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Tuesday, 4 February 2003
Page: 10652

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (3:44 PM) —What we have just heard from the Prime Minister is a justification for war, not a plan for peace. We have heard the Prime Minister unctuously in this House talk of his abhorrence of war and say that he wants peace, yet he has already committed our troops to war without a mandate from the Australian people, without a mandate from the parliament and without a mandate from the United Nations.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Sturt!

Mr CREAN —The truth is that we can secure a peace. Prime Minister, I say to you that we must work to secure that peace, but we will not achieve that peace by committing to the path of unilateralism which you are so firmly locked into. The path to peace can come only through the United Nations.

There are several things on which we agree.

· Our total support for the brave men and women of the Australian Defence Force and their families.

· Nonproliferation is a critical security issue and we have to address it collectively and not unilaterally.

· Saddam Hussein must be disarmed, but he has to be disarmed in accordance with decisions of the United Nations.

· The issue of Iraq cannot be seen in isolation from the broader security issues that confront the Middle East, particularly the need for a peace between Israel and Palestine.

Prime Minister, you talk in your speech about the brave statements and the brave offer made by Ehud Barak, who is to visit this country soon, but the circumstances in which Ehud Barak made the offer were in talks convened by the then President of the United States, a person who was prepared to bring the parties to the table and not threaten them. There is a fundamental difference in the way in which you have locked yourself into the course of unilateralism, fear and threat and not done it properly through the collective discipline and authority of the United Nations. Yours is a very disappointing statement today, Prime Minister, because you have presented no new evidence. We have all had the opportunity to see what Prime Minister Blair has put in the British parliament, but the fact of the matter is that you still have not explained why you have committed our troops to a war ahead of that issue being determined by the United Nations.

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister, you committed Australia's young men and women to a war that has not yet been declared, knowing all along that, having committed them, you cannot pull them out. There is no graver decision for a Prime Minister than sending young Australian men and women to war.

Yet, you have committed them without the mandate of the Australian people, without the mandate of the Australian parliament and without the mandate of the United Nations.

You committed them solely on the say-so of George W. Bush.

In making that commitment, you have committed them to a command structure that you cannot withdraw from if George Bush decides to go it alone and pursue a military solution regardless of the United Nations. That is what you have committed Australian troops to, Prime Minister.

You have done all of this but you have not told the Australian people that you have done that. Indeed, in all of your comments you say that no such commitment has been made. I do not believe you, Prime Minister, and the Australian people do not believe you.

You have not had the courage or conviction to tell the Australian people what you have done and what you have committed to.

Here we are finally with the chance to debate a troop commitment by your government in this parliament, and you still have not told them.

You go to those media conferences and say that you want peace but you have already committed the troops to war.

Government members interjecting

Mr CREAN —You know it is true.

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will excuse himself from the House!

The member for Sturt then left the chamber.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition has the call. He will be extended the same courtesy as the Prime Minister.

Mr CREAN —You, Prime Minister, have committed our troops to war and you have done it with no United Nations mandate but through a US request.

And now you are going to the US.

The pity is, Prime Minister, that you will not be here to answer the questions in the parliament. I welcome the fact that you are going but I ask why, if it is so important, you did not go before you made this commitment.

My question for you—and the question the Australian people want answered—is this: when you go to Washington, will you tell George Bush that no Australian troops will be involved in a war in Iraq without the authority of the United Nations? That is what the Australian people want you to be telling George Bush. Yet, you have not made that commitment here today. The commitment we want you to make, Prime Minister, is that you will go firmly and forcefully and say to the United States President that there will be no Australian troops involved in a war in Iraq without a United Nations mandate. If you say that you believe in the authority of the United Nations and you want to strengthen its hand, that is what you will be doing as a partner and ally of the United States. That is what good partners do. They are frank with each other and they exchange the strength of their views, not lamely follow what the direction of the United States is.

You have to insist in your discussions with George Bush that no troops should be sent to war without a United Nations mandate. That is what the Australian people want, Prime Minister, and that is what those in this parliament on this side of the House are urging you to do. I know that there are people on your side of the House who share this view. I know that and so do their constituents. We know what feedback they are giving their constituents and we know, from the comments that have been made in the papers from time to time from members over there, that they want this commitment too.

