Thursday, 9 February 2017
Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015; Second Reading
Anybody who has been in this place for a while will be aware that the Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015 is an incredibly important bill and that it is one that has been on the Notice Paper since the mid-1980s. It was introduced by—
Thanks, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is a bill which will change the way that the Australian Defence Force can be deployed into conflict situations. It was introduced in the mid-1980s by the Australian Democrats. It was the first bill that I picked up and introduced when I took my seat in 2007. At that time, a senator from the Australian Democrats had had carriage of it. The Australian Greens have introduced this bill a number of times. I think this is the third or fourth time that it has been put on the Notice Paper.
The reason we have reintroduced this bill is that it requires parliamentary approval; it requires a debate and a vote in this chamber and in the other place before Australian forces are sent to war. When it came into parliament in the past, I argued, and other Australian Greens MPs argued, that Prime Minister Howard's captain's call on the illegal invasion of Iraqi was exhibit A to justify the urgency and importance of this bill. On a phone call from a foreign president, a foreign head of state—a single call—the Australian executive, without any recourse to parliament, without any real checks and balances, can deploy the ADF into harm's way. The horrific invasion of Iraq absolutely tore that region apart. We still have Australian defence personnel and support personnel in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan off the back of these captains' calls to follow the United States government into harm's way, which has had an absolutely ruinous impact on that region. To be honest, I would have thought that that would have been enough to close the deal. But it has not been. The idea that an unstable American President recklessly picks up the phone to demand a commitment of Australian forces was, at that stage, something of a hypothetical, and we figured that the invasion of Iraq would probably have served to persuade most people of the need for some checks and balances.
The new US administration is not even a month old, but we have already seen President Trump's willingness to berate—and I would argue bully—Prime Minister Turnbull, and that is an individual who cannot even stand up to the conservatives on his own backbench. If that well-practised prime ministerial capitulation is subject to 140 characters of presidential unhinging, we could be at war in some other part of the world off the back of a tweet or a phone call, and that is not rhetoric. There are no checks and balances, there is no due process, there is no parliamentary debate and there are no votes. The Prime Minister would decide off the back of a call from the United States, from President Trump.
The US requires congressional approval before sending troops into war. They have more protection from this kind of impetuous action of their President than Australia does. It has been some time—it has been decades, I suspect—since that kind of formal declaration of war against another state. I recognise that the nature of warfare itself has mutated quite radically in recent decades. Nonetheless, the idea that US congressional approval would be sought and required before a deployment is an important principle. I would argue that, under US law, that needs to be upgraded to take better account of the way in which warfare is practised. Look at other democracies: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. Troop deployment in all of those countries is set down in constitutional or legislative provisions. Parliamentary approval, or consultation at least, is also routinely undertaken in Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. In 2013 the UK avoided embroilment in the disastrous conflict in Syria thanks to the House of Commons saving Prime Minister David Cameron from himself. That is Westminster, the parliament from which we adopted much of our practice here in Australia.
This is a very long overdue reform and we believe that it is a first step—an important step, but only the first step—in rethinking, reconsidering, our relationship with the United States under an unstable President. We think it is essential. When Senator O'Sullivan or any of the others stand up in a moment and decry the idea that we would submit the Australian Defence Force to a debate before we throw them into harm's way, I would like if possible—if you can bring yourselves to do it—for them to explain, if it is good enough for those other democracies, kindred democracies to Australia, to invite their parliament to consider whether the executive is on the right track, why it is impossible for Australia to contemplate a parliamentary debate and a vote before deployment.
Since becoming President, Donald Trump has said, 'Maybe the US should go back to Iraq and take their oil.' That puts Australian personnel at risk. That kind of unbelievably loose rhetoric puts Australian personnel at risk. He has signed executive orders to set in motion the re-establishment of CIA black sites. There may be checks and balances inside the US that prevent that from happening. We recognise that, to a degree, the new President is using these executive orders as political theatre. But he promised to bring back waterboarding. He is a fan of torture. That puts Australian personnel at risk. When he says that torture absolutely works and that the US needs to fight fire with fire, what message does that send to adversaries and those that the ADF might find themselves up against as a result of these decisions?
