Title Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: Commonwealth Offices, Perth: 23 February 2005: Deployment of additional troops to Iraq; WA election campaign.
Database Press Releases
Date 23-02-2005
Author BEAZLEY, Kim
Citation Id TGAF6
Cover date Wednesday, 23 February 2005
Format Online Text
In Government no
Item Online Text: 1204295
Key item No
Major subject Deployment of forces
Australian Defence Force
Minor subject Election, Federal, 2004
Elections, State and Territory
Western Australia
Broken promises
MP no
Pages 6p.
Party ALP
Speech No
System Id media/pressrel/TGAF6

Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: Commonwealth Offices, Perth: 23 February 2005: Deployment of additional troops to Iraq; WA election campaign.




Subjects: Deployment of additional troops to Iraq; WA election campaign

BEAZLEY: The Government has attempted to deceive the Australian people on Iraq just as they deceived them on interest rates during the course of the last election campaign. In the last election campaign they said interest rates would not rise. On Iraq they said then in the campaign, as they said for the two years previously and most of the months since then, that as far as Iraq was concerned, while there might be minor adjustments around the edges of the Australian Defence Force numbers in Iraq, that that would be it, there would be no more. The Government did not tell the truth when it was saying that that is what is its intentions were.

This morning Mr Howard asked me questions as to what my view would be in relation to the Japanese concerns; what my view would be in relation to the Iraqi concerns that he’d properly train. My answer to that would be this: firstly, I think that invitation from the Japanese is more complex than immediately meets the eye. They would have asked for protection. It would be most unlike the Japanese to have come direct and simply asked Australia to support them. But their security is a matter of concern and something that would have to be dealt with by the coalition partners, as would be the issues related to training Iraqis.

The simple fact of the matter is this: John Howard made a call and the call, while I disagree with our original commitment to Iraq, was not an unreasonable one – to say to the Americans, ‘look, we’re with you at the initial phases of this conflict but after that we have other priorities’. And he was quite specific about it. Those priorities were in South East Asia and the South Pacific. He said that then and the situation has not changed now.

So, I’ve got some questions for John Howard and they are these: how may troops, for how long, and what is your exit strategy? No more wriggle room on this, Mr Howard. You said in your press conference yesterday that there might be more and that you could not say how long that that would be but perhaps 12 months in an initial deployment. That is not good enough.

We now know that on things like interest rates and on this is that when you seek wriggle room it could mean anything at all. The Australian people are entitled to know how long, how many and what’s your exit strategy.

It’s a relevant question to ask because many members of the coalition now are taking the view that the point we have reached in Iraq is a point that does not require their presence any further; that it’s a matter now to be settled politically between the various contending forces in Iraq and not something in which the allied coalition partners should find themselves into being manipulated into taking

sides in a civil war in Iraq. And we should not permit ourselves to be placed in that position. We have other priorities. Those priorities were correctly identified a long time ago by the Prime Minister and they are still there.

JOURNALIST: All the polls say that 70 per cent of Australians don’t want any more troops there at all.

BEAZLEY: Australians don’t like being misled. Australians don’t like being taken for granted. Australians are a proud, democratic people and they expect their leaders to level with them. So, it’s not surprising that they should object.

JOURNALIST: Having helped create the mess in Iraq, are we not obliged to stay and help clean it up?

BEAZLEY: We get involved under certain conditions and the conditions were made clear by the Prime Minister at the time - and they were that we’d be there for the initial phase of the war when the principle fighting, in terms of combat, was going to be done. Since then, of course, he has not left combat forces effectively in place in Iraq and has said we have had other priorities. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable position. If you look at the structure of Australia’s security obligations internationally, to take the view that from time to time we’ll have to deploy elsewhere with allies. I didn’t agree with it in the case of Iraq but I certainly did in the case of Afghanistan. But when we do deploy, we deploy on a time-limited basis because in our own region we are here forever. If any problem situation arises here in our region we have to be prepared to deal with it. We understand that while the United States might have many allies and friends operating elsewhere, apart from the countries within region itself, there’s just us.

