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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20529

Address to the National Press Club The Great Hall, Parliament House

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/03/2003

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 20529

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.

The issue of Iraq is challenging, difficult and perplexing. It is an issue that I know has produced divided responses not only in Australia but around the world and that is perhaps not surprising because in many respects, how to respond to Iraq in the current circumstances is the very first test for the world in the new international circumstances in which we find ourselves as a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States on the 11th of September, which have so changed not only the attitude of Americans towards their security but how other liberal democracies must view security issues around the world.

The response to that terrorist attack, of course, was relatively clear-cut in terms of public opinion. This is more challenging and more perplexing. And I want to say immediately that I understand why some of my fellow Australians do not agree with the stance that the Government has taken. I respect their view but in return I ask them to respect and understand the depth of feeling and commitment that I have to the policy the Government has embarked upon, the sense of concern I have for the security of this country in the medium to longer-term if the twin evils of the spread of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism are not confronted and are not effectively dealt with. It is an issue that goes to the very heart of national leadership and it's an issue that requires and summons all of us to give very deep thought and very serious consideration.

We believe that it is very much in the national interest of Australia that Iraq have taken from her her chemical and biological weapons and denied the possibility of ever having nuclear weapons. Not only is it inherently dangerous for a country such as Iraq with its appalling track record to have these weapons but if Iraq is allowed to get away with it other rogue States will believe they can do the same because they will have seen a world effectively stand by and allow it to happen. And as these dangerous weapons spread so the risk that they may fall into the hands of terrorists will multiply. And if terrorists ever get their hands on weapons of mass destruction that will, in my very passionate belief and argument, constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people, and that would be the ultimate nightmare not only for us but for other peoples in other nations. That, more than anything else, is the reason why we have taken the stance we have and it's the reason why we believe that Iraq should be effectively and comprehensively disarmed.

Of course our alliance with the United States is also a factor, unapologetically so. America has given very strong leadership to the world on the issue of Iraq. Let us be honest, this issue would not be back before the Security Council now were it not for the United States. The Security Council would not have become re-energised at the task of disarming Iraq had it not been for the United States. Alliances are two-way processes and our alliance with the United States is no exception and Australians should always remember that no nation is more important to our long-term security than that of the United States.

Terrorist groups want weapons of mass destruction. Of that there can be little doubt. Australian intelligence agencies, including ONA, judge that Al Qaida has demonstrated the intention to acquire or develop chemical and biological weapons and an interest in radiological and nuclear weapons. This judgement reflects the intelligence community's professional assessment and is based on the full range of intelligence material available. But it is not just secret intelligence that leads to this assessment. Information in the public domain indicates that Al Qaida has made repeated attempts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear materials and capabilities over almost a decade.

Bin Laden has on numerous occasions made statements about the desirability of acquiring these types of weapons. In a January 1999 interview he described the acquisition of chemical and nuclear weapons as a

Transcript 20529