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Minister tours the HMAS 'Manoora' on duty in the Gulf.

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Friday 10 May 2002


Minister tours the HMAS 'Manoora' on duty in the Gulf


HAMISH ROBERTSON: Well Defence Minister Robert Hill is now in the Gulf on his way to visit our t roops in Afghanistan. He's also made the comment that the sanctions regime still in place against Iraq is unlikely to last much longer. Senator Hill says that increasing pressure from the United States is one of the reasons.  


He made the comments while meeting some of the Australian soldiers helping to enforce those sanctions in the Gulf. For the past eleven years, Australia has been an important part of the naval blockade and we currently have three ships in the region.  


HMAS Manoora is one and Senator Hill toured the ship accompanied by a group of journalists, among them our Europe correspondent Michael Brissenden. 


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Enforcing sanctions is a serious business. The crew of Manoora have been at it now since February when they became just the latest Australian contribution to this international effort. The last mission for this crew was picking up asylum seekers in the South Pacific. Privately most of them say they're glad that's over and they're now doing what they consider to be real naval work.  


The Manoora is just one part of the international maritime interception force operating with the imprimatur of UN resolution 986 that prevents Iraq exporting anything but an agreed quota of oil. 


NAVY MAN: The first thing we do, we get a security team that goes up to where the personnel . . .  


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's an around-the-clock operation but Australia's Defence Minister Robert Hill was on hand to see one so-called compliant boarding take place. Since February the Manoora crew have conducted 57 boardings. They're looking mostly for smuggled oil, mostly but not entirely. 


NAVY MAN: Crude oil and dates believe it or not. Some times of the year dates are more expensive per kilo than crude oil is. 


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But enforcing the sanctions is not all abseiling bravado. Only last week the Iranian coast guard threatened to open fire on the Manoora after some confusion arose about precisely where international waters began and of course the politics of the sanctions have also complicated the public relations at times.  


Critics say the Iraqi people, not the regime, have been the ones to suffer most. Robert Hill disagrees but he also says he thinks the sanctions regime may have almost run its course. 


ROBERT HILL: Firstly you've got your negotiations in the UN at the moment in relation to whether Iraq might be prepared to accept inspectors and if so on what terms and conditions.  


Secondly, you've got the debate on the modification of the sanctions and so-called smart sanctions.  


Thirdly, you've got the international pressure that's building up on Iraq, particularly led by the United States which has made it quite clear that it's not going to tolerate the weapons of mass destruction program and I think all of these things point to the fact that the sanction regime that's in place at the moment is not going to be as such for a long period of time.  


We're approaching, I think, a time of change. 


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Where that change leads isn't stated but many believe American impatience can only lead in one direction. Senator Hill said again that Australia's participation in military action against Iraq will be considered on its merits at the time but with a big boost to military spending likely in the coming budget, Robert Hill may already have another mission on his mind.  


Tomorrow the Minister heads off to Afghanistan to talk to our SAS troops. For the first time a group of journalists have been invited along too. Clearly there is an interest in helping the public see how their money's being spent. 


HAMISH ROBERTSON: Michael Brissenden aboard HMAS Manoora in the Gulf.