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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23419

Mrs GASH (2:10 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the importance of the United States alliance to Australia—

Honourable members interjecting

Mrs GASH —I do not think that is funny—particularly in the fight against terror, and is the minister aware of any alternative views?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Gilmore for her question and for the interest she shows in the American alliance. I think that, on this side of the House, we know that the alliance between Australia and the United States is absolutely vital to our national security. That is particularly so in these difficult times. We have the problem of fundamentalist terrorism, including in our own part of the world, South-East Asia; we have the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—notably, in the case of North Korea, again in our own region; and we have the risk of those weapons systems falling into the hands of terrorists.

I do not think there has been any time since at least the end of the Second World War when the United States alliance has been more important to our national security, and there is a component of it which is particularly important—and which is not often spoken of—and that is the intelligence cooperation between Australia and the United States. That intelligence cooperation is one of the strongest weapons we have to use against terrorism.

The honourable member for Gilmore asked whether there are any alternative views. The Leader of the Opposition has expressed many alternative views on the subject, but what we are certain of is that he has no enthusiasm for the alliance, unlike the member for Brand, who has a history of being a strong and longstanding supporter of the alliance. The House barely needs to be reminded—but it should be reminded—that in February this year the Leader of the Opposition said of the President of the United States:

Bush himself is the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory.

I think it was Bill Hayden, as Leader of the Opposition and then as foreign minister, who said that, in international relations, words are bullets. That sort of language, of course, does nothing to build the support between the opposition and the United States alliance, and it shows a complete lack of understanding of that alliance.

More seriously, according to Laurie Oakes, a well-respected journalist, in February this year the Leader of the Opposition said that Australia should be prepared to withhold shared intelligence from the United States if the United States attacked Iraq. In other words, our intelligence relationship should not be fundamental to the alliance; our intelligence relationship should become a bargaining chip on individual policies. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to repudiate that report and to show a strong commitment, as we saw from the member for Brand, and as we have seen from this side of the House, to the American alliance, because it is vital to the security of this nation at this very uncertain time. It does not mean that we always agree with the Americans, but it does mean that we value the friendship, that we value the alliance and that we value the security we get from that relationship.