His incoming Secretary of State is Mr Rex Tillerson. I note that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently had a conversation with the new Secretary of State. She is quoted as having said, 'It could not have been warmer.' That is terrifying. That is a bit of a worry. It sounds as though Australia is continuing to capitulate to the interests of, I would argue, a deeply unstable and provocative new administration. During his confirmation hearing he called for China to be denied access to the artificial islands that it is building and weaponising in the South China Sea. As far as I was aware, Australia was quite supportive of the international arbitration process which was attempting to defuse the situation and also send a very strong message to the Chinese regime that that island building was provocative and in fact unlawful under the law of the sea. And that is the way in which nations resolve issues in the 21st century. No, the new Secretary of State basically says, 'Through military force, China should be prevented from accessing those islands.' There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they would be calling on Australia, like the demands for freedom of navigation exercises that the foreign minister, in Australia's interests, had resisted. I thought the foreign minister actually did quite a good job of walking that fine line between belligerent superpowers in not in embroiling Australia in anything that could have escalated hostilities between China and the United States.
Do we seriously think the Turnbull government would resist the call or the tweet from President Trump that we are going to ignite a war with our most important trading partner and a nuclear power? To be perfectly frank, I think that decision should be embodied here in this parliament, so that senators and members have to sign their names and have to stand up and be counted and accountable.
This is a President who tweets policy off the cuff. Apparently, he tweeted out last night, 'Iran, #1 in terror'. Is he high? What does that even mean? What is he on? This is an ally that Australia has followed into every conflict since the Second World War. I argued in this place, and my colleagues have argued all week, that the alliance with the United States needs to be renegotiated, and I strongly believe that this bill is just one part of that. The regime of the United States should not assume that with one phone call they will be afforded a prime ministerial capitulation and that the ADF will be packing their gear and deployed. This parliament should have that say, and we should be held accountable to our electorates around the country for the decision that this parliament makes.
As I said at the outset, this bill has a fairly storeyed history, and it was submitted to inquiry by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee a number of years ago, I think around 2009. The committee at that time refused to hold a formal hearing. They refused to take evidence directly from those from across the Defence, intelligence and diplomatic communities as to the wisdom of a reform such as this. As it happened, we held an informal hearing, and we had the usual bipartisan stifling and pooh-poohing, not based on the evidence we had heard but based on the fact that we think it is fine. The status quo is fine and 'if it's not broken don't fix it'. We think that the Prime Minister's office should be able to make these captain's calls. I submit to this chamber that the system is broken and it does need fixing. If the slaughter in Iraq does not persuade you otherwise, then maybe the unhinged tweets of an unstable President might shake your confidence just a little to give this bill another try.
I would like to make a couple of points in response to the anticipated criticism from those opposite. Depending on who jumps up to speak, I am not expecting that the criticisms will be literate or even comprehensible, but I will have a go. I imagine that I will hear arguments around the importance of Westminster tradition, and I would put to you—
Did you take that one personally, Senator O'Sullivan? You knew I was referring to you, even though I did not name you—that's interesting isn't it?
We do not believe that we should blindly uphold tradition if the tradition has outlasted its welcome. It is a tradition that is descended from the right of the British monarch to deploy troops into the field whenever he or she felt like it. We think that maybe modern Australia might have outlasted that tradition, and when we look to Westminster we will see that they have in fact outlasted that tradition.
There is not a formal war power by statute in the UK, but prime ministers from both sides of politics have undertaken that before deployment occurs they will consult with parliament, and that was what prevented them deploying into Syria couple of years ago. Democratic institutions evolve. That is part of what we do in here. It is part of what we are sent here to do. Not all of these longstanding conventions have merit.
Another argument Senator O'Sullivan may or may not choose to make is to imply that a parliamentary debate necessarily involves disclosure of classified military strategic intelligence information and that it would be reckless in the extreme to expose that information into the public domain before deployment—
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
Oh, for heaven's sake! Is there a standing order just relating to idiocy?
