Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


Australian Defence Force

3:12 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I do not know what could be more important than the lives of Australian service men and women. What could be more important than that? Why are we not having a debate in this parliament about whether we should be committing our troops to another conflict overseas, particularly when the Prime Minister says we will be committed to a war until we see an end to the genocide that is going on in Syria and we see an end to the terrorism that is being exported?

According to the Prime Minister, that is what the end game looks like. If that is what the end game looks like, we are there for a very long time. To say that somehow our involvement in that conflict will lead to that outcome is wishful thinking, in the extreme. This should not be a captain's call. As it is in the parliaments of similar democracies, like the UK and Canadian parliaments, there should be a debate within the Australian parliament.

Here we have, at the stroke of a pen, the Prime Minister deciding to engage in a conflict overseas that has resulted in the displacement of four million Syrian refugees, half of them children. On the one hand, he makes an announcement that we will settle 12,000 of those refugees in Australia, which we welcome. On the other hand, he commits us to a conflict that will aggravate the circumstances that have led to those people fleeing their homelands—a commitment that is not supported on any international legal basis, a commitment that is so muddle-headed, so incredibly reactionary, that we do not know what the endgame looks like. How long are we going to be stuck in Syria? How long are we to going to be there? What does the endgame look like?

At the announcement of our first involvement in Iraq, we said it would be a very slippery slope and we should beware of mission creep occurring. And here it is: we have mission creep on a grand scale. The reason we need a debate in the parliament, the reason this is an urgent motion, is that leaving this to prime ministers, who will potentially put their own self-interest ahead of the national interest, is a very dangerous situation. When the Prime Minister says he wants at least one air strike by the end of the week—and, coincidently, we have a by-election the following week—you start to ask questions about what is motivating this conflict. Former foreign minister Gareth Evans said:

… effective counterterrorism is much more about strong international cooperation on intelligence and policing, and winning relevant community support at home for tough measures.

And the use of military action is always a last resort. This is very dangerous action indeed, and the parliament should be debating it. (Time expired)


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