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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15739

Mr RUDD (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister confirm that, on the question of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, he stated last night that Australia was not just dependent on US intelligence but also dependent on Australian sourced intelligence? Given that the minister stated in the same interview that it would be foolish for Australia to commission its own investigation into US sourced intelligence because the Americans are now conducting their own investigation, does the minister also argue that it would be foolish for Australia to now investigate its own intelligence information and its own intelligence assessments on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? Given that the opposition, the parliament and the people of Australia have depended on the integrity of the government's provision of intelligence information on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction prior to the Iraq war, will the minister now agree to commission an independent investigation of Australia's intelligence performance on Iraqi WMDs, in particular the accuracy with which that intelligence information was communicated to the Australian people?

The SPEAKER —I just point out to the member for Griffith that that was an unusually long question.

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —As I have said in a number of interviews over the last 24 hours, as a government we are happy with the assessments that were made by the Office of National Assessments and other rather more specific intelligence agencies in the firmament of the Australian intelligence community. We have had no reason to question the overall assessments that have been made. I have explained also on a number of occasions—and I think the opposition has been briefed on our intelligence from time to time, if memory serves me well—that we receive an enormous amount of information, both publicly available information and intelligence from our intelligence partners in a number of countries, not just the United States and the United Kingdom. And we have our own intelligence collection capabilities.

In the end, we have to make overall assessments. You cannot take every single piece of intelligence and give it equal weight. Some intelligence is rather poor; some intelligence is extraordinarily good. In the end, overall assessments are made. The Office of National Assessments has a particular role here, because it is one—though it is not the only one—of the agencies that makes those overall assessments. ONA is today confident—as it was before the war—in the judgment that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction materials and WMD capability in the lead-up to the war. ONA is continuing to assess the scope and nature of that capability in the light of post-conflict investigations.

The House may be interested to know that the coalition partners—the United States, Great Britain and Australia—have established an investigation team of about 1,300 or 1,400 people. There are a number of Australians in that group. They are beginning the enormously substantial task of trying to put together a comprehensive picture of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities under Saddam Hussein's regime. This will take months of work. Not only is there a need to investigate a very large number of sites but there is also a need to investigate, over and above that, a large number of scientists.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The simple question was whether the minister was going to commission an investigation or not.

The SPEAKER —There is no way the member for Griffith can expect to ask a question as detailed as the one he asked. The minister has been entirely in order.

Mr DOWNER —Mr Speaker, the question covered just about every aspect of the issue of weapons of mass destruction in relation to Saddam Hussein's regime. I remind the House of the pride that we on this side of the House have in the role we played in contributing to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime and changing the whole nature of Middle East power politics very much for the better.

As I was saying before I was interrupted, this team will not only have to investigate particular locations—and there are many locations for it to investigate—but also discuss the issue and interview scientists. There were believed to be some 3,000 Iraqi scientists—that kind of number—involved in the weapons of mass destruction programs. It will take a good deal of time for those investigations and discussions—those two processes—to take place.

Over time—and it will take time; we have to be patient—we will get a comprehensive view of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs. The ONA assessments and the general overall assessments from my department were pretty good. I have no reason to doubt those assessments. My department, I thought, explained this very comprehensively at the Senate estimates committee hearings yesterday. They did a very good job of explaining the basis of their assessments, of ONA's assessments and so on. In the end, we will, of course, learn a great deal more about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs from the interviews with the scientists than UNMOVIC was ever able to obtain. That will develop a fascinating and comprehensive picture of what Saddam Hussein was up to.