Labor shoots down troop deployment bill

Labor will not support an Australian Greens bill that would require parliament to approve the deployment of Australian troops overseas.

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Greens MP Adam Bandt, during a parliamentary debate on the war in Afghanistan on Wednesday, flagged he would introduce soon a private member’s bill that mirrored a similar piece of legislation in the Senate.

“The bill would require a decision of parliament as well as the government of the day to underpin any deployment of troops overseas,” he said.

The resolution would require the agreement of both houses of parliament.

Parliaments in many other countries, including Germany, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, did the same thing, Mr Bandt said.

“We should join them.”

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard almost immediately ruled out Labor support for the move, saying the government stood by the mechanism that she set up on Tuesday when the debate started.

That was was to allow a debate on the deployment and for the prime minister to provide an annual statement to parliament, she told reporters shortly after Mr Bandt’s speech.

The MP said the war was clearly being lost with suggestions the Karzai government was in reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

“At the moment, the (Australian) government has its priorities wrong,” he said.

The Greens believed a withdrawal of Australian military forces from Afghanistan could enable the provision of additional aid, especially to civil society institutions that fostered democracy, sustainable development and human rights.”

Mr Bandt also rejected the idea that the war was still about ending the threat of the Taliban.

“We know there are extensive talks between the Karzai government and Taliban leader Mullah Omar and others, aimed at reconciliation and dealing them squarely into government,” he said.

“While pursuing peace and reconciliation is to be commended and one hopes the process may ease or end the conflict, it somewhat undermines the claim that Taliban is the enemy that must be opposed at all.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst, called for any declaration of war to be decided by a conscience vote of parliamentarians.

“That currently such decisions can be, and are, made by the prime minister acting virtually alone is patently inadequate and potentially disastrous,” he told parliament during the debate.

“It’s hostage to the competency of an individual with all his or her strengths and weaknesses, ideology and prejudices.”

Nor was there a mandatory “gross-error check” at the outset or later on.

“One option I favour is that the decision to go to war should be made by a conscience vote in a joint sitting of the parliament.”

Mr Wilkie ended his impassioned speech by reading the names of the 21 Australian soldiers who have died in the nine-year conflict, pausing briefly to fight back tears.

“I’m a vocal critic of the war in Afghanistan and believe we must bring our combat troops home as soon as possible,” he said.

“And when I say as soon as possible, I envisage a withdrawal timeline carefully planned by military professionals, not politicians, which speedily hands military responsibility over to Afghan security forces in a matter of months.