Response to Prime Ministers Statement –Iraq   5th February 2003:

Mr GIBBONS  (Bendigo) (8.41 p.m.) –I will begin by informing the House that a large crowd of around 1,000 people attended a peace rally in Bendigo last Friday. This clearly shows the depth of feeling against war by people from central Victoria of all age groups and all backgrounds. Labor’s position, as outlined by the opposition leader earlier today, has been consistent since April last year.

Labor say that there should be no military action to disarm Iraq without the authority of the United Nations. Labor will support any decision of the United Nations Security Council to enforce resolution 1441 in the event of Iraqi non-compliance, and Labor will not support a US unilateral attack on Iraq. The Prime Minister claims that no decision to participate in a war against Iraq has been taken, yet he has sent 2,000 defence personnel to the Persian Gulf region. Labor oppose this dishonest deployment, which has occurred without consultation with the Australian people or this parliament.

Tonight we heard revelations about the admission by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, that Australia would prefer UN backing; however–and this was not a point that could be made publicly–Australia was not in a position, if the UN process broke down, to withdraw our ships and other presence from the Gulf. This would have to be the greatest act of deception ever perpetrated on the Australian people by a Commonwealth government.

We know that lying is an integral strategy of this Prime Minister; here we have clear evidence of deception, lying to the Australian people over such a sensitive area as sending defence personnel to a war against another country. This miserable excuse for a human being is not fit to be Prime Minister of this country.

Labor’s opposition to the decision to deploy troops is directed squarely at those responsible for it–the Prime Minister and this government–and not at the defence personnel involved. They are simply doing their job as directed by the government of the day. That is their task. Even if the decision to deploy them is wrong, as it is in this case, they are required to follow orders. If they are required to participate in any action against Iraq–UN-sanctioned or otherwise–then they are entitled to the full support of the Australian people, and Labor will ensure they get it.

Our argument is with the Howard government, not with our defence forces. We wish our defence force men and women well, and we wish them a speedy and safe return home to their families. It is deplorable that the Prime Minister of Australia is acting as a hitchhiker on the US road to war. A war on Iraq without UN authority is a US war that serves only the purposes of the Bush administration, and Australia should not be involved in it. Most, if not all, wars are immoral and this war would be particularly immoral. The Howard-Bush regime would have us believe that a strike against Iraq would assist in the campaign against global terrorism. It would not.

If we are fair dinkum about the fight against global terrorism, then we should at least attempt to address the global hatreds that fuel global terrorism. An attack on Iraq, whether or not it is sanctioned by the UN, must only increase the likelihood of further terrorist acts because it will inflame hatreds that have existed for many years. The military are quick to remind us that the strike against Iraq would be all over in about two weeks. They may be right. But the ramifications of such a strike are likely to be with us for many decades. Even peace-loving members of the Islamic community–and there are millions in that category–could regard an attack on Iraq, whether or not it is sanctioned by the UN, as an attack on all members of the Islamic faith, thereby fuelling the hatred that breeds international terrorism.

War should always be the instrument of last resort, but in this case it seems the United States cannot start one fast enough, and its excuses are seen to be little more than fig leaves to justify an attack on Iraq. There are times when war is necessary and cannot be avoided, but this is not one of those times. This is not a defensive war: there is no evident threat that Iraq will attack the United States and there is certainly no threat by Iraq that it will attack Australia.

The regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is a brutal and repressive dictatorship; it is one of the ugliest regimes that has afflicted this world. It does not hold free elections and would probably not survive a free election, but it was backed by the US during Iraq’s war with Iran and supported thereafter until Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. In fact, recent TV footage has reminded the world of the close ties the US developed with Iraq during its war with Iran: Donald Rumsfeld, the hawkish US Secretary of Defence of today, was pictured in friendly and comfortable circumstances at that time in Baghdad with Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was defeated in the Gulf War, and he has been weakened and kept contained ever since.

The UN weapons inspectors sent to Iraq last year have not completed their inspections. The rush to war cannot be justified. Nobody seems to be able to halt the US military juggernaut and the bellicose conservatives that have been running the US political system since the Supreme Court gave the presidency to George W. Bush. It seems there is no more chance for the world today to stop the US war on Iraq than there was in December 1941 for it to stop the Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbour.

An attempt is being made to manipulate the Security Council into war and into legitimising the war; it is being told by the US that the US will go to war regardless of the decisions of the Security Council. The Security Council is in effect being told by the United States that its function is to roll over and serve the purposes not of the world and international peace but of the Bush administration and its war.

