Strolling down memory lane, please don't mention the war

Strolling down memory lane, please don't mention the war

It's been quite a week for putting on comfortable shoes, packing a light lunch and promenading down Memory Lane.

With parliament back from hibernation, we've marked two years (that's TWO WHOLE YEARS) since Julia Gillard said there would be no carbon tax under the government she led.

Because, if you haven't heard, there is now a carbon tax under the government she leads.

As the government and Coalition reached a compromised compromise on offshore processing - and the ADF rolled in to inspect the damage at Nauru and Manus Island - we've also been reminded of border protection, Howard style.

The déjà vuness was heightened when Tony Abbott described a boat arrival as a ''reverse Tampa'', after reports asylum seekers had forced a merchant vessel bound for Singapore to take them to Australia. (The shipping line later clarified that the asylum seekers had threatened self-harm and there was no physical aggression).


The 67 people on board were eventually dropped off at Christmas Island, prompting the Opposition Leader to make his Tampa quip. John Howard, Abbott reminded us, would have sent in the SAS, not the ''welcoming committee'' of the Immigration Department.

When too much remembering was nearly enough, Godwin Grech - the man who makes Treasury officials break out in a cold sweat - returned with an article in The Spectator.

Apart from calling for greater transparency in the public sector (surely the equivalent of Tom Cruise calling for greater transparency in the Catholic Church), Grech said Malcolm Turnbull's leadership goose was cooked, Abbott was the new Howard and Howard should be the next governor-general.

But the reminiscing didn't stop there. On Thursday, a group of ''eminent'' Australians (including everyone's favourite leftie dissident Malcolm Fraser) took us back to 2003, calling for an inquiry into the Iraq War.

Next March, it will be 10 years since US, British and Australian forces went in to Iraq.

''The reasons [Australia] did so, and maintained a military presence there for most of the decade, were unclear then and are not yet satisfactorily explained,'' a paper by the group states.

According to the group, there has never been a wide-ranging independent inquiry into the Australia's involvement in the war.

This is despite the fact it has now been established (by other eminent inquiries) that the intelligence justifying the US-led invasion was disastrously flawed.

Before the war, polls suggested that Australians did not support Australia going to war in Iraq by about two to one.

Leading up to the invasion, we also had the kind of mass protests not seen since Vietnam. It seemed like there was a tide of anger towards the government for taking Australia to war against its will.

But time and a faraway war with few Australian casualties make for a soothing balm. While George Bush and Tony Blair each came under pressure for their actions, Howard and his government were never so much as sent to their rooms to think about what they'd done.

In 2007, when the Coalition was booted out, it was for a whole range of reasons that did not include Iraq.

This week, when the invitation came to revisit Iraq, no one wanted to party (even though it was Labor who had brought the troops home).

''I could have given you a long answer about the circumstances of the Iraq war but we've got other issues,'' Julia Gillard told reporters, moving right along.

Stephen ''it's just not hockey'' Smith said the lessons had already been learned. An enquiry wasn't warranted.

They were joined by Robert Hill, who was defence minister when Australia went to Iraq.

''In my humble opinion, it would probably be better for Australia to focus on the issues of today and the issues of tomorrow than to try and re-guess matters of 10 years ago,'' he said, from the relative safety of political retirement.

At a level, you can understand why no one wanted to touch it. A decade later, the war horse has bolted a bit. And the government sure has enough problems without starting yet another inquiry - particularly one that would stir up factoids that don't vibe well with our US love in.

And yet.

When Gillard continues to be flogged - both in the polls and by the opposition - for her carbon tax no/yes, it doesn't make sense that everyone appears A-OK that we went to an entire war based on information that was dodgy at the very best.

Maybe that's the difference between a core lie and a non-core one.

Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.

Most Viewed in Politics