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Alex of Arabia now in full retreat.



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KEVIN RUDD M.P. Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

[02-143]

MEDIA RELEASE

ALEX OF ARABIA NOW IN FULL RETREAT

But Howard’s refusal to commit to a parliamentary debate on Iraq before any war totally unacceptable

It is good for the Australian national interest that the Foreign Minister now appears to have been put back in his box on Australian policy on Iraq.

Suddenly for the Government, what was critical on 17 July has become premature by 19 August.

However, the Prime Minister’s promise that he “might” consider a parliamentary debate on Iraq before a decision is taken by Australia to go to war is both half-baked and unacceptable. The Prime Minister should commit now to a full parliamentary statement and debate while there is plenty of time to do so. To leave things until five minutes to midnight does not serve the public interest. The Australian people want to know why their Government has been so gung-ho on a war with Iraq and they want to know what the consequences of such a war will be.

The truth of all this is that the Government’s Iraq strategy - conceived in domestic politics has blown up politically in their faces and they are now seeking to bury the debate as quickly as possible.

Mr Downer in Question Time today appeared for the first time to be the very model of balanced policy - an emphasis on the exhaustion of UN diplomatic options and with all versions of military action now being described as “hypothetical.”

“Appeasement” seems suddenly to have disappeared from the Foreign Minister’s vocabulary.

The Foreign Minister on steroids has had a dose of Mogadon administered to him as the Government’s Iraq strategy has blown up in his face.

The key question for the future of Australian Government policy on Iraq is whether or not a case can be established for future military action in the event of diplomacy failing.

In the United States, these questions have been considered by public congressional hearings. The question arises that if its good enough for there to be US Congressional hearings on whether or not the US should go to war with Iraq, surely it is good enough for the Australian Parliament to be able to debate whether or not Australia should also go to war. The Australian people want these matters aired fully - not swept under the carpet until it is too late.

The Prime Minister’s reason for rejecting the Opposition’s request for a full Prime Ministerial statement on Iraq (followed by a full parliamentary debate) is that such a debate is “premature.”

This is an entirely bogus argument given that the Government over the last month and a half has ramped up the Iraq debate both in terms of the near-inevitability of war and the imminence of that war. On 17 July for example, Foreign Minister Downer said on the ABC that “the next few months would be critical” as to whether Australia and other nations moved towards war with Iraq.

Australian national security interests should never be treated in such cavalier domestic political fashion again.

Ends 19 August 2002

For further information contact: Kevin Rudd, MP on 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan on 0417 605 823