Changing the way we go to war - Australian Fabians
25 September, 2023

Changing the way we go to war by Dr Alison Broinowski

by Dr Alison Broinowski

Australians for War Powers Reform grew out of the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry, that was formed in 2012 by former diplomats, academics, medical and defence people.

From 2015, AWPR has campaigned for openness and accountability from government about its decisions to send Australian forces to overseas conflict. AWPR collaborates with veterans, and with larger civil society groups which seek to raise public awareness about defence and foreign policy.

As an apolitical organisation, we concentrate our advocacy on MPs and Senators, particularly including Independents.

AWPR achieved one of its objectives when the ALP, having twice promised to hold an inquiry into how Australia goes to war in its first term in government, established it in September 2022.

Our submission was among 94 of those in favour of reform of the ‘war powers’ which enable the executive government to decide to dispatch the ADF without public or parliamentary consultation.

Only 12 submissions supported retaining the present practice, which was endorsed by Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

The recommendations of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, released in March 2023, did not reflect the majority of submissions. The report recommended that the Executive facilitate a debate in both houses but did not recommend a vote.

This is crucial. All MPs and Senators must be given a vote before we join any overseas war — otherwise we could easily see another decision like the one made by John Howard in 2003. The Iraq war was a disaster for millions of people and was illegal under international law.

AWPR is currently concentrating on the AUKUS agreement, which was devised in secret, agreed to in haste, and whose details and final cost are still unknown.

Is AUKUS really in Australia’s national interest?

In addition to the lack of consultation AWPR has serious concerns about AUKUS. These include:

The pact could far more readily draw Australia directly into any conflict between the U.S. and China over Taiwan — a war whose consequences would be catastrophic.

The prospective visits from 2023 by US and UK nuclear-powered vessels to Australian ports for repair and resupply further militarise our region.

Basing US and UK nuclear-powered submarines at HMAS Sterling near Fremantle from 2027 will lock Australia even more closely into American war-fighting systems.

If Australia’s own nuclear-powered submarines eventuate, they will be part of US plans for fighting nuclear war, which would pose an existential risk to people everywhere.

The plan keeps Australia tied to a world dominated by superpowers and takes us away from a genuinely independent foreign policy.

The submarine decision breaks — without any consultation — the long-held and accepted understanding that Australians reject nuclear power.



AWPR urges Australians to take action against AUKUS. Write to, or meet with, your local MP to demand
a public inquiry into AUKUS.
Follow our campaign on social media: AustWarPowersReform @WarPowersReform





About the author

Author and former diplomat Dr Alison Broinowski is a member of the Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) Executive Committee.



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