It is as simple as that, Prime Minister. You are going to Washington, but deliver the message on behalf of the Australian people: no troops should be sent to war without a United Nations mandate. You say that you are going over there to inform President Bush of the wishes of the Australian people. They are the wishes of the Australian people. The Australian people do not support unilateral US led military action.

Prime Minister, we have not had a question time today by virtue of this statement to the parliament, but we will keep asking this question because it is the question that the Australian people want answered, and you have an obligation as the Prime Minister of this country to do the right thing by the troops that you have committed to war. You say that they are not committed. We do not believe you. The only way that you can correct that record is to go to the US next week and say that you will not be supporting, and not be allowing our troops to be used in, any action that is not sanctioned and authorised by the United Nations.

Prime Minister, you argue that the United States alliance requires you to respond to all requests from the US. It does not. The very first article of the ANZUS treaty makes it clear that all alliance decisions must be in conformity with the United Nations. I cannot understand why, Prime Minister, when you keep invoking the United States alliance with us, you never refer to that article.

Mr Kerr —An oversight.

Mr CREAN —It is no oversight; it is just a convenience for him, because he has not consistently argued that this matter has to be resolved through the United Nations. The Labor Party has argued that, but not our Prime Minister. We have a Prime Minister who keeps relying on the United States alliance, when article I of that very document says that all decisions must be in conformity with the United Nations. Prime Minister, the fact is that this is a treaty which commits all presidents and all prime ministers—it is not selective; it commits all of them—and you have an obligation to act in accordance with it. It has stood the test of time and it is not the personal plaything of two individuals. It is a responsibility on behalf of their nations, and you, Prime Minister, have to act in the national interest.

There is no greater decision that a Prime Minister can take than to send men and women to war, but there is no greater breach of trust than committing them to war without telling them the full extent of the commitment. You, Prime Minister, have breached the trust that exists between a nation and its leader. You claim that you have committed our troops to bring the maximum pressure to bear on Iraq to dispose of its weapons of mass destruction. You claim that, if there is no UN mandate for military action, you can bring the troops back even if the US decides to go it alone. You have said that you would withdraw Australian forces if there were a possibility that nuclear weapons could be used.

Where, Prime Minister, are those guarantees? Where is your statement that you have made that clear requirement of the President of the United States in relation to nuclear weapons? How do you propose to achieve the situation in which you extricate yourself from the command structure, from the control, that inevitably our troops go to because of the commitment that you have engaged in? What assurances have you personally sought from the Bush administration? These questions have been asked of you—they have been posed by me and they have been posed by members of the media—and you have not answered them. Today you had another chance to answer those questions but you still refuse to tell the Australian people the truth—you chose again today not to tell them the truth. I believe, and the Australian people believe, that you have already made the commitment to war. You have breached the confidence of the Australian people on this issue. Members of your own party know it and members of your backbench know it.

We on this side of the House believe that Australian troops should not have been sent in advance of the United Nations mandate; we believe the weapons inspectors are still doing their job and should be given the opportunity and support to finish their job; and we believe in the authority of the United Nations Security Council to deal with the issue of disarming Iraq. That is a position that we have repeated since April last year. The people who have been all over the place on this issue have been the Prime Minister and his foreign minister. They have not consulted the Australian people and they have not consulted their own party, but they have consulted George Bush. You said, Prime Minister, that you were sending our troops because it was in the nation's interest. What I want to know, Prime Minister, is: what nation? You have made the commitment to the United States President.

