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Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Page: 6410


Senator LUDLAM (Western AustraliaCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (15:29): I understand that the suspension of standing orders is not a trivial matter, and it is not something that the Greens would engage in lightly. But I was still flabbergasted to hear government spokespeople deny that there was a sense of urgency around a debate such as this. It is an urgent matter when the Prime Minister unilaterally commits the ADF to a conflict on the other side of the world where the strategic imperatives are completely unclear, the success conditions are unclear and the legality is unclear. We heard Senator Abetz's interpretation of the legal basis upon which Australian aviators and, potentially, other personnel will be deployed over Syria and find it completely unsatisfying.

I do not think we should simply rush into this expanded deployment. When we were debating these matters 12 months ago, Senator Christine Milne, as Leader of the Australian Greens, warned of mission creep. She warned of an open-ended military commitment into a complex and violent situation on the other side of the world which Australia bears some responsibility for opening up. If we heard the Prime Minister or anyone on his frontbench—anybody who was in cabinet in 2003 when we signed off, sight unseen, on an illegal and unjustified invasion of Iraq—provide even a moment of acknowledgement that that was a catastrophic strategic mistake, it would be easier to bear some of those who file in here today and condemn the Greens for daring to question the strategic resolve, or the strategic brilliance, of those who continue to deploy foreign forces into these theatres of war on the other side of the world.

Retired General Peter Gration, who was the CDF from 1987 to 1993, points out in an open letter that involvement in airstrikes would be inviting disaster. He goes on to point out:

… there is no UN cover for that particular operation.

I believe that will give them a strong indication that it would be illegal.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in an interview that he did I think last week, was asked: what is the legal basis for an Australian deployment into the Syrian civil war? He pointed out—and I will paraphrase, as this is not a direct quote—Daesh does not respect international borders; why should we? I found it extraordinary that he would choose Daesh as our benchmark for the international rule of law. I find that suggestion somewhat sick when we consider that involvement in illegal wars potentially exposes our service personnel and those who direct them into those theatres of conflict to international sanctions. That is as serious as this can get.

Syria is one of the most dangerous places in the world. I acknowledge the point that the Prime Minister made in his press conference about Syrian civilians—for whom this action is arguably justified—'being caught between the hammer and the anvil'. This makes it sound as though there are only two sides to a simple conflict. That is simply not the case. I will quote Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group—hardly an organisation of non-violent practitioners. Nonetheless, he said the following:

… Islamic State has prompted a response that combines all the ingredients necessary to make it stronger: Western over-the-horizon military intervention; a regional arms race as a variety of countries rush to provide money and weapons to improvised proxies (whose factional and sometimes sectarian agendas further degrade decaying state institutions and exacerbate social fault lines); and growing repression of civil liberties and empowerment of backward-looking (but formally secular) power structures.

That is the disaster that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has waded into.

I understand Senator Abetz's alarm and concern when we raised the fact that The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that the Prime Minister wants somebody bombed by Saturday. It is The Daily Tele, so you cannot take it too seriously. But they do have very good contacts inside the Prime Minister's office. We frequently see these national security announcements mysteriously leaked out of cabinet or the national security committee. How are we supposed to take that kind of information when it is put onto the front page of a Murdoch tabloid?

The ALP—and I have noted Senator Conroy's comments and those of the Leader of the Opposition in the House—wants the government to make a statement on the long-term strategy. Again, I am paraphrasing an appropriate parliamentary discussion: wouldn't the time for that be before the deployment rather than after? We are rushing straight into the same kind of situation that ripped open these sectarian tensions across Iraq, the same kind of situation that the Prime Minister unilaterally signed off on at the behest of the United States government in 2003. Have we learned nothing from history? This parliament is the place for that debate to happen, and now is the time for it to occur.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is that the motion to suspend standing orders, moved by Senator Di Natale, be agreed to.