Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


Deployment of Australian Troops

12:45 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support the suspension motion. What we see in front of us is, by its very definition, precisely the kind of mission creep that was predicted at the outset—here in Australia, in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Nobody, from the Prime Minister's office down, has ever made clear what the primary objective of the mission is. What is the rationale? What is the desired end state? What does success look like? I strongly take issue with Senator Conroy's comments—although they are reflected by those of Senator Fifield—that because the executive has access to classified intelligence materials the decision somehow lies outside this place. These are not tactical decisions; these are very political decisions. In a democracy, the decision to deploy is not a military decision. It is a decision that should be taken democratically.

Senator Fifield let the cat out of the bag a short time ago. President Obama had to go to congress and Prime Minister Cameron had to go to Westminster because, in part, of the debacle of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That invasion was presided over by a substantial fraction of Abbott government frontbenchers, not a single one of whom has uttered a word of contrition or apology for that catastrophe; nonetheless they are demanding that we be led blindfolded into another deployment. The very same people who presided over that disaster are now leading us into another. These are political decisions. Once the political decision has been made—as it has been in Washington, as it has been in London—then the considerations are turned over to the military. That is where your classified intelligence material comes into play. Politicians should not get involved in specifics of deployments. Those are military and strategic decisions; this is a political one.

What we have heard from Senator Conroy and Senator Fifield is, effectively, a declaration of incompetence. You are willing to let the Prime Minister stand up in front of as many flags as he can muster—in desperate search of a bounce in the polls—to announce a deployment. You would not be willing to put your name on the voting register as having supported that deployment when it all goes horribly sideways, as it did after 2003. As Prime Minister Abbott has identified, the Iraqi authorities need to give consent for Australian troop deployments and positioning in Iraq. So effectively it is everybody except us. Australia just goes traipsing along behind our great and powerful ally, the United States, as we have done with so many disastrous deployments. It is everyone except Australia.

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: Senator Fifield, if not now then when? Should we wait for a prime ministerial press conference? Should we wait for the PM to array himself in front of an extraordinary display of flags in response to announcements that have been leaked and foreshadowed in the media by other leaders for weeks? You expect the parliament to behave like that, in the face of one of the most significant decisions, if not the most significant decision, that a legislature or an executive can make. I strongly disagree, Senator Fifield—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The time for that debate is now and the place for it is here—not in the context of some prime ministerial brain snap that may or may not have happened, no matter how well intentioned. That debate should happen in the open air, in the light of day, in an elected parliament. That is what this place is for. Other democracies may have grown up enough, either through the war power invested in congress hundreds of years ago or much more recently in the instance of Westminster, with respect to reacting to the debacle of Iraq. There is now a convention. It is not put to a vote, but senators here will be well aware that the royal military was prevented from being put into the fight in Syria by a debate in Westminster. That is how mature democracies make these decisions, not on the basis of plans drawn up on the backs of envelopes by prime ministers desperate for a lift in the polls. That is not how deployments should occur in modern democracies.


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