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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26152

Senator HUTCHINS (2:49 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the widely held view expressed by the Liberal candidate for Wentworth that history will judge the war in Iraq to have been a mistake, and to the allegation made by 43 former top military and diplomatic figures that the government misled Australians in taking the nation to war in Iraq. In the light of these statements, is the government willing to admit that it was mistaken in taking Australia to war in Iraq? Does it now admit, at least, that the principal reason it put forward for our involvement in the war—to remove Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and prevent their falling into the hands of terrorists—has proven to be unfounded?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —No, I do not agree with that. The action of Australia and other coalition partners was justified under UN Security Council resolutions. I regret that the UN Security Council failed to act to enforce its own resolutions.

Senator Bolkus —Was it authorised, or wasn't it?

Senator HILL —Yes, it was authorised under the Security Council resolutions, and the Security Council failed to enforce its own resolutions. In those circumstances, Australia and a number of other coalition partners took action. The outcome of that is that we can now be assured that a threat associated with weapons of mass destruction will not come to pass. I know that there are a lot of wise people after the event who say that, because weapons of mass destruction have not been found, the original justification was wrong. But of course, as I said yesterday, at the time the decision was made all the major intelligence organisations across the world were convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

I am not surprised that they were convinced because he was one who not only had weapons of mass destruction but also used them against his own people and against his neighbours. Furthermore, weapons of mass destruction when linked to a record and to aspirations in a regional sense were really amounting to a threat and in the instance of Saddam Hussein they led to an invasion of his neighbours as well. There was ample evidence at the time to justify concern about the threat. The decision was justified under the UN Security Council resolutions and the removal of Saddam Hussein, incidental though it was, means that the Iraqi people now have the chance of a better future. They will no longer get the knocks on the door in the middle of the night and be dragged off and never heard of again. The world is a better place now that Saddam Hussein is in prison.

Senator HUTCHINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Isn't it true that the government told the Australian people that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that these weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists? Isn't it also true that the government told the Australian people that the risk posed by Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction was such that it warranted joining in a war against Iraq? Isn't it therefore true, as asserted by 43 eminent Australians, that the Australian people were misled?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The 43 eminent Australians are permitted to enter the political debate; there is no doubt about that. If they want to participate in the political process like all other Australians they have the opportunity to do so. But at the time the Australian government made its decision the whole world believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations believed it. The intelligence services across the world believed it. The Australian Labor Party believed it. Mr Rudd their spokesman said there was no doubt about it. Isn't it easy to be wise so long after the event, Senator Hutchins? It is so easy to be wise, but the real test is the state of mind at the time the decision was made, and the decision was well justified by the facts as known at that time.