House debates

Monday, 16 October 2006

Prime Minister

Censure Motion

2:58 pm

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

by leave—I move:

That this House censure the Prime Minister for:

sending Australian troops to war in Iraq on a lie;
contributing to the spread of radicalism spawning a new generation of Islamic terrorists;
committing Australian troops to a war with no end; and
exposing Australians to an increased risk of terror at home and abroad.

There is nobody in the United States administration or the British administration, from the leadership of the United States administration through to the leadership of the British administration—and I dare say the public servants that advise this government—who now believes that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do; none of them. All of them profoundly regret it. All of them understand completely, along with Sir Richard Dannatt, that the decision to go to war in Iraq has, more than any other act over the course of the last few years, produced a situation which has encouraged, exacerbated and given succour to the worst elements in the Islamic fundamentalist movement who aim to commit terrorist acts against us.

This and all those other activities associated with it has been the single biggest recruiting device. The Abu Ghraib scandal and the fights between the Shiites and the Sunnis—the whole panoply of disaster that has surrounded this war—has put those of us in the West who are struggling for a decent outcome to protect ourselves and to encourage a victory for mainstream Muslims on the back foot. When you look at those comments by Sir Richard Dannatt, before he had to expand on them a little later, you actually see a senior policy maker—in public, extraordinarily—getting to grips with the consequences of what it is that they have done. Comments like that we have to:

... get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems.

…         …         …

I don’t say that the difficulties we are experiencing around the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them.

…         …         …

We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren’t invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time ... the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in.

…         …         …

Whatever consent we may have had in the first place may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance.

He goes on:

I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

…         …         …

The original intention was that we put in place a liberal democracy that was an exemplar for the region, was pro-West and might have a beneficial effect on the balance within the Middle East. That was the hope. Whether that was a sensible or naïve hope, history will judge. I don’t think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition.

It was in agony that Sir Richard Dannatt spoke about the circumstances in which his British soldiers—many of whom have been killed—find themselves. You get the same sorts of responses, I might say, from various American generals. Some of them have the view that things could have been better if you had put in a huge number of troops. Many of them have the view that they should not have gone there in the first place. All of them now attest to the sorts of pressures that were on generals, defence department officials and intelligence officers to produce an outcome in advice that set a particular political course—the political course that was followed by John Howard, the Prime Minister of this country, among others. One thing that this Prime Minister has done is to act in a way to encourage the United States into this disaster. I have said before that he may well be the ally that this particular administration wants, but he is not the ally that the United States needs.

There is no more proof positive of that fact than what we have seen here today. He comes into this place with slogans: ‘You don’t cut and run’ and ‘You don’t haul up the white flag.’ There are never any exact historical parallels, but there are always historical lessons. I remember those sorts of phraseologies used around the period of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. What was being suggested then, arising out of the political justifications being presented by the leadership of the various nations as they sent their young men to war and to their deaths, bore no relation to the actual politics on the ground, the real situation on the ground and the things that were happening which were determining the outcome of the war.

The same is happening here. The war that is talked about by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs is not the war that is taking place. What is taking place on the ground now is a full-blown ethnic struggle. The proportion of it that relates to al-Qaeda has increasingly become a minor component. What the United States is being invited to do and what we are being invited to do—what the Prime Minister is being invited to do—through the troops that are on the ground is to play some role in adjusting the political relationship between those two forces which have absolutely nothing to do with the global struggle on terror and everything to do, in the answers that we provide, with endangering our reputation further in the Islamic world and our capacity to build allies in the Islamic world and to protect our own people because we can establish those right relationships. It is causing large numbers of people in Iraq to be killed and causing substantial numbers of American forces to be killed as well.

I have on my heart all the time those 3,000 young Americans who have been killed and the 14,000 young Americans who have been maimed—more than a division’s worth of American soldiers. These are ordinary folk—the Alabama National Guard and the New York National Guard—and the best of Americans. These are the best young people in the United States: people who are prepared to put their lives on the line for a cause. If you put them in a situation like this where they know that the judgement that is being put in place by their politicians is putting them on the line, you will produce a situation in the United States where the sort of view of further overseas commitments that emerged after the Vietnam War will emerge again. That will be to the detriment of the security of this nation and our people.

Remember the world before John Howard and others helped in the process of putting pressure on President Bush to go to war? Remember the world after 9-11? The world was full of sympathy for the United States. We activated ANZUS and NATO—the first time that both of those treaties had been activated—in Afghanistan. Supporting the United States in Afghanistan was not just its old traditional allies; the successor of the Soviet Union put pressure on the ex-Soviet states around the borders of Afghanistan to allow American and other allied bases to operate from within those borders.

Despite centuries of Chinese objection to being encircled, the Chinese took the view that putting bases in those places was acceptable as far as the Chinese government was concerned. Immediately after 9-11 we even saw the late Chairman Arafat—who I will not hold a candle for, I might say—out there giving blood to deal with the problems of the wounded arising out of the 9-11 struggle. We found all of the Islamic powers endorsing the action in Afghanistan. Never has the United States stood so large or had such immense sympathy in the public mind.

Everything has been trashed. We had opportunities, as a result of that, to win this war and win it quickly; to deal with the minority Islamic fundamentalist movement; and to ensure that those Arab states which have the biggest role to play, along with Pakistan, were able to easily stand alongside us without having their religious commitment questioned in the streets by their people. All of that was before the Iraq war was in place—all of it. Since the Iraq war and events like those at Abu Ghraib—which even President Bush identified as a continuing and serious problem for him—all of that has now been fatally undermined by the decision that was taken by this government.

The war that goes on in Iraq is a war that does not have the sorts of consequences that the Prime Minister outlined. That component of it associated with al-Qaeda has tended to drift. That component of it associated with ethnic cleansing and divisions between various tribes—between the Shiite and Sunni groups—has come massively to the fore. That is what we are increasingly engaged in.

