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Should Parliament decide Iraq strategy?

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Should the Parliament rather than the government decide if Australia returns to Iraq?

The rules on this are clear enough but factors unique to Iraq mean this is not as clear cut for all.

Those who answer yes to a parliamentary vote – the Greens, and independents like Andrew Wilkie – are the same ones who would also answer no to the primary question.

What they want is not so much a vote, as its anagrammatic variant, a veto.

In Australia, however, the power to embark on military action resides with the executive – the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and its national security committee.

The NSC has met multiple times recently on this very question and has, we are told, endorsed the first steps: to wit, humanitarian food and supply drops by C130 aircraft to beseiged Kurds, and a hand-over of weapons and ammunition to Kurdish Peshmerga forces "in coming days".

As one of the nation's foremost legal academics, the ANU's Don Rothwell, has pointed out, genuine question marks hang over the legal basis of an increasingly likely military campaign – not least arising from the absence of a functioning representative government in Baghdad.

But putting aside even these concerns for a moment, might there be a special case for a parliamentary discussion, if not a binding vote?

This, after all, is Iraq, a place where Western democracies so recently spent their entire reserves of domestic trust and credibility.

Just over a decade ago, governments including the US, Britain and Australia, bludgeoned their resepective polities and the broader international community with fabricated intelligence of weapons of mass destruction and therefore of an imminent threat.

The war was a disaster and the failed state it bequeathed is the very agar in which the virulent strain of hyper-violent Islam now raging in northern Iraq and Syria has grown.

Now, as then, the level of threat is being emphasised.

ASIO director-general David Irvine has noted that the campaign by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, has drawn new adherents from the West, including Australia, in numbers which dwarf all the other bloody jihadist wars including Afghanistan, put together.

Some 60 Australians have joined ISIL fighters and another hundred or so Australians are active supporters and recruiters, Irvine says.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has described ISIL as "an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else".

And Tony Abbott has repeatedly referred to beheadings, crucifixions and mass killings, warning we don't go looking for these conflicts, they come looking for us.

Persuasive as the humanitarian and strategic arguments are, erstwhile eager members of  the coalition of the willing must recognise the betrayal of the last Iraq adventure.

Where once there was trust, now resides cynicism.

There are sound political reasons to oppose a parliamentary vote and several impracticalities mean it is not going to happen. But the WMD debacle is a key reason why many Australians believe it should.

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144 comments

  • It should be a decision of the Executive. However, there should be some explanation of that decision given to Parliament and the opportunity for the elected assembly (which supposedly represents the whole of the Australian people) to discuss the decision.

    Commenter
    gobsmack
    Date and time
    September 02, 2014, 6:57AM
    • The parliament did decide, Labor policy supports the decisions of the government in these matters. Greens don't have the numbers to block it, what a misinformed article. Why would anyone bother with endless debate from a minor party with small representation? Regardless what anyone thinks, not worth wasting the money talking about in parliament, would need to be an election debate to be worth anything, the Greens need to bring it up then if they think it has any merit.

      Commenter
      Big Public
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 7:56AM
    • The liberal party only recieved 32% of the vote. Parliament rresents Australia. Only Parliament can decide in a true Democracy. Are we a Democracy or a Dictatorship ?

      Commenter
      Democracy over Dictatorship
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:05AM
    • If that discourse had been done in 2003 the public would have seen straight threw the logic and we would not have invaded a country that was stable and relatively peaceful.

      Commenter
      Brian
      Location
      Newcastle
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:14AM
    • While going back to Iraq and getting rid of ISIS is a bi partisan policy of both major parties, few commentators backed by green left are screaming up and down and playing cheap politics with it. we can summarize the approach on 2 different topic as below
      Climate change - Australia specific issue. lets put a huge carbon tax on australian citizens when no country in the world has got such a high carbon tax
      defeating ISIS - let others do the dirty work, we can organize a talk fest in parliament for this. call it a citizens assembly.

      Commenter
      Sick of Left
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:16AM
    • I disagree with gobsmack and I believe parliament should decide whether to enter this war. Against the advice of the UN, the executive took us into the last war against Irak and joined the 'coalition of the willing' on the basis of lies. Are we being told the truth this time? We have heard so many lies out of the mouth of current politicians. Why are we so concerned about genocide on this occasion when the world has stood by and seen this occur in many nations over the past 50 years? What is different this time. What is to be the cost of this war? The government talks of tough measures in the recent unfair budget but fails to tell us the cost of fighting another war? Remember thousands of innocent men, women and children were slaughtered in the bombings in Irak and the country was left in ruins?? Is it not time for intelligent, open parliamentary debate regardless of party affiliations??

      Commenter
      Doubtful
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:26AM
    • I suggest you read Hansard from yesterday. Just before the start of Question Time, both Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten made statements to Parliament over their policies on helping the Kurds in Iraq. It is a shame Mark Kenny makes no mention of their speeches. That would have been inconvenient to his story though.

      Commenter
      The Village Idiot (Reformed)
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:28AM
    • What makes you think the explanation would be truthful? How many times have you heard Abbott mention the massive oil fields of Exxonmobile and Chevron that are currently at risk (coincidence we only get involved when we're about to lose oil fields?).

      While nothing ensures truthful disclosure, and open, public debate upon which the decision is based by vote goes a long way to increasing the odds.

      Commenter
      adamj
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:29AM
    • The real answer is the AUSTRALIAN parliament should decide - not the USA Secretary of War!!

      Commenter
      Ex-insider
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:51AM
    • We're actually under the rule of a double dictatorship, which is twice as bad as a single one.

      Commenter
      kanga
      Date and time
      September 02, 2014, 8:57AM

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