Note by Paul Barratt
On 13 March 2014 I wrote to the Minister for Finance, in similar terms to my 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’, i.e., the power to deploy elements of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict, which we would like to see relocated from the Executive to the Parliament.
Some time later I received a rather unsatisfactory reply on his behalf from an officer of his Department. In response I have written again to the Minister. The text of my letter is set out below:
Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry Inc
PO Box 2228
Malvern East Vic 3145
29 April 2013
Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Dear Senator Cormann,
I refer to a letter of 27 March 2014 (copy attached) which I received from an officer of your Department, writing on your behalf in response to my letter of 13 March calling for an independent inquiry into the process by which the Government of the day made the decision that Australia would participate in the 20 March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and for reform to the processes by which we make decisions to deploy elements of the Australian Defence Force into international armed conflict.
The reply made on your behalf states, in full:
Thank you for your letter of 13 March 2014, to the Minister for Finance, Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, concerning an inquiry into Australia’s participation in the Iraq War.
As the matter falls within the responsibilities of the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon David Johnston, your correspondence has been forwarded to the Department of Defence for consideration.
I must say, on behalf of our organisation’s members, that we are surprised and disappointed by this response.
The first point to be made is that we are not seeking, as stated in the response, an inquiry into Australia’s participation in the Iraq War, we are seeking, as my letter clearly stated, an independent inquiry into the decision making process which led to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War. As Minister for Finance I would have thought you would have a vital interest in the robustness of that decision-making process, given that any decision to deploy the ADF inevitably leads to supplementation of the Defence Department’s appropriations.
We are equally disappointed that the reply on your behalf made no reference to our call for reform of the so-called “war powers”. We believe that Australian Governments owe it both to the young Australian men and women who might to be placed in harm’s way, and to the wider Australian public, to ensure that any deployment decisions involving international armed conflict are made only upon the most robust and transparent basis, and our principal motivation in calling for an inquiry into the decision making processes leading up to the Iraq deployment was the hope and expectation that this inquiry would make recommendations for a more robust decision-making process in 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 I said in my earlier letter, 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 support not only an independent inquiry into the decision making process which led to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War, but also a commitment on the part of the Government to reforming the ‘war powers’.
Paul Barratt AO