I can tell you the strategic outcomes of the war in Iraq, and the strategic outcomes continue to be both emphasised and developed: (1) the power of Iran has increased massively—that is the first consequence; (2) the various circumstances in which the United States and its allies need to act have been compromised—that is, our capacity to influence affairs in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. All of those states, our good friends, are now holding us at arm’s length, understanding that to reach out and grab our hands at this point in time puts their own regimes under threat. That is, of course, when we are not lecturing them on the need that they have to establish democracy in their own kingdoms at the same time as they are trying to handle the uprising elements amongst their own populations.

You have a situation developing around Israel where, increasingly, massive pressure is being brought to bear on Israel, as Iran is able to flex its muscles in a way it has never been able to do before and as we intervene decisively in the Shiite-Sunni balance in the gulf in favour of the Shiite community. Nobody talks like this in this country, but these are the realities. We talk about this as though we are dealing with some sort of dispute between France and Germany in the early part of the 20th century. We talk in a culture and in terms that have absolutely no meaning in the actual situation now on the ground.

There is no understanding amongst policy makers about what they are handling in Iraq. As they steadily come to understand it, they walk back in horror and come to conclusions like those of people like General John Abizaid, General Peter Pace and William Patey, the former British Ambassador to Iraq and now the chief of the British defence forces. You can see them struggle with their consciences on what it is that they are asking their young men to do, in circumstances where they no longer believe that the political and strategic judgements being made by their political leaders are the correct ones.

There has been no role in international affairs played by this Prime Minister more meretricious or rotten than this one. You have to understand this about this Prime Minister: firstly, he and his ministers—and they are so darned proud of it—turned a blind eye to what the Wheat Board was doing. They rorted a set of terms of reference for the royal commission, so they are all going to get off scot-free. We have been saying it, and the member for Griffith has been pointing it out for months. They have rorted it so that they get off.

The one thing that President Bush got absolutely right in his judgement—we disagreed with the consequences of it; whatever we believed about WMD, we did not think this was the way to deal with it—was that the sanctions regime on Iraq had been traduced. It had been traduced by you lot—the government. That is exactly what had happened. This is one major factor which sent the United States to war, very much against the interests now, as it turns out, of their own people and very much to the security detriment of this nation.

I will not accept any excuses from the government. I have seen the documents that went to Gareth Evans. I know darned well the sorts of reports that were coming up to ministers at that point in time. It would not have changed when we left office. Gareth Evans dealt with those problems. Gareth Evans was a serious person as foreign minister, not like this weak individual that we have here running affairs for us now. That is the first indictment of their actions in undermining their ally’s situation.

Here is the second. I can recollect well in the middle of 2002 being in Washington with the then leader of the Labor Party and going around getting the briefings on what was going on inside Washington at the time. I learned then, as he learned, about the deep doubts that existed with senior figures in the Department of State, including some of the closest and most loyal friends that this country has ever had. We got that understanding, so why wasn’t the Minister for Foreign Affairs getting it at the time?

I believe he was. The reason that he acted as he did was that he saw an opportunity to embarrass the then Leader of the Opposition by saying that he was some sort of wimp, that he was not prepared to go to war, and that the Labor Party always scuttled away from that. There was not an interlocutor then who did not wish they had taken the sort of advice that was being offered by Mr Armitage and Mr Powell. One person in the state department said to me, ‘We have gone down this road and we have got Iraq, which we will do like that, of course’—with a snap of the fingers—‘now what do we do with it?’

Then there is the fight itself. When you are in a fight, Mr Prime Minister, as we were when we were in Vietnam, you take responsibility for the whole fight. When we were in Vietnam, taking responsibility for the whole fight, we had things like the Australian civil aid project and all sorts of bodies going out there attempting to pacify the country. We took a different view of the way in which we ought to conduct our operations and the tactics that we ought to pursue within our department in the area for which we were responsible for covering from the view the United States took. We had a different tactic. We thought things through. We felt obliged to think through the issues that confronted us and the right way to fight the war in Vietnam. I do not think it was the right war to fight. Nevertheless, we had a differing point of view from that of the United States.

What advice did the Prime Minister give the Americans about dealing with the looting which took place after the additional win? You see, the looting was what actually wrecked Iraq in the immediate aftermath. The US defense secretary said at the time that freedom is a ‘bit messy’ and you must expect a bit of this. Was the Prime Minister on the phone saying: ‘Mr Rumsfeld, that will not do. We are involved in this as much as you are. You do this sort of thing and you will not be able to set up an administration.’ Then what role did you play in advising how they should handle ex-members of the Baath Party when they trashed the police and the army, depriving themselves of the capacity to maintain any sense of law and order?

You ought to read the book Fiasco, Mr Prime Minister; it is a worthwhile book to read, because fiasco is your policy. A fiasco is what you are responsible for. You cannot run away from it just because you have got few troops there, compared to the Americans, and just because they are the dominant player in this. When you accept moral responsibility you accept it not only for the fight but also for advice about this conflict. What is the upshot, Mr Prime Minister, of all you have done for this country with this?

Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to address his remarks through the chair.

Through you, Mr Speaker, what is the upshot of all of this? Our ally has had the oxygen sucked out of its foreign policy. Our ally is not as strong as it was. Our ally finds itself, throughout the Middle East, unable to play the predominant and substantial role that it used to be able to play—thank you, John Howard! What else do we find? We find that our position is less secure that it was. I do not believe in beating these things up. We are a safe country and I have said it many times, but we owe that to our geography and the character of our society. We owe nothing of it to this government, nothing at all.

Even because you happen to be relatively safe compared to other countries that find themselves in this position, you can be made less safe. These things are not absolute; they are relative. We are much less safe, much less influential and much less effective as a result of what this Prime Minister and this government have done. This Prime Minister and this government have played a small but substantial role in creating a set of conditions which has played right into the hands of terrorists. They are always fond of quoting terrorist websites and the joys they have as we commit ourselves to more and more actions in Iraq. More events like this just build up their numbers. They have got a thing or two to say about all this and it is not all that dissimilar from the things that the Prime Minister says. But we ought to be much more cautious about it when we see them.