JOURNALIST: So, you believe it’s time to cut and run? You have no problem with not fixing up the mess that we helped create?

BEAZLEY: ‘Cut and run’ is a stupid expression. These slogans get thrown out by Mr Howard – ‘cut and run’, ‘tipping points’. All of them are blinds, camouflages of getting at the truth of any situation. When John Howard says something like ‘tipping point’ or ‘cut and run’, examine the entrails of the issue and you’ll find a very different set of real Australian interests emerging from it.

JOURNALIST: With respect Mr Beazley, this is the third time I’ve asked the question. Specifically, do you believe –

BEAZLEY: With respect, I’ll say something to you. If you’re a Prime Minister of this country you need a warm heart and a hard mind. In the case of John Howard, he showed a warm heart to the tsunami victims and I respect him for that. In the case of determining Australia’s national interests and the extent to

which we should find ourselves embroiled in somebody else’s civil war and the amount of time that you might spend in doing that, that’s when you need a Prime Minister with a hard mind. And John Howard is not showing a hard mind on this issue.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Mr Howard might find some more wriggle room when body bags start coming home?

BEAZLEY: I sincerely hope and believe that body bags won’t start coming home because I believe the Australian troops are very good at looking after themselves and others. We have absolutely no quarrel with the Australian troops, quite the contrary. We wish the Australian troops all the best. We honour them for their commitment. As an Opposition, we will not stint in questioning the Government on their needs and their requirements to operate as safely as they possibly can.

But you don’t honour your troops if you don’t sit down and work through the circumstances in which they are going to be deployed and the circumstances in which they exit. For a government to commit itself and stand up in front of the Australian people and say, ‘we don’t know whether this will be sufficient; we don’t know whether we are going to have to put in more; we don’t really have a time limit on that level of commitment’, is not a government operating with a hard mind that protection of the Australian national interest requires.

JOURNALIST: Is that because there haven’t been body bags coming back with Australian troops? Do you think that’s what it’s going to take for the Government to take hard line on an exit strategy?

BEAZLEY: I, as I said, I sincerely pray and hope and given past experience believe that Australians can conduct themselves safely and we will do all in our power to ensure that they do. But it’s not a question of Australian casualties; it’s a question of getting Australian national interest right and Australian priorities right. This Government is not getting Australia’s national interests and its priorities right. It’s not to say, as I’ve said before, that from time to time we will not find ourselves committed elsewhere around the globe outside our own region. That’s often going to be perfectly appropriate but when we do we must have a very clear eye as to the extent of time that we’re going to spend there, the level of that commitment, and the clear eye is not in operation at this

moment. What there is from the Prime Minister is an emotional outpouring and no answers to questions.

JOURNALIST: Is he caught between a rock and a hard place on this?

BEAZLEY: He should not be. The issues here are very simple. There is a situation in Iraq and there’s also an Australian set of obligations here and in the region around us. The contribution has been made. Many of us disagreed

with that contribution but it has been made. The contribution in some areas must continue to be made.

If asked about this by the Iraqi folk, I would have said this to them: we are certainly prepared, as an Opposition, to support the continued protection of your economic lifeblood. The Australian Navy and the Australian Air Force, a substantial portion of it, are committed to ensuring the protection of those terminals at the head of the Persian Gulf and we have expertise there and we make a unique contribution and we should continue to make that contribution.

We cannot tell the circumstances that may emerge over the course of the next few years in the region immediately around us, which may require the deployment of Australian troops. We know if it does there won’t be a 28-nation coalition coming in behind us, there will be just us. We exist here in South East Asia in a major field of al-Qaida jihad and the circumstances may well arise. We cannot predict those circumstances but we can predict the possibility of them arising and it’ll be just us.

JOURNALIST: Is Australian security being compromised, do you think, by the continuing focus on Iraq and not our own region?

