Mar 10, 2004

Committees: ASIO, ASIS and DSD Committee: Report

COMMITTEES: ASIO, ASIS and DSD Committee: Report

10 March 2004

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.26 p.m.) —I am pleased to make a contribution to this discussion of the report of the parliamentary inquiry into the handling of prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. However, I wish that it was not necessary. There has been enormous concern in my electorate, which reflects the concern throughout the international community, that the decision to go to war in Iraq was based upon false assessments and a political position which was simply not justified. One of the statements used by some members of the government is that it is fine to discuss these issues in retrospect—that they thought in good faith that there were weapons of mass destruction there and that no-one was saying anything different. What this report systematically outlines is, indeed, that the government did have access to quite a great deal of alternative assessments. It should be noted that this inquiry was very limited. It did not have access to all of the ONA and DIO assessments. Only 26 ONA assessments and just 14 of 189 DIO assessments for the period were provided to the committee.

The report examines four issues regarding intelligence and whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction which it could use. The four intelligence issues were uranium from Africa, the importation of aluminium tubes, mobile biological laboratories and UAVs for a biological weapons program. The first three of those issues were used by the government to justify its case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The report says that all these were either wrong or disputed at the time, or both. As to the issue of UAVs for biological weapons, it certainly is unproven. The report essentially outlines a contrast between what the assessments were that the government was receiving and what actually was occurring.

It is interesting to compare the intelligence assessments with the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and to note how different the pitches were. The government would like to suggest that it did not doctor or sex up any of these reports. However, it is pretty clear that the government was very selective in the use of the intelligence that it was receiving. Furthermore, it did not convey to the Australian people any of the qualifications or the doubts in the intelligence material that it received. If you go back and look at the comments of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence you will see that they were all very deliberate and all very clear. Statements such as `we know that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction’—not `we think’ but `we know’—were made over and over again in order to establish the case for war.

The government says that it is okay to be right in retrospect, but it argues that it could not have known about WMD. That is an interesting position because it suggests that it was prepared to go to war on the basis of not knowing what the facts were with regard to Iraqi WMD. But, at that time, contrary views were being put by the intelligence community, by the political community and indeed in this parliament by members of the Australian Labor Party. I went back and had a look at some of the statements that had been made and how they stacked up to the reality. On 18 September 2002, in this House, in response to the ministerial statement on Iraq by the foreign minister, I said:

The case has not been made for a link between Al-Qaeda, the Iraqi regime and the events of September 11. What is more, the case has not been made that there has been an escalation in the development of weapons of mass destruction which provide a clear and present danger, which is the appropriate term under the United Nations operations.

My colleagues were saying the same thing at that time. We spoke of the importance of UN processes. It is very clear indeed that the UN weapons inspectors did a good job—Iraq had been effectively disarmed. Of course, one of the attractions of the US military machine in going to war was the knowledge that the greatest superpower the world has ever seen was engaged in a war against a military that had effectively been disarmed.

It was not just in the parliament that those warnings against going to war were occurring. I was very proud to join perhaps half a million of my fellow Sydneysiders in the Walk Against the War on Sunday, 16 February. I wrote to my constituents, every single one of them, and encouraged them to participate in that walk. I received responses from people such as Alexandra Martyn, Jamie Shaw, Jane Bradfield, Julie Nyland, Paul Wilson, Ann Leahy, Sue Leahy, Kerry Murphy, Merilyn Fairskys and literally hundreds of other constituents of my electorate of Grayndler, all saying that they would be there with me on that day. I want to read just one email, because I think it is indicative of the sorts of responses I got. It is from Simon Abbott, whom I have never met. Simon lives in Marrickville, and back on 3 February 2003 he wrote:

Dear Anthony

I just received your letter today titled “Iraq—time for peace”.

I strongly agree with your stance and you have the support of both myself and my family on this issue.

War is not the solution to the issue of Iraq. It does seem to be the solution for the United States (despite the protest of other countries) as it benefits their political and economic interests. It shouldn’t be our solution either and this needs to be said loud and clear.

At the very least, John Howard in his eagerness to be led by George W Bush, is portraying Australia as just a lap dog of the US. At worst, he is involving Australia in the deaths of many innocent people and endangering the life’s of our military personnel.

I’m often struck by the fact that despite the millions of life’s lost last century through war and conflict, that we (the human race) continue to utilise military action as a solution to the worlds problems.

I have never written to a politician before, but the absolute stupidity of John Howard’s decision has compelled me to do so. I have never before took part in a demonstration but I will be there on February 16 at the Walk Against the War.

All the best Anthony.


That was typical of the response of ordinary Australians, but the government could not see it. The government was determined to rush into this military action.

Another excuse that has been made retrospectively is: it does not matter about the WMD because we have had regime change. This is the ultimate retrospective analysis. It was never said—indeed, the opposite was said—prior to going to war. All of us in this parliament, every single man and woman in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, and indeed, I would hope, every Australian regarded Saddam Hussein as an evil tyrant and is glad to see him gone. But he is not the only evil tyrant in the world, and you do have to have orderly international relations and a process other than one country simply deciding unilaterally to remove another country’s leader. Throughout the world there are dictators who have been and who continue to be brutal butchers, yet the argument is not put that military action needs to be taken. The hypocrisy, given the arming of the Saddam Hussein regime by the United States in Iraq’s war against Iran, is quite breathtaking.

The third defence that comes up is that of pre-emption—that if we did not take action then somehow there would be action against us or against some other nation which represented a threat to Iraq. It is quite clear that that is a nonsense argument. Indeed, the world is a less safe place because of the action in Iraq, and the intelligence assessments make it very clear that there is a greater possibility of terrorist action against Australia as a result of our participation in that war.

I conclude my comments but I argue that the committee’s report is important. It is not just about analysing the past as an academic exercise. There is no more important decision than the decision to go to war, and it is important that we understand that the basis for going to war in Iraq was wrong.