House debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Prime Minister; Deputy Prime Minister; Minister for Foreign Affairs

Censure Motion

3:03 pm

Photo of Kim BeazleyKim Beazley (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

The departments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the then Minister for Trade, the Deputy Prime Minister, approved the contracts that contained the bribes. What was the AWB executive supposed to think about the state of the government’s mind while all this was going on? They had had 35 warnings, and occasionally they were confronted by Foreign Affairs officials who had been tipped off to those warnings and asked the questions, to which AWB answered: ‘No, we’re not doing anything.’ You know: ‘There’s no gambling going on here, Sir! Nothing is happening here.’ Was there a further question then? No. There was no further question.

What do you think they thought from all of that? What they thought, of course, was that they were approved. We are not dealing here with some sort of group of spivs, hanging about overseas in the bars of downtown Hong Kong, downtown Shanghai or wherever. What we are dealing with are people who are senior in the councils of at least one of the political parties that make up this coalition; people who have been candidates for the National Party in federal elections; people who have sat on the executive of the National Party, at both the state and federal levels; people who stand well with the government; people who are intimate with the details of how this country is governed; people who are intimate with the details of how ministers relate to each other and how departments through those ministers officiate over their affairs.

In AWB we are dealing with a body in which a large number of members of the government are shareholders, in which many farmers in this country who support different elements of the government are shareholders. We are dealing with AWB, with the heart and soul of the National Party—one of the bodies that make up this coalition government, one which the Liberal Party never dares confront and allows to go on in their own sweet way, doing whatever it is that they please. That is how this scandal started. This Prime Minister, the trickiest we have seen in that position in this country for a very lengthy period of time, knows how to dodge between the raindrops as he avoids any form of obligation and any form of blame in relation to this matter.

What is his defence now? What is his defence reduced to? What is his default position explaining what it is they are up to? The Prime Minister says to us: ‘We are not criminal. We are just incompetent. Our ministers are not criminals; they are just incompetent.’ Either way, these ministers should have resigned months ago and must resign now. If they do not, the Prime Minister should sack them or sack himself. Understand this: the government were warned 35 times. In 1998, they were warned by our intelligence community; in 1999, they were warned by the Canadians; in 2000, they were warned by the United Nations; in 2001, they were warned by the New York Times; in 2002, they were warned by Australian grain merchants; in 2003, they were warned by the United States; in 2004, they were warned by the Australian Defence Force; and, in 2005, they were warned by AWB itself but they did not want to know the truth.

Before, during and after the Iraq war and even when the Volcker inquiry was underway, the Howard government did nothing to stop hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to the Saddam regime. It did nothing to uphold the sanctions against Saddam. It did nothing to prevent funding of suicide bombers and regime forces. It did nothing to protect the reputation of Australia’s hardworking wheat growers. It did nothing to protect the future of the single desk. Howard, Downer and Vaile—the three wise monkeys—saw nothing, heard nothing, said nothing. Those three ministers so resemble those three wise monkeys—hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. You could not want a better simile for the government’s behaviour in this very sorry scandal. They did nothing.

They let Australia down. They betrayed their ministerial oaths. They betrayed what the Australian people expected of them, which is that they would diligently administer their departments and ensure that the Australian national interest was protected at all times. The thing that I find most unforgivable is that their behaviour is at odds with and is a total betrayal of our armed forces, whom they committed to battle and committed to upholding the sanctions regime with a diligence which they never displayed but should have emulated. They should be censured. (Time expired)


No comments