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Christine Milne: The Parliament must debate Australian military involvement in Iraq

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 1 Sep 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, moves to suspend standing orders in the Senate to force an urgent debate on Australia's military involvement in Iraq.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens): I rise today to comment on the Prime Minister's statement that has been tabled in the parliament. It is a statement that tries to justify the engagement of Australian military aircraft in supplying arms to the Kurdish fighters fighting ISIS in northern Iraq. I think we have to step back from a lot of the language that is being used by the Prime Minister to justify Australia's engagement. The fact of the matter is that before you commit troops anywhere you need to have a very clear understanding of what is in the national interest, what is likely to be achieved and what the risks associated with that engagement are and look at where we have been in the case of Iraq up until now. What is the strategy? When asked last week President Obama himself could not answer the question: what is the strategy? He did not have a strategy.

The real concern that Australians have is that this is another case of Australia just running straight after the United States. We have had it throughout our modern history. Nobody who remembers the Vietnam War will forget 'All the way with LBJ'. That was the way it was presented. We saw exactly the same with John Howard, George Bush and Tony Blair-weapons of mass destruction lies. Now we have a circumstance where there has been no attempt to justify why it is in Australia's national interest to be engaged in military involvement in Iraq and how it would not be counterproductive-and I am most interested to hear from the government why it would not be counterproductive given that ethnic tensions in Iraq have gone on for hundreds of years and will continue to do so. There is a lot of equal debate as to the extent to which the involvement of Americans, Australians and the British in Iraq will unite the jihadist Sunnis against the Shiahs even more so and that is especially because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia.

Whilst I appreciate the horrendous abuses of humanity and the offensiveness of those to Australians as we see the beheadings, the cruelty and the killings that have been going on, I can tell you that there were horrendous killings in Sri Lanka during the civil war and there is ongoing killing of the Tamils right now, and not only do we not intervene but we appease that regime. There are horrendous crimes being committed in the Congo and we have stood by and not thought it was appropriate for Australia to intervene there. What about Boko Haram? Let us go to them for a moment. We know that they are an equally jihadist, extremist Islamic organisation. They are disappearing women and young girls, raping them and selling them in Nigeria yet we have not intervened in Nigeria.

Let us talk for a moment about the chemical weapons used against the Syrians. I want to return to Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia regularly beheads people, regularly crucifies the bodies of those who have been beheaded and engages in extremism. You cannot consider this whole debate without considering the role of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. The West has been happy to stand back and not intervene in Saudi Arabia. In fact, where is the West calling out Saudi Arabia in the current circumstance? As recently as a week or so ago we had reports from Saudi Arabia applauding ISIS fighting the Shiahs in Iraq.

So before we get into military engagement in Iraq we had better ask some serious questions. Why are we there? I would argue that we are going to be there because we are blindly following the United States. Is there a clear and achievable overall objective? I do not believe so. Afghanistan in 2003-and Iraq now-demonstrates that there will not be an overall objective, except trying to retreat at some point in the future because nothing the West can do is going to end the ethnic division in Iraq. What we should have been doing is challenging the government of al-Maliki to be inclusive of all the ethnic minorities-to actually be an inclusive government. But we allowed that government to get away with preferencing the Shias consistently and excluding the Sunnis. So it is hardly surprising that the spoils of victory seem to be taken on one side of the ethnic divide or on the other side of the ethnic divide.

The Greens are asking, first of all: what is the legal justification under international law for us to be engaging in military action? Humanitarian assistance is one thing-we totally support humanitarian assistance and did support the dropping of water, food and so on. That was critically important and continues to be so. But once that crosses the line and we start transporting armaments-the SAS troops will no doubt be there, then we have the Super Hornets on high alert-it will morph into military action. My question is: how is that legal? There are only two ways that could be legal. One is if the UN Security Council were to pass a resolution. The other is if the government of Iraq has asked for it.

Today I asked a direct question of the Minister representing the Prime Minister about whether the Iraqi government had requested Australia to be a part of a mission to take munitions and weapons to the Kurdish communities fighting ISIS-and did not get an answer as to whether Australia had been directly invited. Why does international law matter? The Prime Minister said:

Australia is not a country that goes looking for trouble but we have always been prepared to do what we can to help in the wider world.

In good conscience, Madam Speaker, Australia cannot leave the Iraqi people to face this horror, this pure evil, alone or ask others to do so in the name of human decency what we won't do ourselves.
If we do not abide by international law, however, how can we ask any other country to abide by international law? That is the point. International law applies to everyone or it applies to no-one. If we speak to North Korea, to China or to anyone else about international law, we expect the same law to apply everywhere-not to run a different line when it comes to Iraq.

As to our culpability in Iraq, there is no doubt. After the 2003 engagement in Iraq, we left a major vacuum which has been filled by this ethnic violence and tension that has gone on ever since and, I would argue, has been made worse by the nature of the al-Maliki government. The question is whether the Iraq's new government will be strong enough to be able to be inclusive enough to start to reduce the level of tension. I have some very serious concerns. I do not think it is good enough for the government to just say, 'These are shocking atrocities; therefore we will go in.' That has not been our position in Sri Lanka, Congo, Nigeria or Saudi Arabia. But it suddenly is our position in Iraq. I want Australia to have a foreign policy that is independent and asks: 'Why is this action in the national interest? How is it legal under international law? What is the plan and where will it end? What are the risks? Are we simply cementing a stronger jihadist movement against the West; therefore acting against our long-term security and our long-term national interest?' I speak for many Australians- (Time expired)

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