Let us understand the extent of the commitment that has been made by the Prime Minister. Let us not understate the size of it and what it involves for the Australian people—most of all, the troops themselves. We are sending more than 2,000 troops. For a nation with the military size of ours, that is a huge commitment. To put it in perspective, it is twice what we committed in Afghanistan—the war on terror that you often invoke as the link to this war, but a war that was sanctioned by the United Nations. The commitment of these troops is twice what was committed in Afghanistan and it is three times what we committed to the Gulf War in 1991—a commitment, Prime Minister, which you conveniently did not address in your speech; a commitment which was made by the then executive government, the Hawke prime ministership, in relation to an activity legally sanctioned by a decision of the United Nations. This time the commitment has been made for three times as many troops without any decision of the United Nations. In those circumstances in 1991, the United Nations was actively involved in preparing the requirements for the military deployment in the event of a war. It involved itself in those discussions—and it involved 30 countries, not three.

Let us have a look at the comparisons between what was done by the government in 1991 and what your government has done. And let us understand the significance of the decision that was taken by the United Nations. The deployment that you have made is not only three times what we committed to the Gulf in 1991; it is the largest single commitment of combat troops since Vietnam.

Mr Downer —What about East Timor?

Mr CREAN —They were peacekeepers—I am talking about combat troops—and under the UN flag. You do not even know the difference.

The SPEAKER —Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Leader of the Opposition has the call. The Leader of the Opposition will address his remarks through the chair.

The SPEAKER —The member for Blair is warned!

Mr CREAN —Such a commitment should only be made once a just cause has been established. This has not yet happened. No link has been made between Iraq and al-Qaeda—although, as the Prime Minister says, we are waiting for new evidence from Colin Powell at the UN Security Council on Wednesday. I say to the Prime Minister that it is a valid question to ask: if the United States had this information, why didn't they make it available before? I think that is a question that all Australian people want to know the answer to. But we will wait and see what the information is because it is still within the mandate and authority of the United Nations. Despite all your assertions, no link has yet been made between Iraq and al-Qaeda. We also know that the weapons inspectors have not yet been given the chance to complete their job, and we know that the decision that you have taken has not been authorised by the United Nations.

Miss Jackie Kelly —Give them another four years!

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Lindsay!

Mr CREAN —Prime Minister, now that you are going to Washington to inform George Bush of the views of the Australian people, let me say what those views are. The Australian people do not want peace at any cost, but they do not want your war at any price. What we have to do, Prime Minister, is understand that the majority of Australians want to see Iraq disarmed, but they want it done under the mandate of the United Nations and with the authority of international law. That is the position that the Labor Party has consistently argued since April. You said that you are going to the US to tell President Bush what the views of the Australian people are, but I do not believe that is what you are going for. You are going for another set of riding instructions, and everyone knows it.

Let us look at the government's flip-flopping on the war with Iraq. Last year, when Labor released its detailed policy statement on Iraq, the foreign minister and the Treasurer said we were `appeasers' and we were `talking like Saddam Hussein'. Why? Because we wanted the issue to go back to the United Nations Security Council. When we were arguing that point last year, that is what the foreign minister was saying and it is what the Prime Minister was saying. The Prime Minister spent half of last year constantly saying—and I can put these quotes on the record if need be, and no doubt we will have plenty of time to do it—that, if he received a request from the US to participate in a war against Iraq, he would consider it. No mention was ever made by him, in those statements, of the United Nations—none whatsoever. No effort was made to convince the Americans to take the issue back to the Security Council.

But in September, when George Bush decided to address the General Assembly, the Prime Minister changed his tune. Suddenly, the Prime Minister was saying that the United Nations should be the vehicle to disarm Iraq—six months after Labor had first articulated that exact position. When the Prime Minister made reference to that September telephone conversation with George Bush, you could hear the horse laughs. You could even see the embarrassment on that side of the chamber. But let us have a look at what he actually said to the President. He simply talked about urging him to consider the merits of acting through the United Nations, not the imperative of doing it through the United Nations.

This is a Prime Minister who still wants to get up with weasel words, saying he wants the matter to go through the United Nations, but he has no conviction to anything other than supporting the US regardless of what happens through the United Nations. Even then, the Prime Minister refused to be honest with the Australian people. He continued to say that he had not made a commitment to war because it was hypothetical, but behind the scenes he was actively planning to deploy Australian troops.

