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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20128

Mr SECKER (2:07 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Was the minister aware of the heightened risk of terrorism in the event of a war in Iraq? Did the minister or the government say anything publicly before or during that war that canvassed this risk?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —Mr Speaker, the short answer to that question is yes. I noticed yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition moved a censure motion. I apologise to the House for not being here, but the House is aware that I was at Don Willesee's funeral. In that motion, the Leader of the Opposition said:

We have before the parliament now conclusive information that the basis upon which the Prime Minister justified taking this country to war was a lie.

This is an argument based on a British Joint Intelligence Committee assessment—a sort of `British is best' approach by the Australian Labor Party. The government took numerous measures to inform Australians of this risk before the war with Iraq began. I am surprised that the opposition—particularly the Leader of the Opposition—has deliberately and wantonly misled this parliament by not referring to that.

The member for Moore, who is a very fine member from Perth—

Mr Crean —A nice man!

Mr DOWNER —`A nice man,' says the Leader of the Opposition. He will not be putting that around at the next election if he knows you think he is a nice man.

The SPEAKER —The minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr DOWNER —On 10 February, the member for Moore—and this is central to the question that the member for Barker has asked—asked me a question at 2.17 p.m. I quote:

My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the government's arrangements to ensure the safety and welfare of Australians in the Middle East?

This was on 10 February, which was clearly over a month before the war in Iraq began.

Mr DOWNER —Mal, you should listen because you might find this a little interesting. In my answer I quoted from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's general advice to Australian travellers, which was issued on 5 February. The Leader of the Opposition knows this because he was in question time on 10 February. He knows what I said.

Mr DOWNER —You do listen to every word, I know, because you often quote them back to us. Now I am going to quote them back to you.

The SPEAKER —The minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr DOWNER —I said:

Australians should also be aware of the possible use of chemical and biological weapons in any conflict against Iraq, and take precautions if they have concerns about their security from such threats in consultation with their employers and local authorities.

The advice went on, as I explained to the House of Representatives on that date:

There would also be heightened potential for terrorist activity and civil unrest in the event of conflict in Iraq.

The Leader of the Opposition has spent two days trying to convince the Australian public that somehow the Prime Minister misled the public about a possible terrorist attack and an upgrading of the terrorist risk in the event of a war against Iraq. The fact is that is completely untrue. What the Leader of the Opposition said is completely untrue, and he knows it is untrue because he was sitting in the House of Representatives on that day—on 10 February—when I explained precisely that point to the House of Representatives and to the Australian people.

But that was not the sole incident. On 23 February, on the Sunday program, I said:

There's no doubt that Australians, as part of the broader Western community, are terrorist targets. We all know that from what happened in Bali .... But it is possible that a war against Iraq could lead to organisations like al-Qaeda adjusting the timetable of their terrorist actions.

The Prime Minister has explained that the Director-General of ASIO made the same point. If you are going to come into the House of Representatives and allege that people are not telling the truth, make sure that, in doing so, you are telling the truth. The Leader of the Opposition has been quite untruthful in what he has said about government statements before the war in Iraq.