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FOR – Motions — Iraq War: 20th Anniversary

Jordon Steele-John

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the 20th anniversary of the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq as circulated.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of the Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving a motion to provide for the consideration of the matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

The Greens move this motion today and put this matter before the Senate on this, the 20th anniversary of the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq. There is no more appropriate day to consider this matter than today, given that it is, in fact, a moment in time when there are parties in political decision-making positions who oppose the Iraq War and given that family members across Australia worry for the safety of their children who are still deployed to Iraq, to this very day, under operations Accordion and Okra.

The Greens move this motion as the first order of business for the Senate this morning with sorrow in our hearts. We move it with sorrow for the over 500,000 who have died as a result of the Iraq War and of the destruction of the infrastructure created by that war, sorrow for the 1.2 million people still to this day internally displaced because of the war in Iraq and sorrow because of the five million orphans created by that war—five per cent of the entire orphan population of the globe.

We move this motion today in solidarity with the 92 per cent of Australians who gathered together—hundreds of thousands—in cities across the country, who marched to oppose the Iraq war because they knew that the community was being lied to. They knew they were being presented with false intelligence. They knew that they were being marched to war by men who wished to see other people's children placed in harm's way to suit their political ends. We do this in solidarity with the organisers of those protests. I am honoured to work, to this day, alongside Damian Lawson, a key organiser of the anti-Iraq War protest here in Australia, which formed part of the largest global protest in human history. And we do so this morning with a renewed sense of determination, a commitment from every single Green in the Senate, every single Green in the House of Representatives, every single Green in the state parliaments and every single Green in the local governments of this country to oppose ever again being led into an illegal, immoral and unjust war at the reckless hands of the United States of America.

We do this in the full knowledge that the Australian people, at the time and to this day, knew full well that we should not go to Iraq, that it would be a humanitarian and foreign-policy disaster. They knew it, they protested and the Prime Minister ignored them point-blank because there is no requirement in this country to seek a vote of the parliament before the deployment of ADF personnel. ADF personnel from this nation were asked to go into harm's way in Iraq and in Afghanistan, yet not a single member of the government or opposition was required to vote before that occurred. Shame on this chamber for, to this day, opposing this reform that is supported by 86 per cent of the Australian people. Shame!

Finally, in closing, let me say this: those mothers and fathers that, to this day, are kept up at night for fear of the safety of their children deployed to Iraq still under Operation Accordion and Operation Okra deserve to finally have that fear come to an end. Twenty years later, Australia must end its deployments to Iraq. We must finally bring our troops home and work for an independent and peaceful foreign policy that sees that never again are we called into a war based on a lie led by the United States of America.

Murray Watt

T (—) (): Firstly, I want to state clearly once again for the record that Labor opposed the Iraq War at the time, and our position has not changed. As Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd brought Australia's combat troops home. But, on this anniversary of the commencement of the war, I want to say that our argument was never with our troops; it was always with the Howard government.

Twenty years on from the Iraq War, we all reflect on the many tragedies of that conflict and its ongoing effects. Our thoughts are with the people of Iraq as well as the Iraqi community here in Australia, some of whom fled that conflict. Our thoughts today, as always, are with our veterans. We acknowledge the brave contribution and sacrifices made by the ADF and civilian personnel who conducted or supported operations in Iraq. We remember the four Australian service personnel who died, and we all share our deepest sympathies to the families and friends that still feel their loss. We express our support to those who still live with the physical and mental scars of that conflict and those who returned home and are tragically no longer with us.

Labor did not support the Howard government's decision for Australia to go to Iraq in 2003, nor did we support the Howard government's decision to send a further 450 troops to Iraq, reneging on a 2004 election commitment. At the time he withdrew combat troops from Iraq, then Prime Minister Rudd said:

… this government does not believe that our alliance with the United States mandates automatic compliance with every element of United States foreign policy.

The Greens view that they have a monopoly on resistance to sending Australian troops to the Iraq War is odd, given Labor opposed it vigorously.

Opposition Senators

Opposition senators interjecting—

Murray Watt

They are wrong in thinking they have some moral superiority, although it is something we are very used to, and they are just as wrong in their claims that, through AUKUS, we have lost strategic autonomy. I hear members of the Greens heckling during this speech, and again it reinforces the point that they seem to think they have a monopoly on resistance to sending Australian trips to the Iraq war. Some of them may not remember the political debates that happened at the time as a result of Labor taking a principled stand on this issue. It's not clear whether the Greens actually misunderstand or just pretend to misunderstand in order to exploit this issue for crass political purposes.

