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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20016

Mr CREAN (3:02 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. It refers to the report of 10 February this year of the British Joint Intelligence Committee and to a further conclusion from that report. Is the Prime Minister aware that that report:

... assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.

Prime Minister, do you also recall telling the Australian people in your address to the nation on 20 March:

We believe that so far from our action in Iraq increasing the terrorist threat it will, by stopping the spread of chemical and biological weapons, make it less likely that a devastating terrorist attack will be carried out against Australia.

Prime Minister, why were you telling the Australian people the exact opposite to what the British intelligence agencies had told you a month before?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I can only repeat what I have said earlier. Clearly, in the advice that we received from our intelligence agencies, there were assessments based on that analysis of shorter-term risks. We had to take them into account in making a judgment about the medium to longer-term prevention of the spread and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I do not resile in any way from the judgment that I formed and that I communicated to the Australian people in that address to the nation. In the end, as the Leader of the Opposition will recall from the time that he had in government, governments receive varieties of advice from different sources.

There are judgments, particularly in intelligence matters, that can be interpreted in a different fashion, depending upon the particular judgment that you make. I can only say to this House that at no stage did the government misrepresent the intelligence assessments we received. I accept it is a fact that the judgment we formed, based on those assessments, was different from what would have been the judgment of the Labor Party had it been the government. The Labor Party's view was that it should not absent another resolution from the United Nations. The House ought to be reminded that the Labor Party's view was, and remains, that absent a further resolution from the United Nations authorising action—although that was legally not necessary—no action should have been taken to remove Saddam Hussein. I think we can all conclude that, if the action taken by the coalition had not been taken, alternative action to remove Saddam would not have eventuated and that, as I speak, six months later—

Mr HOWARD —Saddam would still have been in charge of Iraq, with all of the horrors of that regime. I can only say again to the Leader of the Opposition and to this parliament that we made a judgment. That judgment was the correct judgment. It was in the long-term interests of this country. I have no doubt that the action we took has over the medium to longer term made a contribution to the prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and thereby diminished over that time period the potential for those weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists. Before concluding my answer—

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Fowler!

Mr HOWARD —I will tell the House that, contrary to what I said before, the Joint Intelligence Committee report was dated 10 February 2003, and it was received by our agencies on 18 February 2003.

The SPEAKER —I remind members of their obligation to address questions, in this instance particularly, through the chair and to avoid the use of the words `you' and `your'.