(House Hansard, 16 June 2003)
Mr RUDD (2.56 p.m.) — My question is to the Prime Minister and it concerns Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. I ask whether the Prime Minister recalls his statement of 30 May on radio when he said:
... they’ve certainly found and pretty clearly established to the satisfaction of the American agencies, that those trailers, two of them, were production facilities for biological weapons ...
Further, does he recall his statement on radio on 4 June when he referred to:
... those two trailers, which clearly were connected with biological weapons.
Is the Prime Minister now aware of a report in yesterday’s London Observer which said —
Mr Downer interjecting —
Mr RUDD — Settle down, Alex. The report said:
An official British investigation into two trailers found in northern Iraq has concluded they are not mobile germ warfare labs ... but were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons.
Does the Prime Minister today still stand by the accuracy of his 30 May and 4 June statements to the Australian people that these two trailers were part of an Iraqi biological weapons program?
Mr HOWARD — I thank the member for Griffith for his question. I assume that the report attributed to the London Observer is of a piece with the report in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning which says the same thing.
Mr Rudd — Only more extensive, Prime Minister.
Mr HOWARD — It sounds as though it says the same thing. As a result of reading that report, I had some investigations made through the Office of National Assessments, and I have been informed as follows.
United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies have concluded that at least one of the three vehicle trailers found in Iraq is a mobile biological weapons production facility and closely matches the description given to the United Nations Security Council in February by the Secretary of State.
Let me take the opportunity of saying this to the member for Griffith and to all members of this House: I, and the government I lead, remain intensely proud of what Australia did in relation to Iraq. I do not in any way retreat from the justification that I provided on behalf of the government for our entry into the war against Iraq. The legal justification for that entry was, of course, the noncompliance by Iraq with UN Security Council resolutions. I also sought — to a lesser degree but, nonetheless, importantly — to justify our involvement in terms of the importance and the centrality of the American alliance.
I note also, relevantly, that yesterday on the Channel 10 program the member for Brand expressed the view that perhaps in the end evidence of weapons of mass destruction would be found, which seems to run a little counter to the cacophony coming from the current frontbench of the Labor Party. I go on to say that I remain confident that the coalition’s investigations will uncover the full extent of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs. Patience is needed as the process of investigating more than 1,000 suspect sites will take time. It will also require time to encourage the Iraqis involved in the program to come forward.
The intelligence community in Australia was firm in its assessments of Iraq’s WMD status. The Office of National Assessments remains confident in the judgment that there was a WMD capability in Iraq in the lead-up to the war and is continuing to assess the scope and the nature of that capability in the light of post-conflict investigations. Let me repeat: this country did the right thing in joining the Americans in waging war against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Those from the opposition who now seek to denigrate what this government and this country do are, in effect, calling for the restoration of Saddam Hussein as the ruler of Iraq.