But let there be no doubt: Australia makes its own choices. Acquiring AUKUS's military capability was a sovereign decision. Any decision to use this capability will also be ours alone. Let me also be clear that our intent in acquiring this capability is to make our contribution to the strategic balance of the region. We want to have a stable region where no country dominates and no country has dominated. If that is to be the case, we each have a responsibility to play our part in collective deterrence of aggression. If any country can make the calculation that they can successfully dominate another, the region becomes unstable and the risk of conflict increases.

I make this point acknowledging that our region has been home to an unprecedented military build-up in recent years, meaning that we must work hard and fast if we are to maintain equilibrium. Increasing our capability sits alongside our diplomacy, which is about increasing the opportunities and benefits from peace and partnership—positive incentives for peace. As well as positive incentives for peace, we need deterrence to conflict and aggression. By having strong defence capabilities of our own and by working with partners who are investing in their own capabilities, we change the calculus for any potential aggressor.

There are those in this building who like to beat the drums of war, and there are those who like to believe that peace can come from passively hoping for the best. But this government knows that part of maintaining peace is making sure all countries are invested in that peace through effective diplomacy, and part of making peace is making sure any potential aggressor knows they cannot afford the costs of war.

The government will not be supporting this motion to suspend standing orders, as there are plenty of alternative opportunities in the Senate that the Greens could use to debate this and related issues, rather than taking time out of government business that is needed to progress important legislation relating to issues such as the referendum for a Voice to Parliament, equality, national reconstruction, housing, and climate safeguards. So, I remind the Greens that it was the federal Labor Party who opposed the Iraq War at the time. We still consider that that was the right decision. Please: give up trying to lecture the rest of us. We're a bit tired of it.

Simon Birmingham

I begin by acknowledging all Australian servicemen and servicewomen who served in Iraq and who continue to serve in Iraq—those who have paid a price and for their service and particularly the families of those who have paid that price. We thank you for your service, we acknowledge your contribution and we pay tribute to the work you have done. You should know that it is valued, notwithstanding some of the debates that ensue around that conflict and war. I want to also acknowledge the Iraqi people and all those who served alongside—those who have suffered and those who have felt loss. That is significant, and that is a loss that we should recognise, and we should recognise the pain and suffering that that caused in so many cases. But loss is of course not something the Iraqi people were immune to prior to this war and this conflict. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a leader who showed complete—

Hon. Senators

Honourable senators interjecting—

Simon Birmingham

I cannot believe that the Australian Greens are seeking to argue with that point. Let me state it again: Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a world leader who showed complete disregard for lives, for human rights, and for international laws and rules. He was a leader who used chemical and biological weapons—poison gas—against neighbouring countries, against his own citizens, against the Kurdish people.

Whatever the attempts to form a black-and-white view of right or wrong, of war or conflict, some facts and realities should stand in relation to what Saddam Hussein, his dictatorship and his regime undertook. He didn't just use those biological and chemical weapons against his own people. He maintained, when the international community sought to scrutinise that, a deliberate ambiguity around whether he continued to hold those weapons. He deliberately sought to lure other nations into believing he continued to have them and would use them, as he had sought to do so in the past. He also led a regime that sponsored suicide bombers. He led a regime that was recognised as a state sponsor of terrorism. He was responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people. The world and Iraq are better off for being rid of Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship. That is not to say that there are no lessons that can be learned. There are always lessons to learn. Those lessons go to the intelligence and analysis available and how that is scrutinised in the future. They have been widely debated and canvassed over the two decades since the war commenced.

However, it's important that we do recognise Iraq today as a democracy, not a perfect one but one where the Iraqi people, as is acknowledged by many experts in the field, have more say over their future than they did 20 years ago. Where their rights are far from universally respected, there is better regard than there was 20 years ago. Calls to remove the remaining assistance from the ADF deployment or otherwise from Iraq would be to show disregard for the advances that have been made during that time. The Greens are misplaced in arguing that we should bring the remaining personnel home. We should be showing support to work with the democratically elected government of Iraq, to work with the people of Iraq, to ensure that the sense of greater stability, the improvement in standards and the development in relation to their democracy is supported and underpinned at this critical time as best as we possibly can.

I lastly turn to the arguments advanced by the Greens. They're not contained in the motion they have sought to have debated about the decision-making processes and the powers of executive government. It remains the position of the coalition that the executive government of the day should have authority in relation to troop and personnel deployments. Our system is one where there is immense scrutiny of decisions made by government. But we should enable governments to exercise those powers under the appropriate scrutiny, transparency and accountability of parliamentary democracy.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 10:37 AM on 2023-03-20
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 12
Total number of "no" votes: 23
Total number of abstentions: 41

Adapted from information made available by