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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21783

Mr JENKINS (5:51 PM) —It has been 12 days since the joint sitting that hosted the visit by George W. Bush, President of the United States, which was followed the next day by the visit by Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China. It is a bit much to expect that those two days should have been discussed much in the parliament, given that today is the first day of sitting for the House of Representatives, although the Senate did sit last week. Today the only reference so far has been a question quite rightly put by my colleague the honourable member for Cowan about the lack of an invitation to the widow of SAS soldier Andrew Russell at the wreath-laying ceremony during President Bush's visit and then a series of questions following the statement by the Speaker after question time relating to some incidents that happened on those two days.

Today I suspect that there will not be much opportunity to sit down and properly discuss the substance of the speeches made on those two days. It is important that, if we are to go forward as a national parliament and understand Australia's place in the global community, after such visits we as a mature democratic institution should at least sit down and thrash out the issues that were raised as part of the visit and, perhaps even more importantly, the issues that were not raised during the visits.

It is ironic that as the comments were being made at that time—some 12 days ago—a conference was going on in Madrid to look at ways in which countries and the international community could put in place a pool of resources that would ensure proper reconstruction in Iraq. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke at the International Conference on Reconstruction in Iraq. He encouraged peoples and countries to be involved in the funding for what he described as Iraq's monumental needs. Kofi Annan said:

... we all look forward to the earliest possible establishment of a sovereign Iraqi Government. But a start on reconstruction cannot be deferred until that day; it demands our urgent attention now.

Of course, quite rightly, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was at that conference and placed on the record the United States' views about the efforts that were being discussed.

As I have had the opportunity to say in other debates—regrettably, mostly in the run-up to Australia's involvement in Iraq—it was always going to be the efforts that we came together to make in the winning of peace that were going to be the hardest part of the task. I remember saying that the irony would be that inevitably it would be through the actions of the United Nations and their involvement that we would see the most positive steps forward in the way these things could be resolved.

So it dismayed me when 12 days ago there was no great reference to Security Council resolution 1511, which was adopted on 16 October, about the Security Council's views of going forward in Iraq, noting the events that had happened in recent times. It was not in any way indicating that this was an easy ask or an easy task, but it was showing that, through the willingness of the wider global community, efforts could be made to address the problems that need to be addressed in present day Iraq. But, sadly, at the UN conference in Madrid the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, was indicating to donors that insecurity is severely hampering the ability of the United Nations to operate and monitor its assistance to the Iraqi people. He went on to say that the two key priorities that the humanitarian community needs to aim for over the next few months are to ensure the basic needs of the most vulnerable Iraqis are met and to build the capacity of Iraqi institutions to service the needs of their people.

We now see that since the visit of President Bush there have been continuing events in Iraq. We see now the withdrawal of UN agencies and other non-government organisations because of the concerns about the security of those workers. We all would agree with—and nobody would dispute—the comments made during the visit, and the speeches that were made in this place, about Saddam Hussein; no-one who cares about human rights would really be mourning. As George Bush said:

Today, Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, and no-one should mourn its passing.

That was underscored when the Prime Minister said:

I know that all Australians believe that the people of Iraq are better off without that loathsome dictator, Saddam Hussein.

I think that that is not something that needs debate. When a demagogue like Saddam Hussein is moved on and got rid of, it is important. But I still think that there is a need to discuss the way in which that was carried out and the way in which the effort that led to that outcome was put forward to people. I have said in other speeches in this place that my great concern is that the next time the Australian community are asked to go along with such an effort, because there will perhaps be greater questioning on the basis of the type of information that was used in the run-up to the present action earlier this year in Iraq, perhaps they will not be as cooperative.

The other aspect is that it underscores a fundamental difference, and I am pleased that we are able to, in a mature way, demonstrate that in this chamber. Across the political divide in this robust parliament, as the Prime Minister likes to describe it, there were people who disagreed with the Australian government's actions in supporting the United States administration's efforts. Likewise, we should acknowledge that in the United States there is a difference of view, and we should not just consider that the President's view is held by all the people in the United States. There is a difference of view. It is good to see that those matters are discussed and debated.

But I regret that I do not see the proper continuing debate here in this parliament, the Australian parliament, on those issues. We had no discussion about UN Security Council resolution 1511. We have had little discussion about the efforts in Iraq's reconstruction. We have had little discussion about Australia's place as an independent nation. The Leader of the Opposition in his speech on the day of President Bush's visit said:

... Australia looks to itself; to the self-reliance of a proud, a free, a strong and an independent people.

The Australian perspective is bound to differ from time to time from the perspective of the United States. Of course, on occasions, friends do disagree—as we did, on this side, with you on the war in Iraq.

But the important thing is that, when the relationship and the friendship are developed, it means we can have these differences and this discussion. This was illustrated by the next day's visit by the President of the People's Republic of China. That is another nation where we have to develop the contact and friendship so that when we disagree, because we disagree as friends, we can have the debate.

There is no good in people discussing what the reaction was to a single speech by the President of the United States. Mr Deputy Speaker Hawker, as you are aware, I was one member of this place who was in two minds about the appropriate response. I hope my response was seen as gracious. I am proud that a number of my colleagues and I were able to sign a letter that was delivered to Condoleezza Rice that enabled us to set out our position on the United States's and Australia's involvement in Iraq. But, as the Hansard of the day indicates, at the end of the President's speech:

Members and senators rising and applauding, the Honourable George Walker Bush left the chamber.

Some did not, but some did it with great alacrity. That really did concern me, because I do not think that that was the proper way we should have responded. I had hoped that we would get to debate the speech, which is a much better response. (Time expired)