Alexander Downer as Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister in Australia made the following reply to a parliamentry question on 8 March 2005. The UK parliament packed in a shortly afterwards for electoral ppurposes on 11 April 2005 and I then stood down as an MP.
—My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister
inform the House of progress being made to establish a transitional
government in Iraq? Are there any alternative policies.
(Minister for Foreign Affairs) Let me thank the honourable member for Moore for his question and his
interest. The process now is that the transitional assembly is to meet
and a transitional government is to be formed by that transitional
assembly. Interim Deputy Prime Minister Salih said the Transitional
National Assembly would meet on 16 March. The reason 16 March was chosen
is that it is the anniversary of the chemical weapons attack against
Halabja by Saddam Hussein. So it is a very symbolic day. It is a very
important day for the Iraqis and it is a symbol of reconciliation in
that country. A two-thirds majority will be required in the National
Assembly to elect a president and two vice presidents, who will in turn
appoint a prime minister. That process is, of course, under way already
and it is very encouraging to see this democracy at work.
What is also encouraging is that there is now international
consensus. President Bush’s visit to Europe illustrated that point only
too clearly. The international community is getting right behind the
Iraqis in trying to ensure that the new democratic Iraq works. I was
quite interested to see that amongst those who were virulently opposed
to the original overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a British Labour MP
called Harry Barnes. Some members opposite may know Harry Barnes. Having
been a very passionate anti-war MP, he has now done the honourable
thing. He has set up a group called Labour Friends of Iraq. I would like
to feel that our own Labor Party could think about Labor friends of
Iraq as well, and take a leaf out of Harry Barnes’s book. Harry Barnes
I thought it was right to oppose the war. But
history moves on and the Iraqi people now have a golden opportunity to
take back their country and build a decent non-sectarian democracy ...
Here you have the British Labour Party, even the
anti-war dissidents within the government majority there, getting behind
the people of Iraq. Just about the only people left who are continually
harping on in a negative way about Iraq are the Australian Labor Party
led by the current Leader of the Opposition. Yesterday the Leader of the
Opposition made an 18-minute speech. It was another simple illustration
of his capacity to walk both sides of the street. It was a speech where
he said nothing positive about the Iraqi election. I think the only
thing he said about the election was that he thought it was flawed.
The European Union, the NATO leaders and the international community
all know that the Sunnis were intimidated in order to keep the turnout
low, but we are being positive and constructive about the future of
democracy in Iraq. The Leader of the Opposition apparently thinks that
the real issue here is that the country is about to descend into a civil
war. So let’s talk up that issue. He walks both sides of the street. He
said, in terms of Australia’s contribution, that he thinks the
maintenance of a strong position in the Persian Gulf is not an
unreasonable thing on a more long-term basis. So we should have
people—the Navy, I suppose—in the Persian Gulf in the long term.
But the Leader of the Opposition also said in the same speech that we
should not commit ourselves permanently outside of the Asia-Pacific
region. We should have the Navy there but we should not have the Army
there! We should be there; we should not be there! He had a new
criticism which was that when the al-Sadr forces were in revolt there
was a need to increase our deployment in Iraq. But with Iraq so much
quieter now he thinks that we should have increased our troop numbers
earlier. And maybe having increased them earlier we should reduce them.
He makes the argument that we do not have enough troops there—450 is not
enough! We need more troops there but we should not have troops there
at all! I think the Labor Party in Australia should follow the lead of
Harry Barnes. They should get behind the Iraqi people, set up a new
group called ‘Labor friends for Iraq’—not ‘Gough Whitlam in Blues Point
Tower friends for Iraq’—and get behind the Iraqi people and support
democracy. On this side of the House that is what we do.