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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20135

Mr CREAN (2:36 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to his answer yesterday in which he claimed to have been open with the Australian people about the risks associated with going into Iraq. Prime Minister, I refer to paragraph 127 of the British Joint Intelligence Committee report, which says:

The JIC 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, not necessarily al-Qaida.

Prime Minister, can you point to any single statement or speech that you have made in which you warned the Australian people of that risk?

Mr Downer —I thought you said they didn't have any.

The SPEAKER —The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister has the call!

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The Minister for Foreign Affairs, quite properly, interjects that he thought the Leader of the Opposition was alleging that Saddam Hussein did not have any of these weapons. The reality is that the Leader of the Opposition has changed his position on this. Before the war started, the Leader of the Opposition said that he did believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. That was the position of both the Leader of the Opposition and his spokesman on foreign affairs, the member for Griffith.

The point I made yesterday, and I repeat it again today, is that in relation to potential threats to Australia and Australian interests we were completely open and transparent. Our responsibility is to address Australia's security risk and Australian interests. We made it perfectly clear that there was a heightened threat to Australian interests in the Middle East as a result of the outbreak of the war. That was reflected in travel advisories. It was adverted to by me in the House on 24 March. It was explicitly adverted to by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 10 February. Mr Dennis Richardson, the Director-General of ASIO, drew attention to the fact—and I repeated it—that there had been no credible intelligence received justifying a lifting of the terror alert in Australia. In relation to Australian interests overseas, we made it clear that, because of the outbreak of the war, there was a heightened threat, and we were open. In relation to the general security threat to Australia, where there was no credible intelligence, there was no justification to lift the alert.

Nothing can absolve the Leader of the Opposition from the fact that, in the lead-up to the Iraqi war, he did not have the courage to state a position based on his own belief. The problem with the Leader of the Opposition was that he sought to hide behind the seeking of another resolution from the United Nations—and everybody knows that, if that policy had been embraced by the Americans, by the British and by us, Saddam Hussein would still be running Iraq.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The entire answer has been about the Leader of the Opposition. The question is about the Prime Minister and what he told or did not tell the Australian people. On relevance, the Prime Minister must be brought to the question.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa is well aware that the standing order for answers requires that the answer be relevant, and there is no way that the Prime Minister was discussing anything other than the issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition.