Federal MP Andrew Hastie, a former officer in the Australian special forces, wants parliamentary oversight for the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) amid the fallout from the inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
Hastie made his argument in an article published on his website on Tuesday. Hastie, who chairs the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security, said that the federal government needs to establish a committee with powers to compel defence chiefs and bureaucrats.
“Parliamentary scrutiny of Defence is broken and needs fixing,” Hastie said. “There is no independent Joint Defence Committee where tough questions can be asked in a classified, protected space.”
Current parliamentary scrutiny of Defence is only at a surface level and needs urgent reform as it does not address accountability or transparency within the armed forces, Hastie said.
“We need proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force. Without it, our Parliament can’t exercise proper civilian oversight of our military,” he said.
Hastie’s comments come after the exhaustive inquiry by Justice Paul Brereton found credible evidence that Australian special forces personnel had committed 23 incidents of alleged unlawful killings of 39 Afghan civilians.
According to Brereton, no top brass was involved in the alleged incidents.
However, the Chief of the Army has disbanded one squadron from the Special Air Services after it was found to be at the nexus of the alleged criminal activity.
A Positive Warrior Culture
Decrying those that instilled “ego, entitlement, and exceptionalism” in the special forces, Hastie warned against calling for an “ivory tower'” repudiation of “warrior culture” in military training. Instead, he believed a positive culture was important for elite combat units.
“You need people who run to the sound of the guns. Who are prepared to fight and destroy Australia’s enemies. Who will die doing so, if necessary. Those men exist. They are serving at present. They have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Hastie argued that the reality of war is that it is inherently violent, escalatory, and degrading but that some people pretend it is no different from any other form of unilateral government policy.
“It is a modern conceit to pretend that war can be managed with a set of safe technocratic hands,” Hastie said.
He also argued that some of the alleged killings might have been avoided if Australia’s media were allowed greater access to soldiers during the conflict. But instead, what Australians got to see of the conflict was carefully “stage-managed” and “sanitized” by Public Affairs Officers.
The Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester censured the media against judging the armed forces, as he said some had been.
“The last thing Australian Defence Force personnel, their families, and our veterans need right now is your judgement. They need our support,” Chester wrote in an open letter on Tuesday.
Chester requested the media not judge the actions of a few people against the more than two million Australians who have served in the country’s armed forces.
“The courage, service, and sacrifice of those wearing our nation’s uniform who have done the right thing, must not be defined or diminished by this small minority,” Chester said.
Chester noted that the ADF is the first point of call when disaster strikes in Australia, noting the Defence aid provided in the bushfires last summer and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.