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Crean Says Howard Failed To Make Case For War

March 14, 2003

Simon Crean, Leader of the Opposition This is the text of the press conference held by the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean.

Today was a critical day for the nation, but a sad day, a day in which the Prime Minister was supposed to make the case for war and failed. But a sad day, because he's failed to tell the truth to the Australian public about what our commitment to war is. The Prime Minister had promised to produce evidence that would establish the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. No such evidence was forthcoming. The Prime Minister refused to answer the question as to whether Australia would got to war with the US, without UN authority.

And the Prime Minister failed to make any mention whatsoever of the significant progress that has been made through the United Nations by the weapons inspectors. There's no graver decision that a Prime Minister can make than to commit our young men and women in the fighting forces to a war – and that's what he's done, but he hasn't told them.

Unlike George Bush and Tony Blair, who have actually said they are prepared to go to war, the Prime Minister still hasn't told the truth about our commitment. Today's speech was a rehash of all of the assertions, but we saw none of the evidence. If you're going to send our young men and women to the front line, if you're going to ask them to put their lives at risk, it has to be based on fact. It has to be based on the evidence. You have to be convinced there is no other choice. And yet the Prime Minister has made no argument in relation to any of those points.

On the link between al Qaeda and Iraq, none has been established. Nothing came forward from the Prime Minister today. We have seen a member of MrHoward's own advice team, the Office of National Assessments, resign in protest at the Government's actions in this regard, with him asserting no such link exists.

We have seen the same person say that there is no threat by Saddam Hussein in using the weapons of mass destruction to attack a country. He will only use them to defend himself. But that's not just Mr Wilkie saying it. That's also the advice that has come from the director of the CIA, Mr Tenet.

Now, if these are the assertions that the Prime Minister relies upon, they're not good enough. If he's going to commit our young men and women to war, he needs to do it with stronger evidence than that. If he's committing them to a war on those facts, he's placing their lives at risk where it could have been avoided.

I ask you to remember what the weapons inspectors have determined. They've determined that substantial progress has been made in the disarmament of Iraq. If the weapons inspectors are doing their job, let them complete the task. Let's avoid the war, and secure the peace. All the Prime Minister's done today is give no further information, and he's failed the truth test: he's not been truthful with the Australian public – more importantly, the troops that he's committed to war – about what that commitment is.

This isn't just a sad day for the country it's a day of disgrace in which our Prime Minister has been involved.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, should Australians see today as a make-or-break case for the Prime Minister's arguments?

CREAN:

The Prime Minister hasn't made the case; the Prime Minister has never made the case. But the Prime Minister has been locked in, like an Exocet missile, to doing whatever the US asks of him. He's got no way out, and yet he hasn't told the Australian public, or the troops he's committed, that he's made that commitment.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe that the Prime Minister is starting to get cold feet over this whole exercise?

CREAN:

We have to make sure he does. We have to ensure that, as humiliating as it might be, he's got to say to the President of the United States, ‘Our troops are not in. The case hasn't been made. More time should be given to the weapons inspectors, and we've got to allow the United Nations processes to work.' That's what the Prime Minister must be saying, and that will show courage as well as leadership. What we've had is a Prime Minister who's been a follower of the US, not a leader in terms of our nation's interests.

JOURNALIST:

Re the moves to disarm Iraq, what more evidence is needed?

CREAN:

Well, Iraq has to be disarmed – there is no question about that. The issue is the means by which you achieve it. There are two options. One is to allow the United Nations processes to continue, and that's the option we must follow. The other option is to ignore the UN processes, ignore the substantial progress, ignore the report of the weapons inspectors, and say regardless of any of that, ‘We are going to war through a US attack'.

That's the wrong way, the completely wrong way to go. What our Prime Minister must do in the interests of this nation is to take the correct course. And the correct course is to get behind the UN processes and the peaceful disarmament Iraq –not go along to a Press Club and continue to mount the case for war when he's got no evidence to justify it and when the peaceful alternative can still be secured.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard said today it's unAustralian to sit on the sidelines with what is happening. What would you say to that?

