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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20004

Mr CREAN (2:12 PM) —My question again is to the Prime Minister—and I again ask him in reference to the report of 10 February this year by the British Joint Intelligence Committee which assessed that `any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists'. Prime Minister, why did you tell the Australian parliament precisely the opposite to that on 25 March—six weeks after that report—when you argued that going to war with Iraq would disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and thereby deny Iraq its capacity to pass those weapons to terrorist groups? Prime Minister, on what intelligence or evidence did you rely to reject this assessment from the peak British intelligence agency?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Mr Speaker, I have already indicated through you to the Leader of the Opposition that, although the particular JIC report was not, as is the normal custom, itself drawn to my attention, it clearly—

Mr Crean —Oh, come on!

The SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr HOWARD —The Leader of the Opposition—

Mr Crean —It never is.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition! The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr HOWARD —plainly misunderstands the way in which the transmission of these documents occurs. What happens is that a very large number of assessments are received from our intelligence partners, and those assessments are obviously watched and considered very closely by our intelligence agency. They clearly inform the advice that is ultimately given by our intelligence agencies to the government. But there is nothing inconsistent with that and my statement.

Mr HOWARD —The Leader of the Opposition can guffaw as much as he likes, but it does not alter that fact. It remains the case that, in all of these things, there are assessments made by the intelligence agencies. Of course there were short-term risks. That is why we issued a travel advisory warning of a heightened risk to Australian interests in certain Middle East areas.

On 24 March, I indicated that the threat levels had been raised. You do not raise threat levels unless there is, in the short term at least, an assessment that you ought to do so. But the Leader of the Opposition seems incapable of understanding the difference between a short-term assessment of a heightened risk because of the conflict and a longer term judgment you make about proliferation and the potential passing of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organisations.

It was our judgment that it was in Australia's interests to be associated with an effort to remove from Saddam Hussein the opportunity of passing weapons of mass destruction to terrorist organisations. That was our judgment. It was a judgment correctly based, and it was a judgment properly formed. As evidence that it was not contrary to the intelligence assessments made by the agencies, the major statements I made on this issue were in fact cleared by the Office of National Assessments. The five major statements I made were cleared by the Office of National Assessments.

I again invite the Leader of the Opposition to try and understand the difference between misrepresenting the nature of intelligence assessments and having a legitimate disagreement about what you should do in the light of those assessments. It so happens that we thought getting rid of Saddam was the right thing to do. You thought leaving him there was the right thing to do. That is the difference, and that will always be the difference in the eyes of Australian people.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister is entitled to be heard in silence, as are all other members of this House.