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Tuesday, 18 March 2003
Page: 12512

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:44 PM) —The Prime Minister today, in a reckless and unnecessary act, has committed Australia to war. The Prime Minister had his moment of truth, and what did we see? We saw capitulation and subservience to a phone call from the United States President. This is a black day for Australia and it is a black day for international cooperation. Today diplomacy was ditched and Australia agreed to the ditching of it. Today we committed to a war which is not necessary. But the people I really feel concern for today are our troops and their families. The reason I feel most strongly for them is that this Prime Minister has put them to war when he did not have to.

Whilst I will vehemently oppose what the Prime Minister has committed us to and will continue to argue against him, I will always support our troops—so will we all on this side of the parliament. I made this point when I addressed the troops on the decks of the Kanimbla back on 23 January. I had the courage to look them in the eye and tell them the truth. I had the courage to say to them that, whilst I did not support the government's actions to predeploy them, I did support them. I said to them that day: `I support you in your efforts.' I signalled to the families that, while there may be debates raging in this country as to whether or not it is appropriate for troops to be there, that argument should be directed to the government of the day and not to our great men and women who are prepared to give of themselves to serve this country.

I say that for this very important reason: our men and women in the fighting forces do not have a choice in this matter. They have to accept the decisions the government of the day makes for them—the decision that predeployed them and now the decision that commits them to war. Those men and women have no choice; but the government of the day did have a choice and it made the wrong call. It has again made the wrong call and it should reverse that call. Our argument is with the government of the day; it is not and never will be with our troops. We do have to learn the lessons of Vietnam. We do have to understand that these men and women are giving of their lives—prepared to lay them on the line to serve this country, in the belief that the government has made that judgment in their interests and based on all the evidence.

Sadly, today none of that evidence is any more forthcoming. The Prime Minister has still not made his case in terms of the deployment of our troops. The reason the Labor Party will oppose the motion before the House is that the decision to go to war is wrong. It is not in our national interest, and there is an alternative. Labor does support the disarmament of Iraq—but it says that that must happen through the United Nations, not through unilateralism. We agree on the objective but not the means. The action proposed by this government is disproportionate to the threat. That is our charge. The Prime Minister has not placed evidence before this parliament or before the people of Australia that justifies that action.

Let us have a look at the circumstances in which this decision has been taken. It happened because of a phone call from the President of the United States today. For the first time in the history of this country Australia has joined as an aggressor in war—not because of any decision it has been prepared to take on its own or through the Security Council but because the United States asked it to. It committed to war a long time ago. Its membership of the coalition of the willing ensured that. All that was required was the phone call from the US President, and that came yesterday and today—a phone call from Air Force One on the way back from the Azores; a phone call after a meeting committed the coalition of the willing. Three countries met to commit the coalition of the willing, and that committed Australia inextricably to the war the Prime Minister announced today.

Let us just contemplate for a moment that meeting in the Azores. The circumstances were that three countries met: the United States, the UK and Spain. The meeting was chaired by Portugal, but those countries were the three sponsors of a resolution that has subsequently been withdrawn from the United Nations. One of those countries, Spain, was prepared to commit our troops to war but not commit its own. They are the circumstances—the tragic circumstances—in which we as a nation find ourselves and in which this government has placed us.

When the Prime Minister received that call from the President of the United States, did he argue for an alternative? Did he argue to go back to the United Nations Security Council? Did he do anything to try to convince the US President to go down another course? No. He said yes. That is what he said. When the US President rang and said, `We want you to join,' the Prime Minister said yes. The words the Australian people really wanted to hear today from this Prime Minister are as follows. We and the Australian people wanted to hear a Prime Minister reaffirming the faith of his government in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and his desire for Australians to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They wanted to hear him repeat the words that said that we:

undertake to settle any international disputes in which they may be involved—

and Iraq is one of those—

by peaceful means and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

Mr Hunt —We wanted to hear you.

The SPEAKER —The member for Flinders! The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Mr CREAN —Mr Speaker, I quote those words because they are the words contained in the ANZUS treaty. They are the words contained in the alliance that binds the two great nations of the United States and Australia. They are the very words contained in the document, the alliance and the treaty that the Prime Minister invokes to justify this war. You cannot do it, Prime Minister. There is no point turning your back on me, because you are turning your back on the alliance and you have turned your back on the Australian people.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Lindsay! The Leader of the Opposition has the call. He will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —The Prime Minister says that all along he has wanted a second resolution; why did he walk away from it? Three countries walked away—the US, the UK and Spain. Australia was not even there in the process where they made the decision to walk away. The Prime Minister was told of them walking away in a phone call with the US President as he was returning home—he did not even ring him from the location of the meeting. Yet, in all of those circumstances, he agreed. Despite his conviction that we needed a second resolution, despite the ANZUS treaty saying that we should seek to resolve through peaceful means, despite him saying time and time again to the Australian people that he wanted to have this matter resolved through the UN, he walked away. Do you know why this trio walked away? Because the United Nations would not support their position.

