Let's Bomb Syria: Melissa Parke Unimpressed By Another Captain’s Call


Tony Abbott must be down in the polls again.

After a week that began and ended with fresh leadership speculation, Abbott is trying to change the conversation back to his perceived area of strength – we're all going to die, unless he's in charge to save us.

Hence yesterday and today, Abbott's back talking about the 'death cults' that are coming to get us, and are in fact already on our doorstep… half a world away.

Last year, Abbott took us into Iraq strictly for ‘humanitarian purposes’, to save tens of thousands of Christians from an Islamic State slaughter.

And then, while we were there, we started bombing Islamic State for good measure.

Now, Abbott is flirting with expanding our ‘humanitarian bombing campaign’ beyond the borders of Iraq into Syria.

And all without going to Parliament to debate it. Another day, another captain’s call.

Labor’s Melissa Parke – often a voice in the wilderness within her own party when it comes to matters of human rights – is less than impressed.

In Parliament, she lined up the Prime Minister over his plans. We reprint her speech below because (a) it’s important; and because (b) mainstream media have obviously got far more important things to write about than Australia rushing off to another war (the six top stories on the SMH website at the moment are ‘Sydney’s cheating hotspots’; ‘I will sue: Groom hits back over wedding’; A view hidden for 100 years (about Sydney’s newest park); ‘Moore Park, not so many cars’; ‘Weakest link in the Wallbies’; and, I kid you not, ‘The most important chart of the week’). Oh, and Mia Freedman has a new house.

Here’s Parke in Parliament yesterday evening.

“Considering the approach this government has taken so far to our renewed military engagement in the Middle East, it was no great surprise to hear through the media that the Prime Minister was entertaining an expanded role for Australia's armed forces following a public call by Liberal MP Dan Tehan that the Australian Air Force could undertake strikes within Syria.

Far be it for anyone to suggest that such concepts might first be discussed in this place, the national parliament, rather than aired in the media as a 'thought-bubble'. After all, our military commitment to the conflicts occurring in Iraq has been badly formed and poorly defined from the start.

We announced we would be going to war in Iraq with no reference to an appropriate resolution by the United Nations, at a time when we were on the UN Security Council, and without invitation, at that stage, from the Iraqi government.

Having once proposed that Australia act alone in putting troops on the ground in Iraq, the Prime Minister has described his latest military idea in the following terms:

While the legality is different, whether these air strikes are taking place in Syria or Iraq, the morality is the same.

The death cult is just as evil on either side of the border. It's just as dangerous on either side of the border. It's just as deadly on either side of the border and that's why I can understand why there is some interest on the part of our partners in Australian air strikes being extended.

This sophisticated analysis brings to mind Mr Abbott's argument against military involvement in Syria from back in 2013, when, as opposition leader, he said:

We've got a civil war going on in that benighted country between two pretty unsavoury sides. It's not goodies versus baddies—it's baddies versus baddies.”

In the pages of Australian political history, that really speaks for itself.

But I was glad yesterday to hear Vice Admiral David Johnston pour what could only be described as cold water on the Prime Minister's latest idea, noting that the circumstances in Iraq and Syria are very different.

Last week, Anthony Ricketts of the University of Queensland noted in the Age:

The day that Mr Tehan called for Australia to expand its role into Syria, Attorney-General George Brandis reinstated the PKK on Australia's terrorist list. This decision, then, runs contrary to the critical role that the Kurdish forces play in the war against IS, and demonstrates the lack of co-ordination, and awareness, in Australia's national security strategy.

As a democracy, we continue to operate on a substandard basis as long as we fail to institute the sensible reform of a 'War Powers Act', enabling the parliament to debate any proposal to commit forces overseas when Australia is not under direct threat.

When such a decision can occur with so little scrutiny and so little structure, the potential for mission creep is obvious.

If it is not clear at the outset why we are in Iraq, what we are seeking to achieve and how long we expect to be involved, can anyone be surprised when the reasons, objectives and scope of our engagement shift and move like smoke in the wind?

The rationale for being involved in Iraq this time was at first a humanitarian rationale: we were seeking to protect some 50,000 Yazidis under threat from IS in the vicinity of Mount Sinjar.

Ever since, the rationale has begun a telling slide into the strange and overheated claim of self-defence.

It has been said that we are fighting IS in Iraq because IS is coming for us — however alarmist that must sound to the people in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and other countries within cooee of the battleground.

While the Prime Minister contemplates bombing Syria, the Syrian government this week proceeded to further bomb its own people, with multiple strikes on a marketplace in the town of Douma.

At least 82 people were killed and more than 250 wounded in one of the most violent single incidents in the war that is now four-years old.

Let's remember, as the Prime Minister considers his own bombing campaign in Syria, that there are nearly 12 million people made homeless by this conflict: four million refugees and 7.6 million people who are internally displaced.

It would be interesting to hear more from the government about this aspect of conflict in the Middle East. I am glad that Australia contributed $20 million in April to the United Nations No Lost Generation Strategy, supporting refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan.

But let us not forget that the UN-Syria appeal is seeking $6.5 billion to address what continues to be the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet.

Unfortunately, as we continue on an uncharted trajectory of increased military involvement and related expenditure, we plummet down a clearly marked ravine of sharply-cut international aid.

By 2016-17 our aid budget will be at 0.22 per cent of GNI — its lowest level — comfortably in the bottom half of OECD nations and well below average.

I have no doubt that in the coming months we will be subject to the further ratcheting skyward of concerns that exist in relation to global terrorism — as it is termed — and further calls for poorly justified measures in the name of greater security.

Based on what we have seen so far, some of these measures will impact on human rights and civil liberties and the rule of law. Some of them, ironically, will make us less safe.”

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.