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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House: 25 June 2003: Iraqi WMD; Bali; Solomon Islands; Telstra.



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KEVIN RUDD M.P.

MEDIA RELEASE

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - PARLIAMENT HOUSE 25 JUNE 2003

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Iraqi WMD; Bali; Solomon Islands; Telstra

Rudd: I would like to say on behalf of the Parliamentary Labor Party that we are deeply distressed by the loss of life of British servicemen overnight in Iraq. Plainly, Iraq is still a very dangerous war zone and for the families of those British servicemen who have lost their lives in the last 24-hours in Iraq we extend our deepest sympathy. This is a very difficult operating environment, leaving aside the whole question of the politics of intervention in Iraq in the first place. In terms of human dimensions of this struggle and this continuing fight, we would simply like to extend our sympathies to the families involved.

Overnight in New York, Hans Blix, the UN Chief Weapons Inspector, has made some remarks about the intelligence upon which Australia and others relied, in terms of its analysis of the Iraq situation. What Mr Blix has said, in effect, is that Australia may have relied upon faulty foreign-sourced intelligence in reaching its decisions on going to war against Iraq. Mr Blix has further speculated that when it comes to war with Iraq that it was indeed possible that Iraq may have destroyed its weapons of mass destruction back in 1991. He leaves open the possibility that weapons of mass destruction may yet be discovered, but he makes the interesting observation that when it comes to absolute certainty on the part of the United States and its allies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction there seems to have been 100% certainty on this, but surprisingly 0% certainty on the location of these weapons of mass destruction, the war now having been concluded.

The bottom line is this: Mr Howard has had all week to place on the public record his apology to the Australian people for misleading the Australian people on the question of Iraq’s nuclear program, specifically his claim that Iraq sought to import uranium from Africa. What Hans Blix’s comments overnight indicate is that there is a growing degree of international scepticism about whether or not the intelligence claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been exaggerated by the Australian Government prior to it committing Australian troops to go to war.

Further information: Kevin Rudd, MP 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan 0417 605 823

On the question of Bali could I say this: Yesterday Mr Downer was asked how he had handled an ASIO report of August 2002 - an ASIO Threat Assessment which dealt

directly with the question of Australian interests, themselves, being the subject of terrorist threats in Indonesia. Subsequent to that ASIO Threat Assessment of August 2002, Mr Downer’s Department issued at least another four travel advisories prior to October 12 2002. The question which was put to Mr Downer was: How was that Threat Assessment from ASIO in August 2002 reflected in the travel advisories of late August and September 2002. Mr Downer’s answer was that of course the Government reflected that ASIO Threat Assessment into the subsequent travel advisories. But I would simply invite you all to have a close look at the text of those

travel advisories because the bottom line is ASIO’s Threat Assessment in August 2002 was absolutely clear, namely that Australian interests themselves were the subject of targeted terrorist threat by terrorist organisations in Indonesia. And Mr

Downer, so far, has not given us an adequate answer as to how that information was translated effectively into the subsequent travel advisories issued by his Department.

Finally, on the Solomons, the National Security Committee of Cabinet today will consider, apparently, a proposal for the dispatch of Australian troops, military and police personnel to the Solomons. The question we would put, as the Australian Labor Party, is this: First of all, has Mr Downer obtained the approval of the Solomon Islands Government and Parliament? My understanding is that that has yet to occur. Secondly, has Mr Downer yet to secure the approval of all Pacific Island states? That to my understanding has yet to occur. Finally, I would simply say that as far as Australia’s national interests are concerned, the Australian Labor Party would have some profound reservations about any Australian presence in the Solomon Islands which involves any substantial military - that is Army presence - as opposed to police presence. I simply repeat the point that plainly the situation in the Solomon Islands is dire, plainly a response is required both by the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand, but our argument is that any such

involvement by Australia should be primarily a police presence and much less a military presence. And furthermore, we need to be absolutely confident the approval of the Solomon Islands Government has been obtained.

