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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5398

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence. Noting that the US President, George Bush, has just signed into law a congressional resolution authorising him to launch military action against Iraq and the current consideration of the same matter by the UN Security Council, is the minister aware of comments by the director of the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA earlier this month advising that a strike against Iraq is more likely to trigger terrorist attacks than prevent them and that, unless provoked, Iraq is unlikely to use weapons of mass destruction against America? Would the minister agree that the same scenario is likely to apply to Australia? Can the minister identify any greater threats to Australia that are closer to home and should take priority over a proposed war that is literally on the other side of the globe?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I also saw the public reports of claimed CIA statements to the effect that the honourable senator has just stated, but I think it is worth looking at the issue that is really being addressed. The issue that is being addressed is that Iraq has a program of weapons of mass destruction. The international community has sought to contain and deter Iraq through a range of sanctions and no-fly zones and the like but they have only been partially successful. As a result, that weapons program continues to develop. Iraq has in the past been prepared to use weapons of mass destruction against its own people and against others. It has invaded other countries and, if Senator Bartlett accepts the British assessment that was put out recently, it continues to have regional aspirations. With Iraq, that means using force to achieve those aspirations.

Given that background, Iraq is a significant threat, and as the weapons program further develops so will the threat. The United States is saying that that is intolerable and needs to be addressed, and we share with the United States the view that that program of weapons of mass destruction must cease and that the weapons that currently exist must be destroyed. Obviously, we want that to be achieved without another war. We trust that international pressure through the United Nations and regional bodies such as the Arab League and the like will persuade Saddam Hussein to end that weapons program and to destroy those weapons. But if that communal pressure is unsuccessful then other options will have to be considered, because otherwise the threat will not only continue but also continue to develop.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, given the clear threat that now exists to the safety of Australians and other civilians in our own region, will the government reassess its potential willingness to devote military resources to a conflict in Iraq? Noting the fact that President Bush sought congressional approval for military actions, will the minister commit the Australian government to do likewise and, before it sends any troops into any conflict in Iraq, first put the question to a genuine conscience vote of both houses of the Australian parliament, as occurred in the United States?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Australia has not been asked to contribute to a war against Iraq. As I said, the emphasis of the Australian government is to seek, through the United Nations and other collective means, to achieve the goal of ending the weapons program without another war. If, however, it comes to that and Australia is asked either under the United Nations collective banner or without the United Nations collective banner it would be considered by the Australian government at that time. The Prime Minister has said that if Australia took that executive decision, the decision would then be brought to the parliament in the same way that Mr Hawke did in relation to the Gulf War. I have not seen any change in Mr Howard's position on the matter.