Australian politics, society & culture

Monday, 1st September 2014


Over the weekend Prime Minister Tony Abbott committed Australia's military to Iraq for the first time since its combat forces were withdrawn in July 2009. Abbott says 2014 is nothing like 2003, and there are indeed major distinctions. The "coalition of the willing" this time is broader, no doubt because the threat posed by the Islamic State is self-evidently real and the mission is being cast as primarily humanitarian (at this stage Australia's involvement is limited to the supply of arms and food to Kurdish anti-IS forces), and because it appears that Iraq's interim government wants the help. Unlike in 2003 there is no popular opposition. 

But there are also similarities. Australia's government is once again asking the people to take it on trust, and Abbott will again keep this mission away from parliamentary scrutiny. While he's technically within his rights – constitutionally, military deployment is an executive prerogative – Abbott wouldn't lose anything by affording parliament a review function. On this point Abbott is enjoying rare bipartisanship. Labor today blocked a Greens motion requesting a senate debate. But the catastrophic intelligence failures of 2003 do suggest that greater scrutiny would be beneficial, a point recognised in both Britain and the US. Meanwhile Donald Rothwell argues that Abbott hasn't set out the legal case for deployment. Leadership is still being claimed by the US (and not, for instance, the United Nations), and Australia once again risks being cast as its "deputy sherrif".

In 2003 Australia participated in the US-led invasion of Iraq on various stated grounds, including the imminent threat caused by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his ties to al-Qa'eda, which were untrue or exaggerated. Analysts warned that for all his tyranny Saddam and his relatively secular Ba'athist party functioned as a capstone on the growing threat of radical Islamism, and deposing him would lead to chaos when western troops eventually withdrew. That chaos has now come to pass. The Islamic State has succeeded al-Qa'eda and is brutally pursuing its aim to re-establish a caliphate across the region. Few are suggesting that there is no case for action. But Australians should know as much as possible about the form of, and rationale for, that action.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Australian planes to deliver weapons for Kurds fighting Islamic State

"Tony Abbott said the US government had requested that Australia help to transport stores of military equipment, including arms and munitions, as part of a multinational effort." (Daniel Hurst, The Guardian)

Also: Iraq involvement to combat Islamic State “nothing like” 2003, says Abbott (Latika Bourke, Fairfax); SAS to protect crews on arms drops in Iraq (David Wroe, Fairfax)

Comment: Arms runs likely to be step to deeper Australian role against Islamic State (Michelle Grattan, The Conversation)

The year of ruling dangerously

"It was a testament to how badly Tony Abbott’s government was faring, as it approached its first anniversary, that even its most strident ideological supporters were starting to sheer off in anger and disappointment." (Nick Feik, The Monthly, free registration may be required)

Also: Bill Shorten can’t win despite Abbott’s low popularity, says Rod Cameron (Troy Bramston, The Australian, possible paywall)

Comment: When team building fuels racial unrest (Mike Seccombe, The Saturday Paper, possible paywall)

Abbott government wants East Timor spy charged

"The Australian government has asked the federal police to investigate if lawyer Bernard Collaery and a former spy can be charged with disclosing classified information after revelations Australia spied on East Timor during sensitive oil and gas treaty talks." (Tom Allard, Fairfax)

Also: Regional security top of Tony Abbott’s agenda for India, Malaysia (Rowan Callick, The Australian, possible paywall)

Politics’ hidden millions in party favours

"Loopholes in disclosure laws are allowing major donations to be funnelled into parties via an elaborate network of forums and sponsorships." (Sophie Morris, The Saturday Paper, possible paywall)

Also: Auditor-General to examine Abbott government's anti-crime fund over pork-barrelling claims (Mark Kenny, Fairfax)

PM lays ground for GP co-payment rethink

"The Prime Minister has signalled the plan in private talks with Coalition MPs amid pressure from crossbench senators for drastic changes to the medical co-payment meant to generate $3.5 billion in revenue over the next four years." (David Crowe, The Australian, possible paywall)