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Transcript of doorstop: 20 March 2003: Parliament House.

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E and OE

20 March 2003

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Doorstop, Parliament House

Journalist: Minister, any advance on when you think the war might start?

Downer: Well the deadline is about to arrive, at midday today, Australian time. And I think we should expect information about military action at any time now. But of course this is a matter that's in the hands of the commanders on the ground. It's not any longer a matter for politicians.

Journalist: But do you expect Australian forces to be in combat by the end of today?

Downer: That's going to be a matter for the Australian Commanders. So we've reached a point now where we won't be getting into commentary on these operational issues. We'll leave those comments to military personnel.

Journalist: Mr Downer, when will the Federal Government outline what aid it is proposing to give to Iraq?

Downer: Well we will be gradually doing that over the next few days. We have very deliberately not said very much about that up until now because we've made the judgement that, of course we weren't sure whether there would be military conflict or not. But now it's perfectly clear there will be military conflict I think it is appropriate for us to start talking about the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq, after many years of the government of Saddam Hussein, many years of United Nations sanctions and of course several military conflicts that have taken place in that period. Iraq's a country with tremendous potential. It has about 11 per cent of the World's oil resources. But it will need to be helped in the short term and it's important Australian makes a contribution to that and we'll certainly be making a contribution. We've been working very closely with the British and the Americans over the last few months in putting together plans for how this work can be done. The plans are very elaborate, they're very sophisticated. We've also had a good deal of contact with the United Nations, with specific United Nations agencies as well.

Journalist: Well what's on the table? What exactly are you considering?

Downer: Well we're considering a whole range of things, from humanitarian relief through to issues like food distribution to issues like infrastructure rehabilitation, as well as of course the political future of Iraq. These questions have all been worked on in great detail.

Journalist: But don't you think if you come out and sort of say it now, then you might keep the critics at bay?

Downer: There are so many critics; you can't the whole time be worrying about everybody who criticises you. You're paid to have critics. It comes with the job. But we will be talking about it more now. The reason we haven't up until now is because we hoped that there would be a diplomatic solution to this problem, and if there had been a diplomatic solution then these programs could have been put into place more quickly. But given that there's now going to be a military solution, that will have some influence on the structure of the programs. But yes, we'll certainly be talking about it more.

Journalist: Would you expect one final phone call from the White House to the Prime Minister, to alert Australia to the commencement of hostilities?

Downer: No, I wouldn't. I think we've reached a point where phone calls have all been made and it's a matter for the military commanders.

ENDS……………………………………………………………….….20 March 2003