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.