We are not as safe a nation as we should be. The Prime Minister stands up and says that he stands for the security of the Australian people. I am afraid to say, the Prime Minister does not. The Prime Minister has materially undermined the security of the Australian people by the decisions he has taken and is therefore deserving of censure. (Time expired)

Is the motion seconded?

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Mr Wilkie interjecting

The member for Swan is warned!

3:19 pm

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I listened quietly and I listened carefully to what the Leader of the Opposition said. Believing as I do in the parliamentary system, I think that a censure motion against a Prime Minister, whatever his politics may be, by the Leader of the Opposition on matters relating to national security is a serious issue. For 20 minutes I listened to the Leader of the Opposition and one thing came through to me loud and clear: the Leader of the Opposition had not a word to say, not a sentence to offer, not a second to dedicate to the question of what would be the consequence of his policy in October 2006. Whatever debate there may be—and I will debate in a moment all the allegations that were made by the Leader of the Opposition against me and my government about our decision to become involved in Iraq—and whatever may have been the debate three years ago, it is incumbent on all of us to face the consequences of the policies we now advocate. And it is incumbent on the Leader of the Opposition to face the consequence of the policy he now advocates.

In a rather conflicting way he said that we have a small but significant role. If we have a small but significant role in Iraq, it means that if we leave Iraq it is morally okay for the Americans to leave Iraq and it is morally okay for the British to leave Iraq and it is morally okay for everybody to pack up and leave Iraq. I invite the House, using the criterion of safety with which the Leader of the Opposition ended his speech, and I invite everybody in this parliament and in the general public to ponder for a moment the consequence of the course of action now being advocated by the Leader of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition imagines that there would be a costless consequence of our leaving Iraq. If we go, the Americans could go and the British could go. If that is to happen before the Iraqis are able to look after themselves, does anybody seriously doubt that that would be an enormous psychological and actual boost to terrorism not only in the Middle East but also around the world? The Leader of the Opposition talked about the safety of this country, a country whose safety he declared on a radio program in Sydney a couple of weeks ago to be the best in the world. He talked about the safety of our nation. Does he imagine that the safety of Australia would be enhanced by an action that gave an enormous psychological boost to Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia? Does he imagine that the safety of this country would be enhanced by an action that would allow al-Qaeda to proclaim to the world that they had not only defeated their enemies in Iraq but also defeated their enemies in the United States and the United Kingdom?

The consequences to the safety of this country of an American humiliation in Iraq would be immense. The Leader of the Opposition has made no attempt to deal with that issue. He can lambast me as much as he cares to about our decision three years ago—and I will come to that—but the heavier burden on him is to explain the consequences of the policy he now advocates. He cannot be allowed, through personal vitriol and historical distortion, to escape the heavy obligation of explaining to the Australian people how an allied defeat in Iraq enhances the security of Australia. Because that is what the Leader of the Opposition is advocating.

Does anybody pretend for a moment that if the Americans and the British left Iraq the place would not descend into chaos? Does anybody pretend for a moment that if the Americans and the British left it would not be an enormous boost to the terrorists in Iraq? Yet that, in reality—unless the Leader of the Opposition is devoid of any kind of international morality, and I hope he is not—would be the consequence of our departing. Because, if it is good enough for us to go, it is good enough for the Americans and the British to go. That is unless, of course, we have acquired a new morality, unknown to the Australia that I believe in, that it is all right for anybody else to do the heavy lifting but we must not participate in any way.

This is the failure of the Leader of the Opposition in this censure motion. He can talk about three years ago. He can unload his vitriol on me. He can accuse me of all sorts of things. But let me just put that to one side. His obligation is to tell the Australian people how an allied defeat in Iraq would make this country safer. He is talking about the safety of Australia, he is talking about the security of our nation, yet he is advocating a policy that would give an enormous boost to the terrorist cause not only in the Middle East but also in our part of the world.

That is the central failure of the Leader of the Opposition’s speech. He has not explained, let alone justified, how the policy that he advocates could in any way make this country safer. I cannot imagine a more catastrophic defeat for the cause of the West and the anti-terrorist cause than a precipitate allied withdrawal from Iraq which plunged that country into chaos, yet that is the policy, stripped of all its verbiage, devoid of all its rhetoric, that is being advocated by the Leader of the Opposition. He had 20 minutes to justify to the Australian people, through this parliament, how it would make Australia safer for us to withdraw from Iraq but he said nothing about the present or the future. He spent 20 minutes talking about the past—a past, Mr Speaker, let me remind you, that is falsely encapsulated in the motion that he put forward. He started off by saying that we sent Australian troops to war in Iraq on a lie. That itself is a lie. And I call as witness for the prosecution of that charge none other than the member for Griffith himself, who made this very self-important speech to the Zionist Council annual assembly on 15 October 2002. I will say this very quietly and slowly, because it is a relevant reminder of the character of the debate three years ago. He said:

Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Speaker, if I was lying three years ago when I said Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, so was the member for Griffith. He went on—it got better; it is unbelievable in the light of what they now say he said three years ago. He said:

That is a matter of empirical fact. If you don’t believe the intelligence assessments, you simply read the most recent bulletin from the Federation of American Scientists, which lists Iraq among a number of States in possession of chemical, biological weapons and with the capacity to develop a nuclear program. Many of those States have concerns to the broader international community.

That was the belief—the informed, received and official foreign policy belief—of the Labor opposition three years ago. Their argument with us was not whether Saddam had the weapons but what we should do about it. That was the argument. The argument then was whether or not you would rely on the existing resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations or whether you would seek further resolutions. The debate was not about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Even Jacques Chirac believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction three years ago. That disposes of the central charge made. It was not a lie; it was the belief of this country, it was the belief of the opposition, it was the belief of the Americans, it was the belief of the French and it was the belief of most of the international community. The real debate then was whether or not we should take action in advance of a further resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

We went and joined the military operation in the war in Iraq based on our belief at the time that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It was a belief that was shared by those who sit opposite, although not all of them. I know some of them did not believe it, but those who claim authority and knowledge in foreign affairs—and all of those are represented in the member for Griffith—argued that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We also joined the coalition operation because of our belief in the United States alliance. I do not make any bones about that. I did not make any bones about it three years ago and I will never make any bones about the close relationship between this country and the United States.

