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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 80


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:31 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to a question without notice asked by Senator Bartlett today relating to health conditions in Iraq.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is more and more independent, wide-ranging evidence that the conditions faced by the civilian population in Iraq are, in most respects, continuing to deteriorate and worse than those faced prior to the war. It is difficult to separate out the arguments about whether we should or should not have participated in this invasion of Iraq from the arguments about what should happen now. The Democrats' position is clear and indisputable: we believe the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake. But we need to try to separate out that argument from the present situation. Regardless of what your view is about whether or not the invasion should have happened, the fact is that it did. We have to look at what the best current approach should be rather than continue a de facto argument about a question that has already been resolved—for better or for worse.

The big challenge for all of us, whatever our position was originally on the war in Iraq, is to make sure that we all do whatever we can so that the situation does end up being for better and not for worse. The evidence is continuing to mount that for the Iraqi people, who were meant to be, accordingly to the government's rationale, the key beneficiaries of this invasion, the situation is for the worse—and getting worse. What is most frustrating about that is not just that it is happening but that there is a refusal on the part of this government and other governments around the world to acknowledge that basic fact because they see it as some admission of failure or of a mistake. The fact is the situation is getting worse, and we have to look at the information that is now coming to light.

The minister disputed some of the estimates of 100,000 civilian deaths since the war. Let us leave that one to one side. That was an estimate released a month or so ago. Reports released in the last day or two and detailed today by the Australian Medical Association for the Prevention of War outline the health situation facing ordinary Iraqis. Let us just look at the situation facing children and at a simple measure like malnutrition. According to studies conducted by the current Iraqi health ministry, in cooperation with Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies and the United Nations Development Program, the rate of malnutrition in young children under five has almost doubled since the invasion of Iraq, which was around 20 months ago. That equates to around 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from chronic diarrhoea, dangerous deficiencies of protein, and malnutrition. As we all should know, if that condition is maintained for any length of time it will lead to permanent damage for those children's physical and mental wellbeing and dramatically eliminate opportunities for their entire lives. We are talking about the future of Iraq—their children. There are hundreds and thousands of them—double the number than before the war—facing serious malnutrition as a direct result of the current situation and the consequences of the invasion. Unless those sorts of basic facts are recognised then they certainly will not be able to be addressed.

We have a dramatic increase in the incidence of typhoid and other diseases such as measles and mumps. There is not enough action being taken to address those problems and the impact they are having on the children, the civilians, the families of Iraq. Until those problems are acknowledged, there will never be action taken to address them. And unless we do, there is no way that we could ever say that this terrible action that is continuing will be anything other than for the worse for the Iraqi people. Quite clearly, if it is for the worse for them, it will be for the worse for the broader world as well. We must act to address this situation now. The Democrats continue to criticise this government, and we urge them to lift the blinkers from their eyes and do far more to turn the situation around. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.