PM’S Risky Middle East Commitment: The Fine Line Between Between Freedom Of Navigation Operations And Conflict Could Have Significant Consequences For Australia

21 August 2019

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to commit Australian air and naval forces to support a United States commanded effort to police sea lanes in the Straits of Hormuz could, without little or no notice, draw Australia into a broader conflict between the United States and Iran.

"Support for freedom of navigation is important, especially in such a strategic waterway, and Prime Minister Morrison’s decision may set a positive tone for his forthcoming State Dinner with President Trump next month, but this decision amounts to a blank cheque for Australian entanglement in any war with Iran," Senator Patrick said.

"Prime Minister Morrison needs to provide a much fuller account of his commitment to the Trump Administration than he gave at his press conference today, for example what boundaries have been set?"

"Nearly two months ago I called on the Prime Minister to fully brief the Australian Parliament on the situation in the Persian Gulf and Australia’s potential military involvement in hostilities between the United States and Iran. That call for Parliamentary debate went unheeded and we now have a new military commitment in the Middle East of uncertain scope and duration."

"Hostilities between the US and Iran would have very far reaching strategic, economic and humanitarian consequences. In the event of wider hostilities, something only very narrowly averted in June this year, it now appears that Australia will be inevitably involved alongside the United States. This commitment could put Australian forces on the front line without proper consideration."

"Australia already has some 800 personnel deployed in the Middle East region. This new commitment of another 200 personnel, in an operation specifically focussed on Iran, will further deepen Australia’s military involvement while President Trump calls the shots."  

"At the same time the Government has profoundly failed to ensure that Australia has adequate reserves of vital liquid fuels."

"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."

"One must also wonder about the extent to which this commitment is a quid pro quo for the Trump Administration to consider guaranteeing Australian fuel supplies in the event global supply chains are disrupted by conflict in the Middle East or the South China Sea."

"Whatever military commitments Australia makes in the Middle East, it is foolish in the extreme to think that we can rely upon the “America First” Trump Administration to bail Australia out in the event of a global fuel crisis – a crisis that may well be triggered by unilateral US actions."

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