20 March 2023


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:12): I begin by acknowledging all Australian servicemen and servicewomen who served in Iraq and who continue to serve in Iraq—those who have paid a price and for their service and particularly the families of those who have paid that price. We thank you for your service, we acknowledge your contribution and we pay tribute to the work you have done. You should know that it is valued, notwithstanding some of the debates that ensue around that conflict and war. I want to also acknowledge the Iraqi people and all those who served alongside—those who have suffered and those who have felt loss. That is significant, and that is a loss that we should recognise, and we should recognise the pain and suffering that that caused in so many cases. But loss is of course not something the Iraqi people were immune to prior to this war and this conflict. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a leader who showed complete—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I cannot believe that the Australian Greens are seeking to argue with that point. Let me state it again: Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a world leader who showed complete disregard for lives, for human rights, and for international laws and rules. He was a leader who used chemical and biological weapons—poison gas—against neighbouring countries, against his own citizens, against the Kurdish people.

Whatever the attempts to form a black-and-white view of right or wrong, of war or conflict, some facts and realities should stand in relation to what Saddam Hussein, his dictatorship and his regime undertook. He didn’t just use those biological and chemical weapons against his own people. He maintained, when the international community sought to scrutinise that, a deliberate ambiguity around whether he continued to hold those weapons. He deliberately sought to lure other nations into believing he continued to have them and would use them, as he had sought to do so in the past. He also led a regime that sponsored suicide bombers. He led a regime that was recognised as a state sponsor of terrorism. He was responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people. The world and Iraq are better off for being rid of Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship. That is not to say that there are no lessons that can be learned. There are always lessons to learn. Those lessons go to the intelligence and analysis available and how that is scrutinised in the future. They have been widely debated and canvassed over the two decades since the war commenced.

However, it’s important that we do recognise Iraq today as a democracy, not a perfect one but one where the Iraqi people, as is acknowledged by many experts in the field, have more say over their future than they did 20 years ago. Where their rights are far from universally respected, there is better regard than there was 20 years ago. Calls to remove the remaining assistance from the ADF deployment or otherwise from Iraq would be to show disregard for the advances that have been made during that time. The Greens are misplaced in arguing that we should bring the remaining personnel home. We should be showing support to work with the democratically elected government of Iraq, to work with the people of Iraq, to ensure that the sense of greater stability, the improvement in standards and the development in relation to their democracy is supported and underpinned at this critical time as best as we possibly can.

I lastly turn to the arguments advanced by the Greens. They’re not contained in the motion they have sought to have debated about the decision-making processes and the powers of executive government. It remains the position of the coalition that the executive government of the day should have authority in relation to troop and personnel deployments. Our system is one where there is immense scrutiny of decisions made by government. But we should enable governments to exercise those powers under the appropriate scrutiny, transparency and accountability of parliamentary democracy.