BEAZLEY: Our ability to operate in our own region will definitely be affected by the things we do in Iraq. John Howard says he doesn’t know how many troops. Think of a number between 450 and 1400 and think of the requirement to rotate those numbers because 1400 is the number the Dutch found they required to do this particular task. If we are starting to talk about much greater levels of troop commitment than we have made at the moment, of course it will have a major effect on our ability to do anything else in the region.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you something about the local campaign? Do you think John Howard’s presence will help Colin Barnett?

BEAZLEY: John Howard, again, wriggled off Colin Barnett’s pipeline. John Howard was not going to put himself on the line for a proposition which has not been properly studied and the economic consequences of which are unknown. So, John Howard, like Peter Costello, has left Colin Barnett slowly twisting in the wind as a very, very risky proposition. So, I’m going to continue to

campaign and point out those particular problems that are associated with his campaign and I’m going to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum.

JOURNALIST: Howard’s popularity is still up there though. Surely, that’s got to help the local Liberals?

BEAZLEY: Mr Howard’s popularity is in large measure a product of his timely and effective actions in relation to the tsunami. As I said before, I very much respect the decisions that he took during that period of time but because I respect those decisions and it touches a warm spot in my heart like it touches most Australians, doesn’t mean that I don’t think that a Prime Minister ought to have a hard mind as well and the hard mind is not being applied here in this situation.

JOURNALIST: Don’t you think that perhaps the fact that the economy’s doing very well, people are happy not to be sort of having to dip out of their pockets all the time and are a little cranky with Geoff Gallop for raising taxes three years in a row when he promised he wouldn’t? Don’t you think that that might have something to do with it?

BEAZLEY: I think that the situation which applies here in Western Australia is a product of West Australian hard work. I heard Mr Howard in Parliament say that it was his Government’s work which had created the prosperous economy in WA. No. WA’s citizens’ hard work has created a prosperous economy for Australia and it has been effectively administered by a risk-free government that takes seriously the issues of balancing the budget and sometimes they have to take unpopular decisions while they balance the budget. And if you get a government here that takes a different point of view, you can forget your prosperity in Western Australia.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t that what (inaudible) about breaking promises? That’s what Dr Gallop did three years in a row.

BEAZLEY: Dr Gallop said he’d run a responsible budget policy. That’s what he said he would do and as a result of running a responsible budget policy, guess what? We are prosperous. Do you want to put that at risk? You’d be darn silly to go out and be risky about that.

JOURNALIST: So, he’s OK to break his word but John Howard is not?

BEAZLEY: He’s OK to run a decent policy here and John Howard must not lie to the Australian people or mislead them.

JOURNALIST: How important is it for Labor to, after the federal election result, to retain WA?

BEAZLEY: It’s got nothing to do with federal politics. The West Australian election is being determined on State issues. It will be determined on whether or not people regard Colin Barnett as too risky a prospect, frankly. That will be the central core question that will be going through the mind of undecided voters between now and Saturday. What happens in federal politics will have, I don’t believe, any impact on WA at all.

JOURNALIST: Stephen Smith felt that if the election was held last weekend Labor would have lost. How do you think Labor will go?

BEAZLEY: I think it’s a tight race and in any tight race any factor can be important in a tight race. I think that the issue of the riskiness of the Liberal Party will probably mean that as the election day approaches more people will decide to vote Labor. But it’s going to be tight no matter what.

JOURNALIST: Just one more question. The ABS says wages rose over the December quarter. Do you think that means that interest rate rises are inevitable now?

BEAZLEY: Interest rate rises should not be happening. That there is any threat of interest rate rises at all is a product of the squandering of an excellent economic position, left by the Hawke and Keating governments, by a government that has done nothing to enhance the skills of the Australian working population and has done nothing to enhance the national infrastructure. Infrastructure policy is rort policy for the National Party and Liberal Party marginal seat candidates and we’re going to pay a penalty for that.

We’re going to pay a penalty for this Government’s neglect. Rising wages are in no small measure a factor of the dropping of the ball on skilling the Australian population. If you want to get an electrician or sparky operating on any of the mines in Western Australia now, it would cost you more than $200,000 to get that person there. Employers in this country and in this State are crying out for skilled labour and John Howard cut back, effectively, with his policies, all our traditional trades. Thanks.