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Playing Australia for suckers?

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This is the transcript of a speech to the national Aukus webinar “The path to war” held on 26 March 2023

By Alison Broinowski

Twenty years ago this month, on the instructions of Prime Minister Howard, Australia invaded Iraq. The reasons he gave were false. He was never held to account for it.

Howard had already invoked the ANZUS Treaty to commit Australia to the ‘war on terror’ anywhere in the world, starting in Afghanistan. That war hasn’t ended. Nor has the devastation and suffering that both wars caused.  Our protests against them were ignored.

Yet twenty years on, Americans like John Bolton, Sean Hannity, and Nikki Hayley are now talking up a new ‘Axis of Evil’. This time it’s Russia, Iran, and China. Again, the reasons given are false.

The new ‘Axis’ nations may be seen by the US as challenging its global supremacy, but none of the three threatens Australia. Once again however, Australians are being told to get ready to fight, this time against China.

The list of reasons we’re given changes by the day. We have to fight because China is responsible for the pandemic, has taken over Hong Kong, is threatening to take over Taiwan, is committing genocide against the Uighurs, is playing wolf-warrior games, and is using Huawei and TikTok and the United Front Work Department to spy on us.

We’re told by Nine News to be on Red Alert. We’re told that we have to protect our shipping routes for exports to China, the very same routes China uses for exports to us. We’re told by our leaders that we have to defend Australia’s sovereignty, which we have already surrendered to the US military.

We don’t ask and they don’t tell us if the US will place nuclear weapons in Australia. We don’t know if they launch them from Australia or what will happen if there’s a nuclear accident here.

We aren’t told the true cost of AUKUS, probably because the government doesn’t know it either. Certainly, it will be an enormous amount that will leave us unable to defend our continent and provide adequate social services and infrastructure for Australians.

AUKUS will condemn our grandchildren to paying off a huge national debt for weapons with which Australia can aggravate, threaten, and spy on China. To pay for it, we may be forced to store the world’s nuclear waste. We can’t even store our own.

Does the US expect Australians to fall for these same Axis of Evil tricks again? Labor in Opposition saw through them in 2003. It’s much worse now. Can an ALP government ignore our protests?

It can’t, not when a former prime minister, two former foreign ministers, and current and former politicians speak out in growing numbers against AUKUS. People listen and respond, as they did to the IPAN Costs of War inquiry. When 94 out of 113 submissions to the current parliamentary inquiry into the war powers support reform, and 87 percent of people surveyed do too, they cannot be ignored.

Something has to change.

The Inquiry into How Australia Makes Decisions to send Service Personnel into Armed Conflict may achieve that change. But if it recommends a compromise, perhaps by codifying the convention that a prime minister can make a captain’s pick for war – even for an illegal invasion – that will not represent reform.

If the reasons for that war are not spelled out, there will be no reform. If there is no independent report on how Australia enters that war, and its results, there will be no reform.

Governments in Australia can and will get away with resisting the people’s desire for change in our foreign and defence policies for as long as the executive holds the prerogative for war. They can and will go on claiming that reform risks Australia’s prosperity, sovereignty and security, and many may believe them, forgetting that the Government has already traded them for AUKUS.

Independents were elected in May 2022 after they called for accountability and transparency from government. Only by putting a motion for war to both houses for a debate and vote can that be achieved in practice.

Not just the prime minister but all of our elected representatives must be made responsible for the consequences of the next war.

For as long as our leaders secretly sign Australia up for weapons agreements, foreign bases, and future wars, revealing no details until it’s too late, they cannot expect our trust or acquiescence.

They will be accused of doing the bidding of our American ally, and ignoring the Australian people. They will be playing us for suckers, as they did in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

We have not forgotten the disastrous results of those wars. The Government is being warned by us at this meeting and others in growing numbers all over Australia: don’t play us for suckers again.

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