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John Howard had no right to commit Australian troops to Afghanistan

By Pat O'Shane - posted Tuesday, 30 October 2001

Since September 11, 2001 we in this country, along with all others in the so-called Western World have been subjected to a propaganda bombardment such as no other that I can ever recall.

Within minutes of two commercial planes being flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and another into the Pentagon, the war of words started, with White House and military officials, not to mention the media, telling us that it was the work of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, and one Osama bin Laden in particular. Their grounds for so saying have not, to this very minute, been disclosed. Despite their thundering in the ensuing days that they had incontrovertible evidence that bin Laden had ordered or authorised the attacks, no such evidence has been forthcoming. What has been put out to the public is a pastiche of minimal facts, dubious inferences, prejudice, wild speculation, and sheer propaganda.

As though to lend credibility and veracity to that, the US Administration launched a military offensive said to be targetted against the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan who have ostensibly given sanctuary to bin Laden. Even before they did that, Australian PM John Howard announced that Australia would go all the way with the USA. As various spokespersons talked up the need for the military offensive against Afghanistan, the same John Howard further announced that Australia would commit troops alongside US troops. At the time, no other country had made such a commitment, not even including Britain's Tony Blair, who had been as vocal as US President George Bush in his hawkish calls for military strikes against Islamic terrorists.


A couple of weeks later, Howard  announced the next election date: November 10.

In the climate of the media hype that passes these days for election campaigns, Howard, having manufactured an "illegal refugees" crisis; having sent Australian gun-boats to ward off invading IRs; thereby creating yet another outbreak of primitive xenophobia among the unenlightened, the fearful, the always-paranoid, and the outright hate mongers, announced that he had received a call to arms from the his good mate, the USA's President Shrub (as Phillip Adams has dubbed-ya him), and thereupon informed the Australian public that 1,500 military personnel would set forth to fight the very good fight against international terrorism. The language as you will observe has ever so slightly been changing as each day goes by, still without the evidence that was simply not there at the outset.

In this forum on "Refugees, Terrorism, and the Public Right to Know", the big question that I want to address is this: by what authority did Howard make such a commitment of Australian lives?

It is not a question that has been taken up by any of the media. Nor was it addressed in John Howard's address to the Australian Defence Association when he put his so-called intellectual and moral arguments for the commitment of Australian troops.

Yet this question is fundamental to the public right to know about this and attendant issues.

Almost without exception, ever since the election was called, it has been assumed by all commentators, and particularly all media commentators, that John Howard had/has some implicit authority to launch Australia into a war that-isn't-a-war, or the war that-is-like-no-other-that-we've-known, by reason of his being the Prime Minister. But is he the Prime Minister?


The [so-called] Australian Constitution (so-called because it is in fact part of a piece of legislation from Westminster, the British Houses of Parliament) is silent on what is the politico-legal situation when an election is called and Parliament is prorogued, that is, discontinued until the next session.

Placitum 28 of the Constitution provides: Every House of Representatives shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer…

"Every" used in that context clearly indicates that a new House of Representatives comes into existence after each term of three years, and the elections consequent upon its prorogation.

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This is and edited version of a speech given to the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism The Public Right to Know Conference in Sydney on October 26, 2001.

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About the Author

Pat O'Shane is a NSW magistrate and an activist for the rights of women and Aboriginal people.

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