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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 1 March 2004: [ Jull Committee Report]\n\n

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DATE: March 1 2004

TITLE: Doorstop interview, Parliament House

Downer: I just wanted to make a comment on behalf of the Government on the Jull Committee’s Report, so that you’ve got some immediate response from us. This report is the opinion of a number of Members of Parliament from both the Coalition and the Labor Party, so it’s appreciated that they’re able to put together an agreed position, rather than have a majority and a minority report. That’s obviously the best situation, otherwise it becomes more party political than one would like. Clearly this report vindicates a couple of points the Government has been making all along. The first is that the Government has not been applying pressure to Australian intelligence agencies and trying to get them to write or report what the Government wants them to write or report. I mean there would hardly be any point in having these intelligence agencies if they were simply acting under instructions from the Government on what judgements to make. And as this report points out there’s no evidence that the Government tried to get them to express a particular point of view. And the truth is the Government didn’t. The second thing is it’s perfectly clear from the report that the Government wasn’t sexing up the story about Iraq or playing political games with intelligence. And the Government is clearly vindicated in terms of this report. Finally, the Government will be prepared to adopt the recommendation of the Committee Report and to establish a further inquiry into the intelligence agencies as the report has recommended. The details of how that will happen will be made clear later. When we’ve finalised those details we will present - the Committee recommends a former senior intelligence figure - that seems to be a sensible recommendation. And so we’ll take on board that recommendation and we’ll implement it. In terms of how long that inquiry would take, our expectation is that it would take around three months, that sort of a period of time. I don’t know exactly but we would be aiming at that sort of a period of time, not a much longer report, not something that would go on for years or a year, or whatever it may be. We obviously don’t want it to be a political report. We appreciate the Committee’s not recommending a political inquiry or a political report. The last point I would make is the Government stands by the decisions it’s made. The decision to contribute to the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein was the right decision. We’re proud that we participated in the overthrow of that evil regime. It’s perfectly clear from the Kay Report, what Kay has been saying so far, from the Iraq Survey Group - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction programs, that he was in breach of Security Council resolution 1441, and the extent of the stockpiles- well that’s something which is still a work in progress. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Journalist: If the Government didn’t sex-up the intelligence, did it stuff it up?

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Downer: No I think, first of all the assumption that the intelligence is wrong is not necessarily an assumption I would accept. I think the intelligence (inaudible) obviously made the assessment that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. There was also of course an assessment that he not only had capabilities, but he had some stockpiles, and regardless of how large the stockpiles were, he had the capability to expand very rapidly those stockpiles and that capacity. So I think what I would say about that is that if that’s the overall assessment the intelligence agencies made, that essentially is right. What we’ve found out subsequently is that Saddam Hussein did indeed have weapons of mass destruction programs. They were very sophisticated programs. They were in clear breach of Security Council resolution 1441. And we’ll wait and see, in terms of the quantities involved in stockpiles, until the Iraq Survey Group has finished its work. And then we’ll know. But, regardless of whether they find the actual stockpiles or not, the fact is that the programs were there and the intelligence was right to report that. So I don’t really hold the view that the intelligence assessments were particularly wrong. And I certainly don’t hold the view that the Government did anything but make its case for what it thought was an important outcome. And I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The world is a much more stable, a much more secure place today than it was when Saddam Hussein ran Iraq.

Journalist: Minister, page 93 of the report nevertheless says that the picture that emerges from an examination of the assessments is not the sort, that doesn’t support the case the government made. Point 5.16 and 5.17 - have you read those?

Downer: I’ve read the report. What that particular reference of course explains the totality of the sources that the Government used. And if you look up immediately above that particular reference - I don’t have a copy in front of me - but immediately above it, you’ll see a long list, a long inventory of unknown quantities produced by UNSCOM. And of course the Government on many occasions referred to the UNSCOM report which was produced in 1999. There were numerous occasions when we and other governments referred to that. Let me make a further point. If it was the view of some, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction capability, or no weapons of mass destruction stockpiles, that view wasn’t expressed by the United Nations, because that wasn’t the United Nations view. That view wasn’t expressed by any other governments, that I’m aware of, that had significant intelligence capabilities. And that view, in any case, didn’t turn out to be right. Because what we now know is that Saddam Hussein had very substantial weapons of mass destruction programs. And the only question of doubt now is the extent to which there were stockpiles. We don’t know the answer to that yet.

Journalist: Minister the committee notes that the ONA seemed to become more bolder in its assessments around the 13th of September following a request from Foreign Affairs, and that much of the material in its new advice was used by you in Parliament on the 17th of September. Now they say they can’t explain why the assessments suddenly became bolder around the 13th of September. Would it have anything to do with the request from Foreign Affairs?

