Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Democracy, Parliament, and war

Sending soldiers to die is one of the biggest decisions a government could make. You'd expect, therefore, that there would be Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions - especially when they have led to tragedy. But you'd be wrong. There no requirement for government to gain Parliamentary approval for the deployment of troops overseas (though Labour has a member's Bill for that), and there's no guarantee of post-deployment scrutiny either. There was an unpleasant example of that today after Question Time, when Speaker Lockwood Smith refused permission for an urgent debate on the deaths of kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan - not because it failed to meet the requirements of Standing orders, but because "the House has more appropriate ways of recognising such events, and today has already done so". In other words, the mawkish exercise in hypocrisy Parliament opened with today - desperately reciting the old lie in the hope that this waste of life would therefore be rendered meaningful - is used as an excuse to shut down real scrutiny and debate.

This isn't good enough. We deserve better. The soldiers John Key has sent to die deserve better. Democracy means holding the government to account for its actions. That may be inconvenient for accountability-phobic politicians, and painful for the rest of us, but it has to be done, and it is Parliament's duty to do it. By refusing permission for this debate, Lockwood Smith has done us all a disservice.