These are the circumstances where the Prime Minister could not get a moral majority, so he has joined an immoral minority. These are the circumstances that he has placed this nation in. It is immoral because they could not win the argument in the United Nations—they could not achieve the resolution by peaceful means. They could not achieve what the ANZUS treaty says they should achieve by trying to convince, argue and demonstrate the importance of resolutions through the United Nations, so they walked away. They have effectively torn up that commitment in terms of the treaty.

This decision is wrong because we should never support military action outside of that supported by the United Nations, and also because the Prime Minister has failed to make the case as to why war is the only option. At his Press Club address last week and in the parliament today he has established no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, no link between Iraq and the events of September 11, and no link between the Iraqi regime and the Bali bombings. He has made assertions of that but he has demonstrated no evidence and no facts that justify it, nor has he produced one skerrick of evidence to demonstrate that Iraq poses a real and immediate threat to our security. These are the tests about which a Prime Minister committing to war has to satisfy not just himself but the Australian people—and he has not done it. He has failed to explain. Not once in his speech today did he establish the link between al-Qaeda and Iraq; not once in his speech today did he demonstrate where the threat of real and immediate danger to Australia was. That is the obligation he is required to demonstrate if he is to invoke the use of force. That is what he has to prove—and he has not done it.

He wants to rely on the legal authority and he tables today, for the first time, legal advice from his departments. I might say that the weight of legal opinion is heavily against that advice. We are in the process of obtaining our own legal advice and will make it available at the appropriate time.

Government members interjecting

Mr CREAN —They may laugh and joke about it, but they have been asserting the legality of this for so long now and all they have been able to produce is legal advice from the Solicitor-General and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I will wait for the advice to come. I just make this point: I do not believe the argument is whether this is legal or not legal; it is just that it is wrong. It is wrong to go to war in these circumstances. It has not been justified on any of the evidence that has come before us. Let me go to resolution 1441, because the Prime Minister seeks to justify the action that he has taken today on the basis that 1441 gives him that authority. If we go to 1441, paragraph 11 says:

Directs the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC and the Director-General of the IAEA to report immediately to the Council ... any failure by Iraq ...

Mr Tuckey —They've done that.

Mr CREAN —They have not done it. They have not made that report and you know it. Dr Blix has reported extensively to the Security Council. He has reported substantial progress. He and Dr ElBaradei have reported substantial progress in the disarmament of Iraq, but they have never issued a statement saying that Iraq has failed to comply.

The SPEAKER —The minister for immigration! The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Mr CREAN —That is what paragraph 11 requires as the starting point:

... to report immediately to the Council ... any failure by Iraq to comply ...

It has not happened. Then we go to paragraph 12, which says that it will decide:

... to convene immediately ... in order to consider the situation ...

That clearly has not happened either. There has been no convening of the Security Council to consider the situation of those two heads of agencies saying that there has been a failure by Iraq to comply. Then we get to paragraph 13, which is what the Prime Minister relies upon in invoking the `serious consequences'. It says specifically:

... in that context—

in other words, in the context of paragraphs 11 and 12—

... the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations ...

That cannot be taken in isolation. It has to be taken in the context of what 1441 does. I am not arguing the legality here; I am arguing that this is a United Nations exercise—a Security Council process—and, if the Prime Minister wants to rely on 1441, you have got to follow it.

Mr Downer —No you don't.

Mr CREAN —`You don't,' says the foreign minister! You carry a resolution in the Security Council and you do not have to follow it, according the foreign minister. I say this to you, foreign minister: the Labor Party will follow that process even if the Tories will not. Resolution 1441, on whose authority this is based, was a unanimous decision of the Security Council—a unanimous decision against all of the advice that we were getting that it was impossible to reach such a decision—that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed. The Labor Party have consistently agreed with the view that Saddam Hussein has to be disarmed, but we say that he has to be disarmed through the processes of the UN, and so does resolution 1441. But we have heard the foreign minister blow their cover. He is really saying that 1441 does not matter. He is saying that you do not have to follow 1441 by way of intervention. He is making it up as he goes along because he knows that they are on shaky ground. Resolution 1441 was unanimous. It says that Saddam Hussein has to be disarmed; it says send the weapons inspectors back in to do it and have the weapons inspectors report progress. That is what paragraphs 11, 12 and 13 require. They do not give the go-ahead for military action outside the authority of the UN—they do not. So the Prime Minister's basis for invoking resolution 1441 is flawed.

