12 June 2003

Howard speeches on WMDs
From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Four months ago, on February 4, John Howard made a ministerial statement to Parliament lasting an hour. He began: "My purpose today is to explain why Iraq's defiance of the UN and its possession of chemical and biological weapons and its pursuit of a nuclear capability poses a real threat to the stability and security of our world ..."

On March 12, Howard announced, in a national television address: "The Government has decided to commit forces to action to disarm Iraq. We are determined to join other countries to deprive Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons capable of causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale ..."

On March 20, the day of the US-led invasion of Iraq, Howard told Parliament: "We have made a very strong commitment to disarming Iraq. We have done [so] because we believe it is in Australia's long-term national interest. We do worry about the ultimate and fateful coming together of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism."

On April 10, the day Baghdad fell, Howard told reporters: "I've said all along we wouldn't expect to get hard evidence of chemical and biological weapons until well after hostilities ceased. They've been obviously passed around and hidden."

Howard told Parliament on May 14: "Australia did the right thing. We brought freedom and liberty to an oppressed people. That is something about which we should always be properly and eternally proud." And Iraq's supposed chemical and biological weapon stockpiles? Howard, amid a brief reference well down in a 40-minute speech: "The hunt for these weapons will not be easy ..."

After a six-week recess Parliament resumed on May 13 for the budget. Iraq remained all-but ignored. Three weeks of sittings were dominated by the Hollingworth serial and Labor's leadership pantomime. Labor's Harry Jenkins (Vic) told the House a week ago: "There has been an eerie silence on Iraq since this Parliament reconvened - only two speeches [by Howard and Simon Crean]. If you compare this to the lengthy debates [before the invasion] you will see how ironic the silence is."

Labor's Kevin Rudd asked the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, the next day about US and British intelligence failures in the assessment of stockpiled Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, now a major issue in London and Washington. Downer replied, stoically: "[Australian intelligence assessments] remain confident in the judgement that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction materials and capability in the lead-up to the war. Over time - we have to be patient - we will get a comprehensive picture of Saddam Hussein's weapons program."

I am glad the federal opposition could find time to put down one (count it) one question on the issue of WMDs.

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