Labor pledges intelligence inquiry

By Mark Forbes
The Age
August 23, 2004

A Labor government would hold a full judicial inquiry into Australia's intelligence agencies, investigating allegations of political manipulation of pre-war Iraq assessments, the "children overboard" controversy and ASIO's counter-terrorism ability.

The inquiry, to be the most wide-ranging since the 1986 Hope Royal Commission, would also compare intelligence received before the Bali bombings with advice the Government issued to travellers.

The senior frontbenchers who make up the Opposition's national security committee agreed to launch the inquiry after meeting former intelligence chief Philip Flood 10 days ago to discuss his report on Australia's intelligence performance.

The Flood Report called for greater accountability of intelligence agencies, criticised failures in identifying the threat posed by Jemaah Islamiah, and found that the Government had based its case for war on Iraq on ambiguous and incomplete information.

Prime Minister John Howard attacked the move, saying it was unnecessary "because there have been multiple inquiries already".

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said significant gaps in the intelligence system had been exposed or ignored by previous inquiries, and required more investigation.

Since the Hope Royal Commission, Australia's strategic environment and the threats to its security had changed, he said. There had been no review of ASIO's counter-terrorism performance in almost 20 years.

The inquiry would also look at allegations that Australian agents used dirty tricks against people smuggling operations in Indonesia and elsewhere.

It would also investigate the use of Office of National Assessment's classified reports - particularly Mr Howard's use of a classified ONA report to support false claims children were thrown overboard by asylum seekers in 2001.

What the Government told the public about the extent of Iraq's WMD capability and the likelihood of it providing such weapons to terrorists would be specifically targeted, to examine the accuracy of its representation of intelligence reports.

The Flood Report found "no evidence to suggest policy or political influence on assessments on Iraq WMD". However, it also stated Australian agencies told Mr Howard there was no evidence of renewed WMD production in Iraq or any usable stockpiles.

Mr Howard claimed Iraq's WMD presented a "real and unacceptable threat" while arguing for Australian involvement in the conflict. Mr Flood's terms of reference did not allow him to examine the use of intelligence by the Government.

Mr Rudd said the inquiry would consider the need for guidelines covering the public use of intelligence information by government.

He said previous inquiries into the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, had not been able to check both the raw intelligence and the travel advice.

"What you need is someone who can compare the . . . intelligence information which was available on the one hand against the finally produced travel warnings on the other," Mr Rudd said.


Back to