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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20127

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:01 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to his answer yesterday when he described the warnings in the British Joint Intelligence Committee report of 10 February on the increased threat of terrorism and the increased risk of weapons of mass destruction getting into the hands of terrorists arising from an attack on Iraq as `shorter-term risks'. Prime Minister, where does the British Joint Intelligence Committee report describe these risks as short term? Hasn't the Prime Minister just made this version up?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I observe, as my colleagues on this side of the House will observe, that this question has come from a man whose policies, if followed by others, would have left Saddam Hussein in power in Baghdad. Let us understand the context of this questioning. If the advice of the Australian Labor Party had been adopted by this government, by the American administration, by the British government and by others, then inevitably Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Iraq with all of the implications of that for the Iraqi people.

The Leader of the Opposition may not like being reminded of this, but it is the cold, brutal reality. The Leader of the Opposition chose to hide behind the seeking of another United Nations resolution, instead of having the courage to declare as a matter of principle where the Australian Labor Party stood. I repeat to the Leader of the Opposition, as I did yesterday, that governments receive many intelligence assessments. In the end, it is governments and not intelligence agencies that make judgments. It is not intelligence agencies that make judgments; it is in fact governments.

Let me refer to some words uttered not by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the United Kingdom and not by some agency of another country but by somebody who is well known and well respected on both sides of the parliament in Australia—that is, the Director-General of ASIO, Mr Dennis Richardson. He is a man whose advice on security matters should be listened to by this government and, indeed, by any serving Australian government—more than the views of any other person. In a speech that he gave to the Security in Government Conference on 30 April 2003, Dennis Richardson, the Director-General of ASIO, said:

It is still too early to judge what, if any, interplay there might be between the war in Iraq and terrorism.

Let me repeat that; he said:

It is still too early to judge what, if any, interplay there might be between the war in Iraq and terrorism. But we can be certain that, apart from adding to its rhetoric of justification, the war will be irrelevant to the intent and purpose of the al-Qa'ida network. They killed innocent civilians before the war in Iraq and will seek to do so again.

Let me remind the parliament of the rationale used by the government for the decision to commit to Iraq. Our argument then, and it remains our argument now, was that if nations such as Iraq—

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order which goes to relevance. The question was very specific as to where the JIC report referred to short-term risks. That was the Prime Minister's defence yesterday, and he is already walking away from it.

The SPEAKER —Before I recognise the Prime Minister, I would remind all members of their obligations under the standing orders, particularly standing order 55. My reference applies to the Minister for Small Business and Tourism and to the member for Reid. The Prime Minister's answer is in order.

Mr HOWARD —Our rationale was that, if rogue states such as Iraq were allowed to retain the weapons our intelligence assessments told us they had, other rogue states would seek to do the same thing and, as more states were in that situation, the possibility of those weapons falling into the hands of terrorists would multiply. That was the rationale. Nothing in the JIC report and nothing advanced by the Leader of the Opposition has altered that judgment or altered the soundness of the decision unconditionally taken by the Australian government.

Ms Gillard —So you did just make it up!

Mr Crean —You made it up!

Mr Kelvin Thomson —Where are the weapons?

The SPEAKER —If the member for Lalor, the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Wills think that the Speaker does not intend to enforce standing order 55, they have got a surprise coming!