However, the Sydney Morning Herald said the parliament's bipartisan joint committee on intelligence had criticised the quality of the advice the intelligence agencies provided on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Citing "sources intimate with the report's contents", the paper said the inquiry had found spy agencies "did not provide advice of the highest standards" in the lead up to war, and had found no evidence the conservative government manipulated intelligence to promote the case for war.

The committee was set up before US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided to establish committees to investigate the quality of the pre-war intelligence under pressure from their political opponents and media.

Stronger investigation

The committee heard evidence that intelligence agencies told the government Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and could quickly manufacture chemical and biological weapons, even though inspectors had subsequently found no evidence to support the claim.

The hunt by UN weapons officials
in Iraq for nukes proved fruitless

The newspaper said the authors of the report, frustrated they could not directly access foreign intelligence or the Australian officials who prepared the reports used by to argue to case for war, wanted a second inquiry with stronger investigative powers.
 
Opposition politicians who have repeatedly accused Prime Minister John Howard's government of "sexing-up" the intelligence, switched their attack to charges it leaked the report before its scheduled 1 March release.

'Firewall' 

"Here we have the Howard Government trying to create as of now a firewall between themselves, that's the political arm of the government on one hand, and what their intelligence agency has done on the other. This is classic Howard strategy," shadow foreign minister Kevin Rudd said.

Defence Minister Robert Hill
denies government leaked report

The opposition Labour Party said an inquiry with royal commission-style powers to force witnesses to testify was the only way to get an independent assessment of pre-war intelligence.

Defence Minister Robert Hill denied the government leaked the report, but refused to confirm that media reports accurately reflected its contents.
 
"No we haven't leaked the committee report," he told reporters. "Any leaks from a parliamentary committee, one that is being held under privilege, would be inappropriate."
 
But he added: "The government has said that it didn't sex up any intelligence - that is right."

Second inquiry

The parliamentary inquiry's chairman, government MP David Jull, said he knew nothing about any leaks and was not happy about them.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government would consider a second inquiry if the report recommended it, but insisted the government had been scrupulous in its use of intelligence in the lead up to war.
 
He did not believe inquiries into the quality of the intelligence in the United States, Britain or Australia would "reveal anything terribly exciting or surprising."