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John Hewson Criticises Howard Iraq Policy

March 11, 2003

Dr. John Hewson, former leader of the Liberal Party The former leader of the Liberal Party, Dr. John Hewson, has attacked the Federal Government's policy on Iraq in a remarkable interview that has received little coverage in the mainstream media.

Dr. Hewson, leader of the Liberal Party from 1990 to 1994, was interviewed on SBS television by Lee Lin Chin. Amongst other things, Hewson called the Australian commitment of troops to the Middle East as "ridiculous", and said John Howard "has no idea where he's taking us".

Hewson said Australia was losing sight of its role in the region and becoming a terrorism target. "And to make us a terrorist target in a region that is full of terrorism is dumb and unforgiveable."

Predicting dissension within government ranks, Hewson said "at some point somebody is going to have to have the bloody guts to stand up and say that."


This is the transcript of comments by John Hewson, speaking on SBS news, March 11, 2003.

Hewson:

Look I've been arguing this for months. This is not our war. This is not a war we should be in. This could explode into a middle east conflict of some significance. Australia's better spending its time negotiating with North Korea to try and get a solution in our region. But to send our troops, our ships, our planes to this war is ridiculous.

Chin:

Why do you think John Howard has got himself so involved in this campaign?

Hewson:

Who knows what goes on in John Howard's mind. His middle name is Winston - I guess there is an element of that. But I think he thinks its good politics. I think however to be fair to him I think he's genuine. I think he feels that we need to be there and we need to do this for the alliance with the United States. But I've got to tell you, I don't think the US alliance is worth this. I think we would still have a very strong alliance if we weren't there. Being a lap-dog to the United States or as he says, deputy-sherrif to the United States is an outrageous concept - but that's where we are, unfortunately.

Chin:

You say the Prime Minister has embarked on a journey with no idea where he's taking the country. What do you mean by that?

Hewson:

I think the Prime Minister has embarked on a journey and he has no idea where he's taking us - because I don't think his people think this through. If its a quick, clean war which is hard to believe, but let's say it was - I suppose public opinion would swing behind him. But the reality is I guess it will be a significant conflict going for many, many months, if not longer. Saddam Hussein is not a fool. He hasn't been sitting there waiting to get shot for thirteen years. The fact is he's got a view, he's got a strategy. And I'm sure he'll implement that strategy and it would be to our detriment. So we're embarking on an exercise about which we know nothing. We don't know where its going to go. It could take weeks, it could take months, it could take years. It's not just the war itself. It's what you do after the war and what structure you put in place and how you make that structure work. He's leading us on a journey that he knows nothing about.

Chin:

In your opinion what is all of this doing to Australia's reputation abroad?

Hewson:

I'm concerned about a number of things. One is, we've lost sight of our role in the region and our view of our colleagues in the region. I think we sell ourselves enormously short in the region, in our Asia Pacific region, by taking this unequivocal supportive stand of the United States and that is a major failing I think. And we've made ourselves a terrorist target. Like it or not, we are a terrorist target now. We are one of the top two or three in this thing - the US, the UK and us. And to make us a terrorist target in a region that is full of terrorism is dumb and unforgiveable.

Chin:

Why is it that the ruling party here is devoid of dissent on this issue, unlike any other ruling party across the world which is playing a part in this war? Is there no one in the Parliamentary Liberal Party opposed to this war?

Hewson:

I know there are a lot of people in the Party and in the Cabinet and in the Ministry who are opposed to this. They are more or less intimidated by John Howard and the way he runs the place and they don't want to speak out. But I don't think we are too far away from people speaking out. Tony Blair will probably get thrown out by his party. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a movement in due course within the Liberal Party and within the National Party to throw these people out. I mean this is not in our best interests and at some point somebody is going to have to have the bloody guts to stand up and say that.

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