'Stakes are too high': Open letter to PM over 'irresponsible' war talk

·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

A group of eminent Australians have published an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelling the federal government "irresponsible" for "overheated war talk" and calling for legislative change to require a parliamentary vote before Australia enters any international conflict

Nearly 70 former Australian diplomats, politicians, historians, scholars and experts put their name to the letter which said now is the time to carefully consider Australia’s position amid "increasingly bleak assessments of the possibility of armed conflict".

"A major war today would be very different from past wars. Today a single weapon can cause massive destruction of life and property and permanent contamination of the environment. No current threat to Australia justifies taking such a risk," the letter said.

J15 fighter jets on China's sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, during a drill at sea. Source: AFP
J15 fighter jets on China's sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, during a drill at sea. Source: AFP

"The stakes are too high for another ill-judged decision by the Prime Minister alone, as we saw with Iraq and Afghanistan."

Opposition to PM's right to take Australia to war

While it did not mention China, increased tensions with the rising superpower under the Morrison government was the impetus for the letter, said Dr Alison Broinowski AM, vice president of Australians for War Powers Reform, which published it. 

“The purpose of it is to express the views of a lot of very knowledgeable Australians … on what has recently been called the drums of war or slow march to war, to which we all object,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

"It's one of the most momentous decisions a government can make and yet our constitution allows the prime minister virtually alone, to make that decision all by himself."

Dr Broinowski, and the letter's signatories which include former Liberal leader John Hewson, former Labor minister Melissa Parke and the Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, cautioned against simply following the lead of the United States if tensions ratchet up further.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied stoking anxieties about war with China ahead of an expected federal election. Source: Getty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied stoking anxieties about war with China ahead of an expected federal election. Source: Getty

She said among democracies, Australia stands virtually alone with other Commonwealth nations New Zealand and Canada by not having a requirement for parliament to vote on conflict engagement – something her organisation is seeking to change. 

"What we want is a democratic process, which is what most democratic countries have."

What war with China may look like

As others have noted, conflict with China would not look like past wars, with an obvious starting point.

“If there were to be a war with China, it wouldn’t start with an invasion… there would be a creeping process for which each side would blame the other. It would likely escalate in a very dangerous fashion, including into cyber war … with disastrous effects,” Dr Broinowski said. 

It comes as federal ministers and government officials have been publicly discussing the prospect of heated conflict with China. 

In a speech on Wednesday, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong accused Mr Morrison of fuelling anxiety about conflict with the Asian giant for domestic political gain

"My concern is that not only does he not fully comprehend Australia's interests in relation to China, he doesn't even seek to," she said. 

"It would represent a monumental and catastrophic failure of leadership to see that anxiety realised," Senator Wong warned, in a rare break from the usual bipartisan unity on foreign affairs and China. 

PM denies stoking China fears for political reasons

On Wednesday, Scott Morrison denied stoking tensions with China through alarmist rhetoric for personal gain. 

"Australians can always rely on the Liberals and the Nationals, the coalition government, to do what's right in Australia's national security interests," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"Under a coalition government, we will always stand up for Australia."

During his time as prime minister, relations with China have hit frosty new lows

China has blocked key Australian exports in wine, coal, barley, lobster and more. 

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