House debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Prime Minister; Deputy Prime Minister; Minister for Foreign Affairs

Censure Motion

3:54 pm

Photo of Alexander DownerAlexander Downer (Mayo, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

and, as the honourable member says, he does not even read the papers—some of his staff will have gone through it—and notice the fact that you get no questions from the Labor Party about the warnings. Why is that, do you think? Why is it that they run the warnings as an assertion, and they get others to run them, but they do not ever confront the government directly with the issue of the warnings? It is because Commissioner Cole went to this issue and said: ‘In regard to the many events during and after the oil for food program, it is not a correct approach to consider such events and circumstances cumulatively’ and ‘it is not permissible to use hindsight to seek to establish a relationship between events’. Commissioner Cole dismissed this allegation in black and white but the Leader of the Opposition, who has not read the report and never will read the report, just rants his assertions with false anger and the false indignation of which he is a master—of course, the public has spotted that. He is exposed by the Cole commission yet again for being wrong.

Did we know about the kickbacks? The Cole commission says no. The Leader of the Opposition knows better, does he? He says yes. He says yes but the Cole commission says no. Does the Cole commission say that the officials of my department are corrupt or colluding with AWB Ltd or are bad people? Does the commissioner say that? No, he does not. The Labor Party says that—but not the commissioner. The Labor Party has been smearing the reputation of officials of my department, implying—and sometimes saying—they are in collusion with AWB Ltd in a cover-up and corruption. That is a vile thing to have said about those officials. The House may be interested to know that, as the leader of that portfolio, I pass on their sentiments to this House and to this nation. The anger of some of the people in my department over what has been said and written about them and their integrity is palpable. They are completely vindicated by the Cole commission.

The Leader of the Opposition’s motion says that the government attempted to shut down the US senate inquiry into AWB in 2004. The government did not. The government never attempted to shut down that inquiry. The government only asked that AWB be treated with procedural fairness: that it be treated fairly and in a non-discriminatory way—non-discriminatory vis-a-vis American companies. And, of course, AWB, through all that period—the period of the Volcker inquiry and right up to the end of the Volcker inquiry—were continuing to insist that they were not involved in kickbacks. If you read the whole report, you will see exactly what is said and what the issues really are.

I have mentioned already, as the Prime Minister has, that the Leader of the Opposition said that the government had failed:

... to provide the Cole Inquiry with powers to determine whether or not Ministers did their job ...

If ministers had known about this and ministers had not enforced the sanctions regime, that would be a profoundly serious offence—it is only that that is not true. The Cole commission has found that that is not true. And that is a matter of profound embarrassment to the blowhard Leader of the Opposition: for all his abuse and denigration of people, his abuse has been found to be entirely without foundation.

The fact is—and this is the problem with the Labor Party and their fellow travellers’ narrative—they think that somehow the government was in favour of sanctions busting of Saddam Hussein’s regime but at the same time in favour of getting rid of the regime. See, Mr Speaker, if you can work out the logic of that! Why would we get rid of Saddam Hussein’s regime if our view was that the great thing about it was that we could make a lot of money out of it—and who cares about the sanctions? Why would we have got rid of the regime? We presumably, according to that narrative, would have opposed, tooth and nail, the overthrow of Saddam’s regime.

Actually, quite the reverse is true: there were several occasions during that sanctions regime when I was attacked—not, admittedly, by the Labor Party—by people for our support for the sanctions. There were assertions made that the sanctions were hurting the livelihoods of ordinary people in Iraq and that I was a terrible person who supported those sanctions. I remember seeing people who came to argue the case that we should not support the sanctions and that we should support the lifting of the sanctions. I never did; I always supported the sanctions. As Commissioner Cole has shown, no instruction was given by any minister at any time from March 1996 up until the dismantling of the sanctions to go soft on the sanctions, to dismantle the sanctions or to abandon the sanctions. No instruction was given to do anything except uphold the sanctions. Nobody in the department ever thought they were doing anything but upholding the sanctions. The suggestion here of the Labor Party’s narrative is that we were in favour of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and we were in favour of sanctions busting.

Not only are both propositions entirely inconsistent but the argument is entirely incoherent. It is intellectually false. I tell you what: the Australian public know that. They know we were not opposed to sanctions—they know we supported the sanctions—and they know we were opposed, unlike the Labor Party, to Saddam Hussein’s regime to such an extent that we were prepared to contribute to getting rid of it. It is good riddance to bad rubbish, too, because it is a great thing that that regime has gone.

What would have happened if the mendacious, self-righteous Leader of the Opposition had had his way? We do not really know what would have happened, of course, because you never know what he really thinks on any given day. It depends which way the wind is blowing. But, according to his current rhetoric, not necessarily according to what he would have done at the time, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, the oil for food program would still be in place and of course nobody would be any the wiser about the kickback regime that was taking place in the oil for food program. That is what would have happened if the Labor Party had had its way. That is what would have happened if the Labor Party had been influential enough in government to influence world policy. This Labor Party is led by the weakest man who has ever led the Labor Party. And it is not just my assertion; the public are onto it. Even the member for Griffith is twice as popular as the Leader of the Opposition to be the leader of the Labor Party. I agree with them: although the member for Griffith has been mendacious, the Leader of the Opposition’s performance throughout this matter has been a tissue of lies.

Question put:

That the motion (That the motion (Mr Beazley’s) be agreed to.) be agreed to.


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