MARK DAVIS: Senator Hill, from today’s speech, it would seem there’s not going to be much that will stop George Bush from invading Iraq.
Is there anything that can stop us from joining with him?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL, DEFENCE MINISTER: Well, in relation to the first point you make, what will stop him would be if Saddam Hussein disarms. But what I heard President Bush say was that after 12 years of deception, there seems to be little chance that that’s going to occur. In relation to Australia, our position is that it’s important that the Security Council resolution is upheld. It is important that he be disarmed and the threat, therefore, removed. And we support the UN process in that objective.
MARK DAVIS: Well, given what the Security Council has to work from, which is essentially at the moment the weapons inspectors’ report. That report is at best ambiguous. It certainly hasn’t backed up the major allegations that the Americans have been making for the past 12 months. What information have you been relying upon for your decisions?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well, your interpretation of the Blix report is not mine. I heard him say that they are not receiving the level of cooperation, the cooperation on matters of substance, that they would need to indicate to the international community that he was prepared to cooperate.
MARK DAVIS: The US case for war to many countries of the world, has not been persuasive. The President today referred to internal intelligence, which they’re now planning on releasing, which is of a more persuasive nature. Have you seen that intelligence?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well, I’ve seen a lot of material, but it tends to reinforce what I also saw in the Blix report. As you recall, Mr Blix’s concern was that we have known that he has had the weapons of mass destruction – there’s no dispute about that.
MARK DAVIS: Yeah, but there is dispute about that, though. I think that’s the essential issue at the moment – there is dispute.
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Oh, no, no. No, there’s not. No, we’ve known he’s had the large quantities of chemical weapons and the precursors for other chemical weapons. What Saddam Hussein has said is that he’s now destroyed those. But he won’t indicate to the inspectors how he’s destroyed them, or where he’s destroyed them, or provide access to those who have supposed to have destroyed them. And that’s why Mr Blix has no alternative to say to the Security Council he’s not receiving the substantial cooperation that he needs.
MARK DAVIS: Well, prior to the Blix report, what evidence were you relying upon before you made the decision to deploy Australian troops?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well, we start from the premise, which is the international community’s premise, that he is in material breach. You know, there are 16 separate Security Council resolutions of which he is currently in breach. And 1441 was really a final chance for him to actually now comply with this demand. Despite the fact of 12 years of trying, this was one last opportunity for him.
MARK DAVIS: Well, if the US Government has been sharing internal intelligence with other governments, presumably with Australia, and also presumably with the French and the Germans, clearly the French and the Germans have been very underwhelmed by that information. Has it been of a more persuasive nature to you?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well, the French and the Germans are still saying “Give him more time.” And our view on that is really more time will only be worthwhile if he is prepared to change his attitude. And if he hasn’t changed it in 12 years, and if there’s no sign that he is going to change it, what benefit flows from more time?
MARK DAVIS: But if the Security Council does not wish to take any further action, certainly doesn’t approve of any military action and the Americans do, are we with the Americans? It’s crunch time now for you and for us.
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: The inspectors’ report has come in. It has indicated that it has not received the substantial cooperation that it needs. The Security Council has been briefed privately and about to be briefed privately a second time. And now there’s going to be a process of debate. And out of that, the Security Council must determine how it’s going to enforce its resolution.
MARK DAVIS: Yes, but if it doesn’t, if it doesn’t seek to enforce the resolution and America goes to war, are we with them, or is the decision whether we go to war still lying with us?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: But what I’m saying to you is I don’t think it will be as clear-cut as that in the sense that the Security Council won’t decide nothing…
MARK DAVIS: President Bush was pretty clear-cut today. He’s going ahead whether the allies like it, whether the UN likes it, if he perceives it to be against America’s interest.
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: The Australian position is that Saddam Hussein should be disarmed, preferably peaceably. The Australian position is that it should be pursued through the Security Council and that the Security Council should meet its responsibility. And that’s where we are at the moment. And we look forward to that debate occurring, and we trust that the Security Council will meet its collective obligation, and that Saddam Hussein will be disarmed.
MARK DAVIS: Just quickly, why have American officials been quoting Australia as willing to join a coalition to invade Iraq? Essentially your government has been saying that’s not the position, we have not made that decision. Have you complained to the US Administration officials about Australia being quoted in this manner?
SENATOR ROBERT HILL: If Donald Rumsfeld said Australia is part of an international community that is determined to see Saddam Hussein disarmed and the threat removed and determined to see the Security Council meet its full responsibility, then I agree with what he’s saying.
MARK DAVIS: Thanks for joining us on Dateline, Senator Hill.