(Image: AAP/David Mariuz)

Over the last fortnight, events in the Middle East took a turn for the Armageddony after a US air strike killed Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani, and Iran retaliated by attacking US bases in Iraq.

With everything feeling quite precarious, Prime Minister Scott Morrison — acting with a speed that will no doubt surprise anyone who lost their house to the bushfires while he was in Hawaii — announced he was monitoring the events in Iraq and ready to do whatever was necessary to “keep Australians safe”.

So it’s worth bearing in mind that oversight of Australia’s war powers is practically non-existent.

As Clinton Fernandes, professor of international and political studies at the University of New South Wales told Crikey back in 2018, “the executive can send us to war with no oversight”.

“The constitution does not say anything about where the power to declare war lies,” said Fernandes. “There is no constitutional requirement for the Australian Parliament to give its blessing to anyone … There is no constitutional need even to debate the decision before it is made.” 

Ultimately, it comes down to the defence minister (currently Linda Reynolds, who also copped flak for her holiday plans over Christmas). Section eight of the Defence Act 1903 states:

(1) The Minister has general control and administration of the Defence Force …
(2) In performing and exercising functions and powers under this Part, the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary must comply with any directions of the Minister.

So, if Morrison does opt for a Wag the Dog solution to his plummeting popularity, there’s not much anyone could do to stop him.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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