The second reason why we oppose the Prime Minister's proposal today to support this war is that it is not in Australia's interests that we go down this path. The Australian Labor Party do support the US alliance. We have supported it for over 50 years. We were there at its inception and we will continue to support it in the future. But there is a fundamental difference between supporting the US alliance and being subservient to it. The Australian Labor Party's position is very simple: we support the strength of the alliance but we say that we can have an independent foreign policy in which we engage with our neighbours in the region and in which we use the strength of our alliance to help secure peace, security and disarmament in the region. That is the message I went to China with last year. It is the message I relayed here in a speech before I went: support for the US alliance but preparedness to carve out an independent foreign policy.

We have been shamed today by a Prime Minister who said yes when a US President rang him, who was not prepared to argue the alternative case and who never has been. He has never been prepared in this debate to address the position of article 1, which says that matters of international conflict and relations should be dealt with through the United Nations. Not once have you heard the Prime Minister respond on that point. He cloaks himself in the US alliance but does not even address the detail of it and, most importantly, he has made Australia subservient to that alliance by this decision today. He has flown in the face of what that alliance does. That is not in Australia's interests. It is never in Australia's interests to have its foreign policy determined by another country. Australia should determine its own foreign policy. It should have regard to the alliances and to the international organisations but it should always determine its own foreign policy. I say this to you: under the Labor Party in government we will determine the foreign policy of this country. We will not have it determined for us by the United States.

The second reason why this is not in our national interest is this: as a middle power it is in Australia's interests that there be a commitment to abide by the international rule of law and to support international organisations. It must be so. Australia has always benefited most from those circumstances. It has never been in our interests to go it alone. It has always been the strength of our standing and our support in the region that we have responded positively to calls from international bodies. Look at our involvement in Timor under the UN banner. Look at our involvement in the war against terrorism, again under the UN banner. Look at the last time we went to war in Iraq when, because Iraq had invaded Kuwait, we again went in under the UN banner.

If it was right and appropriate to do it then, why are we walking away from it now? Why, in circumstances in which you cannot get the international community, do you simply walk away? But that is what the government has done, and in the process it has weakened the authority of the United Nations. The very organisation it feigns support for it weakens by this decision to walk away from the UN process and join the coalition of the willing. What sort of a signal does it send to rogue states? If we allow countries to act unilaterally, even if you believe it is in a good cause, we set the precedent for those who want to act unilaterally for the wrong cause—and that is most graphically demonstrated in the context of North Korea at the moment.

We hear the Prime Minister talk about these threats, none of which he has proven that Saddam Hussein has made against Australia, yet we know of the threats that have been made and the firings and the nuclear capacity intentions of North Korea and he is silent. He says, `This has just happened recently.' That is not true. The circumstances of North Korea and the position we find ourselves in today go back to 1994, and yet this government continues to tolerate those circumstances but complains that 12 years is too long in the case of Iraq. That is hypocrisy, that is double standards and that is using the UN to suit your argument and abusing it when it also suits. That is not in Australia's interests and it will never be the way in which a Labor Party conducts the foreign policy on behalf of this nation.

The third reason why it is not in our national interests is that it will damage relations in the region. It will damage relations with our neighbours and with our other friends. Why is it that we feel as though we have got to oblige and agree with only our US friends? We have an obligation in this region to cultivate and build relationships, to achieve peace and security in this region, to fight the war on terror collectively. But these actions by the government in going in unilaterally will damage those relationships with our friends and our neighbours.

The action that the government has taken today in committing us to war will make us less secure in the region, not more secure. In fact, it will make us a target. This war that this government has declared and been involved in today will spawn more terrorism and spawn more terrorists. I note that the US has already raised, as a consequence of its actions today, the terror alert in the United States. I have heard nothing from the government as to what it is saying about the heightened risk to security in this country. This is a question that in the Prime Minister's absence we asked of the Acting Prime Minister, and he failed to respond. This is a question that has constantly been asked of the Prime Minister; and regrettably yesterday, in the Prime Minister's press conference, when the media asked the Prime Minister what new decisions had been taken about Australians overseas, he did not know. He said to refer it to the foreign affairs minister. That is outrageous. This is a Prime Minister so quick to commit to war that he does not even know what the consequences are for Australians in the region or what advice to offer them as to what they should be doing in coming home. He was incapable of answering it yesterday.

