Parliamentary Approval for War

Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser gave an interesting speech last week entitled “Finding Security in Terrorism’s Shadow: The importance of the rule of law”. It is an interesting and thought provoking speech. It is appropriately scathing of the neo-conservatives and their malign influence not just in the USA but on the globe. But it also goes beyond that into the history, role and importance of the rule of law and how it can effectively be applied in the modern era.

The whole speech is worth reading, but one aspect I found particularly interesting was Fraser’s support for a requirement that Parliamentary approval be required before our troops can be committed to war overseas.

if the United States is to go to war, there must be a vote in the Congress supporting that move. I would now support a similar provision placed in the Australian Constitution. If the Government has such a weak case for war that it could not persuade a majority of both Houses of Parliament, to vote in favour of a proposed conflict, then that conflict should not be undertaken. In America, the President cannot move without such a vote from the American Congress. In Australia the Parliament now does not need to be consulted. The Australian Parliament should be given a power equivalent to that of the United States Congress.

Of course, the Australian Senate voted against our troops being engaged in the attack on Iraq in 2003, but by the time the vote was taken, our troops were already in the field. Australia was the only country of the so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ whose engagement was not supported by a vote of their Parliament or Congress.

The stance Malcolm Fraser is taking is also supported by new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.  I’ve had legislation before the Senate since 2003 which seeks to amend our Defence Act to add this requirement, but it has never been supported by either of the major parties in Australia.

It is a change which a number of Australian Democrat Senators have advocated and tried to achieve through various Private Senators Bills and amendments during debates on Defence Act amendment Bills over a long period of time.

I think the first time a Democrat Senator moved such an amendment seeking to require Parliamentary approval for troop deployment was former NSW Democrat Senator, Colin Mason, was right back in 1981. Then as now, that move was opposed by our government and the main opposition party. Ironically, the Prime Minister whose government rejected the measure at that time was Malcolm Fraser.

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  1. better than nothing, i suppose, but the important aspect is that party discipline turns congress or parliament into a rubber stamp, and government control of information may well lead ‘opposition’ parties to acquiesce, as well.

    ordinary people must pay for war in blood and taxes, they should decide to make war themselves, through referendum.

    there is no substitute for real democracy.

    without democracy, the world will never be rid of would-be caesars like bush, and complaisant henchmen like blair and howard.

  2. Well Malcolm does try to show many of us how immature our Democracy is..from a relatively unaffected place.I am having another bad day Raper has won an Award,and frankly I couldnt give a rats arse about him,and motivations and opinion.So the point I am making remains below the grand view of Malcolm s and sped through in the speech,about individual rights of the common herd.The word Conscription didnt ring in his ears,or the high minded there at that meeting!? Surely it rang in Mason s ears at the time he first put it forward!And even though a Bill Of Rights is operating in the U.S.A. conscription has occurred regularly without any form of superannuation distress of those who enforced it.So apparently, the Howard Liberals were able to conscript the whole nation into war,whilst the troops just do as the job requires,that is the present lack of rules has been usurped,by processes in place before the Howard government, as well as in the time of it, which made the Senate less powerful at the point of rejecting, whatever existed beforehand to stop or slow down war engagement! The simple solution to that Howard resistance now, would be an enabling bill, that included all those Federal personnel who disallowed due process and change to stop the illegal war to be immediately conscripted.Perhaps by deed poll the real soldiers who have been over in Iraq and still are ..under Statute Law will be able to exchange their names with personnel for engagement, when and if,a International Court holds its jurisdictional court!? If there was nothing at all in the Constitution that could ,by numbers in the Senate and lower house be enacted upon,if numbers were large enough,then even the Democrats Greens and Labor have been putting on shows of powerlessness,and postponed by at least a decade a bloody fight that maybe should of been exactly that..within Australia ,in a manner that said to the world we do not take these matters lightly,but do resolutely.Fraser would not be at that front!

  3. Please keep up the push for parliament to approve “going to war”.
    We have had at least two wars which have not, or would not have allowed Australia to participate if the populace had a say.
    good luck with your endeavours, wish you were in my electorate.

