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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4890

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (5:05 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

As you well know, Mr Acting Deputy President Bartlett, I cosponsored a motion with Senator Faulkner on 21 August and this is a response from the Prime Minister to that motion. The motion, which we had passed in the Senate on that day, called upon the government:

... to define the circumstances under which Australia would consider diplomatic or military support for a United States led attack on Iraq ...

In particular, that motion called for the outlining of:

... the evidence linking Iraq to international terrorism or evidence of a significant expansion in the threat from Iraq's nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs.

The motion was founded on a fundamental recognition that, if Australia is to commit to military action against Iraq, it must first be very clear about the objectives, the merit and of course the legality of any such action. I am disappointed with this response because the Prime Minister has failed to respond in detail to this resolution of the Senate. Once again I believe the Prime Minister has missed an opportunity to outline his and of course his government's independent assessment of evidence against Iraq. I welcome the Prime Minister's indication that he believes that Australian policy on a US-led attack on Iraq should be the subject of a thorough discussion by the Australian community and a full parliamentary debate— something that the Australian Democrats have called for continually in this debate. However, as one would acknowledge—and certainly as you, Mr Acting Deputy President Bartlett, as our party's defence spokesperson, have said many times and indeed in the Senate today and in a series of questions this week—any such debate must be informed. The ability of this parliament to make decisions in the best interests of the Australian community on this issue will be compromised if the Prime Minister fails to equip us with the relevant information. Yet again, the Australian people and their representatives in this place are left to consider these issues only on information provided by other political leaders.

The justification put forward by the US and the UK for war against Iraq has not been consistent. While much attention has been given to Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, the US, as you have noticed, has focused on different issues in recent months. In fact, I believe it has changed its focus towards the need for a regime change in Iraq. Moreover, there have been indirect attempts, although no clear evidence has been presented, to link Iraq with the terrorist attacks of 11 September. On the issue of weapons of mass destruction, there is evidence that Iraq continues to produce chemical and biological weapons, that it is working towards building nuclear weapons and that it has extended the range of its ballistic missiles.

The Australian Democrats strongly oppose the development and possession of weapons of mass destruction. We are concerned by the evidence regarding Iraq's capability in this respect—of course we are concerned. However, we do not believe that unilateral military action is an appropriate way to address these concerns. Any strategy involving unilateral military action is fraught with danger. Legal opinion demonstrates that such action would be in contravention of well-established principles of international law. There is also much evidence to suggest that it would result in further destabilisation in the Middle East, particularly given the potential for Israel to become involved in such action.

Perhaps most significantly, pre-emptive military action has the potential to seriously undermine the authority of the United Nations and thus lead to global instability. This issue of Iraq's possession and development of weapons of mass destruction must be addressed through well-established multilateral frameworks in accordance with international law. The Democrats have welcomed, and we state again for the record that we welcome, Iraq's agreement to readmit UN weapons inspectors and we believe that this course must be pursued as the first step towards disarmament. We welcome the Prime Minister's indication that `Australia looks to the UN to take action now' to address Iraq's defiance of its international obligations. Significantly, however, President Bush has made it clear that regime change—not simply the destruction of weapons of mass destruction—will be the objective of any US-led attack or military action against Iraq.

The current regime in Iraq, as I think we would all acknowledge, is undemocratic, violent and has consistently displayed a disregard for basic human rights. This regime, under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, contributes to ongoing instability in the Middle East and poses a threat to international security. However, there is a long list of political regimes around the world that could be the subject of the same criticisms. The Democrats believe such regimes must be challenged, but again, for the reasons I have outlined, unilateral military action is not the appropriate avenue. If democratic nations around the world work together as a collective community, there is much we can do to challenge and hopefully ultimately transform such regressive regimes.

The United Nations was founded on the basis of collective security and we believe very strongly, and I hope all in this place believe, that it is worthy of our ongoing support. There is certainly scope to improve its operations but it is the best model we have at present for collective diplomatic action and the promotion and hopefully protection of international peace. Despite the absence of any evidence linking Iraq to the tragic and appalling events of 11 September, there have been clear attempts to justify pre-emptive military action as a means of preventing further terrorist attacks. President Bush has said:

In the new world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action ...

While the world may have changed since the events of 11 September last year, we must not let our assessment of the situation in Iraq be clouded by any incorrect associations with the terrorist attacks of that day. Unless, and until, there is evidence to suggest a link between the two, we must be careful to give independent and thorough consideration to the situation in Iraq and the best way that we can address those current concerns.

As pre September 11 media reports demonstrate, President Bush's intentions concerning Iraq extend back before 11 September. Given the absence of any evidence to link Iraq to the terrorist attacks, it is misleading to argue that the case for pre-emptive action against Iraq has become more compelling since the events of 11 September. I take this opportunity to record once again the Australian Democrats' serious concerns regarding the National Security Strategy of the United States. Clearly, it is the intention of the President of the United States, President Bush, for any US-led military action against Iraq to be conducted in accordance with this strategy. This must be a key consideration in any decision by this country to participate in such action.

The strategy emphasises the unprecedented position of power and influence enjoyed by the US. It expressly states that the United States will act to ensure that other nations do not acquire a military build-up in the hope of surpassing or equalling the power of the United States. This document depicts the US as the foremost guardian of international freedom and democracy, yet it expressly states that US military endeavours will not be hampered by investigations or prosecutions conducted under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. We have just conducted a debate about this in this chamber today, led by Senator Brian Greig.

President Bush's strategy is not about upholding the rule of law; it is about upholding the rule of America. Australia should be very wary of participating in any military action initiated pursuant to such a strategy. The Australian Democrats believe that pre-emptive military action against Iraq is neither justified nor legal. We certainly do not believe it is in the best interests of the Australian people to participate in such military action.

We believe very strongly that, in such life and death matters, such passionate issues should be debated in this chamber. These issues are not just passionate and emotive; there are legal, political and resource concerns and a range of other concerns that have to be taken into account. We believe that Australian politicians—the members of this and the other place—should be entitled to a conscience vote on such matters. I think that is a fundamental debate that we need to see take place in this chamber.

Similarly, we want to see this debate led by our Prime Minister. We want to see him in Australia leading the debate. That is what we expect. We do not want it deferred to the foreign affairs minister. We want to see the nation's leader providing progressive, open, accountable, passionate leadership on this issue. I think most Australians are wondering not `Where's Wally?' but `Where's Johnny?' With all due respect to the Prime Minister, where is the Prime Minister in this debate? I think it is about time we had that leadership—hence my concern today with that very specific motion passed in the chamber, which I moved in my then capacity as Leader of the Australian Democrats, along with Senator Faulkner, the leader of the opposition in this place. I am sorry we did not get a more detailed and comprehensive response to an issue that should be at the forefront of politicians' minds right now, as it is indeed at the forefront of many Australians' minds.