House debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006


Oil for Food Program

4:41 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we saw in the House why this government is increasingly being described by members of the public across this country as the most arrogant and out-of-touch administration in recent memory. Today, yet again, the government refused to allow the parliament to debate a censure motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition. Today the government gagged the MPI, because it wants to silence the opposition on what is clearly the greatest act of corruption and treachery in this country’s recent memory. The government has sought to rort the outcome of the royal commission into the ‘wheat for weapons’ scandal by deliberately limiting the terms of reference and firewalling the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

If this government were an open, democratic, accountable administration, it would ensure that ministers relevant to this matter and indeed their staff would provide evidence on what they know and what they have known throughout this awful national disgrace. This government would have allowed an effective scrutiny of all the decisions made by agencies and by ministers and the actions by staff and ministers. They could have allowed $300 million to be provided to an enemy of this country. It is a treacherous situation, where we have a government that does not want to get to the bottom of $300 million being provided to the Saddam Hussein regime, which would have used that money to resource weapons that would have been used against forces in the invasion of that country.

I think it is fair to say that it is not just Labor who have pointed the finger at the government and, in particular, at the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The heading of yesterday’s editorial in the Australian was absolutely right when it said that the credibility of Mr Downer—the ‘Billy Bunter’ of Australian politics—is crippled. Indeed, in this editorial, the Australian went on to say:

Short of a neon sign flashing “Saddam bribes hidden here” it is hard to imagine what more Mr Downer and DFAT would have needed to comprehensively investigate AWB, long before the Volcker inquiry belled the cat.

Photo of Phillip BarresiPhillip Barresi (Deakin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The member should be referring to other members by their correct title or by their seats.

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Deakin. I was listening carefully. I believe that the member for Gorton is quoting, but if he is not quoting he should be referring to members appropriately.

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am quoting one of the most accurate assessments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, by the Australian this week. It went on to say:

The most innocent explanation of Mr Downer’s behaviour is that he has been at DFAT too long, and, like his senior public servants, did not want to rock AWB’s boat. A worse one is that Mr Downer did not want to know what was going on and hoped that nobody would notice how renegade Australians were trading with the enemy, right up until the shooting started in 2003. Neither explanation is acceptable. After 10 years of largely competent service—

and that is the only area in which the Australian and I depart—

Mr Downer has demonstrated he no longer has the judgment to serve as Australia’s foreign minister—or in any higher office. His department needs a shake-up and a new minister. And talk among friends of the Foreign Minister that he could be a candidate for the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party, or even The Lodge, is simply not credible in light of what we know.

We know that—we always knew that on this side. The Australian has now come to realise that the Minister for Foreign Affairs is incompetent and not able to front up to the royal commission and answer questions. The Australian public expect him to explain how $300 million was able to get into the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime—the same regime that our government decided to declare war upon at around the same time. That is, of course, an absolute disgrace. (Time expired)