Howard and Latham face off over troops in Iraq

Mr Howard has also accused Mr Latham of falsely claiming that the shadow cabinet had agreed a year ago on a policy to bring the troops home by Christmas.

The government used its numbers in the House of Representatives to delay Question Time and bring on a debate on the issue.

Mr Howard cited advice from a number of senior Defence Department and intelligence officials that Mr Latham had not received a substantive briefing about the Australian troops in Iraq.

‘He’s now trying to pretend that some incidental reference to Iraq in the context of a proper, routine briefing about intelligence services represents a bona fide pursuit of advice as to whether or not our troops should remain deployed in Iraq. This Leader of the Opposition should correct the record. He should withdraw the claims he’s made in this parliament. He should not compound bad policy with misleading the Australian public.’

Mr Latham denied making misleading statements either about Labor policy, or about the intelligence briefings he’d received.

He referred in particular to a briefing from a deputy secretary of the Defence Department Ron Bonighton after Australian and other troops in Iraq had failed to find any weapons of mass destruction.

‘I walked away from that briefing knowing and understanding that the government’s policy in Iraq was a fiasco, was an absolute fiasco. And what’s more, I concluded that the faster that Australia could get out of Iraq, the better. In response to that policy fiasco, in response to the problems that the government caused in relation to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the sooner Australia could get out of Iraq the better. ‘

Mr Howard’s motion accusing Mr Latham of misleading the House was passed along party lines.

In the Senate, the Defence Minister Robert Hill said Labor’s stance on Iraq makes no sense and a decision to withdraw the troops is based on ignorance.

Senator Hill claims Mark Latham has no idea about just how vital the Australian troops’ role is in Iraq.

He says Airforce crews have carried thousands of passengers and tens of thousands of tonnes of cargo and that other troops are helping to rebuild the country.

He says he’s at a loss to understand why Mr Latham wants to bring them home before their work is finished.

‘These Australians are performing a first-class function in Iraq. So Mr President, so the Labor party position is: Australian troops are playing a critical role, they are doing a first class job but let’s bring them home before the job is finished. Mr President it makes no sense. It makes no sense.’

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