Prime Minister John Howard says he would not hesitate to launch an attack on another country if there was no alternative.
And he criticised Opposition Leader Mark Latham for failing to give the same assurance.
Mr Howard said his first and foremost responsibility was to the people of Australia and he was amazed Mr Latham refused to commit to launch a preemptive attack to protect Australians if he had no alternative.
Mr Latham has rejected the concept of preemptive action against terrorists, a proposal which sparked regional outrage when foreshadowed by Mr Howard in December 2002.
"I've said that if there were no alternative other than to do something ourselves to prevent an attack on Australia from a terrorist group, I would do it and I have criticised him for not saying the same thing," Mr Howard told ABC radio.
"Because the first responsibility of a prime minister is to ensure the defence and protection and security of his country.
"And all I said a couple of years ago, and I repeat it on your program this morning, if when necessary, in order to prevent a terrorist attack on Australia that we'd take action ourselves and there was no alternative then I would do it.
"I am amazed that he didn't give the same unhesitating, unconditional response."
The prime minister said there was no basis for neighbouring countries to be upset about his pledge to launch an attack because they also viewed terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) as the enemy.
Regardless of the reaction of other nations, Mr Howard said his first responsibility was to Australians.
"My first responsibility is to the people of Australia. I am the prime minister of Australia and my first responsibility is to them," he said.
"I don't expect there would be any consternation - and if there were it would not be reasonably based - because what I've said is at no way directed at our friends in the region.
"I was asked about a hypothetical situation involving JI.
"JI is an enemy of Indonesia as much as JI is an enemy of Australia.
"This idea that in some way taking effective action against a terrorist organisation is seen as an unfriendly act in the neighbourhood is nonsense.
"They would see JI as much an enemy of their interest and their future as we see JI as an enemy of our future and of our interests."
Opposition Leader Mark Latham said Mr Howard would weaken Australia's ability to fight Jemaah Islamiah (JI) in South-East Asia.
Mr Latham said Mr Howard's comments about unilateral pre-emptive strikes on terrorist groups in other countries would wipe away Australia's efforts to target the JI terrorist organisation.
"It's a region where you can't take any risks when it comes to Australia's security," he told ABC radio.
"You need to recognise the importance of a co-operative approach.
"The prime minister was yesterday talking about unilateral pre-emption against the sovereignty of other countries, striking them without even telling them.
"It's going to diminish co-operation and weaken our capacity to work with our neighbour's important strategies to destroy JI."
Mr Latham said he would on Monday announce a new package to boost army personnel numbers in Townsville which he said would also boost the local economy.
"It's a significant expansion of the army base and the personnel, and when you bring extra personnel and their dependents in we'll have new capital construction," he said.
Mr Latham said Labor had already promised to flood proof the highway near Tully, a promise made by the federal coalition last week.
First-blood doctrine rejected
By Chris Jones and Malcolm Cole
September 22, 2004
PRIME Minister John Howard has been labelled a political Rambo after he defended yesterday the Government's right to launch a pre-emptive attack on terrorist groups in the Asia-Pacific region.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said Mr Howard and his Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer were national security liabilities who had alienated Australia's Asian neighbours with ill-considered comments on pre-emptive strikes.
Mr Rudd said Mr Howard had "sounded like Rambo" in recent days when talking up his doctrine of military pre-emption to prevent terrorist attacks on Australia.
The latest exchange came as Indonesian president-in-waiting Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he wanted to work with Australia to root out terrorism.
Mr Rudd said Labor did not support pre-emptive strikes because of the impact on national security and diplomacy, and the risk of retaliatory strikes.
Mr Howard said he was not about to launch an attack on nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have criticised his doctrine of pre-emption.
He said if he planned to attack a terrorist group in another nation, he would collaborate first.
"But what I have said, and I repeat unapologetically, is that if it were necessary to stop an attack on Australia and there were no alternatives, I would act in the manner I have said," Mr Howard said.
"The first responsibility of any prime minister is the defence of this country.
"Now I don't expect any of this to arise, but I don't want any Australian to be in any doubt as to where I stand on the issue, and I think sensible people will understand it and they'll agree with me and they'll know exactly what I'm saying."
Mr Howard also rejected any role for the United Nations in heading off a pre-emptive strike, saying: "This idea that the defence of Australia is something that is negotiable in the forums of the United Nations is a doctrine I will never accept."
But, following diplomatic criticism of his stance â€“ announced two years ago and repeated this week â€“ Mr Howard claimed he had never meant to imply Australia was planning a unilateral attack on any other country.
"None of it is directed against our friends in the region â€“ you talk as if it's directed against Indonesia or Malaysia, well it's not," he said.
Opposition Leader Mark Latham said the Government was guilty of "the greatest flip-flop in foreign policy that we've ever seen in this country". "He's walked away from this idea that you might attack their sovereign territory unilaterally, without telling them about it â€“ he's saying you work with Indonesia and Malaysia, well that's Labor's approach," Mr Latham said.
"That's what we've been saying for two years since Mr Howard trotted out his doctrine of pre-emption."
Mr Latham said it was clear Mr Howard now realised that telling nations their sovereign territory could be attacked without warning was "foolhardy, risky and dangerous".
AG: "My first responsibility is to the people of Australia. I am the prime minister of Australia and my first responsibility is to them," he said. Dear Aussie, that's what OUR hero have saying. So nice bull---- propaganda for next coming election.
The latest exchange came as Indonesian president-in-waiting Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he wanted to work with Australia to root out terrorism. Another proxy in the making.