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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13814

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (3:13 PM) —Today marks one week since the bombing of Iraq began by the US led coalition forces in which Australia is involved. It is a war that Australia did not have to involve itself in, nor did the coalition have to embark on it, because there was an alternative approach available: continuing to work for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq through the Security Council. That being said, the troops are there, and not one of us in this House does not want our troops returned quickly and safely to their loved ones. But what this House has to do, and what we have been attempting to do in question time this week, is draw attention not only to the circumstances in which the troops fight and the difficulties associated with this but also to the humanitarian consequences of this and the loss of civilian life. We also have to look to the long-term consequences for Australia of this involvement in the war.

There are some realities that we do have to face. This war is messier than was promised us. It is taking us longer; it is costing us more; more civilians have been killed and the humanitarian efforts will last for years. The military might of the United States may ensure victory on the battlefield, it may even be quick, but the question we have to ask ourselves is: will it lead to a safer and a better world? That is the question that this parliament must continue to embrace and consider. It is something that the government did not consider when it signed itself up to the coalition of the willing and was just waiting for the phone call. What is of concern is not just the daily progress in terms of this military action and trying to sift through the conflicting reports—often pieces of misinformation—but those longer term consequences.

For my part, and for that of the Labor Party, we believe that this war is wrong. Saddam Hussein did have to be disarmed, but there was a better way—a peaceful way—and that was through the unanimous decision of United Nations resolution 1441. Our fear is that now the war has commenced, the consequences for this nation, and for the world, of this reckless action will be felt for a long time to come. We are making Australia a bigger target for the vicious and indiscriminate attacks of terrorists. There cannot be any question about that. The government might like to deny it but, in questioning this week, we have established that we have made ourselves a bigger target. The evil forces of terrorism have been handed an opportunity beyond their wildest dreams. They have the excuse, and it has been given to them unnecessarily. We have locked ourselves into a radical and dangerous US doctrine of pre-emptively striking at nations that the US, and the US alone, determines to be a threat to its national interests. Who is going to be next? That is also a question that we posed to the government and the minister at the table. Where does this doctrine of pre-emptive strike, if you feel threatened, lead if it is the decision of the US to go in? Iraq is to be disarmed. Which is next: Iran, North Korea, Syria—all of which the US believes pose a threat and must be dealt with? Where does this doctrine lead, Minister?

Let us go to the consequences, in order. The first consequence is that the war has made us a much bigger target for terrorists. Our involvement has placed us at a higher risk of a terrorist threat. The US know that. Their Secretary of Homeland Security has admitted it. The UK have admitted it in terms of their warnings. And, to his credit, the Leader of the House himself has admitted that we are at greater risk of terrorist threat. But the Prime Minister and the government generally continue to deny that there is an increased threat from terrorism as a consequence of this decision, even as their own security people erect barricades around this House, upgrade the security measures for themselves and increase the security around our defence establishments, even though they laughed when we asked the question about Perth airport, now that it is taking, much more significantly, military aircraft as a result of our involvement. If it is appropriate to increase the defence of our defence establishments, why shouldn't you treat seriously the question about Perth airport, Minister? And you are still smirking at the table, while you are playing with your telephone. What you are doing is playing with Australia's security—that is what you are doing. You are oblivious to it, because you have not thought this through. We have also had the upgrading of threats to overseas missions. The government are protecting themselves whilst denying protection to the public.

The Prime Minister and his government have spent $20 million on fridge magnets, making us scared and asking us to be alert, and they will not own up to the fact that their unnecessary involvement in this war has exposed us to a greater threat of terrorism.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Member for Forde!

Mr CREAN —And the member for Forde knows that she would be getting these concerns through her electorate office. The fact that we have been committed to this unnecessary war has placed us at a greater risk of terrorism.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the member for Forde!

Mr CREAN —The member for Forde wanted the luxury during the last campaign to go round and say that this government was tough on terrorism, yet what they have done through this unnecessary war is expose us to a greater risk of terrorism and they are prepared to do nothing about it. Let her go back in the next six weeks to her electorate and explain that to her membership. I see she is leaving the House now because she does not like the heat that is being put on her, but a lot of her members are going to hear this. The fact of the matter is that this government have exposed us to a greater risk of terrorism. The government are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Saddam Hussein, but they are spending virtually nothing to get the terrorists in our own backyard who are the real threat to Australians and Australian interests.