We also shared in common with the rest of the world a detestation of the nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and it still is the heavy burden of those who sit opposite that, if their advice had been followed, that bloodthirsty dictator would still be butchering people in Iraq. It is still the heavy burden that is carried by those who sit opposite because, when you carry a particular responsibility, you have an obligation to follow through on the consequences of the policies you advocate and, just as the Leader of the Opposition refused in 20 minutes to explain why a policy that would make Australia less safe should be embraced, so it is that the opposition have continued over three long years to pretend that the consequences of their policy, if followed, would not have kept Saddam Hussein in office and in power over the last three years, with all the consequences that would imply.

As I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition the other thing that struck me, apart from his total refusal to say anything about the consequences of his policy, was the way in which he tried to establish the case that Australia had become a terrorist target as a result of the operation in Iraq. The Leader of the Opposition knows that this country was a terrorist target even before 11 September 2001. He knows that the Bali attack, which remains the greatest single terrorist attack in its impact on Australian lives and its impact on this nation, occurred before the operation in Iraq. Not even the Leader of the Opposition can somehow or other in a convoluted fashion retrospectively establish that the real reason that the Bali attack took place was our involvement in Iraq. I read out in question time the remarks that were punched into Samudra’s laptop by that person responsible, along with others, for the murder of 88 Australians, indicating that while ever coalition forces remain in Afghanistan then coalition people, foreigners, Westerners, Australians, Americans, British and Europeans would be subject to attack.

If I may return to what I said at the beginning of my speech, it remains the case that I have an obligation, the Leader of the Opposition has an obligation and all of those who participate in this debate have an obligation to tell the Australian people the natural consequences of the policies they advocate. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that what he is now advocating would result in a humiliating defeat for our greatest ally. What he is now advocating would result in a humiliating defeat for the values and the causes in which we believe. Does the Leader of the Opposition really imagine that it would make Australia safer to give the terrorists a victory in Iraq? Does he really imagine that, by giving the terrorists a victory in Iraq, they would not trumpet that around the world, that they would not go the length and breadth of Indonesia recruiting people for JI as a result? Wouldn’t they be able to say to the young recruits in Indonesia, ‘We defeated the Americans, the British and the Australians in Iraq; why don’t you please come and join us?’ The reality is that the policy of the Leader of the Opposition is a policy of surrender, a policy that would make Australia less safe and a policy which is devoid of the moral responsibility for which this country is widely respected and rightfully acclaimed.

3:34 pm

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and International Security) Share this | | Hansard source

The problem with this Prime Minister is that once the Australian people actually believed him. They heard him as a man responsible for this country’s national security and it did not cross their minds that he would tell them blatant lies. But what they have seen over the last 3½ years is a Prime Minister who ducks and weaves around the truth at each opportunity. Each time he is pinned down and asked a difficult question, each time as a clever politician he slips and slides his way around it, never answering it directly—as he slips and slides his way out of this parliament right now. Your credibility on this war, Prime Minister, collapsed a long time ago and it is no wonder you cannot bear to face this parliament in the context of this debate.

The Prime Minister said today that his credibility rests on the fact that the intelligence community assured him, the government, the parliament and the people of Australia of the accuracy of the government’s claims about prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Here is the problem: the Australian people, the opposition and the parliament actually believed him. This is the problem. We actually believed that the Prime Minister of this country would not exaggerate, that on something as grave as taking his people to war he would not be loose with the truth and that he would actually level with us, the Australian people. What we now know is not through any agency or accusation on our part. What we now know from their own side is exactly what happened with the misleading information they provided this country and this parliament.

I turn to the Jull committee. Most of us in this place know David Jull. He is a member of the Liberal Party and the Chair of the investigation of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s into prewar intelligence in Iraq. This is where this Prime Minister’s entire argument collapses in one smouldering heap, because the Prime Minister and his claims to the parliament about Iraq’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons were put to the test by Mr Jull. What did Mr Jull and his committee find?

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

Order! The member will refer to the member by his title.

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and International Security) Share this | | Hansard source

What did Mr Jull and his committee find?

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

Order! The member for Griffith will refer to—

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and International Security) Share this | | Hansard source

What the joint intelligence committee, led by the member for Fadden, found is a conclusion along these lines. This is the committee known as the ‘Jull committee’. It is difficult to refer to it by any other name. In section 5.13 of its report, the Jull committee concluded:

The specific intelligence cited to support these assertions is from three major sources: the intelligence from the Australian Intelligence Community, the intelligence from partner agencies, especially in the US and the UK, and the information from United Nations inspections processes. On occasions the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister specifically quoted Australian intelligence. However, the speeches also directly quoted from overseas sources. The Prime Minister argued on 4 February 2003 that there was ‘compelling evidence … within the published detailed dossiers of British and American intelligence. This evidence is the most specific and emphatic within the speeches ...

It made a series of claims about Iraqi WMD including:

  • Iraq’s current military planning specifically envisages the use of chemical and biological weapons.

What was the Jull committee’s conclusion on this? Chaired by the Liberal Party, dominated by the Liberal Party, it was in section 5.20:

The statements by the Prime Minister and Ministers are more strongly worded than most of the AIC judgements. This is in part because they quote directly from the findings of the British and American intelligence agencies. In particular, in the 4 February 2003 speech to the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister quoted the findings of Joint Intelligence Committee of the UK and the key judgements of the National Intelligence Estimate of the CIA.

It goes on:

In both of these documents the uncertainties had been removed and they relied heavily on the surge of new and largely untested intelligence, coming, in the US at least, from Iraqi defectors.

I repeat:

In both of these documents the uncertainties had been removed ...

