1990s secrets revealed as cabinet documents released
THE 1990s began a period of upheaval in Australia's political and social landscape.
The telecommunications industry was opened up to competition, all tariffs were reduced to 5% and vehicle, textile and clothing protection began to be phased out.
As Treasurer Paul Keating said, Australia was in "the recession we wanted to have" - a necessary correction after the excesses of the 1980s.
The National Archives of Australia today released selected key Cabinet records for 1990 and 1991, telling the hidden stories behind some of the most notable events in the country's history.
The December 1991 leadership spill, in which Mr Keating ousted Bob Hawke as Labor leader and thus prime minister remains fresh in Australia's memory.
But perhaps the most important event of the period was Australia's entry into the Gulf War from August 1990 to September the next year.
Speaking at a media launch before today's records release, Hawke was certain he made the right decision in deploying more than 1800 Australian troops to the Middle East.
He praised former United States president George Bush Snr for having the good sense to pull the Coalition of the Willing out rather than enduring a certain bloodbath in Baghdad.
President Bush had called him, Mr Hawke said, to ask for advice on whether he should bow to pressure to push his troops on and neutralise Saddam Hussein once and for all.
"No way. You put together a marvellous coalition on the basis of getting them out of Kuwait. It would be breaking a trust if you were to change this," Mr Hawke replied.
"Unfortunately, his son didn't inherit his good sense in these matters."
His appraisal of the older Bush was glowing, but Mr Hawke suggested the apple fell a long way from the tree.
He called George W. Bush's decision to fight a second war in Iraq a disaster.
"There's no doubt about the correctness of the first decision," he said.
"The second was arguably the most massive diplomatic and strategic blunder ever made by any American administration.
"Every United States intelligence agency in their subsequent analysis has condemned the decision as being counterproductive and adding to the cause of terrorism."
Declassified Cabinet minutes from August 14, 1990 show the government agreed to provide two guided missile frigates and one replenishment tanker as its contribution to the multinational naval force in the Middle East.
Defence Minister Robert Hay wrote $25 million every six months would be needed, but warned Saddam Hussein may try seizing Saudi Arabian oil fields to strengthen his hand.
"Saddam is unlikely to capitulate or be toppled quickly by non-military means," he continued.
"Given the unpredictability of the Middle East, and particularly the high military capability of Iraq, there is a prospect of high intensity conflict in the air and at sea."
And so it was.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians died in the conflict.
No Australians were killed, but coalition losses amounted to about 166.
The documents show the region's rich oil supplies were a decisive factor in the invasion.
Iraqi forces implemented a scorched earth policy when fleeing Kuwait and set fire to more than 600 oil wells.
A classified memorandum from January 1991 said the invasion and subsequent embargo of oil exports by both Kuwait and Iraq had removed 4.2 million barrels per day from the market, or about 8% of the Western world's consumption.
The coalition forces were well aware of Hussein's well-burning fallback plan but were confident any temporary shortfall could be made up from countries such as Saudi Arabia.
"The most vulnerable targets, oil gathering centres (including pumping stations) and refineries, will be the most heavily defended," the document stated.
"Australia is in a good position to weather any short-term disruptions..."
The war was won by the end of September 1991, and by then things at home had become volatile indeed.
Mr Hawke, who had been prime minister and Labor leader since 1983, found himself under increasing pressure after an unexpectedly close 1990 election and an economic recession.
Unemployment had peaked at 10.8% and in-fighting had led to party-mate Graham Richardson telling Mr Hawke he no longer had the support of the party's right.
The scene was set for a charismatic young Paul Keating to step up and take the reins. -APN NEWSDESK
Hawke says all cultures are welcome
FORMER Prime Minister Bob Hawke still believes in multiculturalism, even if it has come under threat in recent years.
"A couple of months ago I was in discussion with some Jewish friends of mine and they were laying down the law about Muslim fanatics," he told a National Archives of Australia media launch.
"I said to them, 'Remember this: it wasn't a (Muslim) fanatic that murdered Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel. It was a Jewish fanatic.'
"The problem is fanatics. Of Islam, of Judaism and Christian fanatics."
Mr Hawke said United States President Barack Obama had done too little to mend ties between Israel and Palestine, calling on him to join forces with China to seek a solution.
"My view is that if China and the United States were to sit down together and agree to a process of trying to secure a resolution, the whole chemistry of the situation would change," he said.
"The simple fact is the Palestine and the Arab states simply do not trust America.
"They just see them as a shield and a protector of Israel.
"But if you had the Chinese and the Americans working together... you would for the first time have a chance of resolving this issue."
Hawke said the threat of terrorism had made multiculturalism more fragile but was adamant it had a place in Australian society.
"I think the onus is upon all of us to support our Muslim friends, and to ask the leadership of the Muslim community to be as forthcoming as they can in condemning fanaticism," he said.
"There is no doubt multiculturalism has been a great source of strength in Australia.
"It would be a tragedy if we allowed anything to diminish that." -APN NEWSDESK