CREAN:

What is unAustralian is committing our young men and women to a war that can be avoided. It's not only unAustralian, it's poor leadership. Every effort has to be taken to keep them from the front line if that can happen. Clearly, that can happen. It can happen with more persistence, more determination, and more time. And that's what the Prime Minister must back, because that is the Australian way.

JOURNALIST:

The Prime Minister said it comes to a matter of judgement; that there will never be proof beyond ‘reasonable doubt'. Do you think there [inaudible]

CREAN:

No one is asking here for proof beyond a reasonable doubt; they're just asking for some proof – and there has been no proof established. Not one skerrick of proof has been shown by the Prime Minister to link Iraq with al Qaeda. And, yet, that's the basis for his argument – that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, terrorist organisations want them, therefore proof beyond reasonable doubt. Nonsense! There's no such connection at all, and the Prime Minister has failed to make it.

And the point I make to you is that, this just isn't just a debating point. On this judgement hangs the lives of Australian men and women in our fighting forces. On this judgement hangs the commitment that the Prime Minister has made to their involvement in a war. That requires substantial proof, substantial evidence, and of being convinced that there's no alternative.

We've got no proof, no evidence and we do have an alternative. And the alternative is: more time for the weapons inspectors; and the UN process to be allowed to complete its task – and by that to avoid a war. And if we can avoid a war to secure the peace, that's the option we have to pursue. That's leadership, and that's the Australian way.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, can I ask you very briefly about the waste repository in South Australia?

CREAN:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Our reading of it is that you would be prepared to go back to square one to examine all options, all possible sites?

CREAN:

What we've got to do is to exhaust the mechanism that I put in place back in '92, a mechanism that has not been pursued by the current Federal Government with any vigour at all, or with any rigour. Now I have said – and said in ‘92 – we needed a national repository for nuclear waste. On that I got the agreement of every State Government in the country – most of them Coalition Governments at the time.

We had to embark on a process that identified potential sites, but we couldn't impose those sites – that we had to bring the communities with us. We had to base it on all of the scientific facts; we had to engage in serious dialogue and consultation. That process has failed, because the Government hasn't embarked upon it.

Now, so far as the Government's decision, the Federal Government's decision to establish the waste dump here, I oppose it for three reasons: 1) the consultations hasn't happened; 2) the Environmental Impact Statement doesn't support the sites; and 3) South Australia, quite frankly, has had its fair share of nuclear waste.

And I was responsible, again as the Minister back in '91-92, for the Maralinga clean-up. I was prepared to go and get the British Government to put additional resources in to securing the safety of that site. I was prepared to negotiate with the Tjarutja people and their community about the treatment and the safe rehabilitation of the site. That's the correct way to do it, and it hasn't happened.

JOURNALIST:

So you're saying that only if the recipients want it, then they get it? If you don't want it, you don't get it?

CREAN:

I'm saying that what you have to do is bring the community with you in this debate. There's a recognition that there's a problem. There is waste; it has to be stored. But you've got to do that in a sensible, consultative way – not in an imposed way. And I think that this case here has demonstrated that if you try to impose it, it won't happen. And it won't solve the problem.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, will you be pursuing the Federal Government to start this process again?

CREAN:

Of course I will. Of course I will. But more importantly, had Labor still been the Government we would have pursued it. And I'm convinced that we could have got a satisfactory outcome.

JOURNALIST:

Practically, how can you make that occur, though? How can you …

CREAN:

Well, we will continue to pressure them. So, too, will the State Government here, no doubt. But the Federal Government has to face up to its responsibilities. And it just can't take the view that simply because it's come to the view, that it's the correct one. It's got to go through the process. It's failed it and, therefore, it's not made its case.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Crean, you said there were eight separate sites that were being considered for repositories – three of those in South Australia. Are you ruling out those three sites in South Australia, leaving those five other sites, or what is your position?

CREAN:

I'm saying that there should not be a repository, a national repository, based in South Australia. And I'm saying, get back to the process that hasn't been followed since 1992, and find a lasting solution to this problem. It's a process I set in train. It's something I would like to see concluded.

Thanks very much.

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