Wednesday, February 05, 2003


Howard's political strategy on Iraq is to insist that in taking us to war he will be doing the right thing and attempt to draw public opinion along with him. Public opinion, as usual, means the opinion polls and possibly the Sydney talk-back radio audiences. I don't need Ken Parish to tell me that the Australian Constitution makes no provision for any authority - executive, legislative or judicial - to be vested in the Morgan Gallup Polls or Saulwick Age Poll organisations or in Sydney radio station 2UE. As Ken has noted in Declaring War the power to declare war is vested in the executive through section 61 of the Constitution which transfers the royal prerogative to the executive and section 68 which makes the Governor-General commander in chief of the armed forces. Ken has also covered Australia's history of involvement in war, starting with World War 1. From the point of view of democratic process, it's a poor record: two wars entered by default (both World Wars) as a consequence of England declaring war and a number of police actions (such as the Korean war) entered without a formal declaration of war at all. What Australia lacks, in political practice, is experience in conducting Parliamentary debate on the decision to deploy military forces.

When there is bipartisan support for the deployment - as happened in the first Gulf War in 1991 and in the deployment of troops to East Timor, this may not be seen as a serious issue. It may be seen as a case of Parliament rubber-stamping an executive decision. However even then, oppositions might have valid concerns about the manner in which a deployment (or to use the current vogue term "pre-deployment") is carried out. Responding to Bob Hawke's announcement in Parliament of his government's decision to send ships of the RAN to the Persian Gulf, then opposition leader John Hewson said:

... we have been concerned at some of the processes whereby the Government has determined its response to this crisis. The Opposition believes that the prospects for building a national consensus on this decision would have been enhanced if the Government had seen fit to consult the Opposition on it. The Government has not consulted the Opposition once on Australia's response since the crisis arose; nor has the Prime Minister been in touch with me informally. I regret that this has been the case because I believe that it makes it more difficult to build on this issue the bipartisanship which the Opposition wants to promote. [my emphasis]


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