Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
South Perth, WA, 17 December 1998; transcript of doorstop [Iraq; Westralia]



Download WordDownload Word

image

 

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, SOUTH PERTH, WA, 17 DECEMBER 1998

 

E&OE-PROOF ONLY

 

Subjects: Iraq, Westralia

 

BEAZLEY: 

 

Well, resort to military force is always regrettable. It always has consequences for civilians and, of course, for the military personnel engaged. But, resort to force in this instance is inevitable because of the actions of Iraq. The United States warned and the U.K. warned that if the UN inspectors were not given access to the obviously likely sites for the development of weapons of mass destruction in absolute violation of Saddam Hussein’s statements that he would ensure that those sites would in fact be properly inspected, then recourse to military action was inevitable. So this is a development which Saddam Hussein has brought upon himself and unfortunately also upon his own people. And we can only hope that it will succeed in objectives to destroy the capacity for Iraq to development weapons of mass destruction. But, that, of course, remains to be seen.

 

JOURNALIST: 

 

How much influence has Bill Clinton’s problems at home and the impeachment process played in this decision?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I think the problem that they confront is that they’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t. If they don’t act when they’ve clearly indicated that they would. And Mr Clinton clearly indicated an intention to act in precisely the circumstances, which have now occurred, then he would be said to be not acting because he was worried about the potential optics of that in relation to the impeachment proceedings. If he does act, then the sorts of actions which have been levelled against him are made. He has basically got to govern as though those impeachment proceedings were not there in place if United States policy is not to atrophy. And I think basically that’s what he’s doing.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Are you concerned, though, that he doesn’t appear to have the full support of Congress for this action?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, that was something of a surprise. I think that there is a requirement here for something like a Plan B to be elaborated — that we are in a situation here where most would say that to take out the sorts of hard targets that have been discussed by the U.S. military would require a bombing campaign of longer than a few days. Much more of the nature of those that were engaged in during the course of the Gulf War. And so, the question arises: when do you declare that the objectives have been achieved? And what pattern of arrangements and relationships do you establish to ensure compliance in the future? These are genuinely difficult questions. And are questions over the next few days, which will emerge. But, I do think the Republican Congressman that I saw commenting on Mr Clinton’s views was being shallow, to say the least.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Would you support Australian military involvement if it was asked for?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

It’s not asked for and I don’t think it’s going to be asked for. I think what the United States has decided and the United Kingdom has decided is that the way in which Saddam Hussein has dealt with UNSCOM and the inspection process is to try and turn them into some form of political hostage for his own ambitions. And many people in the region, and I think most internationally, are heartedly sick of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime and his, in many ways quite childish tactics in relation to that. The United States does not want to play his game. And so, they’ve moved a step aside to try and ensure a degree of compliance there. All the same, that requires a degree of diplomatic finesse and a pretty close relationship between military action and diplomatic initiative. And it’s a difficult thing to achieve those targets and those objectives in three days.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What should Australia’s role be then?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, I think Australia’s role ought to be what is the role of the rest of the international community at this point. I mean, I think that we ought to be saying that we understand the reasons why President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair are doing what they’re doing. That they are justifiable reasons, in the circumstances which they confront. But, because this has become a diplomatic and military contest to try to secure compliance that requires rapid responses from time to time, it’s unlikely that a country like Australia, or anyone else for that matter, could play any more substantial role.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Can you only justify this on strategic issues. In other words, if it achieves its objectives of destroying stockpiles or the ability to create more weapons, or can you justify this on punitive reasons for failing to comply with the weapons inspectors?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I think there is a combination of both in American objectives. And the question arises: will both or either be achieved during the course of the next few days? Obviously, the United States made clear that if there was going to be no compliance by Saddam Hussein — no relevant compliance by him — in relation to UN inspections then there would be efforts to achieve those objectives by other means. So there’s clearly a combination here of both the punitive and the attempt to secure the objective, which is to remove those weapons of mass destruction. I think it has to be understood as background, again, on this: firstly, Saddam Hussein unquestionably has weapons of mass destruction and has unquestionably used them in past conflicts. That makes him a different order of problem for many others who are seen as potentially Possessing weapons of mass destruction. And it makes him an exceptionally bad example to the rest of the world. That’s the first point of difference. The second point of difference, he actually has an agreement, in an agreement which included hostilities in 1991 by which he said he would dismantle all his capabilities in that area. And absolutely, manifestly, he has failed to comply. And he has, on reasonable evidence, from UNSCOM, a substantial number of weapons of mass destruction developed or in precursor stage. And some of those sites, they’re very difficult sites to get at, because some of these things, frankly, when you get to biological weapons, you can produce in your kitchen. But, some of these things are readily identifiable and obviously the United States bombing campaign is aimed at that. So there’s a combination there both of the punitive and also of achieving the ultimate objective.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

It’s not upped the anti, though, in this conflict, which seemed to be circular up to this point. I mean, what do we do in six months time if Saddam Hussein is again refusing access? I mean, are we talking about ground troops, are we talking about direct Australian involvement?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, that’s the point I was making a bit earlier on about Plan B. Where does the thing get taken from this point? It seems to be from reporting out of Washington, that the intention here is a few days of bombing. That looks very intense and quite likely to achieve its objectives. But, of course, the experience in ‘91 was that targets required a number of visits before they actually hit what they wanted to hit or destroy what they wanted to destroy. So the issue, I guess for everybody is plan B: where does the diplomatic and miliary process go from here? Clearly what the United States is trying to do is to move away from a diplomacy which is dominated by Saddam Hussein cat and mouse type activities with UNSCOM to let him know there are real penalties for pursuing that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

... (mid-year economic review)

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I think Simon [Crean] will be coming out and doing a conference on that. I haven’t looked at it - I couldn’t say.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley on the Westralia issue, the report is due out today. What would you be hoping to see from the inquiry?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

There’s a couple of things. Firstly, there is a report there which says that some of the folk of the families of those who were killed in the course of the tragedy have been unhappy with the treatment that they’ve received from the Department of Defence. I would urge the Department, particularly now, as the report is about to be released, to get together a special group to ensure that their interests and concerns are catered for by one group of individuals to whom they can respond and query on a persistent basis. So I would urge that to happen from the review. The review itself, of that tragedy, I think would undoubtedly show that great courage was displayed as we know, by the sailors who found themselves involved in that terrible tragedy. The evidence seemed to indicate that there were difficulties with the way in which repair and maintenance was done on the Westralla. We’ll just have to wait to see what the report says.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But, families are going to call for an inquiry on their treatment. What do you think about that?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

That’s why I think that it is important that the Defence Department establishes a group within it that allows consistency of treatment of the families. It’s not going to be, unfortunately, and it has not been the only tragedy which will afflict the defence forces. People who do dangerous things invariably are going to find themselves in accidents. And I think that the Defence Department and defence forces are getting better and better at counselling arrangements associated with that. But, clearly when there’s a cry for help like we are seeing from the families today, then there is something more they need to do. And putting in place a group to handle all the queries in relation to compensation, counselling and the rest of it, I think, would be a good start. And a good early response to the report.

 

 

Ends

 

 

 

AM