Australia is in the middle of a wartime election, but you wouldn’t know it from this election campaign.

Despite this election’s outward appearance, Australia is a nation at war. Surely that demands serious answers and merits significant navel-gazing from both the electorate and the electoral aspirants. Iraq and Afghanistan have been conspicuously absent from the Prime Minister’s rhetoric, however, not even rating a mention in Monday’s campaign launch, and it has been no more than a footnote for Kevin Rudd.

This may surprise some, as many will remember from the 2001 start of this “War on Terror” that governments rarely change hands during wartime, and national security is a traditional strongpoint for the Howard Government, foreseeably one they would flaunt. But Iraq is a different kettle of fear altogether. Howard’s reasons for going to war proved false (which he’d rather not bring up), the Coalition presence in Iraq is clearly not improving the situation, and the polls show our presence in Iraq is not only on the nose for those pesky pinkos but also for Howard’s dearly-loved “battlers”.

It may also be a symptom of how remote these theatres of war are to most Australians. For two young Australian women, however, the “War on Terror” is much more immediate. That’s why they’ve inserted themselves into this election campaign, to put peace back on the political agenda – a notion which should be more foregone than forgotten.

Samantha McMillan was married to an American soldier sent to Iraq (suffering untreated PTSD from Afghanistan), and killed in action in late 2006. Louise Barry spent three months in traction after being on a bus blown up in the 2005 London bombings — she made headlines questioning the PM on Iraq from her hospital bed.

Both women know something about the human cost of the “War on Terror”, and are appealing to the leaders of all political parties to outline a clearly defined exit strategy. Too much to ask? Yes, it would appear for John Howard, who despite repeated written and verbal entreaties to his office will not commit to giving a war widow and a victim of terrorism an audience to hear their concerns and receive the signatures of 50,000 concerned Australians on a GetUp petition. On Iraq, he remains missing in action.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey