Government’s power to declare war

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danielRecent terrorist attacks in Paris have ignited furious debate about the role that military action should play in defeating the terrorist group known as ISIS/ISIL.

While the savagery in Paris has taken centre stage, debate is also raging as to the perception that the Western world cares more for the lives lost in Paris then those lost in equally appalling attacks in Lebanon, Iraq, Kenya and Syria.

The answer to this question is clear to the writer: the attacks in Paris resonate more readily with Westerners because we share an almost identical way of life, ergo these attacks seem more relevant to us. It is not a distinction between “more” or “less” tragic, but rather a reflection of human psychology, that is, it is human nature to react more passionately to what is happening in our own backyard.

The debate also poses an interesting legal question however. What are the Australian Government’s war powers?

Under the Australian Constitution the Government holds what are known as Prerogative Powers, also known as the power to deploy armed forces, domestically and internationally.

An interesting point to note in relation to Australia’s position is that the Commonwealth Government does not necessarily require Parliament’s approval before it decides to deploy armed forces or “declare war”. The result is that this is usually a decision made by the Prime Minister taken in consideration with the views of the Commanders in Chief of Australia’s military forces.

This is in line with the situation in places like the United Kingdom, however differs to other allied nations such as the USA who typically require the authorisation of Congress in order to “declare war”. This is a simplistic snapshot of these powers, but are interesting considerations nonetheless.

What will be more interesting is Australia’s response to these terrorist attacks now that for the first time ISIS has brought their murderous fight to Western soil. Whatever Australia’s involvement, what is certain is that these acts of terror are barbaric and must not be allowed to continue.

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