The Australian Government has admitted it doesn't know how many civilians have died in the Iraq war, and neither it, nor US authorities, are trying to find out.
The Defence Minister and senior intelligence officials came under fire over the issue during their appearance before a Senate Estimates Committee last night.
Labor senators say more should be done by the Howard Government to find out what effect the war has had on Iraqi civilians.
From Canberra, Kim Landers reports.
KIM LANDERS: When Australia joined the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Prime Minister said he was very conscious of the dangers for the civilian population.
Almost two years later, a parliamentary committee has exposed that no one in the Australian Government knows how many Iraqis have died.
JOHN FAULKNER: What attempts has the Australian Government made to try and ascertain what these figures might be?
ROBERT HILL: Well, we've accepted that it's not possible at this time to produce an accurate figure on civilian casualties.
JOHN FAULKNER: So, the committee is to take that as no attempts have been made, none whatsoever - zero, blotto, nothing.
KIM LANDERS: While the Americans and Australians count their military casualties, Labor Senator John Faulkner suspects it doesn't suit them to reveal the civilian toll.
Defence Minister Robert Hill believes it's simply impossible to record that figure while the conflict continues.
ROBERT HILL: Well I don't think there is reporting mechanism.
JOHN FAULKNER: Obviously not.
ROBERT HILL: That's what we've been trying to tell you, because I don't believe the Americans know and the implication of the briefing I received was to that effect.
JOHN FAULKNER: One would think, in this day and age, we could do an awful lot better than saying, just shrugging your shoulders and saying, it's beyond us.
KIM LANDERS: It's also beyond the Government's key intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments.
Director-General Peter Varghese has told Senator Faulkner he too doesn't have any reliable figures on civilian deaths.
PETER VARGHESE: I can't give you a number, no.
JOHN FAULKNER: You can't even hazard a guess?
PETER VARGHESE: Well I wouldn't want to hazard a guess. I mean, that's the whole point.
JOHN FAULKNER: You've got no idea? And no one's made…
PETER VARGHESE: I cannot give you a reliable number.
JOHN FAULKNER: Well, can you give me an unreliable number?
PETER VARGHESE: No, I won't give you an unreliable number.
KIM LANDERS: But he says a report published in the British medical journal, which put the number at 100,000, was probably exaggerated.
And as Labor's Chris Evans discovered, senior officials in the Prime Minister's department don't know either how many Iraqi military and police personnel have been killed since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
CHRIS EVANS: So, we don't actually care how many of their military or police died?
ANDREW METCALFE: No, I think that to say that we don't know the number, as opposed that we don't care is trying to link two completely different concepts.
CHRIS EVANS: Well it seems to me the only thing we care about is many Americans died.
TONY EASTLEY: Labor Senator Chris Evans ending that report from Kim Landers.
© 2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation