Thursday, 9 February 2006
Deputy Prime Minister; Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Minister for Transport and Regional Services
It was one message of warning after another to ministers. The simple fact of the matter is that this government turned a blind eye to them. In the course of this week, there has been a desperate effort by this government to convince people that this matter is all too hard to be considered by the parliament and that it should be concluded only at the Cole royal commission. This is despite the fact that vast elements of this matter will never be considered by the Cole commission and that the commission now does not have the power to make recommendations on important elements of it. That is the critical thing: it does not have the power to make recommendations.
As things stand at this moment, Commissioner Cole does not have the power to recommend criminal action against any public servant, minister or public official. If he says that he has asked for it, why don’t you give him the power now? That is the point. The government are resisting at every trench line the opportunity to get in there and look at what they are doing. That is one thing that the Cole commission is not looking at.
I will tell you another thing that the Cole commission is not looking at. It is not looking at how Saddam spent this money. It is not looking at where the money went or how it was utilised. Ministers in this place are honour bound to the people of this country and to our allies to get an understanding of exactly where this money went and how it was utilised.
Australian soldiers are in Iraq. Those Australian soldiers are not facing broomsticks. Those Australian soldiers are facing a substantial poultice of weaponry, which thankfully has not been turned on them but on a daily basis is massively turned on their American allies and on friends of their American allies who are now trying to run the Iraqi regime. This is a massive blot on the government’s reputation that will not be accounted for by Cole.
When the Deputy Prime Minister stood up here and said, as he did, that there was no evidence that the Australian resources had been utilised for the acquisition of weapons and the support of efforts to continue research weapons of mass destruction, I do not know why the foreign minister got up and backed him about that. The Iraqi Survey Group found evidence that Saddam had indeed pursued research on weapons of mass destruction. The issue in relation to weapons of mass destruction, which he conveniently skates over, is whether or not they existed and were deployed. The Iraqi Survey Group found that they did not exist. They were not deployed but they were researched. Where did the resources come from to research them? According to the CIA and the Iraqi Survey Group, they came from the oil for food program. That is the point.
There is always a desire in this place to let a government off the hook and say: ‘They’re all good chaps, good chums. Let’s all be a bit bipartisan. Let the government proceed on a day-to-day basis.’ But this House is the house of accountability. This House is where we air these problems. None of these issues will be aired at the Cole royal commission. How could they be? How could you set Cole down the track of trying to find out what happened to various bank accounts in Jordan or various bank accounts in Iraq? This government could.
There is no problem for them to start to seek to find where those resources went and whether or not any of them had been utilised or could have been potentially utilised in the number of shooting incidents involving Australian military personnel in Baghdad. While, thankfully, in Al Muthanna province no shots have been fired at our personnel that hit home, in the case of Baghdad there have been. Fortunately, there have been no deaths, but there have been shots fired. Those attacks were mounted by the insurgency, by the leftovers of the Fedayeen, who were from the regulars defending Saddam’s regime at the time of the invasion by the United States and allies of Iraq several years ago. They were funded virtually exclusively out of the oil for food program.
These are the central issues which the government must answer, which they are absolutely determined not to answer but are absolutely determined to distract the press with. For once in the government’s 10 long years in office, the press are starting to focus on them and hold them to account—and yesterday something came out. No, it was not a smoking gun. This morning I said that it was another hole in the bucket of the government’s credibility and that it indicated that there was now a regular basis of report into the ministry of agriculture on the detail of the AWB contracts. If you were not interested in turning a blind eye, if you were not being recklessly negligent, you might say: ‘This is a bit much, really. We ought to look at it a bit harder. We ought to give this a bit more detailed consideration.’ There was one report after another. They will not table those reports in this place, and I will lay you London to a brick they will not table them at the Cole commission either. But maybe after having raised it in this place today, they will get them. But we should get them in this place— (Time expired)