Some constructive suggestions have been put forward by Labor in terms of dealing with this No. 1 threat. Firstly, in relation to the ASIO bills, this government continues to refuse to negotiate sensibly with the Labor Party on these bills to provide tougher antiterrorist fighting powers—in fact, the toughest in the world—but at the same time not turn us into a police state. We have put these alternatives and these amendments forward in good faith and you still reject them. Let us hope that, in deliberations in the Senate, now that this bill has been re-presented in this House, unamended significantly, commonsense prevails, because Labor are prepared to deal constructively on these objectives.

Secondly, we have argued for there to be a regional summit of leaders in the area, backed by resources, to take the fight up to the terrorists, to take them on and make a commitment at the heads of government level. And yet the government, despite acknowledging at the beginning that this was a constructive suggestion, has done nothing to act upon it.

Thirdly, we have suggested the establishment in this country of a coastguard to secure our borders, and the government just smirks at that, too. Tell me this: for an island continent the size of Australia, thousands of kilometres wide, does it make any sense that we do not have a coastguard to guard against the threats of terrorism, to guard against illegal immigration and to guard against gun-runners and people smugglers? This is a government that expresses concern about these issues but is not prepared to do anything to address them. We have also suggested the creation of a department of home affairs and the appointment of a new national security adviser. Another suggestion was that, in the context of promoting disarmament in our region, we restart the Canberra Commission.

The truth is this: Labor will fight terrorism better because we see it as our No. 1 threat—and it is. This government is treating the issue contemptuously even though it has exposed us to a greater risk of threat from terrorism as a result of its reckless action in involving itself in this war.

The second consequence of the government's commitment is to undermine the UN and regional relations and to create a precedent for following the US whenever they determine that pre-emptive action should be taken against a threatening state. The Prime Minister today talked about the failure of the UN. He likes to use this as part of his justification for why we are in the war. You know who failed? It was not the UN; it was the Australian government, because it was the Australian government that walked out on the UN.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —The Howard government.

Mr CREAN —It was the Howard-led Australian government that did it; that is absolutely right. Why would you turn your back on a United Nations that had unanimously determined to pursue the disarmament of Saddam Hussein—

Fran Bailey —12 years.

Mr CREAN —If it took 12 years, why not take an extra couple of months? I ask you that question seriously. Do not laugh at it; try to understand it. If it has taken 12 years and there is still the possibility of achieving peaceful disarmament, why not take the extra couple of months if it can avoid the war, if it can avoid the killing, if it can avoid the humanitarian crisis? And why not leave that judgment to the United Nations as a collective, not to the US on its own, roping in the Australian government through a phone call? This government walked out on the United Nations. It was not the UN that failed; it was this government failing the UN. When you hear the contempt that the Prime Minister shows for the UN whenever it suits him, you realise that we have in this country the most anti United Nations Prime Minister this country has had in its proud history of support for the United Nations.

The other consequence of this is the humanitarian crisis that this war has created. There are a million people trapped in Basra. Today we heard the Secretary-General of the United Nations talk again about the humanitarian crisis and say that the belligerents have to face up to the consequences of this. We heard the Prime Minister talk about unlimited financing of the war but give hardly any commitment to peace or the humanitarian effort. A new appeal was launched today, and he says, `We'll look at it sympathetically.' So far we have committed $10 million, and he wants you to believe that he is going to consider further assistance sympathetically.

Mr Downer —That's not correct.

Mr CREAN —If you want to talk about the wheat, that is wheat that would have been sold to them anyway under the oil for food program. It is wheat that was on the water—

Mr Downer —Well, we can't sell it.

Mr CREAN —You could have sold it if you had not been at war, you fool. That is the whole point. Not only is this a bad war in terms of the consequences over there; it is bad economics for this country too, if you want to put it into that context. It is obscene that the government is committing untold hundreds of millions of dollars to fight this war but is making no commitment and no plans to secure the peace and the reconstruction.

Finally, I come to the reconstruction effort itself. There is a fundamental issue at stake here. It is not just a question of the war; it is about how you build the peace. What we know now from today's questioning is that, again, this government is going to blindly follow the United States in terms of the direction the reconstruction effort should take. The United States is going to be dominating, according to Secretary of State Powell, the reconstruction effort. Why shouldn't this be done through the United Nations? It is not good enough that the Prime Minister gets up here and says that other countries should contribute to the aid; they have to be part of the rebuilding, but that will only happen if there is agreement that the United Nations processes should rebuild, re-establish and reconstruct the country. We on this side of the House say that we will not be part of, and we will not support, a US protectorate as the reconstruction effort in Iraq. This government is neglecting its responsibilities if it is going to sign up to that, simply being told what to do. This is a government that has already turned its back on the United Nations—do not do it again. The reconstruction has to be done through the United Nations. (Time expired)