The government's rhetoric has finally come around to what Labor has been saying since April—but not to its real intentions. The people know that you do not mean what you say, Prime Minister. They can sense it in the mealy-mouthed way in which you claim that our military commitment is really a peace mission. They can sense it in the way you avoid answering the question: if the UN does not back the war, will you bring the troops home? You still have not answered that question, Prime Minister. You have not answered it today and you have not answered it at any press conference. You will be asked this question in the parliament, and we will see how you respond to it. You snigger and laugh about it, but this is a question that is terribly important to the Australian people. If they are to have faith in your assertion that you have made no commitments, then you have to answer the question as to how you can bring the troops home in the event that the United Nations does not authorise a war.

The SPEAKER —I remind the Leader of the Opposition to address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —Through you, Mr Speaker: that is the responsibility that the Prime Minister has, and that is the question to which the Australian people are entitled to have answers.

The Prime Minister is playing on the fear of Australians: the fear of the threat of terrorism. By threatening war alongside George Bush, he is not addressing that fear; he is adding to it. He is heightening the risk, he is increasing our vulnerability, he is adding to the instability in our region—an area which, his intelligence shows, is increasingly vulnerable to threat. This premature action taken by Australia comes at the expense of more immediate and critical concerns about terrorism in the region. Only three weeks ago the Singaporean government released a paper showing the extent of terrorist networks across the region. They are much greater than previously thought, but we hear nothing from this government about dealing with these more immediate issues. Our strongest defence against regional terrorism has always been our joint commitment, with countries in the region, to pursuing common goals and cooperative outcomes. We heard the Indonesian foreign minister last night expressing the concerns his people have about the commitment and the undertaking that they believe has been made with the Americans.

Prime Minister, the best way to combat terrorism—particularly in our region—is to work closely with the police and security agencies of neighbouring countries. But you are not doing that. Your preoccupation is with Iraq, not with issues in the region. We heard the Prime Minister talk about what he is going to Indonesia for: to thank President Megawati for her support in the aftermath of Bali. We welcome that; but you have also got to discuss with her how to strengthen the fight against terrorism in our region. The Prime Minister laughs at this, but it is deadly serious.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr CREAN —He laughs at it. Several months ago, I called for a regional summit of leaders to tackle terrorism. I have not seen one finger lifted by the Prime Minister to convene such a summit. He talks about concerns in our region about the threat from terrorism, but he is doing nothing to address it with our neighbours in the region. The Prime Minister undermines them with his approach and his talk of pre-emptive strikes and action outside the authority of the United Nations.

Prime Minister, the path to security is not through unilateralism, it is through multilateralism. The path to disarmament is through the United Nations, not through unilateralism. In aligning yourself so closely with the United States, to a course of action that is locked in regardless of the outcome of the United Nations, you are giving succour to the unilateralist approach and undermining the authority of the United Nations. That is not in Australia's national interest, Prime Minister. The truth is: the issues of international security, global security and regional security are complex. No one country, no matter how powerful, can solve them on its own. By putting its eggs in the basket of unilateralism and not multilateralism, Australia is not just undermining the United Nations but also setting back the process of dealing with these issues properly and effectively in the region.

Unlike any issue of recent times, this issue of Iraq defines the difference between the two major political parties in this country, and that comes from a fundamental divergence of principle. Labor has always supported the role of the United Nations and the rule of international law. We helped create the United Nations out of the rubble of the Second World War, which was the consequence of the collapse of the League of Nations because countries chose to go outside of the collective authority.

The lesson was learnt again from the Second World War and the commitment made to the United Nations. An attempt to settle international disputes through peaceful means was what we owed to the lives that were lost by Australian men and women, amongst others, who fought in the Second World War. Earlier, in the motion about bushfires and in mentioning other tragedies, sentiments were expressed about learning lessons, doing something constructive and not repeating mistakes. The mistake in the breakdown of the League of Nations was countries walking away from it.

How can you assert your concern about North Korea going outside its responsibilities in nuclear proliferation? How can you argue to it that it has to go back into the multilateral framework, when you are prepared to go outside it because the US has asked you to do so? That fundamental hypocrisy you cannot justify; but you can soundly, solidly and proudly stand up and say: `We are only prepared to support action sanctioned and authorised by the United Nations.' That is what is in Australia's national interest. Australia, pursuing that argument and strengthening the hand of the United Nations, will give great weight and support against all those who seek to go outside it in the future. This is a role Australia has been able to play proudly in the past, but it is not playing it under the Prime Minister's leadership.

