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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 64

Senator McGAURAN (4:28 PM) —I rise to support the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill, and the Prime Minister in their statement today relating to Australia’s deployment of an extra 450 troops to Iraq. As it was outlined, the troops will be going to southern Iraq—relatively speaking, a safer zone than around Baghdad, of course, or in the Sunni triangle. Their task is twofold. Firstly, they will provide a secure environment for the Japanese Iraqi Reconstruction Support Group, which is currently undertaking the building of roads and schools, and the provision of clean water supplies and health services. That is critical to Australia’s decision to deploy these extra troops: to give protection and support to not only the Japanese, who are close and long-time allies of Australia—60 years to be exact—but also the work they are carrying out.

Secondly, the task force will be involved in further training of the Iraqi security forces. Again, a key point as to why we made this most difficult decision is that those 450 troops will in some part be training Iraqi security forces. As the Chief of the Defence Force said, we aim for this deployment to terminate within 12 months because the Iraqi security forces will be trained up to take over, and therein lies the mission. This is, as Senator Hill rightly outlined, a sign that Australia is committed to the people of Iraq, who have just come through a most difficult election period. They have come through it with courage, determination and an absolute thirst for democracy. The fact that they had to get their hands dipped in purple, as we all saw on television screens, the fact that they had to carry that purple finger around for days after the election under the threat of death from the insurgents—terrorists, Islamic militants—and yet eight million people went to the polls, means we owe a commitment to those eight million people who have a thirst for democracy. Therein lies the government’s reason for making this most difficult decision.

These decisions are of the gravest kind a government can make, but they are studied. They are emotional decisions, but rest assured they are studied decisions—the process undertaken to reach the conclusion that we are sending these troops vouches for this. As was stated by the Prime Minister in the other place and by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the first request came from the UK defence minister to our Minister for Foreign Affairs on 20 January 2005. Then a second request, probably more formal, came from the UK foreign minister, Jack Straw, to our foreign minister, Mr Downer, on 4 February 2005. Naturally, that request was considered by the Australian cabinet’s National Security Committee, made up of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill, who made the statement here today. It was carefully considered, with all the advice and relevant intelligence from the Defence Force. Even with those deliberations, it was still necessary, I believe, for the Prime Minister of Japan to telephone our Prime Minister on 18 February and request Australia’s contribution, adding greater gravity to the need in Iraq. And then the British Prime Minister, a very close ally to Australia, rang our Prime Minister, adding to the gravity and seriousness of the need for Australia to finish the job, to see it through and to send extra troops to protect the good work that the Japanese workers are undertaking. That was the process.

This was no rushed decision. The Leader of the Opposition would have us believe that this was a rush of blood to the head of the Prime Minister. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition has been contradictory in his attack. He is simply using this quite serious decision to his political advantage. He is all over the shop. He began by saying that this was always in the mind of the government before the election: we were just waiting for the election to come and go, and then we would make this decision. That is absolutely untrue. Nor was it a rush of blood to the head or a quick decision, as the process highlights. It is a decision we had to make. It is one we had to seriously consider, and we have done so. We have done it for the reasons outlined and, in particular, to reassure the Iraqi people that they do have a better future ahead of them, that the gameness and gutsiness of some eight million of them to come out and vote under the serious threat of death—not idle, as we all know—will be backed up by Australia and by the coalition that is now in Iraq.

It seems that every speaker so far in this debate today—and I have no hope to think that Senator Brown, who will speak after me, will change the idea or policy they all have—is against this deployment. And they have all thus far begrudgingly accepted the fact that the election was a success—in fact, I am not even sure Senator Allison believes that, but it was a great success. But if it is not good enough for them to make their own judgments and they rely so much on the United Nations, then they ought to look to the United Nations for their next step and their next policy. Quite frankly, the United Nations support the training of Iraqi security forces and troops. And why wouldn’t you support the training of Iraqi security forces so that one day they can run their own country? This is a mandate that the United Nations support.

Moreover, from June last year, resolution 1546 gave the coalition operations in Iraq unquestioned international legitimacy and obliged member states to do all in their power to aid the country’s post-Saddam reconstruction. And what do we hear from the other side? Those parties are out of step with the international community; they are out of step with the United Nations. We have reached a stage where they have to decide, ‘Do they support the reconstruction of Iraq or not?’ instead of bogging down the debate in the same old, tired mantra that they chant. They are still arguing the point of whether we should have been in there or not. That is a failed argument, and it is a very dangerous one at this point of time. Not even the United Nations—not Russia, not China—would support that point of view now. In fact, the international community are now arguing: ‘Finish the job, and we will give you that support.’ But we are not hearing that from the Labor Party, we have not heard it from the Democrats and of course we will not hear it from Senator Brown.

The coalition of the willing will stay and support the Iraqi people, and we will do that by protecting the Japanese workers in southern Iraq. We got the powerful message of the 8.5 million Iraqis who went to vote. We were told by all the doomsayers, particularly from the other side, that the turnout would be a disaster. The turnout rounded up to around 60 per cent—a marvellous turnout, a gutsy turnout. They are crying out for democracy. For us to pick up now and leave would cause chaos. For us not to give added support when asked would not be helping them to the extent that we should. Already we see the winds of change in the Middle East, as the other speakers from this side of the parliament have rightly outlined. They have rightly outlined the change we have seen on our televisions. Just of late, in Lebanon, the people have taken to the streets. (Time expired)