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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20129

Mr CREAN (2:12 PM) —My question is again to the Prime Minister. It refers to answers he gave yesterday about the government's decision to ignore UK intelligence assessments about the heightened—

Mr Downer —I just explained he didn't!

Mr CREAN —risk of terrorist action as a result of the war in Iraq.

Mr Downer —It is completely untrue! You are accusing people of lying; what are you doing?

Mr CREAN —Calm down, Alex; just calm—

Mr CREAN —You have had your chance.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be heard in silence. He will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Prime Minister, isn't it the case that in the five major statements or speeches that you gave on Iraq, which you referred to yesterday and which you told us had been checked by the Office of National Assessments, there was not one single mention of the short-term risks posed to Australians and Australian interests overseas as a result of military action in Iraq? Given that the Prime Minister only yesterday admitted under questioning that he knew of short-term risks of going to war in Iraq, why didn't he tell the Australian people the truth about it before he sent them to war?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The foreign minister has already taken the Leader of the Opposition apart on the basis of what he said. The Leader of the Opposition has been exposed by the foreign minister as having deliberately misled this parliament and, through this parliament—

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister is aware—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr HOWARD —We are very sensitive!

Mr Latham —Who's sensitive?

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa!

The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser! The member for Werriwa! I am on my feet. The Prime Minister is aware that it has been the practice of former occupiers of the chair—and the House of Representatives Practice makes the point—that a statement of deliberately misleading the parliament must be made by a substantive motion.

Mr HOWARD —Mr Speaker, I withdraw that, and I am very happy to substitute it with the claim that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has exposed the falsity of the claim made by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Crean —How about your false claims?

Mr HOWARD —The falsity of the claim is demonstrated by the fact that it was made perfectly clear in March last year that, although—and I will come to the specifics—there was no heightened threat to Australia, there was a heightened threat to certain Australian interests in the Middle East because of the outbreak of the war. That was spelt out in our travel advisories and it was spelt out in the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the member for Moore. But let me quote again from the speech on 30 April of this year from Dennis Richardson. Dennis Richardson, let me remind you, is the Director-General of ASIO. He is the senior adviser to this government on matters affecting the security of this country. This is what he had to say—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Prospect!

Mr HOWARD —at the beginning of his speech:

Against the possibility of Australia's involvement in a war in Iraq, ASIO reviewed threat levels. We made a judgment that involvement in a war in Iraq would not, in the absence of credible and specific intelligence, warrant a raising of the overall threat level here in Australia.

This was the judgment of the Director-General of ASIO. It was not John Howard's judgment or Alexander Downer's judgment, but it happened to correspond with the judgment that we had made. Of course we took into account the possibility of increased threats in the Middle Eastern area, but we also made the judgment that in the medium to longer term the national security of this country would be advanced by the removal of Saddam Hussein. That was a judgment that was different from the judgment of the Labor Party. The Labor Party formed a view that unless you got another resolution from the United Nations you did nothing about Saddam. The Labor Party and the Leader of the Opposition cannot escape the ugly reality that if their advice had been followed Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq. That is the fundamental reality that the Leader of the Opposition finds uncomfortable, and I remind the Leader of the Opposition that he will constantly be reminded of that ugly reality if he continues this line of argument.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —I remind the Leader of the Opposition that, if the Prime Minister were to interject as frequently as he does, he would expect me to take action against the Prime Minister. The obligations of standing order 55 apply to everyone in this House.