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Christine Milne: 'Iraq training mission another ill-advised captain’s call'

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 3 Mar 2015

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, seeks to suspend standing orders in the Senate to debate Prime Minister Abbott's captain's call to send more troops to Iraq.

Senator MILNE: I believe this is a matter of urgency, which is why I have moved for a suspension of standing orders to have it debated.

We have a situation in Australia where going to war is a captain's call, and that is wrong. We are talking about the lives of Australian service men and women, and they are being deployed because the Prime Minister of the day decides that is what he wants to do. In this case, the captain's call is even worse because he made it and then decided not to tell the Australian people about it because a journalist wrote a story in a newspaper saying that he considered sending 3,500 Australian troops to unilaterally invade northern Iraq. So he put off telling the Australian people because he did not want to suffer the backlash from that article. He had to hose that down.

Meanwhile, he goes to New Zealand and allows the New Zealand Prime Minister to announce the joint force that will be going to Iraq. The Prime Minister of New Zealand said there would be 143 New Zealanders. And here we finally find out, after a delay, after they have dealt with the adverse story in The Australian, where one journalist stopped a nation from being told that another 300 troops are going to go to Iraq. So now we have a situation of: 200 Special Forces personnel; 400 in the Air Force over there now; and we are going to have another 300. That is 900 Australian service men and women on the Prime Minister Tony Abbott's captain's call. We are still suffering from the captain's call that former Prime Minister John Howard made in 2003 sending us into the war in Iraq based on a lie.

The Labor Party is going along with this and saying they support it. They put a ridiculous caveat on it that, if the Iraqi security forces engage in unacceptable conduct or if the Iraqi government adopts unacceptable policies, Australia should withdraw. We know now they are engaged in unacceptable conduct. We know that the mess that is the Iraqi Security Forces is fighting alongside Shiite militias which are conducting massacres; 72 innocent people were killed just last week as a result of Shiite militias engaged in bad behaviour.

ISIS has engaged in appalling behaviour as well; let me very clear about that. We are talking about barbaric behaviour on both sides. We also know Iranian generals are fighting with the militias that we will be fighting alongside. We also know those militias are better paid and better weaponed than the security forces we are supposed to be going there for. The question that the Australian people need answered is: why are they going there, for how long, to what purpose, to what end? The Prime Minister has never made that clear and he still cannot.

It started out as humanitarian aid-and I said then that this would become mission creep. This will see us engaged in a quagmire in Iraq on the back of a captain's call. We have a Prime Minister who is a pugilist who knows nothing other than hitting out and he is sending Australian troops, men and women, into Iraq. We are now going to have 900 of them there-and to what end? For what purpose? As to their engagement with the Shiite militias, what does that mean for Australian troops? We are already in a quagmire and a mess in Iraq, and this is only going to make it worse.

We have already had the military out there saying that the situation we are in right now is that you have to build capability and confidence. They are saying the morale of Iraqi Security Forces is decimated and undermined; their units are fragmented. And we think we can fix that, do we? Do we seriously think engaging with militias and seeing them engage in inhumane and disgraceful behaviour, alongside ISIS doing exactly the same, is going to sort out the Middle East?

This is a bad call, and the parliament should decide. This should not be up to a Prime Minister. The community out there honestly thinks that the parliament sends Australian troops. We do not. The Prime Minister makes the call, the captain's call. It is ill-considered; it has not been explained. It is wrong. 

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