In a sign of growing disquiet among the Australian nation over their Prime Minister giving encouragement to President Bush in the escalating war hype, this news report appears tonight on the Channel 9 network:
|21:19 AEST Tue 13 Aug 2002|
|Half Australians against Iraq attack
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has accused Labor leader Simon Crean of talking like Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, while a new poll found most Australians oppose a war against the Gulf nation.
In an escalating war of words, Mr Crean called Foreign Minister Alexander Downer a fool and demanded Prime Minister John Howard pull him into line over his comments.
But Mr Howard stood by Mr Downer, saying the government would not back down from demanding Iraq let in United Nations weapons inspectors.
However, a Newspoll commissioned by SBS Television showed the government still has a way to go to convince the general public of its stance in support of US President George W Bush, who wants to see "a regime change" in Baghdad.
The poll of 1,200 Australians found 50 per cent against military action in Iraq, 39 per cent in favour, with the rest uncommitted.
Strongest opposition came from those aged over 50, the generation with direct experience of Australian involvement in the Vietnam war.
Newspoll said only two in five adult Australians (39) per cent favoured possible Australian involvement in US-led military action against Iraq, with the objective of toppling Saddam Hussein.
That included 17 per cent who were strongly in favour.
But one in two opposed such involvement, with 33 per cent strongly against it.
Opinion varied across different groups, with males more in favour of action.
"Among those living with children in their household, 45 per cent are in favour of Australian involvement, compared to only 36 per cent of those who do not have children living in the household," Newspoll said in a statement.
In Cairns, Mr Downer said Mr Crean was echoing Saddam Hussein in his criticism of the government's stance towards Iraq.
"Simon Crean is talking like Saddam Hussein," he said.
Mr Crean accused Mr Downer of perpetrating an outrageous slur and called on Mr Howard to control him.
"I believe he is a fool. I think he has lost it," Mr Crean said.
"No-one can question my commitment to this country and I make no apology for standing up for Australia's interests."
Mr Howard insisted that Mr Downer had at no stage gone out in front of the United States in voicing Australian support for action against Iraq.
"The foreign minister has been verballed on this issue by the opposition leader," he told reporters.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Labor's policy on Iraq, in place since April, was to exhaust diplomatic approaches before talking about military action.
"Since that time, what the foreign minister has done has really ramped up the rhetoric in a huge fashion, presumably in driving after some domestic political objective of his own," he said.
Treasurer Peter Costello said Australia had to concentrate on the dangers of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and that could have an impact on wheat farmers.