It means that the intelligence was exaggerated. It means that politically the government stood here at the dispatch box, made an argument to the Australian people and exaggerated what was in their possession. That is the core conclusion here when it comes to the use and abuse of national intelligence information. It is not our conclusion; it is the joint intelligence committee of the Australian parliament’s conclusion. It is that of a majority committee chaired by the government’s ruling party.

But it does not stop there. Exhibit 2, which torpedoes this Prime Minister’s credibility amidships, also from the Jull committee, states in section 5.29:

Other significant intelligence not covered in the government presentations included an assessment in October 2002 that Iraq was only likely to use its WMD if the regime’s survival was at stake and the view of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the UK, available at the beginning of February 2003, that war would increase the risk of terrorism and the passing of Iraq’s WMD to terrorists.

This information according to the Jull committee, chaired by the Liberal Party, dominated by the Liberal Party, again was not conveyed to the Australian people. These are two clear conclusions by a government chaired and dominated committee. Firstly, on prewar intelligence on Iraqi WMD, the government exaggerated. This is not our conclusion; it is the government committee’s own conclusion. Secondly, the government did not provide the Australian people with clear evidence that if you go to war on Iraq it is not going to reduce the terrorist threat, it is going to compound the terrorist threat. The government sat on both these pieces of information because it did not suit the political case they were about to make to the Australian people.

That is why, when this Prime Minister stands at the dispatch box and they see his lips move, the Australian people now conclude that this is simply a clever politician—a clever politician who can no longer be trusted with the actual truth of Australia’s national security circumstances. Could you imagine a John Curtin doing that with this nation’s secrets? Could you imagine a Bob Hawke doing that with this nation’s secrets during the first Gulf War? Could you imagine a Bob Menzies doing that with this nation’s national security information? When it comes to going to war, the decisions about going to war, I have to say, Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, on these questions you finally take the cake when it comes to ritualistic use and abuse of national security information and, simply, outright damn lies with the use of national security information.

The Prime Minister spent a large slice of his defence against the censure motion saying that we should talk about a strategy for Iraq’s future. Foreign Minister, you are about to stand on your feet after this. You know how long it is since you—

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

Order! The member will direct his remarks through the chair.

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and International Security) Share this | | Hansard source

Do you know how long it is since the foreign minister actually made a statement to this parliament about the government’s future strategy on Iraq? When was the last time the Prime Minister stood at this dispatch box and told us what the future game plan is for Iraq? Can anyone remember? I think it is getting on for two or three years since we had a comprehensive statement from this mob on Iraq. Here are the questions, Foreign Minister. The Prime Minister has laid the challenge here—a future strategy on Iraq. Last time I looked, you were still the foreign minister doing such a good job in PNG and the Solomons in the last few days. You are still the foreign minister—

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

Order! The member will direct his remarks through the chair.

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and International Security) Share this | | Hansard source

The Prime Minister has posed this question, so here it is. You have the strategy, Foreign Minister, which is along these lines. It consists of two sets of propositions. The first is do not cut and run, and the second is stay till the job is done. Do you know something, Mr Speaker; that is not a strategy but a key line and theme from Mark Textor. Because the Prime Minister says he is interested about the future in Iraq, here are some questions for you, Foreign Minister. How many Iraqi troops should be trained by foreign troops before we think of packing up and going? How many? Where should they be trained—in what locations? Foreign Minister, where should they be deployed right across the country? Foreign Minister, what level of training in specific circumstances should they achieve before other troops should consider leaving the country? What also should be the precise state of political relationships within the Iraqi parliament between the Sunni, the Shiah and the Kurds before we believe there is sufficient confidence to be had which would justify our exit from Iraq? While the foreign minister is at it, perhaps he could also tell us how many more tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians should be blown to bits before it is time to go. These are some basic questions that we have at present.

There is a key line and theme which is along the lines of, ‘Don’t cut and run; stay till the job is done.’ It rhymes; that is terrific. But, when it comes to an actual strategy for this country to remain committed to a war, what are the benchmarks for the future? What are the national security benchmarks to be achieved in Iraq? How are they to be measured? How are they to be analysed? In other words, what is the mission statement? What is the mission? How can you evaluate when it has been achieved?

This Prime Minister stands up here and cants political rhetoric, because that is what is being delivered by his pollsters and those who brief him from the dispatch box. He does not have a strategy for this country’s future in Iraq; he simply has a political issue management team running. This Prime Minister’s primary axiom, his prism for looking at national security, is simply: how do I manage the issue? How do I get myself through to tomorrow? This Prime Minister could not give a damn about the future of Iraq. If he did, we would have a detailed, truthful strategy on the ground about civilian reconstruction, the state of the economy, the state of the power infrastructure, the provision of border security and the provision of proper training for the armed forces—and at what density and location. Because we do not have any of that from this government we know that it is not serious about it. So here is the challenge for the foreign minister when he stands up to deliver his response to the censure: why don’t you, on behalf of the government, deliver a formal statement to the parliament on this government’s future strategy for Iraq and the conditions of national security and domestic political arrangements that must be met in order to justify a future drawdown? There is the challenge; we have not had one for a long time.

When you look at the entire debacle that is Iraq, it is important to put it into the context of the foreign policy and national security management—or mismanagement—of this government over the last 10 years. If you stand back from it all and examine it in its cold, hard, gory detail, you can be left with no conclusion other than that this is the worst exercise in national security mismanagement and the worst case of foreign policy mismanagement this country has seen since Vietnam. This is a gold medal winning performance when it comes to national security policy mismanagement. When you go to the criteria this government advanced prior to going to the war, each of those criteria registers as a fail. We were told by this government that we were going to war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. The weapons of mass destruction did not exist. We were told that we were going to war in order to reduce the overall global terrorist threat. The global terrorist threat did not go down; it went up. We were told that we were going to liberate an oppressed people; 50,000 of those oppressed people now lie dead.

We were told, particularly by the foreign minister, that the function in going to war was to set up a cavalcade, set up a domino theory—a new avalanche of democracy across the Arab world and the Middle East. Well, that is going a treat, isn’t it? Have you had a look at what happened in the Palestinian Authority’s recent elections? Hamas are doing are good job on that one! What about some of the others? Take Southern Lebanon: Lebanon is doing well since the ‘cedar revolution’. Democracy is kicking along quite nicely! Against that criterion—this domino theory of democracy across the Middle East—it would be interesting to see what the benchmarks of success are as well.