It is difficult when they are so infantile, but I will do my best. Proponents of this argument, which we heard during the Senate inquiry in 2009, missed the point that it is not a military decision to go to war; it is a political decision. The bill calls for the government of the day to make the political case as to why diplomatic efforts and multilateral institutions have failed. It calls on them to make the case to the Australian people as to why force is the only option.
I would argue that case had not been made to the Australian people in the instance of the invasion of Afghanistan, which former Prime Minister Howard signed Australia up to, sight unseen. He was in Washington on 9/11, and I can imagine the impact that must have had—to be in the United States when an atrocity like that is perpetrated not far from where you are staying. He committed to George Bush at that time: 'Whatever you need, we're there.' It was a blank cheque to invade Afghanistan and then to invade a country that had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the extraordinary crime committed in New York and Washington on 11 September. He wrote a blank cheque, and that is what we are trying to stop here. We should make the political case, and then let the military leadership deal with the strategies and tactics once a democratic decision has been made to deploy.
Again, I would put to opponents of this bill: if it is such a disaster to have these debates in the public domain, how are all these other countries managing? How are they getting away with it? If you cannot persuade a majority of your own parliament that a deployment is in order and in the national interest, maybe there is something wrong with your case. I have heard this argument made a number of times. Labor senators have made it and government senators have made it. Why on earth would you want to expose a decision as serious as the decision to deploy into harm's way to the crossbench? Those arguments miss the point that for the crossbench votes to even be called into play, it must mean the opposition party is offside. If you cannot persuade a majority of your own parliament that a deployment is in the national interest, maybe there is something deeply wrong with your case. Maybe you should be forced to put it into the public domain so that the argument can be had.
I recognise that there are technical issues in this bill which have been debated over many years and are worthy of debate. And we are reintroducing this bill for debate this morning with the door wide open. Senator Carr, I do not know if you are planning on speaking. If you have suggestions, we are all ears. Senator O'Sullivan, if your side of politics has suggestions, proposals or amendments, we are all ears. We are interested in progressing the principle of this issue as the first step in renegotiating the defence relationship with a president who I submit to this chamber is an extremely dangerous individual—dangerous to the interests of his own electorate and dangerous to Australia.
I look forward to seeing how this debate unfolds. This is really only stage 1 for the Australian Greens. As I said, we are willing to discuss how this issue can be progressed. If not using the exact wording of this bill, how do we democratise the decision to place Australian service personnel into harm's way? I think it is one of the gravest and most serious considerations that could be put to a member of parliament. I do not think it is tenable for those individuals in this building to say that they are not competent, that they do not want that responsibility. I think that responsibility properly belongs in here so that these arguments can be heard in the light of day rather than made behind closed doors as we saw in the disastrous decision to invade Iraq, which has made the world a deeply unstable place.
We believe that, in the cause of the rule of law, Australia should take its place among those other democracies with whom we either are in formal alliances or at least consider kindred democracies so that we do not see a repeat of what happened in 2003.
I have actually been looking forward to the opportunity to make a contribution to the introduction of the Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015. I must say I do not often make favourable remarks about the Greens, but I will tell you what: you have got to give them credit for persistence. You really do have to give them credit for persistence.
I will take that interjection. We in the National Party are very proud, too, of our persistence with certain ideology too. But let's look at this now. That contribution by Senator Ludlam was breathtaking. He demonstrated a complete ignorance of the principles of democratic society and the principles of representative democracy, which of course is the political system our nation and most free nations of the world are based on.
Senator Ludlam, whether he intended to or not, has just offended the majority of the people who live in the United States of America. He wants to argue democracy in this place. He wants to argue democratic decisions. It is only a matter of weeks ago that they went to the polls and by a majority—and quite a clear majority—elected the current President of the United States. From the very day—
I am not one who engages in these interjections, Mr Acting Deputy President. You should remind them that I am entitled to be heard in silence here. But, from that very day, the Greens party attacked the democratic decision of the United States of America, our great ally. Where would this nation be today if the United States had not joined us in Europe, had not joined us in the Pacific? Senator Ludlam, you would have delivered your speech today in a completely different language had they not been in our lives.
