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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20134


Mr LLOYD (2:30 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the contribution which the war in Iraq has made to global peace and security?

Opposition members—Ha, ha!


Mr LLOYD —They think it is funny; it is very serious.

Opposition members interjecting


The SPEAKER —Member for Swan! Member for Grayndler! Member for Fowler! The member for Robertson will be heard in silence.


Mr LLOYD —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the contribution which the war in Iraq has made to global peace and security? What evidence is there to suggest that the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein, and what alternative views exist on this issue?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Robertson for his question and for the interest he shows in this very central issue; it is certainly occupying the attention of parliament. There is no doubt that the lives of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and especially children, are improved thanks to the removal of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime: health care is now accessible to all, not just the elite; vaccinations to treat 4.2 million children and 700,000 pregnant women are now being made available; doctors are being paid regularly; schools and universities have reopened; nearly 600 schools will be restored anew before the new term begins; and teachers are being paid four times as much as they were paid under Saddam Hussein's regime.

I think—and certainly for us on this side of the House—it is particularly significant that the Iraqi people are living without fear of persecution by Saddam Hussein's henchmen. It is quite astonishing that 150 mass graves have been found in Iraq since the end of the war in Iraq, with the bodies of 300,000 people. That is testament to Saddam Hussein's brutality. Obviously, security is still a problem, especially in the Sunni triangle, north of Baghdad, but most of the country is stable and Iraqis are taking the lead in maintaining law and order: 60,000 Iraqis are now employed in the security services, and 37,000 Iraqis are employed in the police alone.

Opinion polls were not often done in Iraq during the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, but two opinion polls have been done in Iraq since the fall of this regime. Iraqis, for all the difficulties they are going through at this time, are overwhelmingly optimistic about their future. Polling shows that over 70 per cent of Iraqis believe they will be better off as a result of what has happened. A month or two ago there was an opinion poll by a British polling organisation which asked a very pertinent question—that is, whether the Iraqis wanted Saddam Hussein back. That begs the question: what percentage of Iraqis did want Saddam Hussein back? Twenty per cent? Fifty per cent? No. So low was the number that it was below 16 per cent—it was five per cent. That should give the Leader of the Opposition some hope—still 11 per cent to go!


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



Mr DOWNER —The Leader of the Opposition interjects, but I heard on the news this morning that he has plumbed new depths, depths that I never reached. The coalition's removal of Saddam has strengthened international security. I never claimed to be terribly popular when I was Leader of the Opposition, but I was more popular than the current Leader of the Opposition is.


The SPEAKER —The minister's self-effacing approach to the answer is not helping the chair. He will address his remarks through the chair.


Mr DOWNER —I apologise, Mr Speaker. There is such a cacophony of interjection that I thought I should respond to a percentage of it.


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


Mr DOWNER —The coalition of the willing's removal of Saddam Hussein has strengthened international security by removing once and for all the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, a threat acknowledged by the international community in Security Council resolution 1441.


Mr Crean —Where are they?

Opposition members interjecting


Mr DOWNER —The Leader of the Opposition asks: `Where are they?' I would have thought that the Joint Intelligence Committee report—your bible, apparently, in these matters—makes it perfectly clear that they did have them. I think that the government was right to participate in the coalition of the willing to remove Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. The honourable member for Robertson asked whether there was any alternative. I can answer that question very simply and quickly: the alternative was the one put forward by the Australian Labor Party, and that was an alternative which would have left Saddam Hussein in power and the Iraqi people at his mercy.