September 8

War and Peace

The primary duties of government are to defend the realm, dispense justice, including law and order and maintain a stable currency. Obesity and clubs for gentlemen only do not constitute first order issues for government, if at all.

The editor of The Australian (4/9) recently argued that John Howard’s decision to back the US in Iraq “was made on the basis of Australia's system of government, our strategic circumstances at the time and the immutable fact that single-issue morality is irrelevant in practical politics.”

This was in the context of revelations in a new book by Paul Kelly that John Howard did not seek public service advice before participating in the war to remove Saddam Hussein.


Many Australians will debate whether the decision was correct ethically, strategically or in accordance with international law. It was certainly correct constitutionally. Under our system it is the Crown who wages war, as advised by ministers responsible to Parliament.

“It is the job of the prime minister and those of his ministers he consults to decide defence policy,” says The Australian. “The executive answers to parliament and the electors, not administrators, and while bureaucrats provide advice on policy, they do not make it. In any case, as Kelly reveals, senior officials, the people with access to intelligence assessments, were not opposed to the war.”

There have been proposals this be changed. The Greens argue Senate approval is appropriate as in the US. But the US does not have a system of responsible government. Government may continue even if it does not enjoy the confidence of congress.  

Under our constitution, the command in chief of the armed forces of the Commonwealth is vested in the Governor-General. Normally this power is exercised on the advice of the ministers.A change from this would require approval of a bill at a referendum.


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