This goes to the heart of the problem we have with the Greens party and the introduction of this legislation that has failed in this place with a body of members of parliament who are no longer here. This is the 36th year that some attempt has been made to breach the Constitution of this nation to somehow create this environment that you want via this bill. It has failed on dozens of occasions in the majority vote of the democracy of the nation. It will fail again today, and you know that full well. It will fail because it is simply a bad idea.
If you have got the time to pay attention, let me give you some pointers about democracy. Here is what happens in a democracy. Political parties present themselves to the nation. They present their ideas, they present their policies, they present their initiatives, and the good people of the nation—in free nations—have a vote to elect the government. It is called representative democracy. 'We see you, we understand who you are and we are putting our faith in you for the next period of time'—in our case three years or thereabout—'to represent our interests. We trust you to represent our interests.'
As you know, the Greens of course are very unhappy that they never get to sit at the big people's table. Despite decades of endeavouring, they cannot cut through. In fact, the last time the voters of Australia were asked to consider whether they should represent them in this parliament, fewer than ever before voted for them. They are on the path to irrelevance and yet want to make the case that somehow they should be involved to influence the decisions of the parliament when it comes to matters of defence.
Let's have a look at their voting record. Let's let the Australian people judge whether they are even capable of making a rational decision about issues that come before this Senate. Before the parliament was prorogued, I had the library do a study. There were 378 votes that occurred in this place, and for all but one dozen of them they voted against the government of the day. That, of course, defies any logic of the Australian people to suggest that every single thing the popularly elected government under this democracy had done did not find favour with the Greens and was rejected. On those dozen occasions, six were procedural, one was when they accidentally stayed on this side of the chamber—I was in the chamber when it happened, and they did not hear the referee's whistle or did not move quickly enough—and the other five were matters of self-interest to the Greens.
You mocked me before when I talked about the connections of your party to the communist movement internationally. In fact, I quite like Senator Lee Rhiannon. To all the Greens, let me say this: I disagree violently with every single thing you and she have to say, but let me tell you that she is the only one amongst you who is a true and honest warrior. I disagree with every word she says, but she is the only one amongst you who is a true and honest warrior. It is well recorded publicly and otherwise about her connections through the KGB, her visits to Russia and still, today, the ideology that she reflects within your party. Let me read you a bit about the Left Renewal. This is as recently as 21 December.
To be honest, it should not fall to one of us to call a point of order when a senator of that side of the chamber impugns the reputation of one of our colleagues, implying ties to a foreign intelligence service. I ask that Senator O'Sullivan come back to earth, stick to reality, continue his speech and withdraw that remark.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I do not want to make your position difficult, but there are no remarks that I have made that I am prepared to withdraw. These are matters on the public record of which Senator Rhiannon has had ample opportunity to resist; she has not. If I am now not entitled to speak of matters that have been well aired publicly over decades, then what am I here for? I do not want to make your position—
Senator Cameron interjecting—
Let me finish. I do not want to make—
I may be mistaken, but I understand that you have asked Senator O'Sullivan to withdraw and he has refused to do so. That is a reflection on your authority as chair. You ought to sustain the position you have taken and reiterate your instruction to Senator O'Sullivan.
Senator O'Sullivan, before you make any comments, in the interest of ensuring that debate continues in the chamber, I ask you to reconsider your decision. I invite you to do that now. I also remind you that I did not hear the remark clearly at that time.
