Greens and One Nation make strange bedfellows in push for Parliament to approve war deployments

“We need to make sure that the Parliament, representing the people, have that say”: One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts Photo: Andrew Meares Protests against the Iraq war at Parliament House in Canberra in December 2002. Photo: Pat Scala

One Nation has joined the Greens in calling for reforms that would force governments to seek parliamentary approval to commit Australian troops to war.

Currently the law gives the government the power to send troops into conflict, but the issue of parliamentary approval has been raised this week by Victorian campaigner Michael Smith, who has walked from his home town of Chewton to Canberra carrying proposed legislation that would require the green light from the House of Representatives and the Senate.

He was backed by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts on Monday, who said “the voice of the people is ignored”.

“We need to do this before any commitment of troops overseas or any forces overseas. We need to make sure that the Parliament, representing the people, have that say. Not a couple of people,” Senator Roberts said in video posted to YouTube.

Following Britain’s Chilcot inquiry into the country’s involvement in the Iraq war, the Greens renewed their push for parliamentary approval of war.

“Our own decision-makers must be held to account for their involvement in the conflict, and our parliament given the power to decide when we go to war,” Greens foreign affairs spokesman Scott Ludlam said in July.

Britain has developed a convention of seeking authorisation from parliament before engaging in conflict.

Mr Smith’s proposed legislation – drafted by Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam – would compel the prime minister and cabinet to present a report to members of parliament, outlining the justifications and the size of the commitment.

Neither the Australian constitution, nor defence legislation, currently require the executive to seek approval from parliament to commit Australian troops to conflict abroad. In practice, the national security committee of cabinet, made up of the prime minister, foreign and defence ministers and several others, generally makes a preliminary decision which is then put to cabinet.

The question of parliamentary approval has been hotly debated however, particularly in the wake of the controversial 2003 invasion of Iraq based on faulty intelligence. Former Army chief Peter Leahy has long called for parliamentary debate and approval on sending Australian troops to fight in wars.

Defence scholar and former Army officer James Brown is also a prominent advocate for greater parliamentary involvement in decisions about going to war.

However both have argued that the executive should make a preliminary decision with parliament then reviewing the deployment within strictly set timelines.

In the United States for instance, the War Powers Resolution forces the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of committing forces to military action and cannot continue the action for longer than 60 days without congressional approval.

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