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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, 16 September 2003: Iraq intelligence; Newspoll.



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TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP- PARLIAMENT HOUSE

TUESDAY 16 SEPTEMBER 2003

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Iraq intelligence; Newspoll

Rudd: Well yesterday was a stunning spectacle in the House of Representatives. John Howard ducking and weaving - a bit like a rugby league five-eighth because what we had was a Prime Minister who started Question Time by saying ‘who me, what piece of British intelligence, where?’ And by the end of Question Time we’d managed extract from him the fact that yes they had received this key piece of British intelligence. They’d received it on 18 February last year and that by John Howard’s own language it had: ‘gone into the mix’ of the intelligence and policy advice that he’d received.

The big problem with that for the Prime Minister is: what did he then do with it and did the Australian people ever find out? Remember what the two big arguments were that John Howard advanced for going to war. The first was: Australia needed to help attack Iraq to reduce the threat of terrorism to the world, the West and Australia. The second big reason he advanced was: Australia needed to help attack Iraq in order to reduce the risk of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons finding their way into the hands of terrorists. Well, this piece of British intelligence blew all of that credibility to pieces and now what we have from the Howard Government is the big lie on why they took Australia to

war.

You see the Liberals lied in the past to take Australia to war in Vietnam. They’ve lied again to take Australia to war in Iraq. When will they lie next time to justify taking Australia to war again? We don’t know the answer to that.

The final thing I’d say is this: John Howard’s attempt at a defence on all of this yesterday was that: ‘well yes, there may have been a short-term increase in the terrorist threat to Australians following the attack on Iraq but don’t worry, Bob’s your uncle, we covered that off. We put out some travel warnings for a couple of countries in the Middle East at about the time that the invasion of Iraq was occurring’. Well, I leave to one side the safety and security elsewhere in the world at the time, including at home. But let’s go to the other piece of advice that John Howard had, that is the active increased risk of chemical and biological

weapons being transferred to terrorists as a result of the attack on Iraq. Can I just say this: there is nothing we can find anywhere in John Howard’s documentary

record which has him telling the Australian people that. In other words, in his back pocket he’s got a piece of intelligence which says: ‘if you attack Iraq, the risk of chemical and biological weapons finding their way into the hands of terrorists will go sky high’. On the other hand, John Howard doesn’t say a single thing to the Australian people about that. In other words, keep that one neatly tucked away. Hopefully it will just disappear. And, I’ve got to say, when you stand back from it all several months later after the invasion of Iraq, what do we find? We find that the British Joint Intelligence Committee has been proven right. We have now an influx of terrorists into Iraq. We now have, of course, the possibility of terrorists in Iraq in a country where John Howard tells us we are still likely to find weapons of mass destruction. So the warnings of the Joint Intelligence Committee from the United Kingdom now appear to be chillingly accurate. But John Howard decided to keep those intelligence warnings all to himself and not tell the Australian people.

Reporter: Is Labor an apologist for Saddam Hussein as alleged by the Prime Minister?

Rudd: John Howard’s accusation on that score is obscene. If he bothers to look at the record of what we have said about the appalling dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein has no friends or supporters on our side of politics. Our argument was simply the way in which Saddam Hussein was dealt with. We said that if we were going to take the extraordinary decision of participating in the invasion of another country we should do it with the world behind us, not just with two other countries behind us. And the other thing we said was, if you’re going to invade a country, guess what happens? If you go and break a country up into little pieces, you’ve got to go and put it back together again. You become an Occupying Power and you’ve got a job then to act as an Occupying Power under the terms of the Geneva Convention and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. John Howard’s not been very keen to do that.

Reporter: So you’re saying the Government should have taken a look at that JIC report and said ‘no, we won’t go to war’?

Rudd: What I’m saying is that at a minimum John Howard, Honest John, should have got the British intelligence report and conveyed its contents to the Australian people in the same way that he conveyed the contents of an earlier British intelligence assessment to the Australian people when it suited his

political argument. He failed to do so. That’s negligent, that’s misleading and we now have a whole country having gone to war on a false premise.

Reporter: Inaudible.

Rudd: Well, the British intelligence report says that if you attack Iraq it will increase the risk of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons finding their way into the hands of terrorists. John Howard told the Australian people the reverse.

Think now about what’s happened so many months down the track. We now have an influx of terrorists into Iraq to fight against the international occupying force. At the same time, John Howard’s telling us that there are still chemical and biological weapons out in Iraq - that’s what the Iraqi Survey Team is supposed to be finding. Well, put two and two together and what do you get? A bunch of terrorists now running around Iraq in a way in which they weren’t before and, secondly, according to John Howard at least, chemical and biological weapons secreted out there somewhere in the desert sands of Iraq. I would have thought what that shows is that John Howard’s logic blows up in his face and the British intelligence report of 10 February suddenly sounds remarkably prophetic.

