On the 1st of January 2023 the National Archives of Australia released roughly 240 previously secret cabinet papers from 20 years prior - those of 2002. Numerous revelations have come to light regarding the Liberal Howard government's handling of various crisis during this time, however journalists have taken note of the lack of information regarding Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War.
Cabinet historian, David Lee, was eager to learn of materials relating to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War from a foreign policy angle: “I was thinking there might be some documents that shed a light on the actions we took – but it may be that next year’s cabinet release covering 2003 will have more on that subject.”
One document from September of 2002 notes an oral report by then-Prime Minister, John Howard, on “the progress of work being done in the United Nations on the issue of Iraq’s possession of and attempts to secure or maintain weapons of mass destruction, and on possible United Nations resolutions in that regard”.
Another document from two weeks later, notes another “oral report” providd by then-Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, on “developments" in relation to a proposed UN Security Council resolution on Iraq's "possession of, and attempts to secure or maintain, weapons of mass destruction, and on the prospects for passage of the resolution".
The Conversation noted that “there is only a short minute on Howard’s discussions with Bush in June 2002 and too little to indicate what significance they may have had to the subsequent intervention in Iraq."
The New Daily reported that “the cabinet papers shed no light on a critical meeting – discussions between Mr Howard and then US president George W Bush on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s alleged acquisition of weapons of mass destruction.”
The 2002 Cabinet Papers can be viewed using the NAA's Record Search.