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S2004/06 - Senate Hansard - Latham's troop withdrawal plan -MATTERS OF URGENCY: Australian Defence Force: Deployment

Senator BOSWELL (Queensland—Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (4.12 p.m.) —I support the Prime Minister's motion in the other house—and the amendment that Senator Hill will be moving in the Senate today—as it is the only motion that expresses absolute confidence in and appreciation of the Australian Defence Force and says that we will be there to finish the job. On 18 March, Mr Latham said, `If the federal election is held in September and there was a change of government, we would be hoping to have the troops back by Christmas.' There were no caveats that we would leave some people there—that we would leave forces there to protect the embassy and do other things. It was a completely unilateral decision to remove all troops from Iraq. What message does that send to terrorists? Go in, kill 200 people, bomb people in Bali and in America, blow buildings up, hijack planes and you will be rewarded. Australian people will be frightened. The going will get tough and the Australians will run. Mr Latham, you have grossly underestimated what Australians think.

A poll reported in the Sydney Morning Herald today found that 61 per cent of people in Australia wanted to maintain troops in Iraq. If that poll had been taken in rural Australia, the approval rating would have been up to 95 per cent because people in rural Australia do not run. They depend on each other and their communities. They work together and do not quit until the job is done. I am surprised it is only 61 per cent. I would have thought 95 per cent of people would say that if you bow, if you submit, if you say peace in our time then you are running up the white flag; you are saying Australians are cowards. Australians are not cowards. They will not be beaten into submission. They will hold the line. They will stay there until the job is done. I want to quote Mr Jack Straw, who eloquently said:

So, we walk out of Iraq, abandon Afghanistan. Does anyone think that this would satisfy their appetite? Of course not. Their appetite would simply be whetted, for it is insatiable.

No-one could say it better than that. But Mr Latham, following his ideologue and mentor, Gough Whitlam, thought he would hop on the bandwagon. He thought it worked for Gough Whitlam when he brought the troops home from Vietnam. So he decided on the spot that it would be a great idea—he had not had a bit of publicity for a while, he wanted a bit of populism and he found that this was one way he could get attention. He got attention all right. He stepped right over the mark. But what he did show Australians was that he would be a very dangerous person to be in charge of this nation. He showed very distinctively that this nation would be put at risk.

When you reward terrorism you actually invite more terrorism. That is what Mr Latham has done. On top of that, I think Mr Latham has threatened Australia's reputation as a proud nation—a nation that is prepared to stand and fight cruelty and injustice. Australian soldiers are respected all over the world. Mr Latham has shown that he does not want that respect for our Australian soldiers. We know that when the going gets tough we stick in there. We undertook to help the Iraqis. We said that we would stay there and do the job—we would not rat on them, we would not walk out on them. Now Mr Latham is saying that we will cut and run, that we will walk away, that we do not care what happens to them. Imagine if every one of the Poles, the Japanese, the English and the Canadians all walked away. What a mess that would leave Iraq in.

There really is no alternative but to support the foreshadowed amendment that will be moved by Senator Hill, the Leader of the Government in the Senate. We may have had differences over whether we should be in Iraq. I can see the arguments in that, although I do not support them—I always thought we should be there. But there is no argument that the opposition and the crossbenchers can construct that we should walk away from a people that are getting bombed and shot at and who need our support. You could say that we could bring back Saddam Hussein, because that is what would happen. Some other cruel dictator would crawl to the top. We have got to stay there until democracy is returned, until there is a credible business sector where people can make a living and until farming is developed so that they can feed themselves. We took this job on and I am very sorry that the opposition, the alternative government, have shown that they want to reward cowardice, that they want to reward the terrorists for carrying out their acts of terrorism. They want to say to them, `Good job. You've killed 200 people in Spain. You've killed 80 people in—

Senator Chris Evans —You ought to give it away, Bossie.

Senator BOSWELL —No, I should not give it away. I know this is embarrassing you. This is what the people of Australia are saying: you are rewarding terrorism. It might be hurtful to you, but that is what the people are saying out there. That is why 61 per cent of the people of Australia said, `Leave the troops there. Do the job, protect the people and don't walk away from them.' You go out there and ask them. If you can put any other construction on it I would be very surprised and so would the people of Australia.