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A month of crucial decisions for Australia

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By Alison Broinowski

We now know that the parliamentary report on reform of the war powers won’t appear until late March.  The delay may be due to a very late submission from the Attorney-General’s Department to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Or perhaps it’s because 94 of the 113 submissions favoured changing the way Australia goes to war. It may well be that members of the Defence Sub-Committee, who include politicians from major and minor parties, are finding it difficult to agree on their conclusions and recommendations.

We were warned by the Chair of the Sub-Committee, Julian Hill MP, that compromise would be required. But when the question is whether the current practice should change or remain the same, the answer has to be yes or no. Of course AWPR’s submission said yes to reform, like many others, and proposed the simple amendment to the Defence Act (s8) that we have long advocated. Requiring a debate and a vote in both Houses of Parliament is not, by international democratic standards, a radical change.

We and others have dealt rationally with the objections commonly put forward to such a change: that in an emergency, Parliamentary process would take too long; that MPs and Senators would vote on party lines; that if they disagreed, the decision would come down to a few cross-benchers; that a decision for war by all Parliamentarians would require them to access classified information; and that war is no longer declared, but is now continuously waged in the ‘grey zone’.

We took account of these objections in our two submissions, and although Mr Hill says we are welcome to make another, AWPR has nothing new to add. We addressed the compromise proposal from Graeme Dobell of ASPI, that the existing conventions for how Australia enters overseas conflict should be codified. That would perhaps solve the Sub-Committee’s problem of finding something most could agree on, but it would not satisfy AWPR or others.

Instead, it would put a gloss of propriety on the status quo, and change nothing. It would fail to make politicians responsible to their electorates for war decisions, fail to re-establish the Governor-General’s Constitutional role in the process, and fail to ensure that the ‘captain’s call’ which has led to several disastrous wars is no longer all that it takes.

Both Richard Marles, who established the enquiry, and Penny Wong, have endorsed the role of the executive government, saying this is the government’s position on the matter. We can’t be optimistic about the outcome.

On a happier note, the approaching announcements on the Defence Strategic Review, AUKUS, and war powers reform, together with the 20th anniversary of our invasion of Iraq, have made more Australians aware of the importance of our campaign. That, together with our social media reach, has inspired more memberships and more generous donations.

My thanks to you all for getting AWPR this far.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. William Johnson RAAF Gp Capt (ret’d)

    It is not only the civilians in the defence committees that wield influence. In the past Iraq war, at the outset, as a member of the initial planning team to go to USCENTCOM before the PM advised the nation of the possibility of Australia committing to a war in Iraq, I was making it known that I considered it an illegal activity and that we were seeing no evidence of WMD. Talk of a coalition comprising flags in the sand and regime change was common. I believe we should have been advising the CDF and the PM accordingly. However, the Army was hell-bent on joining the coalition and going to war, seemingly blinded by personal opportunities of rank, medals and glory. As a result I was muzzled, isolated, largely ignored and threatened with Court Martial if I became vocal. When I finally spoke with the Chief of Air Force I simply said that I had committed our RAAF component in the most effective manner possible; given the prevailing circumstances. At that stage there was no turning back. The results of the RAAF contribution have been widely acclaimed. The actual coalition and the war has since been discredited.

  2. Claudio Pompili

    Thank you Alison and the AWPR. I concur and am heartened by tje submissions in favour of reform. However, as you pointed out, “we can’t be optimistic about the outcome”. Clearly, Marles has tried to manufacture public consent in establishing this enquiry. Marles’ record speaks for itself in not only his support of ASPI from the get-go of obtaining office but since then in his support both militarily and financially of the US military-industrial complex. PM Albanese on first taking office flew to Tokyo for a meeting regarding all matters Indo-Pacific including QUAD. During his time in Toyko, he met with President Biden. There were great hopes including the end of Julian Assange’s persecution, but one would have to conclude from his actions then and since then, eg ‘invitation to NATO summit in Madrid, that his talk with President Biden was to assure Biden of Albanese’s and Australia’s unwavering support, ie all the way with the USA. One had higher hopes for the ALP Leader of Senate, Penny Wong. Alas, she has proved over a long time that she performs well, given her legal training. When it comes to war power reform, however, she is exactly the same as Abanese and Marles. Why would Albanese, Marles and Wong change their positions when PM Albanese has already spoken and committed Australia to USA’s imperial wars, supported and abetted by the LNP and the majority of the Canberra Defence establishment?

    1. John Quelch

      Well argued Claudio! Agree entirely!!

      But, the rush to war against China with the U.S. as our assumed ally is turning into a propaganda avalanche.

      I think now, it’s gone so far it can only be rolled back if the Australian people take to the streets in sufficient numbers and resoundingly say ‘No to War’ just as they did in the days of anti Iraq war protests & the Vietnam War protests.

      Unfortunately, the U.S. has already signed up both sides of the political divide into becoming faithful servants of their, never-ending, imperial ambition

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