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Senator Robert Ray's Speech On Iraq

September 17, 2002

Senator Robert Ray (ALP-Victoria) - Former Minister for Defence Senator ROBERT RAY (Victoria) (4.47 p.m.) — Australia’s attitude to Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction should not be dominated or influenced by opinion polls or wheat sales: what we have to do is the right thing. This debate today on the ministerial statement on Iraq highlights a dilemma of Australian democracy that goes back 100 years: who in fact should commit Australia to any international action? Should it be the executive or the parliament? This has been debated here before and it has never been fully resolved. But I think the very fact that if we had had this debate yesterday it would have taken a completely different turn to the one we are having today—because of the news this morning—means that ultimately it is the executive and the government of the day, the parties with a majority in the House of Representatives, that have to determine these matters. It cannot go to a vote of the parliament as to whether we militarily intervene or not, because what happens if one chamber supports it and one chamber opposes it? So that responsibility is the government’s and the government then must take on board certain responsibilities. We cede them trust on these matters—trust to look at the intelligence reports and to make the judgments—and then we hope in a bipartisan way that we can support them and support their judgments. That is not always the case but we hope that that will be the case. But in turn we expect the government to approach these issues in a fairly highminded and not partisan way.

Senator Ferguson referred, and I agree with him, to the difficulty of producing intelligence reports. It is really difficult for a government to come out and say, ‘Here is the entirety of the evidence and we source it to A, B and C’; it is just not possible. I am a little wary of governments selectively sourcing from intelligence reports. I have been critical of the Prime Minister, when he was under the political cosh last year, quoting from an ONA report on ‘kids overboard’ two days before a federal election. It is very difficult to be tough enough to say, ‘We’re not going to quote from intelligence reports at all and you’re going to have to take us on trust. We have these reports and we’re going to rely on them.’

I am also, like Senator Ferguson in some ways, fairly wary of this implicit trust in the United Nations. Like him, I spent three months there and had a very close look at it. The General Assembly is a very flawed body. Everyone gets a vote. It does not matter if you are Russia or the United States: you get one vote. If you are Kiribati or somewhere else, you get one vote. If that existed in a domestic political situation, the malapportionment would be horrible. In turn you have the Security Council, but when you look at the way it is elected—horse trading everywhere, aid given so you can buy the votes, preference deals and all the rest of it—you see it is also not really the most representative and thorough body. Then you have the veto that is applied sometimes for good reason and at other times just for national self-interest: people trying to increase their influence around the globe.

Finally, if you ever ask the UN for an armed response, for an armed intervention, you will find they do not have the capability. It is not their fault: they do not have the military intelligence to know where they can commit and where they cannot. If you actually gave the UN control of a variety of armies, the butchery would be terrible. So what they have to do is use member states, using their own intelligence and their own military forces, to intervene and prosecute a military case on behalf of the UN. None of that is particularly easy. But we did see what the arms inspectors could do between 1992 and 1998. They did a reasonably effective job but they were constantly interrupted, diverted and prevented from doing their job by the regime in Iraq, and that is a danger into the future.

The offer this morning that there would be unlimited inspection must be maintained into the future, into the next three or four years. It cannot just be something that exists for three months and then suddenly all the restrictions that drove Richard Butler and his team absolutely to the border of frustration are put on again. I did see that a person that I admire very much, the US Secretary of State, said the UN should act responsibly here. I agree with that, but while the US are at it maybe they would like to pay up their back dues to the UN so that the UN can behave responsibly, so that the UN can have the resources to do their job. I think that it would not be a bad idea, at this time of the political cycle when the US are expecting the United Nations to do their job thoroughly and efficiently, for the US to actually resource them as they are obligated to do.

What we are dealing with with Iraq is a warfare state. Only two warfare states exist on this globe: they are North Korea and Iraq. There are many other countries with strong defence forces because of their geo-political circumstances. But a warfare state is defined as one that is absolutely devoted to the military alone—the whole social and economic organisation is devoted to promoting and supporting the military. We know that Vietnam traditionally has had a strong army, but these days you could never call it a warfare state. You know that India and Pakistan have very substantial forces but, again, their whole societies are not organised around a military, all-powerful structure.

That existed in 1990, it exists today in Iraq and it becomes a massive danger to all its neighbours. Just look at its history—for example, the opportunistic attack on Iran after they changed regimes in 1980. Most people do not know what happened in that war, because CNN was not covering it—the reason they were not covering it was that they probably would have died in the process. So we did not see the hundreds of thousands of people who were sacrificed to a whole array of weaponry that was used in that opportunistic attack. We did see the consequences of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and what followed from there, because of the ability of the modern media to cover it. At every opportunity, Iraq has simply opportunistically tried to acquire the assets of its neighbours and that cannot be tolerated in the international community. References have been made by several speakers to the way it has treated its own citizens— for example, the gassing of the Kurds that occurred in northern Iraq being one of the most horrific acts of the 20th century. That will continue into the future as long as this regime is allowed to go unchecked in its development of these weapons.

I think the Australian government’s attitude to this has changed and varied over the last few months. I do not think it always assists our relationship with the United States to say we agree with everything. They do not mind us pursuing other alternatives provided there is a broad, supportive approach. I was disappointed when the Minister for Foreign Affairs started talking about Simon Crean speaking like Saddam Hussein. It was not necessary in this particular debate. It smacks of wedge politics, even if it is not. It is unnecessary because what we are really trying to do is get a solution. The solution will come by getting massive Australian support behind the government, not by trying to maximise your vote by polarising the electorate. I think that language has changed substantially in the last couple of weeks for the better and the very existence of this parliamentary debate is an extremely good sign.

I want to end on this note: this whole problem of weapons of mass destruction and, more importantly, terrorism is going to be very hard to contain and solve into the future. It is very hard to detect terrorism. It is very hard to prevent it. The one statement by President Bush that I was overjoyed to hear was that the only way into the future is not just to deal with terrorism but to deal with the states that sponsor it. There are several countries around the globe that fund, sponsor and encourage terrorism. If they think they can do that with impunity and never ever be brought to account, then terrorism is going to continue to plague and dog us into the future. Those countries should be on notice that if they want to fund, sponsor and encourage terrorism then they are going to be punished in turn. Not very many terrorists have come out of Libya in the last 17 years, since the F-111s flew over Tripoli—following the old Maoist saying, ‘Punish one, educate a hundred.’ It is not the sort of solution that any of us like, but the only solution into the future is to punish the sponsoring regimes.

No-one—not in the government, not in the opposition, not anyone here—wants to see Australian troops go into harm’s way. That is a canard often promoted by critics in this country; no-one wants to do that. But you cannot dodge the responsibility of bringing in a regime like Iraq to account for its activities. They have laughed at the rest the world for the last 12 years. I do hope that diplomatic solutions work, because none of us want to see a military alternative.

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