House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2007



4:37 pm

Photo of Robert McClellandRobert McClelland (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to say something about the government’s insincerity with respect to its policies on the Iraq conflict. First of all there is its failure to acknowledge its responsibility with respect to the initial conflict. The Prime Minister gave as the reason for supporting the invasion of Iraq the fact that the United Nations sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein had failed. Yet it has not disclosed that one of the main reasons the sanctions failed was the role of an Australian company, the Australian Wheat Board, which was paying a total of some $300 million in bribes to the regime of Saddam Hussein, contrary to those sanctions. No-one to date has been held accountable for the greatest bribery scandal in Australia’s history.

No-one has accepted responsibility on behalf of the government for supporting the invasion of Iraq before the final report of the United Nations weapons inspectors was in. The inspectors were basically saying: ‘Hold your horses, there’s more work to be done. Halt the invasion until you get our final report.’ Of course, that final report would have reported, as history has shown, that there were indeed no weapons of mass destruction.

The other area where the government is insincere is this: precisely what is our purpose in Iraq? Firstly, the invasion was to find nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. It then became regime change—that was the advocacy. To establish a beachhead of democracy became the next reason. Then it became protecting the Japanese construction workers. And then it became a security overwatch function. As I understand it, Australian troops have not been called out to perform that role since they were deployed for that purpose. We also had mention from the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson, the Minister for Defence, that it was to do with oil and energy security. I suspect Dr Nelson was sincere in his advice to that effect but he was quickly undermined by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The other area where the government is completely insincere is in recognising the extent of the catastrophe in Iraq. The Minister for Foreign Affairs during the week said that withdrawal of troops would create a crisis rivalling Darfur. If you look at the facts, what has happened in Iraq certainly rivals Darfur. Depending on the estimates, you have somewhere between 75,000 and 600,000 people killed—500 in the last 48 hours—and about four million people have been displaced.

The framework is just not happening. Everyone recognises that if there is going to be a solution to the violence in Iraq then it has to be a political solution not a military solution, but the infrastructure is not there. They are not the words of a politician confronting an election; they are the words of the former Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr Allawi. He said this week: ‘There is no security, there is no political reconciliation, there are no services,’ and, ‘The government is dysfunctional,’ and, ‘Day after day we are witnessing more and more control by the militias on the police and also infiltration into the army.’ They are not my words; they are the words of the former Prime Minister of Iraq. Yet our government gives an open-ended unconditional commitment to the government of Iraq in circumstances where it unquestionably is not doing enough to get its own house in order. Indeed, recent reports have suggested that members of the administration are actually giving names to militias for them to be targeted by those militias for murder, kidnap or torture. How the government can justify giving an open-ended, unconditional commitment to such a government beggars belief.

The minister said that we are about cutting and running; the Labor Party, the Baker Hamilton report, 11 presidential candidates and 270 members of the United States congress are not about cutting and running. They are about a phased withdrawal to put real pressure on the government of Iraq to say that they have to step up to the plate and take charge. Writing letters is not going to be enough. Only the pressure of a phased withdrawal to say that at a given point in time they will have to step up and take responsibility for their own security in Iraq will do. Nothing less is going to get them to change their ways and become a government that governs in the national interest rather than the narrow sectarian interest that they are currently following.