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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29381

Mrs MOYLAN (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House how Australian troops are advancing Australia's national interests in Iraq? Are there any alternative views?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Pearce for her question. She travelled with me to Baghdad during the course of last year and met with Australian soldiers there, amongst other people, and I know what support she has given to them. The ADF deployment in Iraq is vital to advancing our national interests in Iraq. It provides security for the Australian representative office which is absolutely essential for the tasks that it undertakes—representations, lobbying for Australian companies, assistance with humanitarian programs and so on. As I pointed out to the House yesterday, without those 86 soldiers our mission would close. That is the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and that is the advice we would take.

The House would be aware that HMAS Stuart and two P3C surveillance aircraft are defending Iraq, from further afield, from terrorists and that HMAS Stuart notably foiled an attack by terrorists on an oil terminal on 24 April. What more is the ADF doing? It is training the Iraqi army and navy so they are able to take over the security of Iraq. So I would have thought what the Australian troops were doing in Iraq made perfect sense. Anybody who had been briefed on this issue—and the Leader of the Opposition still has not sought a briefing on this question—would understand the importance of having those people there. It seems to me that it is absolutely commonsense. The day after the bomb went off about 100 metres from the Australian mission the Leader of the Opposition was reported in the Herald Sun as saying that his position was to bring the troops back home, and he said on 27 April:

We haven't got a huge military and we've got other choices and priorities to make in terms of the defence of Australia.

The member for Brand, the former Leader of the Opposition, made a speech last night. I read it this morning. It is a long read, but it is a very interesting speech, to be fair. It is not always flattering about the government or me, but that is the nature of party politics. It is a thoughtful speech made by somebody who knows something about these issues. The former Leader of the Opposition, the member for Brand, makes the point that it is well within Australia's capacity to provide at least the force now being provided by Italy, Poland, Ukraine and the Netherlands—which is four times the size of ours. He went on to say that we have plenty of troops available. I am not saying the member for Brand is arguing that we should be sending many more troops to Iraq, because he is not. But I am saying that the member for Brand, who knows something about defence policy, is clearly contradicting the off the top of the head remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition.

What is interesting is that the member for Griffith supports both views. The member for Griffith did an interview with a German newspaper—a Berlin newspaper—Die Tageszeitung. There used to be, by the way—honourable members will remember this; those who have been here for a little while—a convention in Australia that you did not go overseas and bag your government or bag your policies. Do you remember that? I think we remember that. The member for Griffith may be—as you, Mr Speaker, have said—a rather new member, but he might like to be reminded that going and speaking to Die Tageszeitung and bagging the Australian government for the benefit, no doubt, of the Berliners who are reading the newspaper is not really in very good taste. You are not on the side of Australia if you are going out and bagging us to the Berliners. Let us just make that point. You might think that the German Social Democratic Party approved. But in the end do you know whose side we on this side of the House are on? We are on Australia's side. That is the side we are on.

In this curious interview the member for Griffith says, `Policy changes in Australia would include an early withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq.' That was the position he articulated. Does that surprise anybody? Yes, it does surprise me, because less than 24 hours after the bombing by the Australian embassy in Baghdad, on the question of whether our 86 troops should stay there, the member for Griffith was not for withdrawing the troops. He was saying, `We're looking for advice.' He says one thing to the Berliners and he says another thing to Australians.

I have to say—and the Treasurer made this point yesterday—that the Leader of the Opposition needs to be scrutinised by the media and he needs to be scrutinised by the parliament and he needs to be scrutinised by the Australian people. There is nothing but policy confusion on the side of the Labor Party. There is no clarity in what the Labor Party would do. Somebody should ask the Leader of the Opposition a simple question; somebody should ask this: do you want to close down our office in Baghdad or will you leave 86 troops there to protect them? What is the answer to that question? The Leader of the Opposition, having read in Dick Morris's book that you do this, will sit there and say nothing because Dick says to say as little as you can to the public. That is what Dick says.

Mr DOWNER —The Leader of the Opposition is drifting back into the sort of gutter that he has lived so much of his life in. Dick says, `Do not tell the public too much.' That is why you say nothing and you will not answer that serious question. The Australian public have a right to know if ever this country should be so unwise as to elect you the Prime Minister.