The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, addresses the senate as she seeks to suspend standing orders to debate the deployment of Australian troops in Iraq.
Senator MILNE: It is a critical matter that, at this very moment we are standing here, the RAAF has informed the Australian community it is ready for combat in Iraq. The Prime Minister has told the Australian community that he will be taking the matter to cabinet any minute-whenever he chooses to do so. Yet the Australian parliament has not debated this deployment of Australian troops to a multiyear war in the Middle East. This is the most shocking thing a government can do, to just go ahead and commit young men and women to war in the Middle East without a plan, without a strategy and without any notion of where this might end up.
There are families across Australia with sons, daughters, husbands, brothers and sisters in the armed forces. They remember Afghanistan and they remember young people dying in that conflict-and they will be asking themselves, as we stand here today, 'Why are we going to another war in the Middle East?' We have to actually think about that: why are we sending them to another war in the Middle East and is it in the Australian national interest to do so? In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Cameron recalled the House of Commons to debate this matter. In the United States, President Obama recalled congress to talk about bombing in Syria. But nothing like that has occurred in Australia. The Australian parliament, and therefore the Australian people, have not been given an opportunity to hear from the government the rationale for committing people to war-nor to have it debated.
Before the Iraqi government had asked anything of Australia, we had already stood up and said we would join the United States, blindly going into another war in Iraq. It was announced before the al-Abadi government had asked us anything. Only after we already had our planes in the Middle East and only after we already had our boots on the ground in the United Arab Emirates did we go to Iraq to try to retrospectively sort out the legalities of what we might be doing. We are only now retrospectively determining what we are embarking upon and why. What do we know? In the last few days President Obama has said that he had underestimated the power of ISIL, that they are continuing to advance in spite of the air raids. US Senator McCain has said that he wished the President would stop saying that there would be no boots on the ground.
In Syria, there is already huge suspicion about the US involvement in Syria, whether the US is supporting President Assad. There is a suspicion that Washington is coordinating with Damascus and that the main beneficiary of the bombing in Syria is President Assad. Already we are arming the Free Syrian Army-but there is huge suspicion-and the al-Qaeda forces are now joining with the ISIL forces. All of the extremist forces are coming together because they are suspicious of what the Americans are doing, and of what we will be doing, because we have not actually outlined it.
Will the consequences be contained within Iraq and Syria? No, they will not. We have already seen the fabric of our own society being torn apart. There is fear in the Australian community that is being driven by the increase in the likelihood of terrorist attack and the increase in the likelihood of recruitment-because Australia is going into another war in the Middle East. We have to know what is happening with President Assad. Will the mission target Assad's forces? If it does, will that bring in the Russians? What is the intent? The Americans want to replace President Assad, they want to defeat ISIL and they want a new government in Iraq. The questions are: how will that be achieved, how will it be contained and why is it in our national interest?
The government must tell the parliament. We must be able to debate these matters. We need accountability from the executive-and that is the role of parliament. We are the body that is supposed to hold them to account. That is why we should be having the debate.