One of the proudest pieces of our history is that a Labor foreign minister, Dr Evatt, was the founding President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. But, whilst we have always supported the role of the United Nations, the Liberals have not. They have always relied for their foreign policy direction on their great and powerful friends. The parallel between the current Prime Minister and former Prime Minister Menzies is there starkly to be seen. The kowtowing to London and Washington; the constant sojourns over there; the nod and the wink in support of military action they propose, even if it does not have international legitimacy—that is the Liberals' political tradition, and it is being carried out by you again, Prime Minister. You have never had the courage as a political party to state an independent foreign policy that is in Australia's interests. You have only ever asked the question: what is in the US's interests?

Labor does support the United States alliance, but we want a mature one, not a toadying one. That is the difference between us and you. The US alliance has endured over 50 years. It has always had bipartisan support, but it does not mean we have to agree with every policy position of every US administration. We have had our differences in the past, but the alliance has endured because Australians and Americans believe in the same things: democracy, freedom and respect for the rule of law. The alliance itself, as I said before, under article I specifically says that issues of international conflict should be resolved through the United Nations.

Why is the United Nations so important? It is for this reason: if the United States flouts the decisions of the United Nations it sends a signal to other nations not to be bound by its decisions. It is in the interests of nations the size of Australia that the rule of international law be strong. A strong United Nations can ensure that nations disarm and can stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction to our region. The Prime Minister says that his main reason for deploying Australian troops to Iraq was to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. But what has his government done in seven years to strengthen United Nations arms control? Nothing—absolutely nothing.

It has remained silent on the Canberra Commission report. The Canberra Commission said it clearly: the possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them. But where has been John Howard's brave new initiative when he inherited that report, commissioned by a Labor government for the very purpose of addressing the issue of security in our region? When has this government done anything to advance the findings of that report? Labor has called for the Canberra Commission to be reconvened with a new mandate to decide what steps are needed to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles.

The Prime Minister, in his speech, talked about the great efforts his government has been making to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. But why is it—with his great and powerful ally, the President of the United States—that he has not been able to convince the United States government to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty? Foreign Minister Downer called that treaty a major milestone and said that it would bring the nuclear arms race to a definite end. Prime Minister, if your words are to be believed and you have this special relationship, why aren't you forcefully advancing the argument to the United States that they sign up to the nuclear test ban treaty? The Prime Minister said nothing when, last year, the United States government walked away from negotiations towards a verification protocol to the biological weapons convention, which would have provided transparency and confidence that all countries were working towards eliminating these terrible weapons. If you believe in the multilateral framework, if you believe in these conventions, if you believe in these things, why isn't the Prime Minister strongly advocating to his US partner that these things happen? Labor would.

The SPEAKER —I warn the Minister for Foreign Affairs! The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Mr CREAN —The Prime Minister says that he has been told nothing of United States preparations for war with Iraq which include the possible use of nuclear weapons; but the White House spokesman admitted that `all options were on the table'. The Bush administration has made it clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force— including through the use of nuclear weapons. Prime Minister, you have made a great play of the fact that, if nuclear weapons are used in any action we are involved in with the US, you will pull out our troops. My challenge to you is to demonstrate to the Australian people how you can deliver on that commitment under the control structure which you have committed to. It is a very important question that the Australian people want an answer to. We are talking here about disarmament, and we are talking about disarming in accordance with United Nations resolutions. There is a threat to Australian troops involved in a war in which nuclear weapons are used—which you, Prime Minister, have said that you do not condone—but you have not demonstrated how you would be able to extricate those troops. You had the chance again today, and you failed the test. There are two question times left, Prime Minister, and we expect answers to these questions. The Prime Minister arrogantly turns his back and laughs at that.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —The Australian people will not treat kindly a Prime Minister who goes out and makes categorical statements that we will not be involved in any war that involves nuclear weapons, but is not prepared to give a clear answer as to how we could extricate our troops in the circumstances of being locked into a unilateral or US-led action. He has not demonstrated how we can get out of that. He has been asked this question at press conferences. These are issues we want you, Prime Minister, to be making comment on, not just in the parliament but in Washington. We want you to come out of the meeting in the Oval Office with the President of the United States and explain to the Australian people just what mechanism you have got that will extricate us in those circumstances. The Australian people are entitled to know, and they have not heard the answer from you; they have heard the assertion but not the proof.