The Prime Minister of Australia tells us that the UN Security Council must prove its relevance. What he really means is that it must be just a plaything of the United States. What he means is that he is happy to discredit the United Nations in the eyes of the rest of the world by making it not the voice of the world but the voice of the Bush administration.

Australia’s interests lie in a world order that is based on the United Nations; peace, harmony and cooperation; and the rule of international law. The UN, created in 1945, offers a far better prospect of world peace than the power play and self-interest of one domineering world power.

The principle of the UN’s existence means that there are rules for nations to live by, they are made by all nations for all nations and all nations have an interest in abiding by them. This is the world order that Australia needs and has a major interest in preserving. There is no question that, without the insistent pressure of the United States for action against Iraq, war with Iraq would not be on anybody’s agenda. Like the missiles that are already programmed for targets in Iraq, this war will bear the stamp `Made in the USA’.

I say this with much regret because I would rather see the United States play a positive role in the world, as it was playing recently during the Clinton administration. America can stand for much that is great and it has stood for much that is great. Regrettably, however, President Bush’s domineering manner and policies are squandering much of the goodwill and fellow feeling that other nations felt for the United States after the terrible terrorist attack of September 11 2001.

From its beginning the Bush administration has pursued a more narrow and more strident self-interest in world affairs that places the interests of America ahead of those of other nations. This is its policy of unilateralism. It is seen by many around the world as having exploited the dominance it has achieved with the end of the Cold War to push itself and its interests ahead, regardless of many of the major interests of other nations. Among those have been the US opposition to the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gases, the withdrawal of the US from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the pursuit of the `son of star wars’ missile defence system. Along with that has been an unwillingness to resolve major areas of tension in which the United States has been a player.

Instead it has branded so-called rogue states. It has portrayed these states–Iraq, Iran and North Korea–as an `axis of evil’. The United States has also proclaimed that it has the right to take pre-emptive military action against states that threaten its international dominance. Quite clearly, Iraq fits into this dangerous scheme, along with Iran and North Korea. Quite clearly, a war against Iraq fits into this aggressive attitude. I refer to General Peter Gration, who was the Chief of the Australian Defence Force during the Gulf War of 1991.

He stated his opposition to war against Iraq in an article in the Melbourne Age of 2 January this year:

……As 2003 dawns, the threat of a US-led war against Iraq looms over the world. The question for Australia is, should we take part? If we do, it will be the first time in our history that we have taken part in unprovoked offensive military action against another country.

……The war would be the first practical implementation of recently announced changes in US national security policy. This has moved from containment and deterrence to an open-ended doctrine of the right to pre-emptive strike if the US perceives a threat developing to its global supremacy.

…….In my view, this is bad policy that strikes at the very heart of efforts to create a rules-based international order, and can only lead to a less stable security environment and a marginalised UN.

……..If we go to war without UN endorsement, our actions as signatories of the UN Charter would, in effect, be illegal.

He concludes by putting the view that the alternative to war is:

… to continue to pursue the present course of action through the UN inspectors already in Iraq, even in the face of some Iraqi intransigence. This is likely to be a prolonged, frustrating and probably messy and untidy business, but in the end should be effective in removing the WMD and preventing their further development. (End quote)

I want to highlight my concern about the dangers of applying the idea of the right to a pre-emptive attack on another nation. The idea marks a massive move away from limiting and containing Iraq as a potential user of weapons of mass destruction. It goes further: to embracing an outright attack on a nation. It opens the door to worse instability and it places the interests of one nation far ahead of those of the world community. It weakens the United Nations. It puts the UN in the shocking position of either doing nothing while the pre-emptive attack is being planned and advocated or of taking sides with one great power and endorsing its belligerence.

One has to ask what the real intentions of the US are in its rush to attack Iraq. On the one hand the US says it wants to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. On the face of it that sounds reasonable, especially if it can be achieved with UN support, and without invading and bombing Iraq. On the other hand, however, the Bush administration has been trumpeting regime change in Iraq. Regime change by war is not part of international law. The doctrine means the US will overthrow the regime ruling Iraq, as it has said it would do, and it will do this by war. It will wage war whether it has the approval and support of the UN or not.

I have a lot more to say but I am going to run out of time. I will conclude with a remark in relation to the very successful peace rally that was held in Bendigo last Friday. I congratulate the organisers of that rally and those who attended. Certainly it drove home to me the depth of feeling there is in central Victoria, as indeed there is all over Australia, against any sort of war on Iraq and against Australia’s participation in it. As the Bendigo district people sang when they rallied against the war last Friday, it’s time to give peace a chance.