I have said that the war is wrong and the Labor Party will not be part of it. I have said that the war is a threat to our national interests in the region. The final point I would make is that the war is unnecessary because there is an alternative. As late as yesterday, Iraq was continuing to destroy and dismantle the al-Samoud missiles. It was a further continuation of the substantial progress that had been reported by Dr Blix. Yesterday, Dr Blix outlined the remaining disarmament tasks. We have heard no mention by the Prime Minister of those reports by Dr Blix. Dr Blix said that the task can be completed in months. I ask this question, and I pose it seriously: I understand the point about the 12 years; but, if we can achieve the disarmament in the next couple of months, why shouldn't we take the next couple of months? In the context of the 12 years, why shouldn't we take the next couple of months? There is no logical explanation by you, Prime Minister, as to why you have not been prepared to go down that path.

The President of the United States said the other day that this was the moment of truth. I pose the question: why is now the moment of truth? Why don't we face up to the facts? Why don't we acknowledge that progress has been made? Why don't we acknowledge that the UN Security Council was capable of achieving a unanimous decision; a UN Security Council which, if it is allowed to complete its task, I do not believe would not be prepared to back the snubbing of its decision with a further resolution. If I had been Prime Minister I would have insisted on the UN Security Council proceeding to finalise this matter. I would not have predeployed the troops and I certainly would not have committed them today. What we have got from the Prime Minister is a commitment to deploy our troops based on no evidence, ignoring the reports of Dr Blix and based solely on a phone call—a phone call from Air Force One on the way back from the Azores. That is the commitment that the Prime Minister has made on behalf of this country.

The Labor Party opposes this motion that is before the House. I move the following amendment:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“This House:

(1) insists that Iraq must disarm under the authority of the United Nations;

(2) believes that in the absence of an agreed UN Security Council resolution authorising military action against Iraq, there is no basis for military action to disarm Iraq, including action involving the Australian Defence Force;

(3) insists that there should be no commitment of Australian troops to a war in Iraq outside the authority of the United Nations;

(4) concludes that Australian involvement in a war in Iraq without UN authorisation is not in Australia's national interests or in the interests of maintaining international peace and security; and

(5) expresses its confidence in our servicemen and women and our full support for them and their families”.

Mrs Bishop interjecting

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Mackellar!

Mr CREAN —Today the Prime Minister has committed us unnecessarily and recklessly to war. He has not made the case to the Australian people and, most importantly of all, he did not have the courage to face the troops, when he predeployed them, and tell them that they were already part of the coalition of the willing.

Mr Pyne —Why haven't you had the courage to tell Tony Blair?

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt defies the chair.

Mr CREAN —The statement that the Prime Minister has made today demonstrates what we have been saying all along.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Sturt!

Mr CREAN —The statement of the Prime Minister confirms what we have been saying for some time. The Prime Minister had already committed us to war; he just had not had the courage to tell anyone anything, including the truth—the Prime Minister had committed us to war along with the United States. The Prime Minister had committed us to the coalition of the willing but he had not told the Australian people. The Prime Minister had committed us to war; it is just that he was waiting for the phone call.

Today we got the phone call, and the Prime Minister made the wrong response. Tragically for this nation, he has cast us on a path of war that is unnecessary. He has cast us on a path of war which is wrong. He has cast us on a path of war which can be avoided. And, most of all, he has snubbed the United Nations. He has undermined its authority and he has not sought the alternative. He has ignored his obligation under the ANZUS alliance to seek the peaceful path. Instead of choosing peace as the option, he has chosen war. War should only be the last resort. It should never be the first option, and you stand condemned, Prime Minister, for making it our option—an unnecessary option.

Labor opposes your commitment to war. We will argue against it and we will call for the troops to be returned. The Australian people will know that in us they have a government in waiting, prepared to act in Australia's national interest and not be subservient to the United States. We will determine the foreign policy of this country. We will not have it determined for us by a phone call from Air Force One. I reject the motion of the Prime Minister and I commend the amendment to the House.

The SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?

Ms Macklin —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.