Moves to have Federal Parliament debate Australia’s growing involvement in combatting Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq have been frustrated after the Coalition and Labor joined forces to shut down discussion in both houses.
The Greens and Independents today attempted to suspend standing orders in first the Senate and then the House, hoping to draw the government into providing further details after Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Sunday that Australia would be providing Kurdish Peshmerga troops with military supplies.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam criticised the Prime Minister for framing Australia’s involvement as humanitarian, and called for Parliament to be handed responsibility for deciding when the nation goes to war.
“We heard the Prime Minister at his press conference yesterday saying this is a strictly humanitarian role, but we know, for example, that it is almost certain that Pine Gap is being used for drone targeting inside Iraq and elsewhere; that the SES are on the ground; that the Royal Australian Air Force has fighter-bombers either on their way or on very high alert; that we are now apparently running Russian or eastern European weapons in to protect Kurdish minorities in the north-west,” Ludlam said.
“We are practically at war. This has long since ceased to be any kind of humanitarian gesture.”
Fairfax media today revealed Australian SAS troops would be involved in the delivery of weapons in case an emergency exit was required.
Greens leader Christine Milne said the UN had not passed a resolution in favour of intervening against IS in Iraq.
However, Milne’s efforts to have the issue debated were overcome by Labor and the Coalition, who were supported by Family First’s Bob Day and DLP’s John Madigan, and defeated her motion 44 votes to 13.
The PUP’s Jackie Lambie sided with the Greens, as did NSW Senator David Leyonhjelm and Independent Nick Xenophon.
In the House of Representatives, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and the Greens’ Adam Bandt mirrored the tactics of Milne but found themselves gagged by the joint forces of Labor and the Coalition.
“The decision to wage war is the most serious decision a country can make,” Wilkie said in a release.
“It must not be made by a few people behind a closed door because that’s just the sort of mangled process which helped to start this Iraq War 11 years ago and got us into the mess in the first place.”
Tony Abbott has rejected criticism levelled by those who have suggested similarities between the current operations and the ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003. On morning television, the PM said the nation’s current involvement was nothing like 2003 as Australia was currently acting with the blessings of the Iraqi government.
In his Sunday announcement, Abbott was joined by ADF chief Marshal Mark Binskin, who told reporters that arms provided to Peshmerga troops would be delivered by RAAF aircraft and helicopters, and included rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and ammunition.
The RAAF has already provided humanitarian airdrops to Yazidi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar.
In response to anger from the Greens, Defence Minister David Johnston said the government does not take decisions that put Australian lives at risk lightly.
“Were we to debate what operational activities the Australian Defence Force would undertake, it would be completely counterproductive to protecting those lives," he said.
Labor Senators rejected the need for Parliamentary control over troop deployment, but called for a “structured debate” about Australia’s role in the country to take place.
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