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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25996

Senator BROWN (2:37 PM) —My question goes to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is about tough decisions in Iraq. I ask the minister, in view of the defence forces from Australia that are there to promote freedom and democracy, what action the government has taken about the Allawi government's decision to close down al-Jazeera TV in this new democracy in Iraq. What action has the government taken, in view of our defence forces being in Iraq, to follow up on the stories in the Oregonian about the Oregon National Guard witnessing the bashing, beating and inhumane and unacceptable treatment of Iraqi prisoners under the Allawi government on 29 June last? What action has the government taken to follow up on reports by Paul McGeough regarding the allegation that Prime Minister Allawi personally shot to death six prisoners at a prison in north-west Baghdad in the month of June?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The interim government in Iraq, headed by Mr Allawi, is obviously facing major security issues. To some extent, insurgents and terrorists have switched their primary attack from the coalition, which is better protected, to the new Iraqi leadership and those who are prepared to very courageously take positions of office for the future of a better Iraq. I refer to policemen, local mayors, local governors, judges and the like who are being assassinated through the efforts of the insurgents to destroy the hope and chance of the Iraqi people for a better future. That is the difficult environment in which Mr Allawi is operating. I think he has started very well. I think his government is operating quite effectively in terms of the administration of the various government departments that are now all up and operating in progressing the security forces. Of course, Australia is proud to be helping to train the new Iraqi army and navy and helping to respond to those threats and that violence.

One of the most horrible but nevertheless effective ways of destroying hope in Iraq in terms of reconstruction is this practice of kidnapping those foreigners who are prepared to enter Iraq and contribute their labour to rebuilding Iraq. Al-Jazeera has had the practice of publicising those kidnappings and the beheading of kidnapped persons. The fear, of course, is that that encourages a continuation of that abhorrent practice. So I can understand the concerns of Mr Allawi regarding the activities of al-Jazeera because, whilst I think that news services obviously have rights, I think they also have responsibilities. If their broadcasting is such that it encourages insurgents to carry out horrendous activities such as this, I can understand why Mr Allawi would look at ways in which he might limit the dissemination of such material.

My prejudice as an Australian brought up in this free environment is that I wish to see the media as free as is reasonably possible. But I am not in the environment in which Mr Allawi finds himself. I am not faced with the responsibilities that he has to keep his people alive in the face of attacks from terrorists and the responsibilities that he has to encourage foreigners to invest and provide their labour within Iraq to help him and his people rebuild their country. I am not going to take the opportunity today to condemn him. I think it would be better if Senator Brown made some effort to understand the predicament faced by Mr Allawi.

Senator BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has quite clearly indicated that he supports the truncating of the freedom of the media in this fledgling democracy. What I want to ask him about is the other two components of my question. Firstly, what is the response to the bashing, beating and inhumane treatment of prisoners under the Allawi government? Secondly, has this government approached the US government with a view to finding out who the US guards were that were alleged to have been present in the prison when Mr Allawi personally executed six prisoners, according to the reports from the esteemed journalist Paul McGeough in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age? Has the government made that inquiry?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —In relation to the behaviour of Iraqi officials, I am pleased to say that the Australians who are contributing in Iraq, particularly in training security forces, are also seeking to educate them in terms of the values and human rights that we think are important. So that is our contribution towards better conduct. In relation to the allegations that were made about Mr Allawi, it is a matter of interest that I do not think anybody else has raised those allegations apart from Senator Brown. Not only have people not sought to pursue it, I have seen no evidence to support it.