The Case Against War: Bartlett Puts Australian Democrats View

As debate about Australia’s involvement in a war against Iraq gathers strength, the leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Andrew Bartlett, has delivered a speech setting out his party’s opposition to a war.

Bartlett spoke to a public meeting at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Text of speech by Senator Andrew Bartlett, leader of the Australian Democrats.

BartlettI acknowledge the traditional owners of the land.

Thank you Don Chipp and Senator Lyn Allison and the many other organisations and individuals who have contributed to holding this meeting.

I believe what we need to be doing tonight is not just looking at the immediate threat of the impending war with Iraq but what it will also mean for our future, as Australians and indeed the global community.

I have just come from addressing a conference on the future of West Papua – a good example of the importance to Australia of regional security.

The Government’s Defence White paper update is due out any day now. It is likely to reflect the new reality, as demonstrated in Australian Defence Force involvement with the conflict in Afghanistan and in the deployment of forces for war with Iraq, that this Government is willing, even eager, to play a military combat role, that is politically outside of United Nations’ multilateral efforts and geographically, far beyond our own Asia Pacific region where there are many significant security issues.

Inevitably this will be at some cost to our focus on our own region. The fact is our military and other security resources are limited and we have to make choices as to how and where they are deployed.

It took a long time before the Australian Government finally intervened in the humanitarian disaster of East Timor but it was astonishingly quick to decide it would assist in regime change in Iraq.

In March last year the PM – while in London – reportedly stated his belief that the Australian public would support extending our involvement in the war on terrorism to other theatres such as Iraq.

The Democrats first questioned the Minister for Defence that month – 12 months ago – about Australia’s potential involvement in a war on Iraq. We called, as long ago as May and June of last year, for full Parliamentary debates on this issue and for there to be a conscience vote on any deployment or involvement of Australian troops. We have since then asked many questions and moved many motions, some which got ALP support, some – for example our motion in August to refer the matter to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee for Inquiry – that the ALP would not support.

It took till 17 September 2002 until the Foreign Affairs Minister put a statement on Iraq to the Parliament for debate and it was not until 4 February this year that the Prime Minister stepped forward and made a statement to the Parliament.

That statement did not make the case for the extreme action of committing Australia to war. That statement did not make the link between Iraq and terrorism, it did not present evidence that weapons inspections were not working, and while rightly condemning Saddam Hussein as a brutal and murderous dictator, it didn’t explain why THIS brutal and murderous dictator, why now, and why at such an extreme cost to the people of Iraq and the stability of the global community? It did not indicate why we should be involved in such an enormous and risky gamble.

And why do we continue – and continue today – to send back Iraqi asylum seekers from Australia?

By the time the Prime Minister made his statement to the Parliament in February, he had already offered up the use of Pine Gap and Australian facilities and ports to US warships. Now they have offered up our troops and 2000 Australian personnel are in, or on their way to a potential theatre of war.

All the time the Government has continued to deny – and they continue to deny – that they have committed us to war. Despite the fact they have already drawn up the Budget – which they refuse to disclose, admitting only in estimates questions a few weeks ago that the deployment – not the war – but the deployment alone would cost “some hundreds of millions of dollars’.

I believe that it is when the May Budget is announced – with the inevitable cuts to health, education, housing and welfare, because of the need to fund this war, because of the inevitable need to expand the defence budget, that all Australians will personally feel the cost.

It is clear from the opinion polls, the nationwide rallies several days ago and ongoing events such as this one, that the Prime Minister has failed to convince the Australian people of the case for war, despite a 12 month campaign – run largely on talkback and current affairs shows instead of the Parliament – to convince the Australian people that this is a just war, a necessary war or a war that Australia should be involved in.

Reports say it may be only a week and probably no more than a month, that the US, UK and Australia go to war against Iraq.

The 2000 Australian personnel sent to the other side of the world represent our biggest combat deployment since Vietnam, but in terms of the US and UK forces, represent only 1% of the deployment. We are there not for our military support but our political support.

