Letter to the Commonwealth Attorney-General

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Note by Paul Barratt

On 13 March I wrote to the Attorney-General in terms similar 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.

In response to this I received a letter from the Minister for Defence who said that he was replying on behalf, inter alia, of the Attorney-General, “as this matters (sic.) falls within my portfolio”, from which I infer that the Attorney-General or his advisers regard the matters raised as not touching upon the Attorney-General’s responsibilities.

Accordingly, I have sent the following letter to the Attorney-General.


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

16 May 2014

Senator the Hon. George Brandis, QC
Parliament House

Dear Senator Brandis,

I refer to my letter to you 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.

I recently received a letter from the Defence Minister, who was replying on your behalf on the basis that the matters raised fall within his portfolio responsibilities.

I must say that I and my fellow members are astonished that you apparently regard the following matters:

  •  Decisions about whether or not to establish a major independent inquiry (judicial or Parliamentary);
  • The processes by which we make decisions about the deployment of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict; and
  • The ways in which the decision-making process might be strengthened

as having no bearing on your portfolio responsibilities. Indeed, apart from the fact that the powers of the Parliament are a matter for all Parliamentarians, one of the reforms that I and several of my colleagues would like to see would be a requirement not only that Parliamentary approval be required for any deployment into international armed conflict, but that the Attorney-General be required to certify that the proposed military action is lawful before it is authorised.

Regarding the need for an inquiry, we believe it is important 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.

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

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