: Allan, can I just can ask, are we making a mistake by having an open-ended
commitment, which the Dutch and others didn't make. The Dutch went in to protect Japanese
engineers, said they'd be there for two years and at the end of two years they've marched out and
been saluted on the way out. What do you think it would mean in terms of our relationship with the
United States and the British if we started putting limits on our commitments?

ALLAN BEHM: It's my view that you don't put a terminal boundary on your commitment, but rather you
structure your commitment within decision boundaries that allow you to change the nature of your
decision as time goes on. And in this case, as I said earlier, it is incumbent upon the Government
to give us some sense of the boundaries of this decision. The problem with 2003 was, of course,
that nobody could ask or even answer the question - how do you know when you've won? At this point,
the important question is -on what basis are you going to get out? That was the point that Mr
Beazley made. I think it's a pretty fair point.

BRIAN TOOHEY: We were part of an invading force which two years ago locked up Iraqi scientists
whose only crime was not to have produced the weapons of mass destruction we expected to find.
Should we now push the United States to release these people who are still in jail without charge
after two years?

ALLAN BEHM: Well Brian, these are issues relating to human rights and law. They're slightly outside
my field of expertise, but it would seem to me that if we are going to advance the principles of
democratic practice, which all of them hinge around the rights of the individual, then we should be
very consistent in the application of those rights wherever they are, and that would include in
Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and everywhere else. So I think the answer to that question from my point of
view is yes.

GREG TURNBULL: Allan Behm, that's where we'll have to leave it. We're out of time. Thank you very
much for joining us this morning. It's pretty clear, I think, panel members, that with phone polls
showing 71% of people don't approve of this deployment the Government has a job in front of it yet
to persuade the public. Our thanks to guests Senator Robert Hill, the Defence Minister, and Allan
Behm from Canberra and our panelists Mark Forbes and Brian Toohey. Until next week, it's goodbye
from Meet the Press.