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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17089

Mr BRERETON (9:51 AM) —I rise to raise concern at the indication given by the Prime Minister last week that the Australian government was talking to the US administration about the possibility of interdicting North Korean shipping and the indication from the Prime Minister that this was a matter he discussed on his recent visit to Texas to see President Bush. The Prime Minister said:

... certainly the idea of being involved in such an interdiction is something that we've looked at in a very proactive fashion.

It is of concern that without any public or parliamentary debate the Prime Minister is involved in going down this path with the United States.

The word `interdiction' should not confuse the issue. What is being contemplated here is a selective blockade of North Korean shipping and if necessary the forcible seizure of vessels suspected of carrying components for missiles or weapons of mass destruction, other military equipment or declared contraband. North Korea's decision to resume plutonium production and its ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs poses a threat to regional and international security. But I put it to the House that this threat is best addressed through robust diplomacy backed by all of the countries most directly involved—the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. The allegations of North Korean involvement in drug smuggling are best dealt with as a conventional law enforcement and border control issue—as was demonstrated by the seizure of the North Korean vessel off Australia's coast last year. It is of concern that what is being contemplated apparently does not involve United Nations Security Council approval, which should be the very starting point for any such action.

What particularly concerns me is the fact that North Korea has long demonstrated a preparedness to engage in calibrated demonstrations of military force. Likely responses to the interdiction of North Korean shipping include the deployment of North Korean naval escorts, termination of agreements relating to the demilitarised zone across the peninsula, the accelerated testing of North Korea's ballistic missile capability, and naval and air force violations of South Korean territory. Pyongyang has already threatened to respond to a blockade by ending the five-decade armistice on the Korean peninsula.

All these things should be of concern to this House; all these things warrant a discussion in this parliament; all these things should be the subject of a comprehensive statement from the Prime Minister and indeed a comprehensive debate by the parliament. I urge the House and my colleagues to ensure that this occurs.