Might I perhaps offer a solution that colleagues may take: I would be more than happy for my reflections to be referred to the President of the Senate for him to consider them and come back here to provide a ruling to the chamber. But I do not want to put you in a difficult position, Mr Acting Deputy President. I have great respect for you and most importantly—
Having considered the matter, the matter is now to be settled on the basis that Senator O'Sullivan has invited the President to consider this matter. The President may well consider this issue and, if he determines that it is necessary to come back to the chamber on his decision in that respect, he will do so. In the interests of continuing the debate, I think it is important that we continue. That resolves that point of order and I invite you now, Senator O'Sullivan, to continue your remarks in relation to the Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Let me just apologise to you personally: I did not mean to put you in this position and I will endeavour to be very careful with my language in the future. This critically goes to the heart of the debate in relation to this bill. Let me not talk about Senator Rhiannon, but let us for one moment assume that there is a senator in this place who is directly connected with a foreign power, a foreign power whose interests are not in the interests of—
It goes to the very heart of who would be involved in this. One thing Senator Ludlam and I—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—agree about is the significance of any decision that would involve sending any of our young men and women into harm's way anywhere in the world. Those decisions must be taken with the greatest possible care, by decent men and women who are selected by this nation to represent them by majority in this parliament. For a time, that could well be members of the Australian Labor Party. Do I contest that? Do I think that only the conservative coalition side of politics has the intellectual grunt, has the grasp on humanity to make decisions about our involvement in overseas conflicts? No, I do not. And I say to you, Senator Ludlam—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—on the back of a hope that this never happens: if the Greens were, in the year 2098, when the sun flares out for the last time, given power over this nation, then I would respect the fact that you as an executive would make a decision on when and where and in what circumstances this country might engage in a military conflict.
I absolutely hate military action anywhere in the world. A figure that you might like to hear is that the entire humanitarian budget each year is only two per cent of the entire military budget each year. So, every day we spend US$1.9 billion on military conflict around the world. In the time I have been up here speaking, $100 million has been spent for some person to kill another. I find it abhorrent. But I also am a realist, and I know that there are occasions when nations get into conflict. They might call upon their allies, and we may have to intervene in the interests of trying to create as peaceful an environment as possible or to protect the minorities around the world.
I was in this place when I heard the very forceful argument of the Greens against us putting troops into Syria. We have a genocide occurring with the Christian minority in Syria. They were killing hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children every day, and some of them in the most obnoxious ways, putting people in cages—children—and lowering them into waters so they drowned. And I heard the colleagues of the Greens here resist any thought that we might join a military action in Syria to try to save and preserve the lives of these minorities who are being affected. Now, we did, and there has been success. In fact, thousands of these refugees, these Christian Syrians, are coming to our nation today—people who would not be alive if it had not been for the intervention of our nation and our allies in relation to their circumstances.
We have seen the genocide of Saddam Hussein on his neighbours—tens of thousands of them gassed—and the Greens resist any thought, even retrospectively. This is what makes it so offensive. These people want to join me and the properly elected government and their executive to make decisions on whether we should or should not, and their contributions are so predictable, and they reconfirm it retrospectively. So, they would have had us not go into Iraq and leave Saddam Hussein to continue on the annihilation of a whole race of people.
None of these interventions go well. You cannot go in and knock off the Saddams of the world and all their colonels and lieutenants, because in doing so you take away the superstructure—albeit a corrupt society, but it disappears. All their levels of government disappear. Their local government disappears. There is no-one to make decisions about the utilities or those sorts of things that you and I take for granted in this country. But when you consider that against doing nothing, then of course the decision, in my mind, becomes very clear.
What we have at the heart of this is a style of government in this country whereby people select members of the lower house, the House of Representatives. They are elected by a popular majority, in a democratic way, in a democratic system that has been tested for hundreds of years. In the words of I think it was Churchill, talking about democracy, it is the worst form of government—except for all the others. And I think that is as powerful a statement today as it has ever been.
You talk about the Prime Minister—our Prime Minister—reacting to a tweet and sending the troops into the Middle East on the back of a tweet. I have to ask you: do you think the Australian people hear that and think that is what happens? That is a complete and absolute nonsense, and it shows your ignorance of how executive government operates.
