Monday, 16 October 2006
There is a moral course of action to be followed here. We made the decision that we would go into Iraq. We made the decision that, on the basis of evidence before us, it was the right decision to make. We made that decision and you hid in the shadows of that decision. You hid in the shadows and you have continued to do so, sticking to us on issues of national security so as not to be seen to be outside the national spirit. But now you have decided as a matter of tactics that you want to run long and hard. Now you have decided that you want a point of demarcation. That is an act of betrayal of our Australian troops.
The one thing I do share with the Leader of the Opposition is him having been a Minister for Defence and me having been Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel. It is a sharing of working with those service people and understanding their integrity, their courage and their commitment. In talking to some of those men who have returned from Iraq, they have said, ‘The message that comes back to us from the Iraqi people is: please don’t go; we need you to stay.’
What mess would we leave behind if we pulled out and cut and run? Where indeed is the strength and courage of this Leader of the Opposition when strength and courage has been shown by other Labor leaders? Those leaders are long since gone, I am afraid. Here is a leader who says: ‘No, courage is not for me. Strategy and tactics will be my commander.’ This is a man who says, ‘We are prepared to run up the white flag and pull out.’ This is the same reflection the Labor Party made at the end of the Vietnam War when our troops were pulled back, given short shrift and treated badly. Whitlam was the name of the man who brought them back and Whitlam was the name of the man who treated them so badly. It has taken decades for those people to be honoured and for the service they gave to this country to be recognised. The opposition would do that again. They would pull out our troops on a political stunt, on a matter of tactics and on a matter of differentiation from the government’s position.
I heard the Minister for Foreign Affairs quote Sir Richard Dannatt, the British Chief of the General Staff. They were wise words and they reflect the thinking of our troops: ‘We are soldiers. We don’t do surrender. We don’t put out white flags. We’re going to see it through.’ That is the attitude of our men and women who fight for us and on our behalf in Iraq. They allow us to do the sort of work that we are doing now which is of benefit to the Iraqi people. This work has seen a growth in Iraq’s GDP of four per cent for this year; the launch of a new currency; the first World Bank loan in 30 years; a debt relief agreement to forgive 80 per cent of the Saddam era debt; more than seven million mobile phone subscribers; 54 commercial television stations—up from nil in the Saddam era; 36,000 new teachers trained; a nationwide program which has vaccinated 42 per cent of eligible children against polio; and a measles vaccination program in which 70 per cent of children have been vaccinated. They are the sorts of things that are able to occur while we stay in Iraq.
If we pull out of Iraq then instability steps in, and the opposition would be the masters of that instability. Instability would grow and increase and mean that the improvements made would in fact cease. When you say, ‘Let’s pull out our troops,’ you are saying—as the Prime Minister pointed out so well—that it is time for everybody else to pull out. The fact of the matter is that you are saying to the Iraqi people that we are not prepared to stay and see the improvements made that need to be made in order to help the people reach that point of democracy that we enjoy here. The opposition say: ‘We will pull out. We will go. We will surrender because we feel it is a point of tactics.’ The opposition make a distinction between themselves and the government with a pitch that says, ‘We will bring the troops home.’ The opposition hope that that will be seen as a populist move.
The moral and courageous option is to remain—to stay in Iraq to assist the Iraqi people to attain the sort of freedom to which they aspire. To go and to encourage others to go would cause the future for those people to regress and regress. It is a moral stance that we are debating here, and the opposition are failing in moral courage. The opposition are led by Mr Beazley. He liked to be known as Bomber Beazley when he was Minister for Defence. Today, he is certainly Withdrawing Beazley or Surrendering Beazley.