May 1, 2004

Australian Defence Force: Deployment


31 March 2004

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (5.49 p.m.) —I am very pleased to rise to support the first part of the motion moved by the Prime Minister, which expressed our support for and confidence in the 850 Australian Defence Force personnel currently deployed in or around Iraq, but to oppose the second part of the motion and support the amendment moved by the member for Lingiari. We have now had this debate for two days. We had it yesterday after the motion moved by the Prime Minister, and we had another motion moved by the Prime Minister in place of question time today. That has exposed the desperation of this government. It has reached a new low in its preparedness to play politics with our Defence Force personnel. The government attempted to move a two-part motion that would have seen the Labor Party, because of our opposition to the war in Iraq and our principled position on the need to have an exit strategy from Iraq, vote against the interests of our Defence Force personnel.

Yesterday, we saw that exposed and we saw the Leader of the House, the member for Warringah, humiliated by his own Prime Minister when, through the member for Cowan, we moved a procedural motion. Quite frankly, on these issues I would rather be on the side of the member for Cowan than that of any of the warmongers opposite. The fact is that there are many opposite who are warmongers. They talk big about the need to intervene but have not done it themselves. They are happy to send others to war but have not gone to war themselves. They are the facts. The member for Cowan has gone to war and he, a man of honour, knows that this conflict was wrong. He sought to separate the two parts of the motion so that the entire parliament was expressing confidence in our Australian Defence Force. That is what occurred, thanks to the Prime Minister coming in and recognising the grave political mistake that had been made by the Leader of the House and other government members.

We now have this quite bizarre debate where there is the suggestion that, somehow, there is some surprise that the Leader of the Opposition has stated that Australia’s troops should be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as practicable after their mission is completed, that defined as being after the handover to an Iraqi government. In retrospect, this conflict—at the time it was supposed to have been about weapons of mass destruction—is supposed to be about self-determination and democracy for the Iraqi people, not about the continuing occupation of Iraq with no end date on the agenda.

I cannot understand why there would be any surprise. On 25 February 2003 I was very proud to march in Sydney with the now Leader of the Opposition, the member for Werriwa, and indeed to carry his young son, Oliver, on my shoulders for a while. It was a long march. It took a long time to leave and a long time to arrive because of the hundreds of thousands of people who were there expressing opposition to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq conflict. The member for Werriwa did not hide his position and, what is more, neither did the Labor Party. On 17 March I was a member of the shadow cabinet which adopted unanimously the position that a Labor government would immediately bring the troops home from Iraq. It was very clear. On 18 March, the next day, at a full caucus meeting a unanimous resolution along the same lines was adopted by the ALP caucus. That resolution said that Labor oppose the use of military forces and urge their withdrawal and, furthermore, that a Labor government would immediately bring the troops home. We reinforced that on 24 March with yet another shadow cabinet resolution, and then again on 12 May.

There is nothing surprising about any of this, and neither is it surprising that the Leader of the Opposition’s views then—prior to the conflict—have proven to be correct. They were based upon a view that we were being led into a war on false pretences. That is a view that is held not only in Australia but also in the United States. In the last fortnight, Richard Clarke—who I guess would also be a friend of Osama bin Laden according to the member for Parramatta; however, he was the national security adviser on counter-terrorism to the White House—has said that, within days after September 11, President Bush asked him to find reasons why Iraq was to blame. This was despite the fact that there was no evidence and despite the fact that anyone who understands the history of the region knows that Saddam Hussein not only terrorised his own people, Kurdish people, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, communists and gays but also oppressed and murdered Islamic fundamentalists and was diametrically opposed to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. But President Bush was determined to go to war. And you do not have to take our word for that. His then national security adviser on counter-terrorism said that that was the case.

Now we are astonished to hear the government talking about the need to support the United Nations. They must think that people have very short memories. The ALP’s position was always that any international action had to be on the basis of United Nations resolutions. We also said that the war in Iraq was a distraction from the war against terror. Osama bin Laden is still at large, and there is considerable evidence that al-Qaeda have been able to regroup in provinces of Afghanistan and Pakistan and that they are being financed by money from opium and engagement in the drug trade. That must be the priority of Australia. We know that now, after the conflict, the Labor Party’s position has been vindicated, and the Leader of the Opposition sought and had meetings with Mr Bonighton of DFAT on 5 January and with ASIS on 11 February. We have seen a despicable attempt to take the politicisation of the Public Service to the next depth.

We all know what happened during `children overboard’ and the Tampa affair. The book Dark Victory by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson outlines in a horrific way the undermining of our democratic institutions and the manipulation of the Public Service and the defence forces that occurred at that time. Now we are seeing it with defence personnel. What the Prime Minister has done today during the debate is, frankly, to tell the world far too much about our ASIS operations in Baghdad. What an extraordinary thing for the Prime Minister to do: to walk into the House and try to seek cheap political advantage and, in order to do so, be prepared to talk about our secret service operations in another nation. This is a desperate man without any principle whatsoever.

We know that the entire government is getting desperate. We had the bizarre suggestion by the member for Parramatta that somehow this was all as a result of the deal done in the Tasmanian forests between Bob Brown and Mark Latham—as if Mark Latham’s position has not been consistent on this from day one. But, then again, the member for Parramatta is the fellow who brought General Rabuka into Parliament House to lecture young people about democratic institutions and principles! It is not surprising that the member for Parramatta has been rebuked by his own party for some of the comments he made last week outside the chamber. But he has repeated them in here again today—again repeating the mistake. He is prepared to argue that, if you support UN processes on international policy, if you say that it is wrong to go to war to get rid of weapons of mass destruction—that do not exist—somehow that makes you a friend of Islamic terrorists! That is an outrageous slur and an outrageous position taken by the member for Parramatta.

This is a government that is desperate. We know that members of the government rely upon fear whereas the Labor Party stands for hope. They talk about security and Islamic terrorists and say that the Labor Party is somehow giving succour to that point of view, but we know that that is just a strategy. This government has run out of ideas. It has no agenda for Australia. It was desperate to avoid questioning on Labor’s work and family package—the baby care package—announced today, which will give $3,000 to every parent in 2005, working up to $5,380 by 2010. It does not want to debate those issues. Instead we had a debate that went for more than three hours, along the same lines as the debate we had yesterday. Maybe we will come back and do it all again tomorrow.

The government rest upon the basis that somehow there was something unusual about the Labor Party’s position. What they fail to acknowledge is that the Labor Party has been consistent. History will judge us well. I will certainly be proud to tell my son, when he is old enough to understand, that I stood up for principle on this issue and that I was part of a political party, the Australian Labor Party, which stood up for principle on this issue as well.