Thank you, but I have to tell you: you know when you are on the money—and I said it yesterday—when the opponents to what you have to say continue to interject in their effort to suppress the flow of your debate, your contribution to the debate. But—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—Senator Ludlam is, honestly, an intellectual vacuum when it comes to the issue of the operation of executive government in Australia. Executive government is made of this whole cabinet of very decent men and women, some of them—most of them—great leaders from their own communities. There are 225 members of parliament in this place, and they are selected on the basis of the collective belief that they are the finest minds, they are the best people to make a contribution to the nation. So, this business that somehow the Prime Minister of the day rolls over in bed of a morning, at 3 am—he might be like me and have to get up every half an hour during the night—and checks his tweets and finds out that a leader of a foreign nation has tweeted something so he picks the phone up to the head of Defence and deploys all our troops to the Middle East or some other theatre of war—what a complete nonsense. This is a complete nonsense.
These are the people who would have us bring them to the table to be involved in decisions of when this nation may go into conflict. Additionally—and I am going to try to do this without using the word 'communism' from top to bottom—let me read to you some of the current thoughts of the Australian Greens, who are advocating this bill. These are thoughts that were published on 21 December 2016. There are enough Greens here to stand up each time I read an element of this and tell me that it is not so. This is the Greens policy called Left Renewal. The Left Renewal movement is the power within the Greens now. It opens with:
That our struggle for social justice brings us into irreconcilable conflict with the capitalist mode of production, and all other forms of class society.
You either have capitalism, socialism or the big C. I am not going to say the word, for fear of an interjection. This is a party whose ideology now supports non-capitalist forms of government. Capitalist government covers all of the UK, most of Europe and the United States. They want a vote to determine whether we interfere in a conflict. So if there is a socialist invasion—I am going to have to say it—or a communist invasion of a near neighbour, the Greens will not support intervention for peace purposes, because that nation that is invading their capitalist neighbours fits neatly in their ideology.
They also talk about:
…'good people' gaining control of these authoritarian and exploitative power structures.
They are talking about what is called a participatory form of democracy. That is what this document is, this manifesto. They say every Australian should have a say in this. Let's just run this around for a minute. Our national security is under immediate threat, we have had a Pearl Harbor event, and they want us over the next—if working with them is any experience—two years to come into this place and debate every single aspect of the decision. They do not want to just make a contribution; they want to go back to every single Australian—and God forbid they want to go back to their mob and get their input—as to whether we should go over there and protect our national interest security-wise or take some rose petals and fling them in the air in front of advancing troops. This would go on forever and ever if the parliament were involved in having to make a decision.
We have good men and women—be they Labor, be they the coalition or, perhaps in a hundred years' time when the world has come to an end, the Australian Greens—in there making considered decisions about our intervention in military events. It has worked for us. There is not a military event—and I look back retrospectively. I hate war. I hate conflict. As I look back, there have been one or two that perhaps with more information we might not have engaged in as we did, but in the large part—
Senator Rhiannon interjecting—
No, no—you would be talking in Japanese today if you had been in charge in the mid-forties. You would have a housekeeper who was a Papua New Guinean who had been displaced. You people are outrageous—through you, Madam Deputy President, before I get into trouble. I say this: Australians, one and all, ought to think about what is being attempted here. You have the absolute socialist Left, with great communist links, who want to get a seat at the table to make decisions about where, when and on what terms we engage in military practice. This idea has been rejected by hundreds and hundreds of politicians representing the interests of their constituencies between—
Thank you, Madam Deputy President. A dispute occurred before you took the chair, about 10 minutes ago during Senator O'Sullivan's contribution where he—under standing order 193(3), rules of debate—impugned the motives of an Australian Greens senator and, by association, all of us. I ask, through you, Madam Deputy President, when the President considers the ruling, to take the points of order that Senator McKim and I raised a short while ago in the context of the contribution that followed. It has been implied that the Australian Greens by direct association are some sort of treasonous communist imposition with allegiance to a foreign power. These are the sorts of arguments that Senator O'Sullivan is putting forward. I ask the President, through you, Madam Deputy President, to consider the context of this contribution.
Senator Ludlam, the point of order has been understood, and the President will look at the speech in its entirety. I remind senators that the President will only come back to the chamber if he feels that he should.
