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Early Agenda -

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AM Agenda

17 June 2010

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Hello and welcome to AM Agenda I'm Ashleigh Gillon. Coming up on the program this
morning I'll be chatting with Anthony Albanese and Christopher Pyne about the issues dominating
parliament this week, that's coming up soon. First though the question of why and how Australia
goes to war is one we've been grappling with for decades and now a former Australian army chief has
added his weight to the debate. Peter Leahy retired two years ago and now as a professor for the
Canberra University he started sharing his views about the sorts of changes he'd like to see to
Australia's defence strategy. One of those changes surrounds the decision making process of going
to war. The former army chief argues sending troops overseas is a call which should be approved by
the parliament not just the Prime Minister and executives. I spoke with Peter Leahy yesterday.

Peter Leahy, thank you for your time, you've argued that parliament should be asked to endorse the
decision to go to war. What are the dangers in just entrusting the Prime Minister and his executive
with that decision?

PETER LEAHY: I don't think it's a question of the dangers for an individual, I think it's the
desirability of having the broader parliament involved and the Australian population involved in
that. These decisions are very important decisions, we currently have Australians in conflict and
at war in a number of places around the world and they've been there for a while and Iraq, we're
still there. In Afghanistan it's coming up to a really quite an extended period of time and in East
Timor it's 10 years. And my view is that as a matter of principle the parliament should discuss
these issues as we're going and then discuss them periodically throughout the deployment.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Is it really practical though for parliament to be recalled for politicians to
debate whether or not to go to war and then vote on it all before that decision can be made, before
troops can be sent overseas?

PETER LEAHY: Many of these events are happening very quickly. Let's look at 9/11, in a matter of a
few weeks Australians were deployed in support of the coalition effort in Afghanistan. It's not as
though we see in a traditional state on state warfare that events build up, you get an intelligence
read, you know what's going to happen, you can debate these things. So, I think there needs to be
room for the executive of the government to make a decision because in an emergency we might need
protecting. So, I think there has to be that flexibility but then at a suitable period after that
there should be a broader discussion amongst the public and certainly amongst the parliament.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: And what is a suitable time period do you think?

PETER LEAHY: Well, this matter has been under consideration in various committees within the
parliament for really an extended period of time, upwards of 20 or 25 years and I've seen lots of
different time periods given. I'm not a politician, I'm not a lawyer and I would leave that to them
to make that decision. But if you look at the War Powers Act in the United States it's within a
period of 60 days and I think that's a reasonable sort of period.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So, you would argue that if the parliament decided not to endorse that position,
troops should be withdrawn straight away?

PETER LEAHY: Oh well, it's again a matter for the parliament. I'm working here on a matter of
principle that I think it's important that in a transparent way, in a community sense, because we
are talking about sending our sons and daughters to war where they can be potentially killed and
maimed, that it's important that we do that as a community.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: You mentioned East Timor as an example of where Australians have been present in
that country for a very long period of time, do you think there are any sorts of situations where
Australians are currently overseas where we may have stayed too long?

PETER LEAHY: I think we're probably about right at the moment. With regard to East Timor though,
what I would like to see is a greater civilian effort. I know that a lot of good work is being done
up there, but what we find is that the military in positions where it's not a job for a soldier to
do but there only seems to be soldiers there to do it and they're doing a lot of community support.
There are other tasks that they might be doing and I think that we can impose perhaps on the
International Deployment Group, from the Federal Police; I know AusAID are doing a great amount of
work around the world and the development of the Civil Deployment Group from there, greater
diplomacy and so on. So, they're the tasks that we need to be quite specific. What's the best
element of national power to do that? And it's not always the soldier.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: As you mentioned, a Senate committee did look into this issue last year, what did
you make of its findings?

PETER LEAHY: Well, I think they got pretty close but just weren't able to take that step towards
the end. They've talked about it being a reasonable principle, and I don't think anyone was
particularly opposed to it, and what it struck me as was that there were problems about the
implementation of it and (inaudible), that's the job for lawyers and for politicians but I think
I'd encourage them to have another look at it and just take that further step so we can get to this

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Both of the major parties seem on the same page on this one though and it doesn't
look like it's going to be something that is changed in the near future at least without
significant public pressure.

PETER LEAHY: Well, the first I can record of some of this public discussion was in the mid 1980s,
well I think we're all patient but as a matter of principle and I think it's important that the
parliament get a look at these sorts of deployments and also consider the changing nature of war
and conflict. We're not talking now about state on state warfare; we're not talking about someone
coming to invade our territory. They're sorts of pretty easy decisions, they're the ones that bring
about a declaration of war but now we're talking about quite ambiguous environments. We're talking
about United Nations Security Council resolutions that not everyone agrees with and we're also
talking about situations where we go to where it changes while we're there and the example there is
in Somalia. We went there for a humanitarian mission and conflict broke out. So we need to be able
to adjust as we go along and we need to note that we've been in East Timor for, in duration, two
world war twos, the same sort of thing that we're looking at in Afghanistan. We've been there for
an extended period of time, first in 2001, out for a while, back in 2005. We need to look
carefully. What are our aims? What elements of power are we going to use? What's the exit strategy?
How long are we going to be there? I don't think saying we're there for the long haul is adequate.
We need to think very carefully about what we're going to do and how long we're going to be there?
They're tasks for the parliament.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So, would you urge Kevin Rudd to come up with a more, a better defined exit
strategy for Australia's involvement in Afghanistan?

PETER LEAHY: Well, I think, I saw someone say we could be there for 40 years, now that's really
starting to stretch it but if we're going to commit resources, we're going to commit our troops or
we're going to make these sorts of commitments I think we have to have a very good public narrative
for it and I would urge all politicians to be part of that narrative and to make a contribution.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Public support though for the war in Afghanistan is certainly waning and the
opinion polls show us that, how much weight should politicians put on public opinion when making
decisions about how long we should stay at war.

PETER LEAHY: Well, again I think that's a job for the politician, I can only talk as an ex soldier
and hopefully someone who understands a bit about soldiers. They want to know that the public's
behind them. They know that their families and friends and the army and the defence community are
behind them but they want to know that if they need a hand they're going to get a hand and I think
that's part of this broader debate. We're there for a long time and I understand why, but sometimes
it can be back of mind stuff. The war isn't happening on Bondi Beach, but our soldiers, sailors and
airmen need to know that people support them and by a periodic re assessment, a periodic statement
of the importance of their actions, I think, gives them that sense of confidence that this is
something well worthwhile.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Do you think Australians understand enough about Australia's involvement in
conflicts overseas? Do you think most people understand that we are at war?

PETER LEAHY: I think it's difficult to comprehend it because the nature of war is changed. It's not
like the First World War when the men went off to war and they came back five or six years later,
it's not like the Second World War, it's frankly not like Vietnam. Our soldiers over in
Afghanistan, Timor, Solomon Islands and other places they're doing different things. People know
that they're there but I don't think they comprehend fully what's going on.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Peter Leahy, thank you for your insights.

PETER LEAHY: Thank you.

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