Reporter: So would you support a military presence if the Government of the Solomon Islands requested it?

Rudd: Our strong preference is that any presence on the part of Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries in the Solomons be predominantly a policing presence. Basically, what you have in the Solomons is a collapse of law and order. The best way to address a collapse of law of order is to ensure that you have effective operational police on the ground. It is no secret that the Solomon Islands

Police Force has not been functional for some years, even though Mr Downer has spent some $40 million of taxpayer’s funds from this country trying to do something about it since the year 2000.

Reporter: Why would a military be unacceptable?

Rudd: What I said was, we would believe that a predominantly police presence is what is warranted in the Solomons, assuming the Government of the Solomons agrees with that. We don’t rule out a form of military presence necessarily, but we would be exceptionally concerned if this military presence was in any way

overwhelming or dominant. The reason is that across the South Pacific we need to be very careful about what reputation we construct for ourselves in forms of intervention within the region; policing is one matter, military intervention is another, we need to be very cautious about what cocktail of presence is therefore

being put forward by the Howard Government.

Reporter: So is the Government being premature?

Rudd: I had discussions a week or so ago with the Government of New Zealand in Wellington on these questions. The view that I have, and I think the New Zealand Government has, is that a policing presence in the Solomon Islands, subject

to the approval of the Solomon Islands Government, is an appropriate way to go. If operationally it is concluded that some military presence is additionally needed, we simply say this should be considered very cautiously, very carefully and if it was ever to be considered, it should be a minimal military presence.

Reporter: Doesn’t Telstra need to be privatised for that organisation to remain competitive?

Rudd: Well on the question of Telstra, that of course is the province of my colleague Lindsay Tanner, the Shadow Minister. But I would simply say this as a Queenslander: It’s just fantastic watching the Queensland National Party roll over and have its tummy tickled yet again. There they are barking in the morning, but tame as pussycats in the evening. Frankly, they should hang their heads in shame.

Reporter: Mr Rudd, on the WMD issue, the Prime Minister is unlikely as you suggest to come out and confess that he has been misleading the public. Has Labor shot itself in the foot by setting up an intelligence inquiry that can’t look at foreign-sourced intelligence?

Rudd: Well the question of what intelligence is provided to the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Parliament is ultimately a matter for the Government. Frankly, if the Government had its way there would be no parliamentary inquiry at all, be it through the Joint Intelligence Committee or a Senate Inquiry.

Reporter: But the Committee’s charter says that it can’t look at foreign-sourced intelligence unless the overseas intelligence agencies give their permission.

Rudd: Could I simply say this: The extent to which intelligence information of which ever source is made available to this Committee or any other Committee ultimately lies within the purchase of the Australian Government itself. I would further say that when it comes to the Joint Intelligence Committee, given its charter and given it exists under statute, it has far better prospect of probing intelligence material on WMD then a Senate Select Committee at this time. We simply hold open the possibility of what might be done in the future if the Government proceeds to be uncooperative with this Committee. I would simply say this: Roll the clock back a few weeks, when both Downer and Howard were saying, “why do you want to have any inquiry at all into whether or not Australia’s intelligence was over-egged by the Government prior to the Iraq war?” Well, now Mr Howard is saying, “we’ll partially

cooperate with this Joint Intelligence Committee inquiry on Iraqi WMD”. We’ve made a bit of progress, let’s see how the Government itself performs through its agencies once this Committee of inquiry is underway.

Reporter: Could I ask you one more on Telstra? A $200 million tummy tickle isn’t bad is it?

Rudd: Well, when it comes to the Queensland National Party, I remember during the last election Ron Boswell, the Queensland National Party Senator, had a huge billboard in Queensland saying, “He’s not pretty, but he’s pretty effective”. I’d simply say as far as Ron’s concerned, I’m not going to comment on whether he is pretty or not, but I think this is pretty ineffective. The Queensland Nats once again rolling over and having their tummies tickled. Frankly, they’re deserting the bush, and they know it.

Ends.