IN recent years there have been increasing calls for greater parliamentary scrutiny over the executive’s long-held prerogative to commit Australia’s defence forces to overseas combat operations. Although this has superficial appeal it is a dubious proposition, both as an exercise of parliamentary democracy and as sound security policy.
No Australian government has ever taken this course in all the conflicts in which we have been engaged. That’s not to say policy and practice shouldn’t change, but there needs to be a compelling case and it’s not clear that there is one.
Proponents of parliamentary approval appear to be focused on the decision to go to Iraq in 2003 and argue that what they see as Australia’s ill-conceived involvement might have been avoided if there had been a parliamentary vote. This is questionable: John Howard’s government had a strong majority on floor of the House of Representatives and surely would have prevailed in any vote.
Governments are elected to govern. There’s no greater responsibility than to protect the national interest. Central to that task is the onerous need to decide when military force should be deployed. Australians expect their governments to make difficult policy choices: outsourcing this responsibility is an abdication of the authority given to them through their electoral mandate.
By RUSSELL TROOD AND ANTHONY BERGIN