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Howard's Behaviour A 'Disgrace' Says Crean

March 16, 2003

This is the transcript of the interview with the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean, on Channel 9's Sunday program.

LAURIE OAKES:

Mr Crean, welcome to Sunday.

SIMON CREAN:

Thankyou Laurie. Good to be here.

LAURIE OAKES:

Do you expect us to go to war this week?

SIMON CREAN:

Unfortunately I do. I think that the meeting in the Azores - a meeting between the US President, the British Prime Minister, and the Spanish Prime Minister, will determine a course of action, unfortunately, that will see Australia go to war, and weíre not even there.

Australia not involved, but by virtue of its membership of the coalition of the willing, if the view is they canít get a resolution up through the Security Council, then I suspect the resolution will be withdrawn, and weíll be into war. Into war in circumstances in which we donít even participate in a meeting.

LAURIE OAKES:

Well, when John Howard gets the crucial call from George Bush saying time to settle up, John, what should the Prime Minister reply?

SIMON CREAN:

He should say that weíre not going in. Weíre not going in without a UN authority. That there is, under the US alliance, no threat of attack to the US. Thereís no threat of attack to US forces in the Pacific, and that Article One of the ANZUS alliance requires us as two nations to resolve international conflict through the United Nations, and that the only course of action that we, Australia, should be pursuing is getting behind a UN authority.

LAURIE OAKES:

But you donít doubt, do you, that we will throw in our lot with the Americans with or without UN endorsement?

SIMON CREAN:

I donít doubt it. I think that John Howard has locked us in too far, and has not been prepared to tell the truth to the Australian people. Thatís why I thought his speech on Thursday was a disgrace. It failed two tests, Laurie. It didnít make the link. It didnít produce the evidence that showed the link between September 11 and Iraq.

And what it also didnít do was to create the environment in which Australia - in which our commitment to the alliance justified us going to war. And the Prime Minister having committed to the war hasnít told the Australian people the truth. He still says weíre not committed, but no one believes him.

Heís locked into the coalition of the willing, and he hasnít had the truth to tell us. But worse, he hasnít had the courage to tell our troops that. And thereís no graver commitment that a Prime Minister can make than to send our young men and women to war - ask them to put their lives on the line - and he still hasnít told them thatís what heís committed them to. I think that is a disgrace.

LAURIE OAKES:

Do you think it will be a quick and successful war?

SIMON CREAN:

Um, I donít know. And thatís hardly the justification for going in anyway, Laurie. But what I do know is that whatever the length of the war, the reconstruction is going to be long, and we have a Prime Minister of Australia prepared to commit to war, but not prepared to commit to the peace - to the peaceful reconstruction that must ultimately come at the end of the war.

But I mean the worse thing out of this, Laurie, is why commit to war when the alternative is you can get the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. I donít argue against the need to disarm Iraq. I support that most strongly. But what I do say is the weapons inspectors have made progress. Theyíve reported substantial progress. Let them complete the task.

If theyíre getting disarmament, why not take extra time. If itís taken 12 years to date, what does it matter if itís an extra couple of months? For goodness sake, if we can avoid the war to secure a peaceful disarmament, why wouldnít we go down that route?

But the Prime Minister has left himself no way out, in my view, from going if the Americans decide to go it alone. And thatís a disgraceful outcome.

LAURIE OAKES:

Well, let me pin you down on Laborís policy. Youíve said if the UN Security Council gives the go-ahead youíd support a war. Without UN endorsement Labor will oppose a war, but youíve left a caveat that if thereís one veto you might support a war. Now that makes Labor look pretty wishy-washy doesnít it?

SIMON CREAN:

Laurie, the caveat required an additional test. The caveat required two conditions to be met. One, the link between September 11 and Iraq. The second, that Iraq posed an immediate threat. Neither of those tests have been met, since we put them down over - almost 12 months ago.

They havenít been met by the US. They havenít been met by the UN. They havenít been met by Britain, and most importantly, they were not met by John Howard in his Press Club address on Thursday. Accordingly, Iíll be recommending to the Labor Caucus next week that we drop the caveat.

The tests havenít been met, and we therefore say that the only circumstances in which we would support action is if it had a decision of the United Nations. They would be the only circumstances in which we would support action.

LAURIE OAKES:

So without UN endorsement now, itís definitely Labor against the war, Simon Crean leading protests, sitting on the tram lines doing a Jim Cairns?

SIMON CREAN:

Labor opposing the war. Labor - and if I was the Prime Minister we wouldnít have pre-deployed the troops, Laurie. If I was the Prime Minister we would not be committing our troops to war outside of a UN authority, and I will continue to argue every opportunity I can get that the Governmentís decision is wrong.

Itís not based on the evidence. There is an alternative way. We can achieve the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, but weíve got to get behind the UN authority. We should not be having our foreign policy determined by the United States.

LAURIE OAKES:

Well, Peter Costello yesterday said we shouldnít be having our foreign policy vetoed by France or other members of the UN Security Council. Isnít that a consistent argument?

SIMON CREAN:

Bit rich. A bit rich, that message coming from Peter Costello, when our foreign policy has been determined by the US. We are locked into the coalition of the willing, in my view in a way in which the Prime Minister canít get himself out of it.

I hope he does see the error of his way. I hope he does back down. I hope that he does say to the US President, as a result of the phone call out of the Azores, we are not going without the UN authority. But my position is this: just as my position has been to support the peace-keeping force in Timor under the UN authority, we should be backing the UN authority, not just blindly following the US.