  4. I think even with a Senate majority, Howard would have trouble convincing all Coalition Senators that war in Iraq is a good idea. Unfortunately, the ALP have been rolled over on the issue of terrorism far too many times. Capitulating to Howard and locking up doctors and marching off to the Middle East won’t secure our nation.

  5. Andrew, do you remember that in the final moments of the last Senate session of last year changes were put through to allow the Prime Minister alone, or two ministers together, to call out the army, rather than having the power rest with the Governor General, though I can’t remember whether that was for internal or international action, or both.
    My point is that while I agree with you, we have no chance when the government is mostly concerned with drawing power to itself, slice by slice, authoritarian for the love of power as far as I can tell.
    Anyway it is just more evidence that the Senate should be a proper house of review.
    Sadly I am in NSW, but I do hope that you are re-elected, I am a fan. All the best, Adam.

  6. I’m not convinced a direct democracy option would work troop deployments, al, so requiring parliamentary approval is probably the best we can do – along with better opportunity for the parliament to genuinely scrutinise intelligence and other information before such votes to ensure their vote is not based on lies and selective misinformation, which is what we got on Iraq of course.

    But you are right, excessive party discipline does reduce the value of such votes. I find it truly bizarre that a vote on stem cell research is ruled a conscience vote for all MPs, but sending troops to war is not.

    I am sure that some Liberal MPs voted in favour of the motion supporting the Iraq war when they were personally against it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some Labor MPs in the reverse position.

  7. “I find it truly bizarre that a vote on stem cell research is ruled a conscience vote for all MPs, but sending troops to war is not” Couldn’t agree more Andrew. At least with a stronger and more democratic ‘rule’ in government it would surely carry the provision, that both Houses of Parliament should not only vote, but democracy should be practiced via a full debate, and be a real matter of conscience – not binded by party disipline as you say.A decent media would educate the citizens not the puppets we have now!
    The US constitution has been trampled on by Bush to such an extent, that he’s made himself immune from any ‘disciplinary’ action in the future, and included all the war criminals in it with him. He now issues “Executive orders” whenever he wishes, that include, that the US can detain any person anywhere it wishes, among other draconian ‘laws’.Guantanamo is proof of that! No action taken! Don’t think it couldn’t happen here too! Get online and look at the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, pages 73-80(I think) that relate to unions and actions taken. Both Iraq and Afghanistan were going to be invaded anyway, 9/11 just gave Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld etc the springboard. Read the article below, and there are others on the same website. Another good website is Information Clearing House – just Google it. You can receive daily articles via newsletter from around the globe. Most enlightening. Our media is a disgrace! No word of oil, gas or the puppet governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. The roles are intermingled and go back for years. eg.President of Afghanistan worked for a major oil company that wants the oil/gas from the Caspian Sea?Bush Snr and John Major(British past PM) also involved. It all becomes clear with more knowledge. “Terrorism” is the master cover. Our people were/are killed for oil and gas, plus domination of the middle east. Howard Cabinet/media just as bad.Scary!

    View this story online at:

  8. I have a nasty feeling that something is going wrong with our Westminster system. (Or the interpretation of it) Whilst migrants are forced to declare ’embracing Aussie values’ the very Prime Minister makes a mockery of those values, namely democracy. It looks as if John Howard think he owns the country rather than running it.
    The recent arrogant outburst of our Minister of Foreign Affairs scolding Japan for withdrawing their support for disgusting wars, shows that the present government does not only own Australia; it gives itself every right to dictate sovereign countries what to do. Rather strange diplomacy. Dolly Downer thinks he owns Tokyo.
    People of Australia were never asked whether they wanted to attack other countries. People of Japan decided they do not want to support somebody else’s wars.
    So much so about democracy.

  9. When I consider where the Iraq war has taken this nation, I NEVER want to risk this happening again without full parliamentary approval. We can only hope then, that enough parliamentarians realise that wars are indeed futile and totally counter-productive, even barbaric,and bestow untold suffering on all the populations involved. Gentle is the brow of the Good man… that’s you, Andrew.

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