We were also told when we went to war that the function of this operation was also to send a clear, unequivocal, intimidatory message to any other country out there in the wider Middle East contemplating a WMD option. That worked well with Iran, didn’t it? That has gone an absolute treat with Iran! This government’s comprehensive foreign policy failure has achieved the unique strategic policy outcome of emboldening the government of Iran into an order of magnitude that the world has never seen since the Persian empire. This takes singular talent to, basically, better Darius, Xerxes and the whole crew back there. A mega state has been created in Iran which now dominates the geopolitics of the Middle East. What a terrific outcome! And you wonder why people do not believe your strategy.

We were given another benchmark—that our troops would be in Iraq for a matter of months, not years—but that was 3½ years ago. That was also $1.9 billion ago. We were also told that we could go to a war in Iraq without depleting the rest of our strategic engagements in the region and beyond. What we did not know at the time, of course, was that that was the basis on which they cut and ran from Afghanistan. When I visited Afghanistan with the member for Bruce, guess how many Australian Defence personnel were in Afghanistan at that stage? There was one; I think his name was Ted—Ted, the Australian. He was looking after Australia’s strategic policy interests in Afghanistan and doing a fine job. They cut and ran from Afghanistan in order to backfill into Iraq. Then, on top of it all, we had the great granddaddy of them all: the $300 million wheat for weapons scandal, in which the foreign minister of Australia was responsible for signing off on each contract. All that cash bankrolled the dictator he then proceeded to bomb, and could be used for buying bombs, buying bullets, providing cash to the Rafidain Bank in Oman and Jordan and funding the Palestinian suicide bombers—and this foreign minister sits here smirking and giggling. His hands are guilty through the negligence he demonstrated in the discharge of his office as foreign minister, because that money went to cross-subsidise terrorism and buy guns, bombs and bullets for later use against Australian troops. (Time expired)

3:50 pm

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

I appreciate the opportunity of this debate being brought on today. I would urge members to vote down this censure, and I think the majority will. The first thing I would say in a general sense is that one of several reasons why somebody who has always been interested in politics would never join the Labor Party is that the Labor Party, as I said in the Earl Page lecture, has always been a little weak when it comes to tyranny and has never wanted to stand up and confront people until it has ended up with no choice.

The proposition about how we should not stand up to Saddam Hussein, which has been the basic working hypothesis of the Labor Party, is just a continuum of a long history in the Labor Party of not wanting to stand up to anybody very much because it might be a little frightening. This is the Labor Party which, by the way, preaches and moralises and, if I may so—and I think you can in a censure motion—has issued a tissue of lies on the issue of Iraq. This is the Labor Party that received $500,000 in funding from Saddam Hussein for its 1975 election campaign. It is the only party in the history of Australian politics whose leader has gone to an apartment block in Sydney and tried to get half a million dollars out of Saddam Hussein to fund the party’s election campaign. Even Bob Hawke was very ashamed of that. But that is the measure of the Labor Party: that it would take money to fund its election campaign in 1975 from Saddam Hussein. Excuse me if I say that I do not much warm to lectures from the Labor Party about Saddam Hussein.

The second thing I would say is that the Leader of the Opposition, who often makes these claims, makes the claim that the government went to war on a lie—that is, a lie about the weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister in his remarks talked a little about the speeches that the member for Griffith had made and he used one particular example. I could dig out many others. A person who for the time being is more significant in the Labor Party is the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition said, when writing in the Financial Review on 7 February 2003, before the invasion of Iraq:

No foreign office or defence department official anywhere on the globe entertains the view that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction.

The Leader of the Opposition is embarrassed about this because he comes to the dispatch box and accuses Australia, Germany, France, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain of lying, but he himself used precisely the same sort of formulation and is exposed—and I will come back to that—for what we all know he is. The Hansard of the federal parliament of 3 June 2003—this is after the fall of Saddam Hussein, whom Labor wanted to keep in power: remember, the person whom they got the $500,000 promise from for the 1975 election—

Photo of Annette EllisAnnette Ellis (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms Annette Ellis interjecting

4G4 Downer, Alexander, MPMr DOWNER—Thirty years ago it was all right, was it? This is what the Leader of the Opposition said in June 2003:

Personally, I believe that weapons of mass destruction—

this is the Leader of the Opposition speaking to this House—

... will be found. Some already have been found in regard to the mobile biological laboratories which have been identified.

He also said, on 19 July 2002:

Much discussion of US intentions in Iraq revolves around the credibility of claims that the Iraqi dictator is developing nuclear weapons. He may be.

This is what the Leader of the Opposition said:

What he has done unquestionably is establish a substantial biological capability.

I make the point that the Leader of the Opposition—and I often make this point in question time—rushes up to the press gallery and sells the line that he is some sort of world expert on national security issues because he was a lecturer in national security issues or something at university. I think he is a world expert on opportunism. This is a man who is a weak leader—if you could call him a leader—of a political party who will never take a difficult brief and go out and argue it.

Back in 2002-03 he was pounding his fist with the faux anger that we are so used to these days. Because the pollster told him to do it—and we know that—he went out there and said, ‘Iraq has weapons of mass destruction; it’s a terrible thing.’ Today he accuses the government of lying that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Excuse me, Mr Speaker, if I just draw the attention of the House to the cant and hypocrisy of a weak leader—a weak leader who has never taken a tough brief.

One of the observations I would make in foreign policy, which is not an observation that the Labor Party would ever make, because weakness is their constant friend, is that in these difficult decisions you never have easy or perfect choices. There is not a perfect choice. There is a cost of action but there is also a cost of inaction. If the world had given Saddam Hussein a great victory back then in 2003, would he have become a benign funder of Australian Labor Party campaigns? I think not. I do not think any sensible analysis—not emotive or opportunistic analysis but sensible analysis—would conclude that in the struggle against terrorism we would have had the benign support or indifference of Saddam Hussein and his regime.

