Follow-up letter to the Prime Minister

Note by Paul Barratt

Having received no answer to my 13 March 2014 letter to the Prime Minister, seeking the establishment of an independent inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, and a commitment from Australia’s elected representatives to reforming the so called ‘war powers’, on 16 May I sent a follow-up letter, the text of which appears below.

Standards of courtesy to citizens making representations to Government are certainly slipping. When I worked in his Department R.F.X. (‘Rex’) Connor, the Whitlam Government’s Minister for Minerals and Energy, much reviled and maligned by conservatives both then and now, set a standard for his Department which required that all people who wrote to him receive and acknowledgement more or less by return mail, and a substantive reply within 21 days. In those days anyone who wrote to a Minister received a reply signed personally by the Minister – never by someone writing on his behalf.

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16 May 2016

The Hon. Tony Abbott MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2001

Dear Mr Abbott,

I refer to my letter of 13 March 2014 in which I sought, on behalf of our membership, the establishment of a comprehensive inquiry into the process by which the Government of the day made the decision that Australia would be a participant in the 20 March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Such an inquiry would establish, inter alia, a basis for a public discussion of the appropriateness of Australia’s current ‘war powers’, which concentrate power in the executive branch, and provide a framework for reforming how the decision is made to go to war.

We are disappointed that we have not as yet had a reply from you on these important matters. We believe it is important to discover the lessons to be learned from the as yet unclear processes that led Australia to become involved in a war that was both illegal and based, at least publicly, on the premise widely understood to be false at the time, that Iraq was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

I would reiterate the view expressed in my earlier letter that, given the gravity of any decision to commit the Australian defence force to international armed conflict, the Australian people are entitled to know how that decision was made, and what evidence informed the decision. The Australian Government owes to those it puts in harm’s way a duty to evaluate the quality of the processes by which it decides to put them in harm’s way, to identify and document the lessons learned, and improve the decision making process for the future.

As matters stand, while Britons will have the chance to learn from past decisions once the Chilcot Inquiry hands down its recommendations, Australians will still be deprived of a comprehensive account of the processes leading to our involvement in Iraq. As noted above, an independent inquiry into the decision making process which led to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War would also allow for a public discussion of the appropriateness of Australia’s current ‘war powers’, which concentrate power in the executive branch. This could provide a framework for reforming how the decision is made to go to war. The current process produced very flawed decisions in relation to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and is clearly overdue for careful reconsideration.

Accordingly, the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry urges you to establish an independent inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, and also give a commitment on the part of the Government to reforming the ‘war powers’.
Yours sincerely,

Paul Barratt AO
President

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by AWPR

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