Downer: Of course not, no. ONA doesn’t work like that. And ONA have given this evidence to the committee and made it perfectly clear to the committee they don’t respond to instructions from the Government on what advice to give. If I may say so, you don’t have to

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believe me if you don’t want to, but at the end of the day it seems a completely ludicrous allegation that somehow the Government would instruct an agency that provides pretty secret kind of analysis, to provide analysis which draws particular conclusions. Of course we wouldn’t do that. I’ve been the Foreign Minister for eight years - I don’t recall any circumstance where the Government has instructed the Office of National Assessment to draw particular conclusions in its analysis. I don’t ever recall that happening. Now I do want to answer your question about the 13th of September. I had a look at the - because I’ve obviously seen this - and ONA’s view by the way is that they didn’t change their assessments on the 13th of September. And that’s why it can’t be explained, because as far as they’re concerned nothing happened before or after the 13th of September which led them to change their analysis. But I had a look at the joint DIO/ONA assessment which was produced, I think from recollection on the 19th of July - I think that might be referred to in the committee report - and that seems pretty consistent with what ONA said subsequently, on the 13th of September or beyond the 13th of September. So I appreciate that the Committee has said that. I really share ONA’s view that I didn’t think there was any particular change in the pattern of ONA’s assessments on or around the 13th of September.

Journalist: …starting to diverge from what DIO was saying?

Downer: No I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the key - of course DIO and ONA have slightly different functions and they’re not the same people, so they write things in different ways. But I thought their assessments were broadly similar, if not identical. They’re not the same organisation, they’re not going to be identical, but they were certainly broadly similar. It wasn’t as though DIO was saying Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and ONA was saying they did. They were always saying pretty much the same thing. They did produce a joint report on the 19th of July. And the joint report makes it perfectly clear that they both hold the view that Iraq not only had some stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but importantly had the capability to expand those stockpiles rapidly.

Journalist: Minister do you accept the Committee’s finding that the intelligence agencies, on the basis of all the evidence, possibly overstated the case against Iraq?

Downer: I think it’s too early to make that judgement and I’ve said this about this whole system of inquiries all along - look if you want to have an inquiry, first of all you need to know what all the results are. It’s too early to know what all the results are.

Journalist: When will it be?

Downer: When the Iraq Survey Group has finished its work. I can’t answer that question. But when the Iraq Survey Group has finally finished its work, you’ll be in a much better position then to be able to do a review of what the intelligence agencies thought was the case, and what turned out to be the case. But it’s too early to draw that hard and fast conclusion. Let me make a point about the intelligence agencies - I think they do an extraordinarily good job. I don’t see a case for changing the way our intelligence agencies work, myself. And I don’t think, in the end, people should draw the conclusion that the intelligence agencies were involved in telling the government what to do in terms of resolving the problem of Iraq. It is the Government that made the decision, not the intelligence agencies. We in the end had to make the judgements about what we thought was best, not

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only for our national interest, but for the international community. And it’s our judgement, it was our judgement then and it remains our judgement today, that this is a much better world because of the passing of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Journalist: So on your analysis, if we have to wait for the Iraq Survey Group, even though this independent report might come back in three months, we won’t know the answer until after the election?

Downer: Don’t get me wrong - but I could be wrong, but I doubt that the Iraq Survey Group’s timing is going to be influenced by an election in Australia. And number two, we don’t know when the election in Australia is going to be. I think, look seriously, the Iraq Survey Group is doing it’s work and it will draw conclusions when it’s completed its work. I don’t know when that will be. We believe that since the committee has recommended a further inquiry it’s appropriate to proceed with the inquiry, exactly as recommended by the committee. And we will find someone appropriate, as suggested by the committee, to head the inquiry. And that’s not an inquiry that’s going to take a lot of months. That’s an inquiry into the operation of the intelligence agencies which should be complete in three or so months. Now, will the election be beyond three months? I don’t know the answer to that question.

Journalist: Even if it was the Government’s decision to go to war, will you and other senior members of Government appear before this inquiry?

Downer: I think it’s obviously a private inquiry that’s to report to the National Security Committee of Cabinet. And if they want to ask me or anybody else any questions, we’re obviously happy to answer those questions, as I am now, as I have been myself, and the Prime Minister has been throughout this process. Of course all our statements are on the public

record. They’re all publicly known. So they can be re-analysed. The Prime Minister and I are Members of the House of Representatives. We can be asked questions there. I draw your attention to this - that for all the hysteria coming from Kevin Rudd about this issue, he hasn’t asked me a question about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction since the 23rd of June last year. If it’s such an important issue, if there’s so much doubt about the Government over this issue, I would have thought it leant itself to a lot of questions. And we’re subject to questioning and to public accountability like no-one else in the system is.

Journalist: Will the outcome to this inquiry be made public as well?

Downer: We’ll just follow the terms of the recommendations. The inquiry would report to the National Security Committee of Cabinet, but of course there would be some public outcome.

Journalist: Is it a good idea to have a former intelligence officer…?

Downer: Well that’s their recommendation and I think we’ll save ourselves a good deal of controversy if we follow their recommendations.

Journalist: Did the Government put more weight then on assessments from overseas intelligence agencies than it did on its own agencies?

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Downer: I wouldn’t say that. I think we put a lot of weight on the assessments of our own agencies, and public statements reflect that. Our public statements reflect the views that we were getting from our intelligence agencies and they reflect often public statements quote other documents too. So when people talk about the Government’s public statements, sure, they quoted UNSCOM at length. And they quoted any number of different agencies and documents. And it seemed, to us, entirely appropriate to do that. I don’t resile from that. Of course it’s appropriate to do. That’s all part of the public debate. Journalist: And what about your own spy agency, ASIS? What role did it play in all of these events?

Downer: It has operational functions that you’ll appreciate no Australian Government has spoken of publicly, and I’m not about to divert from that today.

ENDS…………………………………………………………March 1 2004