They are used to the circumstances, Prime Minister, in which you say that you have not made commitments or that you did not know. We saw that with the `kids overboard' incident. You did not know that new evidence had come out that people had lied about it. No-one believes you on that. The problem is, Prime Minister, you also said that you had no knowledge of the Bill Heffernan exercise over there in the Senate against Justice Kirby. No-one believes that. We have a Prime Minister with form who is now trying to defend the most serious decision that a Prime Minister can take—the committing of our troops to war—and he is not able to answer these questions.

The Prime Minister has made a great mistake in committing our troops to war ahead of the United Nations mandate. The Labor Party position on this is quite clear: there should be no military action to disarm Iraq without the authority of the United Nations. Labor will support decisions of the United Nations Security Council to enforce resolution 1441 in the event of Iraqi noncompliance, but Labor will not support a unilateral military attack on Iraq. They are simple positions, Prime Minister, and we have consistently advocated them. You say that you want bipartisan support. You can secure it by committing yourself to one simple proposition: that you will not commit to any act that is outside the authority of the United Nations. You say that you believe in that course of action; you found the road to Damascus in September. If you still believe it, back Labor, and we will have a bipartisan position. It is a position of great strength with which you can go to the United States, to New York, and to London—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Hindmarsh!

Mr CREAN —and say that you speak on behalf of the parliament. At the moment your commitment of the troops is without the authority of the parliament and it is without the authority of the Australian people. What is critically important in this regard is to ensure that we do strengthen the hand of the United Nations and that we commit ourselves to supportive action only when it is authorised by the United Nations.

Prime Minister, I say that you made a great mistake in committing the troops ahead of the United Nations. I do not support and Labor does not support that decision—and I have made that clear. We do not support the deployment of Australian troops in advance of any United Nations authority. I took my case directly to the troops themselves on the HMAS Kanimbla. I was prepared to be truthful with them, unlike the Prime Minister. What I should say to them was a difficult decision for me to make; but I knew that it was the right thing to do. I could not go down and farewell those troops without saying that I disagreed with the government's decision to send them. But I made the position absolutely clear that my argument was with the government, not with the troops.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for McEwen! The Leader of the Opposition will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —I also said that, whilst I did not support the decision to deploy the troops, I support the troops—and I always will. We on this side of the House always will support them. There is a fundamental distinction here: the troops of this country do not have a choice to make in terms of whether or not they go to war. They have to go if the government of the day makes that decision for them. They deserve support from both sides of the parliament. If we are to have the argument, if the demonstrations are to be conducted and if the criticisms are to be levelled, they are to be levelled at the government, not our troops, because they do not have a choice; the government does, and public opinion can sway what the government does.

The SPEAKER —The member for Mackellar is warned!

Mr CREAN —We know that people are ringing the offices of people on the other side of the parliament. We know from the thousands of emails that we are getting through our respective offices that the Australian people do not want war and, if action has to be taken to disarm Saddam Hussein, it has to be taken through the United Nations. I ask members on the other side of the House to deny that that is the overwhelming impression that they are getting from their constituents. You know it, because Australian people are ringing our offices to say that they have rung you.

These are the Australian people that the Prime Minister is not listening to. He says that he has to make the tough decisions. The tough decisions do have to be taken, but when you take them you have to tell the truth. I was prepared to do it in front of the troops on the HMAS Kanimbla. What I am asserting very strongly in this chamber is that the Prime Minister has committed himself to support the US in any action they take outside the UN but he has not told the Australian people. That is my charge, Prime Minister. You have done nothing to refute that in any of the statements that you have alleged here. All you have done today is to reiterate the case for war. You have not developed the strategy for the peace. You use the words that say you want the peace, but you have already committed the troops to war. You failed the test today, Prime Minister, in your explanation to the parliament. You were on your feet—

The SPEAKER —Leader of the Opposition!

