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Cabinet Papers – 20 years on, still no transparency

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The release today of cabinet documents from the Howard government in 2003 has failed to clarify exactly how the government decided to send Australian troops to the Iraq war.

This crucial decision remains largely hidden from Australians partly due to a bizarre decision by the Scott Morrison government to withhold some of the documents.

Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) is calling for those ‘missing’ documents to be released immediately.

“It is unacceptable that the Australian public are still being kept in the dark after two decades,” said Dr Alison Broinowski AM from AWPR.

“The Iraq war was a disaster from start to finish. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. John Howard’s decision to take us to that conflict was opposed by a large majority of Australians, the Labor Opposition and the minor parties, yet he went ahead with his plan.” MPs were not permitted to vote on the issue in the House. In the Senate, a majority opposed it (37 to 32).

The invasion breached international law, and contributed to a rise in terrorism in many countries.

From the material that has been released today we do know Howard’s decision was made without transparency or accountability.

The decision to commit troops was made without a written submission to cabinet on the costs, benefits and implications of the deployment.

“It is absurd that this life and death decision was made without any proper scrutiny or evaluation and presented to the Cabinet as a fait accompli,” said Dr Broinowski.

“Sending our troops into a dangerous mission without a serious discussion of the all the possible implications is a dereliction of duty by the government”

“It is now clear that the only people involved in the decision were a small number of ministers on the national security committee. Most of the cabinet had no effective input, no ordinary government MPs were given a say and the whole Parliament was prevented from voting on the deployment.”

As it stands, 20 years on, it seems we have learnt very little from the Iraq catastrophe. Unlike the UK where a lengthy high level inquiry was held into Britain’s involvement in Iraq, no such investigation has been offered here.

“We need to end the John Howard ‘captain’s call’ decision making process once and for all and implement war powers reform. The whole Parliament should carefully debate and vote before Australia is committed to any future overseas wars. This is the only way to ensure genuine transparency and accountability.”

– AWPR Media Statement

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