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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26006

Senator FERGUSON (3:20 PM) —Firstly can I say to Senator Stephens that if she thinks we were not a terrorist target before we went to Iraq she must be the only person in this chamber who has not heard of what happened in Bali and also what was planned in Singapore—long before we went to Iraq. Senator Stephens, you may need to update your knowledge. Indeed I may look like Senator Lightfoot, but I am on the ball in that regard and you are not. Isn't it very strange that the first time one of the 43 signatories to the statement, General Peter Gration, was interviewed he said, `This is not meant to be a political statement.' Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your life? Not meant to be a political statement! He also said that the democratic structure of our society had been undermined because Australia went to war in Iraq based on misleading the Australian population and based on a lie. The shadow defence minister, Mr Kim Beazley, does not agree with him, Senator Robert Ray could not possibly agree with him and Mr Leo McLeay, a former Speaker, could not possibly agree with him, because they all signed on to a unanimous report which says exactly the opposite to what these supposedly eminent Australians said in this public statement.

These 43 Australians cobbled together—it must have been in some haste—this statement or got together to write this statement, as Senator Stephens says. In fact, the statement would have been written by two or three and signed by all the rest. I wonder how many former diplomats who have served in the Australian foreign affairs department over the past 20 years—the time during which these people have retired—actually disagree with that statement. If they found about 13 or 14 people to sign on to it, I wonder how many of our former diplomats would totally disagree with it. I can tell you that a number of these so-called eminent Australians said it was not a political statement. What about one of them, Mr Tony Kevin, who castigated the government at the `children overboard' inquiry with very dubious suppositions? He said everything possible and mercilessly went after the Howard government based on a theory that he had, with no facts whatsoever. As soon as he had finished giving evidence, he went to work for Mr Kevin Rudd. How impartial is Mr Tony Kevin, a person whom I would not call an eminent Australian? Certainly lots of people who work with him would not call him an eminent Australian, although some would.

Senator Brandis raised the issue of Admiral Peek. Admiral Peek also gave evidence to the `children overboard' inquiry and gave us the benefit of his knowledge, none of which had been gained since 1976. Admiral Peek, who is now 90 years of age, certainly would be totally unaware of any of the recent and contemporary knowledge that we have in both intelligence and information that might be put out by the foreign affairs department. The other usual suspects on the list who have been willing to criticise the Howard government since 1996 have had nothing to do with the Iraq war and nothing to do with all of the issues that they raised in their statement. Most of those people have been usual suspects for a long time, because they have done nothing but criticise the Howard government ever since it was elected in 1996.

Mr Howard did say that it is important to value the capacity of older Australians, and it is important to value their capacity, provided they are sticking to subjects that they have some contemporary knowledge of and first-hand information about. None of those people on that list, with the exception of one—there may have been one who retired after 11 September 2001—is conscious of or has any knowledge of the information or advice that was provided to this government before it made its decisions. Not one of them has been privy to the changing circumstances that have been a part of our world since 11 September 2001, when we commenced the war on terrorism after those terrible acts took place at the twin towers in New York. Sure, we value the contributions of older Australians, but we do not value the uninformed opinions of older Australians. No matter what capacity they had or respect they enjoyed while they were in a job, once they are retired and no longer privy to the knowledge that is available to those who have to make decisions— (Time expired)