Labor, Coalition sink war power reform bill

March 31, 2023
Labor and the Coalition united to block the war powers reform bill
Labor the Coalition voted to block a bill that would force parliament to vote on whether the country goes to war. Graphic: Green Left

Labor and the Coalition’s bipartisanship was again on display on March 29 when their Senators voted to block a bill to mandate parliament to vote on whether or not to go to war.

Green Senator Jordon Steele-John’s private member’s bill to amend the Defence Act 1903 was “negatived” on March 29 after the second reading debate.

Labor Senator Nita Green used her second reading speech to dispute the “underlying premise” that the decision to go to war “was made in secret” or there was “no accountability to the parliament”.

She expressed her concern about the bill’s requirement that the minister was obliged to “come back to the parliament every month” and “provide information that includes the number of people deployed”. This, she said, we would not want our “enemies” to know.

Astonishingly, Green accused the Greens of not being “a party that takes these issues seriously enough to be part of the decision-making process”.

“They are not members of certain committees in this parliament for very good reason, and that’s because only parties of government, I think it’s fair to say, take the responsibility of national security seriously in a non-partisan way,” she said.

Steele-John said in his second reading speech that a “basic commitment to the principle of democracy” should lead decision-makers to conclude that “such a significant decision should be subject to a vote, as it is in so many other nations”.

“Both parties, over decades, have made use of legal loopholes and flimsy interpretations to wage wars that have led to some of the most severe and devastating humanitarian consequences,” he said, citing Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam.

“Each one of these wars has one thing in common — they lacked a clear objective or a strategy, and it was the ordinary people of all nations that suffered.

“Those responsible for making those decisions were never held accountable nor forced to properly explain or account for their actions.”

He said the real security challenges Australia faced were from climate change, public health, access to education and secure housing.

Meanwhile, Labor announced on March 9 that it would be moving an amendment to the Defence Act 1903 “to better position the Australian Defence Force as an agile, integrated, warfighting enterprise”.

Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite described the amendment as needed to support “the full range of military activities and capabilities required to defend Australia and its national interests, while also providing for seamless interoperability with our defence partners”.

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