What's the problem?
The decision to go to war is one of the most serious choices any government will face. The cost to the nation can be enormous, often with unknown consequences.
Currently, the decision to send troops into overseas conflict is made behind closed doors, often by the prime minister alone. This means that when Australia deploys troops to conflict overseas, the decision is often made in secret.
Australia needs a system where robust debate and a parliamentary vote is held before deciding whether troops are sent into overseas conflict.
We want legislation requiring parliamentary approval for entering conflict overseas, so we have proper debate, scrutiny and critical appraisal of the decision.
Currently s61 of the Constitution empowers the government to act the way it does. By amending the Defence Act 1903 we can change this.
How are we going to win?
We know that fewer than 15% of Australians support the practice of a prime minister alone deciding when we go to war. (Digital Edge Poll 2021). We need to make sure in these uncertain times that we have an accountable process for going into conflict overseas.
We’re going to win this campaign by talking to as many Australians as possible, most of whom don’t realise how secretive the process is for committing our troops to overseas conflict.
By building a movement with thousands of Australians who support a clear and fair process for when we go into overseas conflict, we will win.
Join the Campaign
We need your help to spread the word that Australia can currently be taken to war by the decision of one person, and that needs to change. Please tell your friends and family and get them to support this campaign too. These are the things you can do:
In theory, the decision to go to war is left to the executive, which includes the governor-general, prime minister and ministers.
However, in practice, the decision to enter conflict is left to the prime minister virtually alone.
For example, former prime minister John Howard did not seek parliamentary approval before committing Australia’s military to the US mission in Afghanistan, or in 2003 when Australia committed its military to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
We need a better way to go to into overseas conflict – this can’t be a decision by the prime minister alone behind closed doors.
We need better accountability mechanisms in the parliament, so our MPs can have their say on the public record.
There are lots of different ways this could be done, like a vote in the House of Representatives, approval by an informed committee or a mandatory debate before deployment.
We’re not dictating the model. We’re raising awareness of the issue and working towards an inquiry to figure out a model that would work in our system.
Although we are not dictating a model for how we increase accountability, approval and transparency around how Australia goes into overseas conflict, we do have general principles to govern our work.
There needs to be some kind of vote or debate in the parliament, there should be regular reports back to parliament when we’re in a conflict and a mandatory independent inquiry when Australian troops return from overseas.
We’re not advocating for a war to be run out of parliament, or for a lengthy accountability process if Australia is under attack.
The government should have the power to respond to emergency situations, for example a direct attack on an Australian territory.
A parliamentary process would not cause additional delay.
Presently, most units of the Australian Defence Force are not kept in a battle-ready state. Before anyone can be deployed, there is a long process of training personnel and acquiring provisions.
Did you know, in 1973, after the debacle of the Vietnam War, the US Congress enacted the War Powers Act? This is a federal law intended to check the president’s power to commit the US to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress.This is not a radical concept. In fact, we are one of the only Western democratic countries without a transparent process.
“As far as the ANZUS alliance is concerned, that is an obligation to consult. But of course we’ve been in constant discussion with the United States.”
In all conflict from World War I, the prime minister and Cabinet have made all decisions about deploying troops. ABC Fact Check has created a detailed timeline here.
This is not what happens in practice.
Right now, the decision lies with the prime minister and Executive, who the public do not vote for. The Executive is made up of a small number of government ministers chosen by the prime minister.
Often, Australia’s involvement in conflict spans election cycles, so it is important that the parliament have their say on whether we should be at war.
Be Sure on War isn’t pro- or anti- war.
We just think it’s right that there be a more transparent, democratic process when we are faced with the prospect of going into conflict overseas.
Our campaign is made up of Australians with a range of backgrounds, including former senior military officers, diplomats, defence officials, campaigners and academics.
For the negative vote of a minor party to be effective, there would also need to be a negative vote from the major Opposition party. If the Government cannot persuade the Opposition of the need for war, then the case for it is unlikely to be persuasive.