Comprehensive statement required from Prime Minister on Middle East military commitments: Centre Alliance

26 June 2019

Centre Alliance Senator, Rex Patrick, has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to fully brief the Australian Parliament next week on the situation in the Persian Gulf and Australia’s potential military involvement in hostilities between the United States and Iran.

"Hostilities between the US and Iran would have very far reaching strategic, economic and humanitarian consequences," Senator Patrick said.

"Prime Minister Morrison needs to make a comprehensive statement to Parliament as soon as possible," he said.

"The Prime Minister must make a forthright declaration about the Australian Government’s approach to the crisis in the Persian Gulf, especially in relation to the key question of Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA."

Senator Patrick’s call for a parliamentary statement comes after US President Trump narrowly called off a military strike against Iran and as Prime Minister Morrison prepares to travel to the G20 Summit in Japan, where he is expected to discuss Iran and the Persian Gulf with the US President.

In December last year, Mr Morrison indicated in a speech to the Sydney Institute that the Australian Government’s review of the JCPOA had concluded that “on balance” the Agreement was “delivering what is intended.”

The Prime Minister observed that: “Substantial restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity remain in place. The International Atomic Energy Agency has verified on 13 occasions that Iran’s actions remain in keeping with the deal’s limits. The deal took Iran from the brink of having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon to a place where the international community has daily oversight of its nuclear activities.”

Mr Morrison declared the JCPOA was delivering “worthy achievements” and described the positive findings of the Australian review as “welcome news”.

Senator Patrick called on the Prime Minister to clarify his Government’s current view of the JCPOA.

"Does the Prime Minister believe that the fundamental provisions of the JCPOA are still being observed? Whether he does, or he doesn’t, he needs to tell the Australian Parliament," Senator Patrick said.

"Mr Morrison must also inform the Parliament of his government’s position in the event of hostilities in the Persian Gulf, something that nearly erupted this week, including any potential Australian Defence Force involvement and whether the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap would play a role in providing intelligence data to support US operations against Iran," he said.

"Australia already has some 800 personnel deployed in the Middle East region in Operations OKRA, HIGHROAD, MANITOU and ACCORDION."

Potential flow-on effects from a US strike also need to be explained. When secret Australian Cabinet papers were disclosed to the ABC last year, they revealed a reference to highly sensitive bilateral planning with the United Arab Emirates on the defence of the UAE in the event of Iranian hostilities.

In Senate Estimates hearings in February this year, the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade stated that Australia had no binding treaty arrangements with any Middle East country in relation to defence against Iranian threats, but refused to comment on “private bilateral discussions” with the UAE.

"It’s not at all clear what the Australian Government is already secretly committed to in the Middle East," Senator Patrick said.

"Australians have a right to know what military undertakings or understandings Australia already has with the US or other countries such as the United Arab Emirates," he said

"The impact of any hostilities in the Persian Gulf on Australian fuel supplies is also a matter of critical concern.

"As a member of the International Energy Agency, Australia is committed to hold some 90 days of consumption worth of liquid fuel supplies in reserve, available to be drawn upon in case of disruptions to global supply.

"In January this year Department of Environment and Energy statistics revealed Australia’s stockpiles amounted to only 22 days’ worth of petrol, 17 days of diesel and 27 days of total petroleum products.

"Prime Minister Morrison should be much more forthcoming about the diplomatic and military exchanges his Government has had with the United States and other countries about the situation in the Persian Gulf, the potential risks and impacts of any hostilities including risks to fuel supplies.

"The Prime Minister should also undertake that no military commitments will be entered into without a full public statement and consequent Parliamentary debate."

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