The Leader of the Opposition sometimes makes the argument that Saddam Hussein did not have anything to do with terrorism. That is sometimes his argument. That was not his argument on 28 February this year, though. In this very chamber he said of Saddam Hussein:

... he was supporting terrorists in Israel and in the areas controlled by the Palestinians. We know that for a fact.

So he was supporting terrorists. He went on to say:

We know at least he had a research program associated with weapons of mass destruction ...

So it was all right to have a program associated with weapons of mass destruction, Mr Speaker. I think not; I think it was not all right.

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

Mr Beazley interjecting

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

Order! The Leader of the Opposition was heard without interruption.

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

The Leader of the Opposition appears to want to make several speeches. It is the old tradition of the Labor Party: if you do not agree with them, close them down. You have to be a member of the union—that is, be associated with the Labor Party—to observe the Labor Party conference.

Photo of Julia GillardJulia Gillard (Lalor, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Ms Gillard interjecting

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

That is right, interject; close it down. You do not want to hear any criticism. The Labor Party fails to explain what would have happened if its wishes had come true. If the Labor Party’s wishes had come true there would have been a price as well. That price would have been the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s regime in power. There would have been the continuation of that ugly, cruel dictatorship. Although weapons of mass destruction, true, were not found, it was concluded comprehensively—as the Leader of the Opposition said himself in February—that Saddam Hussein continued to maintain weapons of mass destruction research programs.

Let me make one other point about Iraq, because the people who are often ignored in these debates are the people who are most affected. The people who are most affected are the Iraqi people. I wonder whether the Labor Party, other than thinking about what their pollsters have been telling them—which presumably is why they have suddenly brought on the debate today—have ever given a thought to the views of the Iraqi people.

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

Mr Beazley interjecting

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

The Leader of the Opposition may think the Iraqi people are just a funny subject for little interjections, but I actually think this is a very serious issue. The vast majority of Iraqi people are glad that their dictator was overthrown. Although they know that this is a difficult environment—and of course in the Sunni triangle it is a particularly difficult environment—Iraqis are glad their dictator is gone. That should not be ignored. The Leader of the Opposition, in his comments, thought there should be a re-emergence of Sunni dominance in Iraq. He thinks that is the right approach. If he reads through the Hansard of his remarks, he will see that that is the case.

That brings me to the last point I want to make, and it comes back to what the Prime Minister has said. Although the hypocrisy of the Labor Party has been exposed here, claims of lies and so on have easily been refuted—and, by the way, if you claim someone is lying and you are lying yourself, that is not a good look, and that is what we have seen from the Labor Party—but the Labor Party never answers the question about what to do next. The Labor Party thinks that the best strategy is not just for Australia to leave Iraq but for Britain to leave Iraq and for the United States to leave Iraq—and to leave now. If that were to happen, there would be a human catastrophe in Iraq. But, more than that, it would give enormous energy to the terrorists. To have defeated the United States of America in Iraq, to have defeated Great Britain, to have defeated the international community, to have defeated Western interests in Iraq, to have won that war against our allies, in particular the United States of America, would be the greatest victory achieved by people of that ilk in the history of humankind. It would be a massive victory. I find it almost unbelievable that the leader of a political party, who claims to be some sort of an expert on strategic policy, thinks that that would be a good idea. That would be an absolute catastrophe and I do not think there is any doubt about that.

Sir Richard Dannatt has been quoted endlessly by the Labor Party today. Bits are quoted here, other bits ignored there. I will tell you what Sir Richard Dannatt said:

The mission in Iraq that we have been getting on with for the last 3½ years is important to see through a conclusion. You talk about craven surrender, I’m a soldier, we don’t do surrender, we don’t pull down white flags, we’re going to see this through.

So the Leader of the Opposition does do white flags. He does do surrender. His strategy is not just for Australia to surrender, not just for us to wear the ignominy of defeat and surrender, but his strategy is to go to Washington, as he explained on 28 August, and tell the Americans—just imagine it—‘You should surrender in Iraq.’ Imagine we have a new Australian Prime Minister who wins an election in glorious Labor circumstances, jumps on his plane and goes to Washington. The President says: ‘What is your message, Mr Beazley? We’re going to try to get on with you. We haven’t found the Labor Party very sympathetic to the cause of freedom, but we are prepared nevertheless to make friends with you.’ That is what they would do, and what is the Leader of the Opposition, the new Prime Minister, going to say? He is going to say, ‘You, the United States of America, should surrender in Iraq.’ I can only say that I regard that as absolutely contemptible.

Of course, the only political party that would have a policy of weakness like that is the Australian Labor Party. I think the Labor Party has done its polling and it thinks maybe this is a bit of an issue worth running. I think in the end this is the wrong judgement because, as I have often said, I do not think the Australian people take kindly to the idea of surrender and they do not take kindly to the idea of defeat.

The challenge here is quite simple: to ensure that the brave and good people who went out to vote, to democratically elect the government of Iraq, are able to see their government sustain itself in office and sustain itself with the support of their own army and their own police. We will provide them with support until their own army and their own police can do the job on their own, which is obviously the optimal outcome. But Labor’s plan is to dump them in it—to get rid of the government, to get rid of the international troops, to allow the international support for the Iraqis to fade away and to ensure, therefore, that the terrorists and insurgents are able to take over the country.

Photo of Arch BevisArch Bevis (Brisbane, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Aviation and Transport Security) Share this | | Hansard source

How many Iraqi battalions do they need?