I rise to speak on Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015, and I would like to welcome Senator Ludlam back to the Senate. I know he has had some time off. I used to work very cooperatively with Senator Ludlam during the time that the Labor Party was in government on some very key pieces of legislation, including some TV recycling legislation which was one of the few examples of all of the parties getting together to work on a very important piece of legislation which continues to work very well in recycling TVs and computers even to this present point in time. Welcome back, Senator Ludlam.
Unfortunately, we cannot support your legislation today. I would like to go into the reasons for that. Before I do, I might take up a point that Senator O'Sullivan made about World War II. I think it is worthwhile pointing that, as he said, the Greens were not in government, but Labor was in government. A great wartime leader from your home state, Deputy President, was in charge: Prime Minister Curtin. Australia was in very safe hands under his very wise guidance during the period of the war, which, of course, we successfully worked through.
We cannot support this legislation. It aims to ensure that Defence Force personnel are not sent overseas to engage in warlike activities, without the approval of both houses of parliament. The existing practice in Australia is that any decision to deploy members of the ADF beyond Australian territorial limits is at the sole prerogative of the executive of the Commonwealth. That has been the long-standing practice, and the Labor Party continues to support that practice. We certainly did so in government. It is a long-standing constitutional practice and the Labor Party does not support any proposals to change that practice, and in particular does not support this proposed legislation.
I will go through some of the background to this and deal with some of the times that this has been debated in the past. The first point to make is that, as we did in government, have always done government and continue to do an opposition, we fully support ADF personnel who are currently involved in operations at various places around the world. I suppose it is fair to say that it is becoming a more unstable world, and some people speculate that it will become even more unstable into the future. But we have men and women who are doing great work on behalf of this country and I know that they are undertaking their various roles with terrific professionalism. I also take this opportunity to state that Labor fully supports the principle that it is the role of the parliament to debate issues of concern and to act as a focal point for discussions that take place in the Australian community. That role is particularly important when we are discussing issues like the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel. Labor has consistently supported open debate on these issues. In 2015, when the Labor Party announced its support for the extension of Operation OKRA into Syrian air space, we also called on the government to outline to parliament its long-term strategy for the defence of Iraq and to follow up with appropriate parliamentary discussions of that strategy.
Ministers for defence should, of course, provide the parliament with regular and detailed ministerial statements regarding overseas operations and deployments, as we certainly did in our time in government. That is what the Australian community expects in this place. They expect to have a discussion in the parliament on important issues and to allow all points of view to be expressed and debated, as they should be. But it is imperative that in this debate we not confuse the requirements of parliamentary approval for the deployment of ADF personnel.
Labor believes that supporting this bill would risk serious unintended consequences. The government of the day must always retain the necessary flexibility to allow it to respond quickly and efficiently to threats to Australia's national security. To require a vote of parliament or a proclamation from the Governor-General, prior to deploying ADF personnel and assets, would unnecessarily increase the risk to the operation and to the personnel involved. As has been noted in previous debates on this issue, the government of the day also has access to classified information that this parliament does not have access to, and, given the nature of that information, cannot have access to. Australia's defence and national security agencies provide information to the government that must remain classified for a whole range of reasons, including the safety and security of the military personnel involved.
I would also like to reiterate our concerns, and in particular the concerns expressed by former senator and defence minister John Faulkner, in 2011, regarding how defence operations that may be clandestine in nature and may be considered preparatory deployments would be accommodated within such an arrangement as is being proposed by Senator Ludlam. That is particularly where the definition of 'warlike' and 'non-warlike' military service can be clear, and perhaps ambiguous at the outset.
Bills very similar to this one have been introduced into the parliament on a number of occasions in recent years. The first of those was the Defence Amendment Bill 1985, which the Democrats introduced. That bill did not pass this parliament. Since then the Democrats and the Greens between them have introduced similar pieces of legislation to the Senate—in 2003, twice in 2008, and again in 2010. The Greens also introduced a bill into this house in 2010. The parliament gave due consideration to all of those pieces of legislation and none of them were passed.