Reporter: Simon Crean’s approval rating as preferred Prime Minister has fallen to an all time low for an Opposition leader. How is his leadership tenable within the Labor Party?

Rudd: Well I think there have been more stories written on Simon’s leadership than there have been Mills and Boon novels and I’ve never been a big fan of Mills and Boon, I don’t know about you, so I think this will run along a while yet with some more Mills and Boon novels.

Reporter: But Mills and Boon novels generally have a happy ending. Will Simon Crean’s leadership?

Rudd: Well the point about Mills and Boon novels is that there has been a bucket load of them, the themes are much the same and as far as the liklihood of achieving a definitive outcome from your point of view as journalists, well I’d

just say wait for the next instalment of the next Mills and Boon novel.

Reporter: Well what is the next instalment? Is it another leadership challenge?

Rudd: Well we had a leadership challenge not so many months ago. That resolved the question of the ALP leadership. We’re getting on with the job now and taking the argument up to the Government. Look, let’s be frank about it. This is a tough time for the Opposition. Let’s not pretend that that’s not the case. But I also ask you to look at what the numbers say: 51%-49% two party preferred vote and they’ve been saying that for some time. That, to my mind, doesn’t mean that we are in nowhere land as far as the Australian people are concerned.

Reporter: Is there anyway of getting out of this slump though?

Rudd: Well 51%-49% as a party vote isn’t a slump in anyone’s definition. If that was the percentage of games the Broncos, my home team, had won in the last eight encounters then we’d be doing a lot better today.

Reporter: But given Simon Crean’s personal approval rating…

Rudd: (Laughs) Good to see you. How are you?

Reporter: Good thanks Kevin.

Rudd: What have you been doing?

Reporter: Listening to Simon Crean on the radio. When you look at Simon Crean’s personal approval rating and how many people are uncommitted about who would make a Prime Minister, have you given any thought to whether Labor would fare better at an election if there was a different leader? Any thought at all?

Rudd: No.

Reporter: Will Simon Crean lead Labor to the next election?

Rudd: Yes.

Reporter: Inaudible.

Rudd: It’s pretty simple. You know what my job here is? My job is to keep John Howard and Alexander Downer accountable. Last time I looked, my job is not keep Tony Blair and Jack Straw accountable. That’s the job of the British House of Commons. We’re here in the Australian House of Representatives, and

my job is to look at what John Howard told the Australian people about the reasons for going to war and then look at what was actually in John Howard’s back pocket by way of high grade intelligence when he told those things to the Australian people. Very simply, he had a bunch of information at his disposal which said that if you attack Iraq, you increase the risk of terrorism and you increase the risk of chemical and biological weapons finding their way into terrorist hands. And surprise, surprise, John Howard seems to have forgotten to tell the Australian people both those things. Honest John, loose with the truth when it comes to national security.

Reporter: It’s British intelligence though, it’s not Australian intelligence…Inaudible.

Rudd: Well with respect, you’re wrong. The intelligence product of the Joint Intelligence Committee I know a little about. In an earlier age I was actually assigned to that job in London. That is, as the Australian intelligence liaison officer at the Australian High Commission where your job is to attend regular, usually weekly, meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I didn’t take the job up because I went off to Queensland and slid down the food chain into state politics instead. But I do know something - that was a joke by the way - about how this system works because I was well briefed on it before being assigned to the position in the first place. Look also at the introduction to the British intelligence report. What does it say? What is the Joint Intelligence Committee comprised of? A whole bunch of British intelligence agencies plus allied intelligence representatives. Read that carefully: allied intelligence representatives. And we by virtue of a range of international instruments have a relationship with the British, the Canadians and the United States on these questions, so you can’t argue this sort of nonsensical proposition that this was British intelligence and not Australian. One of the very interesting things to pursue in this whole debate is to what extent Australians participated in the construction of this report, because what happens often in the British intelligence community is that when analyses are being put up which represent the considered final conclusion of the whole British intelligence establishment, and that’s what a JIC report is, they seek input from the allied intelligence agencies. So for John Howard or anyone else to claim ‘hey, this was a British product and wasn’t ours’ is not only factually wrong, but on top of that, can I just say, John Howard had a remarkable, shall we say, proclivity to wrap out and use Joint Intelligence Committee assessments when it suited him and to hide it when it didn’t. Ends.