By AWPR President Dr Alison Broinowski
AWPR made submissions to the Senate Inquiry into the war in Afghanistan and on the Senate Legislation Committee’s consideration of reform of the War Powers, which went to the Senate on 19 October, the 20th anniversary of Australia’s invasion of Afghanistan. In tabling a Bill for the changes, the Greens said: ‘We will give Parliament the power to decide whether we go to war or not … Our community does not want our future to be at the behest of the United States of America’.
With recent claptrap of ‘war drums’ beating, followed by the government’s surprise announcement of the AUKUS agreement, the need to change the way Australia goes to war has never been more urgent. From Michael West Media’s ongoing survey of Federal politicians, it’s clear that many of them share this opinion, and that others across the political spectrum are open to persuasion. Submissions made by a wide cross-section of Australians to IPAN’s current Peoples’ Inquiry into the US-Australia Alliance, its Costs and Consequences, show that many of them do not agree with the bipartisan approach of leaders of the Government and Opposition to this question.
In Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s opinion, the Greens’ Peace, Disarmament and Demilitarization Initiative demonstrated that the Greens posed a threat to the safety and the security of Australia. Fellow Liberal and Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Victorian Senator James Paterson said the Greens’ plan showed they have ‘wacky views on national security – everyone knows that’. He added that the Greens never get a chance to implement their policies, ‘unless Labor gives them the green light in government’. Avoiding the wedge by being equally critical, Brendan O’Connor, Labor’s Defence Spokesman, called the Greens’ plan ‘delusional’. He said it failed to ‘fully appreciate the national security challenges Australia confronts, nor the capability the men and women of Defence may need to address those risks.’
None of them provided any detail on what those risks and challenges are, what capability Australia will need to meet them, or when AUKUS will deliver it. It is our leaders’ blind trust in AUKUS and the ANZUS alliance to protect Australia that is delusional. If Ministers and shadow spokespeople know the facts about the threats we face, they should debate them openly and set them out in public reports. The Opposition is sadly silent on Australia’s security threat assessment let alone articulating an alternative force structure and capability attributes for our nation’s security. These are critical issues for deciding to engage in war. Our Federal Opposition – whichever party or parties bear that responsibility – has to do some serious thinking about how it engages the public and tells them the truth.
Two days before the Greens’ bill went to the Senate, we were told that the PRC had tested a nuclear-capable long-range hypersonic missile. The PRC government denied it, and the report coincided with efforts in Washington to further increase US defence spending. The US intelligence community appeared agitated by the reports and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Australia as a ‘five-eyes’ partner ‘remained in step’. The presumption of our obeisance says much about our relationship and the reluctance of Australians and our elected representatives to even discuss these matters.
The US may be preparing to respond to China’s hypersonic test and to the PRC’s recent warning to Taiwan. It is unnecessary for either of these events to involve Australia in conflict, as Messrs Dutton, Paterson, and O’Connor will be wise to admit. Before Australia commits to involvement in such dangerous actions, a debate and vote in Parliament is what most other democracies would require. The need to subject any and all warfare to proper democratic scrutiny is as urgent in the US as it is in Australia.