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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 35

Senator HOGG (2:58 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence and the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Does the minister recall the Flood report’s criticisms of intelligence agencies for failing to provide complete advice before Australian troops were committed to the invasion of Iraq and, in particular, the strategic cost implications for Australia of contributing to military action against Iraq, the likely strategic cost and the impact of military action on the safety of Australia and Australians? How does the government justify a last-minute decision committing 450 Australians to replace a much more heavily armed 1,460-strong Dutch contingent, without undertaking an adequate security analysis? Hasn’t the government repeated the mistakes identified in the Flood report?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —It is difficult to know which way the Labor Party are coming from in this matter, because one minute they are saying that this has been a secret plan, conceived months ago and debated for a long period and deliberately kept from the Australian public and then, when that argument does not wash water, the next argument is that this is a plan that has been hastily conceived and that sufficient consideration has not been given to such matters as intelligence. I can say that the Australian government did take advice from its intelligence agencies before cabinet made its decision on deployment. Of course, Australian intelligence advice is always taken into account by the National Security Committee of cabinet and ultimately, through it, by cabinet itself.

Senator HOGG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister recall the Prime Minister’s own acknowledgement to the ABC’s Lateline on 23 February this year when he said:

… right up until the end, I wasn’t persuaded that we should make this additional contribution.

If this was such a last-minute decision, as the Prime Minister claims, then how was there, possibly, sufficient time to undertake proper security and intelligence assessments? In the light of this prime ministerial admission, I again ask: hasn’t the government just repeated the mistakes identified in the Flood report? 

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —No, it has not, because advice is sought—and in this instance the debate is about intelligence advice together with advice from a range of other persons on operational issues, including advice from the CDF—and all of that advice is taken into account in making a final decision. The Prime Minister, as he indicated, said a final decision was made and he would not be convinced until the decision was made. In other words, Senator Hogg seems to be endorsing the approach of the Prime Minister, which is to be cautious in these matters, to get all necessary advice before making the decision and to consider that advice carefully before making that decision. Exactly what Senator Hogg is seeking occurred in this instance, and he should be applauding the Prime Minister for his management of this particular matter. Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.