Letter to Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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Note by Paul Barratt

On 13 March 2014 I wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in similar terms to my Letter to the Prime Minister, seeking the establishment of an independent inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, and a commitment from Australia’s elected representatives to reforming the so called ‘war powers’, i.e., the power to deploy elements of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict, which we would like to see relocated from the Executive to the Parliament.

Some time later I received a rather unsatisfactory reply on her behalf from an officer of her Department, the text of which may be seen at Letter to Foreign Minister: DFAT Reply.

In response I have written again to the Minister. The text of my letter is set out below:


Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry Inc
PO Box 2228
Malvern East Vic 3145
25 April 2014

The Hon. Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House

Dear Ms Bishop,

I refer to a letter (undated) which I received from an officer of your Department, writing on your behalf in response to my letter of 13 March calling for an independent inquiry into the process by which the Government of the day made the decision that Australia would participate in the 20 March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and for reform to the processes by which we make decisions to deploy elements of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict (copies of both letters attached for your convenience).

I must say on behalf of our organisation’s members that we are surprised and disappointed that you as Foreign Minister would be so dismissive of the suggestion that the Australian Government, like the Government of the United Kingdom, should convene an inquiry to discover the lessons to be learned from the as yet unclear processes that led Australia to become involved in a war that was both illegal and based, at least publicly, on the premise widely understood to be false at the time, that Iraq was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

We are equally disappointed that the reply on your behalf was silent on the matter of the reform of the so-called “war powers”. We believe that Australian Governments owe it both to the young Australian men and women who might to be placed in harm’s way, and to the wider Australian public, to ensure that any deployment decisions involving international armed conflict are made only upon the most robust and transparent basis, and our principal motivation in calling for an inquiry into the decision making processes leading up to the Iraq deployment was the hope and expectation that this inquiry would make recommendations for a more robust decision-making process in the future.

I feel obliged also to comment upon some of the content of the reply made on your behalf, much of which has little if any relevance to the matters raised in our representations, and some of which, through what it leaves unsaid about observations it makes, is very misleading:

(1)       “At this time … the Australian Government has no plans to hold an inquiry into this subject.”

It is of course our awareness of that which led us to write to you and others suggesting that the Government might change its position on the matter.

(2)       “Australia’s main combat elements were withdrawn from Iraq in June 2008 and our military commitment formally concluded on 31 July 2009.”

We are aware of those timelines.

(3)       “The Government recognises the bravery, ability and integrity of the more than 20,000 Australian Defence Force personnel who were deployed to this theatre.”

The bravery, ability and integrity of the ADF personnel deployed to Iraq is not in question, certainly not by our organisation. Our concern is with the quality and integrity of the processes by which we call upon the members of the ADF to draw on their courage and skills. We hope you would share that concern.

(4)       “Questions relating to Australia’s role in the war were examined by the predecessor to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, in its 2004 report Inquiry into Intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. The report of the subsequent Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies, also in 2004, contains a rigorous analysis of intelligence and decision-making related to Iraq.

While this might look to the less-informed observer like an answer to our call for an inquiry, it is not, and by failing to mention the thrust of these inquiries’ findings, it is grossly misleading.

The first point to be made is that these inquiries, as their names suggest, were confined by their terms of reference to the intelligence picture which was available to the Australian Government and an examination of the performance of the Australian intelligence agencies. They were not charged with conducting, and nor did they conduct, inquiries into the decision-making process which led to Australia participating in the invasion of Iraq.

Second, the outcomes of these inquiries were hardly conducive to confidence in the decision-making process which led to that invasion. The Jull Inquiry found

The case made by the government was that Iraq possessed WMD in large quantities and posed a grave and unacceptable threat to the region and the world, particularly as there was a danger that Iraq’s WMD might be passed to terrorist organisations. This is not the picture that emerges from an examination of all the assessments provided to the Committee by Australia’s two analytical agencies.[1]

The Inquiry led by former DFAT Secretary Philip Flood found that the evidence for Iraqi WMD was ‘thin, ambiguous and incomplete’[2].

Accordingly, far from obviating the necessity for a further inquiry, we think the outcomes of these inquiries strengthens the case for a comprehensive inquiry of the kind we are advocating.

(5)       “The Government is committed to strengthening its bilateral relationship with Iraq, focussing on commercial engagement in areas including agriculture, resources, education and health.”

No doubt seeking to strengthen relationships with this damaged and fragile polity is to be commended, but it is hard to see the relevance of these efforts to an inquiry into how we came to be participants in an invasion of the country in 2003.

I would reiterate the view expressed in my earlier letter that, given the gravity of any decision to commit the Australian defence force to international armed conflict, the Australian people are entitled to know how that decision was made, and what evidence informed the decision. The Australian Government owes to those it puts in harm’s way a duty to evaluate the quality of the processes by which it decides to put them in harm’s way, to identify and document the lessons learned, and improve the decision making process for the future.

As matters stand, while Britons will have the chance to learn from past decisions once the Chilcot Inquiry hands down its recommendations, Australians will still be deprived of a comprehensive account of the processes leading to our involvement in Iraq. As I said in my earlier letter, an independent inquiry into the decision making process which led to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War would also allow for a public discussion of the appropriateness of Australia’s current ‘war powers’, which concentrate power in the executive branch. This could provide a framework for reforming how the decision is made to go to war. The current process produced very flawed decisions in relation to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and is clearly overdue for careful reconsideration.

Accordingly, the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry urges you to support not only an independent inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, but also a commitment on the part of the Government to reforming the ‘war powers’.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Barratt AO


[1] Commonwealth of Australia Parliament, Intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (“Jull Report’), Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, December 2003, 93.

[2] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Inquiry into Australian Intelligence Agencies (“Flood Report”), Canberra, 2004, 34.

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