Wong surrenders to Canberra hawks, rejects war powers reform

Feb 11, 2023
Penny Wong - DFAT official photo

Australia’s Foreign Minister, who advocates international law and better relations with Asian countries, has surrendered to the hawks in Canberra.

Penny Wong told Parliament on 9 February that the way Australia goes to war will not change.

She was responding to a question from Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John, whose bill for reform of the war powers is still before the Parliament.

That is the sixth attempt to change the system, from 1986 when the Democrats tried repeatedly, to 2020 with the Greens’ latest bill.

Despite electoral gains for the Greens in the May election, politicians have told AWPR (Australians for War Powers Reform) they wouldn’t want to be accused of siding with the Greens on anything.

Many have told Michael West Media, which surveyed them from 2021 on war powers reform, that they have no opinion, or defer to their ministers.

The major parties will go along with each other, as long as it means preserving the ‘Royal prerogative’ to go to war.

In other words, the expressed preference of the voters can be ignored. This is what’s happening with reform of the war powers.

Labor has evidently sided with the Coalition’s Andrew Wallace (LNP), who is deputy chair of the sub-committee currently inquiring into how Australia goes to war. He says the present system has ‘served us well’.

Under that system, Australian prime ministers are able, alone or in a small hand-picked group, to decide to dispatch the ADF to war. They inform the Australian people after the decision, and if there is a debate, it can change nothing.

Under that system, Australia has backed the US in successive wars, all of them disastrous: in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Under that system, we could do the same again with even worse consequences, against China.

Penny Wong has pre-empted the decision of the Parliamentary committee inquiring into changing this system. Defence Minister Richard Marles did the same, on the day he set up the inquiry.

Submissions from Australian citizens and organisations overwhelmingly supported the case for reform, including a debate and a vote in both Houses before we go to war. They have been ignored.

If this is the democratic process and the ‘rules-based order’ Australian ministers recommend to our neighbours, it is not working in Australia.

The sub-committee is due to report in March. Its recommendations have been made nugatory by the Foreign Minister’s statement, which she said reflected the government’s view.

The worst consequence of this decision is that it removes the last possible impediment to our next war. It will be decided whenever the US gives the word – as with all the others since Vietnam. This time, it could be against China.

Because the majority of Australians can see no positive outcome from such a war, their views will be ignored and those of their Parliamentary representatives will be pushed aside.

Let no-one say we have not been warned.

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