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

Yes, Member for Brisbane: imagine going to the Army in Brisbane and saying you want to surrender. Weak! (Time expired)

4:05 pm

Photo of Peter AndrenPeter Andren (Calare, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

On 6 March 2003 I moved a motion in this House:

That the House:

recognise that President Bush has flagged 14 March as the deadline for a decision to be made on an invasion of Iraq;
recognise that such a decision could well be taken in defiance of a veto by any permanent member of the UN Security Council;
recognise that such a strike could constitute a breach of international law;
recognise that chief UN weapons inspector … said … that Iraq is cooperating proactively …

I immediately moved that the House should consider a motion that, while agreeing with the Prime Minister’s statement on our armed forces and the role that they play in our defence, it could not and should not support our engagement in Iraq without the specific endorsement of the UN Security Council. I said at the time that that motion was supported by the Australian people, concerned as they were about the likely illegal war. Five hundred thousand people subsequently went to the streets to say exactly that.

I said in that debate that, despite the so-called debate in parliament on Iraq, it was always intended to be nothing more than a motion to note the Prime Minister’s statement. Nowhere in this parliament did we have a full and open debate on Iraq at the specific time when it was crucial to do so. We had British MPs challenging their Prime Minister, with 199, I think it was, voting against the Tony Blair Iraq stance, and we had a vote in the American House of Representatives and Senate on the very same issue. But there was none of that here, where we had such overpowering and continuing opposition from the Australian public to our engagement in Iraq.

America has humiliated itself in Iraq. It was a pre-emptive strike based on deliberate lies, dragging us in, in defiance of 80 per cent of Australians and, importantly, the UN Security Council. There was an ugly and cruel dictatorship in Iraq prior to the war. It has been replaced by an ugly and cruel civil war. The PM asked what we are supposed to do now—do we leave the Iraqis to look after themselves? The Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites have historically not been able to look after their joint interests. Probably only a three-nation state will solve that dilemma. But the US is unable to either stifle the current insurgency or effect any outcome that would lead to that three-nation solution. An allied defeat in Vietnam did not bring an end to the region, nor to America’s role in the world, apart from the failure of the US to learn the lessons from the disastrous Vietnam campaign. Its military-politico judgement was severely dented in Vietnam, and so too has it been in Iraq.

Terrorism can be defeated with right and justice, not selective pre-emptive strikes. That is exactly the situation that we have now, where we have exacerbated rather than helped solve that situation. The involvement in Afghanistan and the first Iraq conflict in 1991 was endorsed by specific UN resolutions. But the Iraq pre-emptive strike was not, whatever the attempt by the UN to try and salvage an outcome from the wreckage to help the Americans with a subsequent resolution. A majority of Australians in 2003 said no; a majority now believe it is still wrong. There has been no plan by the Americans. We have just blindly followed their request and embroiled ourselves in an imbroglio that I said at the time was a repeat of the Vietnam situation.

The situation is getting worse. Anywhere from 60,000 to 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths has been the result. The survey of the Johns Hopkins medical centre on this must give some credibility to that latter figure, whatever statements are made to the contrary.

Australia had a role to play in brokering peace in the Middle East. Instead, it has blindly supported the deeply flawed American position—so discredited, so lacking objectivity. Indeed, I think it was Paul McGeogh—or one of the Fairfax journalists—who wrote after the start of the recent Lebanon conflict, or indeed the pre-emptive strike against the Lebanese people, that Condoleezza Rice was ‘dawdling’ her way to the Middle East. Why? The US delivery of its latest batch of Hellfire missiles was still being delivered. She did not arrive until such time as those missiles were in place to be used against the Hezbollah—and, indeed, to be so tragically used against innocent civilians in the Lebanon.

How, under those circumstances, can America be seen as any objective broker of peace in the Middle East, for heaven’s sake? How can it engage in pre-emptive strikes in Iraq—or elsewhere, as it may be tempted to do—and maintain any credibility as a broker of peace, along with Australia, Great Britain and any other country that wants to join such a folly? The Iraq engagement has exacerbated rather than assisted the Middle East crisis. The head of the British Army is right, whatever Mr Blair’s frantic spin to try and correct it. We should get out of Iraq. The US have created the mess, told the lies, spun the falsehoods. They and they alone can determine how and when they exit. We should get out now.

4:11 pm

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I listened to this censure debate of the Prime Minister with a degree of cynicism. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition decide that, as a matter of strategy and tactics, he wanted to make a point of demarcation with the government’s position, that he would decide that he would betray the nation and the nation’s troops who are fighting on our behalf. He has decided that his political strategy is far more important than adhering to the strength of the nation and the commitment that we have made.

As I listened to the points that were put forward, again I listened with cynicism. But, as I listened to the speakers on the government side, I listened to people speak with passion and with commitment. I listened to a Prime Minister who had to make that decision to say that Australia would commit troops to the war. I listened to and I remembered well the comments of the opposition when that occurred, trying hard to be in our shadow and not too far out in front, not to cop the flack, but not at that stage to take a strong position. But today they come out and say that they have decided that tactics and strategy are far more important to them than to stay the course, as the rest of us think is necessary.

Photo of Arch BevisArch Bevis (Brisbane, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Aviation and Transport Security) Share this | | Hansard source

What is ‘the course’? Tell us what the course is.

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

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

Order! The member will refer to members by their title or their seat.

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Leader of the Opposition, when he was Minister for Defence, used to be known as Bomber Beazley. Today, as Leader of the Opposition, he is advocating withdrawal and he is advocating a point of tactical difference. He is a man who thinks that he can in fact surf his way into office by saying that a point of demarcation is what is needed here. It is the wrong tactic. The Australian people are wiser than that and can see that this is a simple tactic. The Australian people saw that what was done at the end of the Vietnam War was wrong. They will see that the Labor Party would again make the same error and again pull out in a way that will not treat people in the way that they should be treated for the courage that they have shown.

I began by saying that when I heard the opening remarks of the Leader of the Opposition I listened with a degree of cynicism—certainly, a very high degree of cynicism. I think it disappoints the Australian people to hear the statement from the alternative Prime Minister—as he would like to see himself—that he does not have the moral courage to continue a commitment which was made in good faith by a government and which was supported by the Australian people. We have an obligation to the people who touch the shirt of an Australian soldier and say: ‘Please don’t go. Please stay.’ Perhaps, Leader of the Opposition, you might listen to their pleas if you will not listen to the members on the government benches.

4:20 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Question put.