Mr CREAN —The Prime Minister was on his feet for 53 minutes—53 minutes in which he had the opportunity to explain what the new evidence was and what the real commitments were in terms of the troops. He failed the test. All he did was to reiterate on the `why' front. He did not explain clearly and concisely what commitment he has made to the US—why the troops should go. He just reiterated old material.

Your action has been a breach of trust with the Australian people, Prime Minister. And what of our security now? The Prime Minister has taken his eye off the ball in the fight against terrorism in our region. He has failed to adequately prepare our defences against terrorism and he has neglected regional security measures. He is instead sending our forces overseas. He has divided our people, he has alienated our friends and he has sent our best antiterrorism troops 10,000 miles away. He expects those of us left behind to defend ourselves with a fridge magnet. He has sent the frigates and he has given the Australian people a fridge magnet. This is the fridge magnet which also goes on to give a bit of advice: `Buy a pair of rubber gloves and a transistor radio in the event of terrorism.' He sends the crack troops 10,000 miles away when clearly he knows—particularly in the wake of the post-Bali circumstances—that the priority should be here. Why has he done it? Not because the United Nations has asked him to do it but because the US has asked him to do it. That is the only reason he has done it. That is what he stands condemned for today. He also stands condemned because he has not been truthful with the Australian people in telling them all of the information. That is a fundamental breach of trust with the Australian people.

The fact remains that we have the opportunity to secure a peaceful outcome. We can do it with both sides of the parliament committed to it. Labor has been totally consistent in its view, ever since April of last year. We say, `Go through the United Nations; get the authority of the United Nations.' I hear all the argument about the 12 years, but where were you, Prime Minister, in advocating the need to get back—get involved—in all of that 12-year period? I do not think I heard the speech out of him. In six years in terms of his prime ministership, I do not think I heard a peep out of him. But then George Bush rings. When George Bush rings, then you see something happen. But what about the United Nations, Prime Minister? What about the circumstances in which there is an obligation, given that this is a UN decision? Given that you were arguing that the UN could not enforce its authority, when it actually turned up with the unanimous resolution, why shouldn't we be giving support, force and strength to the hand of the United Nations? It is in our interests.

That is what should guide your decision making—what is in Australia's national interests. It is in Australia's national interests that we do not commit the lives of our young men and women to military action unless it has the authority of the United Nations. Where it is completely wrong—and a path that we will oppose all the way—is if you commit troops—

The SPEAKER —Leader of the Opposition!

Mr CREAN —If the Prime Minister commits troops to a US-led military attack on Iraq. It is the wrong way to get the outcome you seek. I do not disagree with the outcome you seek, but I disagree fundamentally with the way you seek to achieve it.

I said at the outset of this speech that I do agree that Saddam Hussein has to be disarmed. We have supported the authority of the United Nations in achieving that result and will continue to argue for that authority to be upheld. What we do not want is a country that is cowed in fear. We do not want a country that only responds to aggression. We want a country that is prepared to stand proud, prepared to understand its history of engagement with the region, and prepared to understand its history of involvement through the United Nations—to understand the circumstances in which, despite the strength of our alliance with the United States, we have been prepared to carve out an independent foreign policy for this country. That is what Labor believes in, but it is not what the Liberals believe in.

This not just an issue in terms of Iraq. This goes fundamentally to the way in which we resolve international conflicts. It goes fundamentally to the way in which we achieve disarmament and we achieve a better world—a more peaceful, more secure world. It goes fundamentally to replicating that approach in our region. That is why I cannot understand, Prime Minister, why you have not taken up the initiative to convene the regional leaders' summit. Australia can make a lead, but Australia will only be proud if it takes the lead; it will never be treated with respect if it blindly follows everything the United States asks of us.