Thatís not having our foreign policy determined by anyoneís veto. Itís having our foreign policy determined by the benchmarks that we have set ourselves for unilateralism, which have failed, and ensuring that the way forward is through the collective decision-making of the United Nations - a decision-making process, I might say, Laurie, that go unanimity around resolution 1441. If you could get unanimity around 1441, why not try and continue that in terms of the peaceful disarmament of Iraq?

LAURIE OAKES:

Now are you saying that John Howard should bring our troops home?

SIMON CREAN:

John Howard should be bringing home the troops that have been pre-deployed. He should not be committing those troops that are there in the absence of a UN authority, and I will continue to argue that the decision, if the United States decides to go unilaterally, the decision of Australia should not be to support it, and that our troops should be brought home.

Thatís a different argument, though, Laurie, than venting our anger at the troops. Our argument is with the Government. The Governmentís made the wrong decision. If in the circumstances the Government persists with that wrong decision, and doesnít pursue the alternative of the peaceful disarmament, and the troops are there, the anger and the demonstrations should never be directed to our troops.

Iíll support our troops every time, because they have no choice. They have to follow what the Government of the day determines for them. They have no choice. My argumentís with the Government. Iíll argue that the Government should bring the troops home, and if I was the Labor Prime Minister I would bring them home.

LAURIE OAKES:

But if Australian troops come home, do you want the Americans and British to pull their troops out as well?

SIMON CREAN:

I want there to be a sensible realisation that the threat of war has worked in strengthening the hand of the United Nations to effect a disarmament..

LAURIE OAKES:

No, but seriously - let me - let me press this question. You say bring our troops home. What about American and British troops?

SIMON CREAN:

Yes, I say that we should not be seeking the disarmament of Iraq by the aggressive act of war..

LAURIE OAKES:

So pull them out?

SIMON CREAN:

..whilst we can still - whilst we can still achieve the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. The troops..

LAURIE OAKES:

You see the point Iím making Mr Crean..

SIMON CREAN:

No, no, no..

LAURIE OAKES:

If you pull out all the troops, how far do you think the weapons inspectors would get, without troops on their doorstep backing them up?

SIMON CREAN:

No, no, exactly. No, no, but Laurie, Iíve acknowledged the point before that the presence of the US troops in the region has been an important - a critical factor in keeping the pressure on Iraq. I wouldnít be arguing for them to be withdrawn. What I do argue is that they shouldnít - that the Australian troops shouldnít have been pre-deployed.

Our troops make no difference to that pressure. But I also go the further point and say itís one thing to have them there as the threat - that is a valid demonstration of strength. But if your intention was to have them there ultimately to go to war under any circumstances, that I disagree with.

If the..

LAURIE OAKES:

Another important..

SIMON CREAN:

..diplomatic processes can be made to work, let them work. Theyíve been demonstrated to be working. Let the task be completed.

LAURIE OAKES:

Another important point I wanted to get to, your Foreign Policy Spokesman, Kevin Rudd, says an invasion without a new UN resolution would be illegal. Thatís not true, is it?

SIMON CREAN:

He, he - he was actually very specific on this in terms of the collective action. In terms of the broader question about the legality of this war, Laurie, this is a very problematic question, and itís something that weíre getting further advice on. I simply make the point that it would be much better in all the circumstances that there be a second resolution, and thatís what Labor has been calling for consistently.

But my view is whether itís legal or not legal - juryís still out on that point - the decision is wrong. Itís wrong, and thatís why Iím opposed to it. We should not be..

LAURIE OAKES:

You say the..

SIMON CREAN:

..going in to war..

LAURIE OAKES:

You say the juryís out..

SIMON CREAN:

..against Iraq..

SIMON CREAN:

But Michael Costello, who was Kim Beasleyís chief of staff - your predecessor - he was the head of the Foreign Affairs Department, a former member of the Office of National Assessments, ONA, he says itís quite clear that an invasion would be illegal under resolution 678 of the United Nations from 1990, which authorised all necessary means to be used to achieve the aim, and that applies to the current resolution. Do you think Michael Costello doesnít know what heís talking about?

SIMON CREAN:

No, I donít say that at all. He may well be right. I just donít know the final answer to that, Laurie, and thatís why weíre taking further advice on it. The simple point I make is, whether itís legal or not, the key issue today is is it right to do it? And my argument is no, itís not. It is the wrong decision to go to war, because there are alternatives.

The Prime Ministerís produced no evidence to make the link. He canít justify it under the alliance alone, and spent very little time defending that position on Thursday, and there is an alternative. Thatís the key point. The alternative is still to pursue the diplomatic means. The means that are working because of the buildup of pressure by the United States, and the process of diplomacy.

The saying to Saddam - saying to Saddam Hussein, you do have to comply with resolution 1441. We have unanimously determined it. I think the most significant development in this whole disarmament debate for Iraq was the unanimity with which resolution 1441 was carried. If it was carried unanimously, there is an obligation on the part of the member states to see it carried through.

The difference is, most of them believe it can be carried through with more time, more weapons inspectors, and achieving the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. And they are right in that regard. To argue that we should cut that option off at the moment, and go to war regardless, is the wrong decision.

LAURIE OAKES:

Mr Crean, weíre out of time. We thank you.

SIMON CREAN:

Thank you, Laurie.

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