Labor supports a robust debate on this issue, but we do not support the substance or the intent of this legislation. We want to have a robust debate, but at the end of the day we believe that the current constitutional practice is appropriate and we will continue to support that practice. For that reason we do not support this bill.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to oppose the Defence Legislation Amendment (Parliamentary Approval of Overseas Service) Bill 2015 as it is proposed right now by the Greens. Instead, I will be proposing some amendments. I need to start by saying that the government, as I see it, has three core responsibilities: to protect life, to protect property and to protect freedom. The Greens, sadly, are weak on border protection, yet I must be very clear that I agree with the intent of this motion. This bill in its current form seeks to prevent the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel for warlike operations without the approval of both houses of parliament. This bill would, if passed, tie the hands of any government from directing the use of military force to defend Australia's strategic interests or to fulfil our obligations to our principal allies and to our citizens.
The movers of this bill in its current form appear to totally misunderstand the structure and the operation of the Westminster system of parliamentary government, in which the legislator legislates but the government governs. In my experience, the Greens have bypassed our Constitution often in the past, and this also, sadly, in its current form, bypasses the Constitution and undermines it. The government of Australia is not a student union in which every action is compelled to be subject to a drawn-out, internecine and paralysing debate and in which no action is always better than an action with which one or another of the squabbling factions disagrees. Accountability requires clear structures of responsibility. It requires clear decisions, not games and posturing and not window-dressing.
If we want this country to be capable of responding effectively to international military threats, then the government must be able to act decisively and, when necessary, clandestinely to meet these threats and not have its hands tied. That is the world in which we live. I do respect the Greens and agree with the Greens' need for greater accountability on this issue though. Although the underlying premise of this bill is totally impractical and naive in the extreme, the principle that members of parliament and senators, who collectively represent all the citizens of this wonderful country, should be aware of the circumstances under which warlike operations are authorised by the government of the day is a very reasonable proposal. When we listen to our constituents, the people are upset with decisions like going to Iraq and going to Vietnam—automatically just following—without consultation. I can recall watching Alexander Downer, after he retired from federal parliament, stating that, when the 9/11 event occurred in New York in 2001, John Howard returned, spoke to the cabinet and said, 'We are going to Iraq.' That was it. That is not good enough. The public want discussion of these things. They want to be consulted; they want to know their views are understood.
To this end, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party will propose three amendments which seek to achieve this latter reasonable aim of accountability without hamstringing the government from discharging its obligations to use military force to protect us. The first amendment that I will move when debate resumes calls for the government to provide confidential briefings to members and senators in the event of authorising any deployment. The virtues of this amendment largely speak for themselves. The second of our proposed amendments will remove the central requirement that the authority of the parliament is required for any military action, which, as previously stated, we do not support, as we believe this would compromise Australia's ability to defend itself. The third amendment that we would propose seeks to require that, three months after authorising the use of military force, the government is required to have a debate in parliament on the merits of the military action—to have a review.
Firstly, taken collectively, these three amendments acknowledge the right of the government of the day to engage the Australian defence forces in warlike operations as it sees fit on behalf of the people of Australia. Secondly, they also make clear its obligations not to seek approval but to keep the larger legislature informed of the circumstances surrounding any such deployment and the requirements for it. Thirdly, they also seek to ensure that the government is subsequently accountable to the broader legislature for its decisions and allows all members and senators a say in the continuation of any such military action.
Pauline Hanson's One Nation party is concerned about our young men and women who are sent to defend our country. We have been listening to people who have returned from overseas action in a very sad state. As one of them said to me, our country 'sends them, bends them, but doesn't mend them'. I have three former Defence staff in my team. We are aware of the threats that these people face, and we understand, as they do, that security must dominate. These young men and women deserve complete respect and our accountability before we send them overseas. In the event that our proposed amendments are defeated, we will oppose the bill. I move the second reading amendment standing in my name:
At the end of the motion, add:
", but the Senate acknowledges the executive's responsibility to deploy forces at short notice and calls on the Government to be open and accountable to all parliamentary representatives prior to making such a decision.".