The humiliating attack was made by former conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in an article written for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Fraser said the government was compromising the rights of its citizens by fawning over the US. He claimed subservient policies were making Australia lose its influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Fraser, who led a Liberal-National coalition government from 1975 to 1983, said it was time to ask whose national interests the government was serving.
He cited the controversy surrounding Howard’s claim Iraq tried to buy African uranium, an issue dismissed by US National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice as “just 16 words” in the president’s state of the union speech.
The former PM said it was “inconceivable” the prime minister’s department would not have alerted him to the truth about the nuclear claims had it been aware of them, and “impossible” to believe it did not know.
Australians abroad unprotected
The article also accused the government of failing to stand up for Australians held by the United States since the Afghan war, and its “meek acceptance” of the detention of former Taliban fighter, David Hicks.
The harsh criticism coincided with an interview in which US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, heaped praise on Australia and envisaged a broader alliance based on global military co-operation and trade.
“I don’t know how to overstate the importance of Australia’s contribution in Iraq to the United States,” Armitage told the paper.
Fraser said the prosecution by the United States of Hicks in a military trial posed the question of whether Australia was any longer “able to stand up for Australians who may need the protection of their nationality.”
Opposition parties, civil libertarians and lawyers are pressing the government to demand the repatriation of Hicks, held at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
His repatriation would probably mean his release because various legal experts have said he is unlikely to have broken any Australian laws.