Today we saw another resolution put to the Security Council by the US, the UK and Spain. Leaving aside the various legal arguments about the wording, there is no doubt that the political rationalisation of the resolution is to authorise war.

We must consider the possibility that the UN Security Council will pass a resolution that sanctions the use of escalated force against Iraq – not forgetting that there is already bombing of Iraq by US forces occurring and there has been for some time.

It is crunch time, when all of us who oppose war must make our voices heard, beyond the ears of the Prime Minister who does not want to listen, but to be heard by Governments around the globe.

The Senate debating this issue a few weeks ago, passed a strong statement condemning the Prime Minister while expressing its support for the United Nations and our troops and expressing its opposition to the way the Prime Minister has handled this issue.

The Democrats have sent a copy of that resolution to all members of the Security Council to ensure that all members know that the view the Prime Minister is putting forward on behalf of the Government does not reflect the views or the Senate, the independent house of the Australian parliament, and does not express the views of the majority of the Australian people.

The Democrats believe that even if the UN Security Council does pass a resolution authorising the use of military action, that doesn’t make Australia’s participation compulsory.

Without UN sanction, a pre-emptive strike against Iraq is illegal, immoral, dangerous and unwise, but with UN mandate it’s still a dangerous gamble, with enormous human and financial costs. It could easily lead to greater conflict in the region and easily lead to an increased level of terrorist attacks.

A war against Iraq may remove Saddam Hussein from power but there is no guarantee it would bring peace to the region, or improve global disarmament. It would set a terrible precedent for the use of pre-emptive military strikes.

There is also the threat that nuclear weapons could be used by Australian allies.

Both the US and UK Defence Secretaries have refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Iraq. The Prime Minister said that he would not involve Australia in a war where he thought nuclear weapons would be used, yet he failed to get guarantees from the US or UK leaders on his recent ‘peace mission’ despite repeated Democrat requests that he do so.

Australia should be exerting diplomatic pressure on our allies to prevent the first use of nuclear weapons in war in 58 years.

Nuclear war could cause the death and suffering of more Iraqis than Hussein ever could.

There are other ways to get Hussein out of power and achieve disarmament, than war. Multilateral frameworks, confidence building, supporting democracy and the rule of law are good starts. They may take more time but they could ultimately save a lot of lives and bring about a far more stable peace.

We need to not just oppose war but be prepared to take action in support of peace, not just in the short term but also the long term.

Shamefully the Prime Minister has said Australia will not play a role in peacekeeping or nation-building in Iraq after a war.

Plans for a US military government to control Iraq, possibly for years, is a potential recipe for increasing regional resentment, resistance and terrorism.

We want to protect the Iraqi people – from war but also from Saddam Hussein – just as we want to protect the people of Zimbabwe, North Korea, Tibet, Burma, West Papua and others, from human rights abuses.

We want to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction – whether they are held by Iraq, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel, France, the UK or US.

(There was a report a few days ago that the International Atomic Energy Agency has found evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons. )

There are dangerous weapons all over the globe – you cannot expect all other nations to disarm while the US continues its military build up.

There is an obligation on those of us who oppose this war to demonstrate that there are credible alternatives. It is not enough to simply stand up and say ‘no’ much as that needs to be done. We need to demonstrate that there is another pathway.

Religious leaders in the UK said recently, “This is a war that has very dubious moral legitimacy. The alternative cannot be inaction, passivity, appeasement or indifference.”

Achieving peace is an active requirement it is not a passive path. We need to highlight the need for justice and human rights to be applied consistently across the globe.

In conclusion I urge all of you in the immediate situation of an imminent war and the long term, to add your voices to the global call for peaceful disarmament, to take the words of some of those leaders who are advocating war and turn it back on them. Say that if they are concerned about disarmament and they are concerned about human rights, let’s use global processes to achieve those goals consistently and swiftly.

This is the long term battle that has to be fought and has to be won not just for the sake of the future of our nation, but for the future of the entire global community.

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