Probably only a few people remember the basis on which Australia entered its longest war. On the 14th September 2001, the Australian government invoked the ANZUS treaty for the first time, originally signed with the Americans and New Zealand in 1951 because of fear of Chinese supremacy in the Pacific. This was largely a symbolic act in response to the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001. The terms of the ANZUS Treaty require that there be an attack on the metropolitan territory of one of the signatories. 9/11 was the first time this had happened to the United States since Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941.
So Howard gave the Americans 200 SAS troops to go into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban! This action was not endorsed by the United Nations nor was the US bombing of Afghanistan that ensued. It should come as no surprise that it has taken more boots on the ground to rescue the 4,000 Australian visa holders stranded in Kabul when the Taliban took power this week.
Yet media organisations including the ABC treat John Howard as a sage elder statesman on all things Afghanistan. His policy of invoking ANZUS after 9/11 was and still is, a disaster (well documented in these pages by people from differing perspectives). His policy and governments that followed the Americans have created even more misery with the death of over 100 people at Kabul airport two days ago.
“As I indicated in Washington and I repeat today, and it’s the unanimous view of the Cabinet, that Australia stands ready to cooperate within the limits of its capability concerning any response that the United States may regard as necessary in consultation with her allies. I do want to stress of course that although the greater loss of life, the overwhelmingly greater loss of life as a result of these attacks, has been American, there are still some 80 or 90 Australians unaccounted for and there are confirmed deaths of at least three Australians. And at no stage should any Australian regard this as something that is just confined to the United States. It is an attack upon the way of life we hold dear in common with the Americans. It does require the invocation of ANZUS. The provisions of ANZUS do in our view apply and the Cabinet came to that view and I have released a formal statement to that effect that will be available to you at the end of this news conference.”
Ironically, by far the biggest story of the day (14 September 2001) when Howard made the ANZUS announcement, was the liquidation of Ansett airlines with the airline workers (including my sister) thrown on the dust heap. Howard refused to bail out the company … something that a Liberal government is only too happy to do for Qantas, now a private company. No thanks to Keating and Hawke Labor governments who privatised the airline supported later by the Howard government. Remember that in 2007 not only did Howard lose the election he lost his own safe Liberal seat. After 11 years in office he had antagonised nearly everyone, even the wealthy who reside in Bennelong (ironically named after Woollarawarre Bennelong). His seat was only to be recovered after Howard was gone. Yet, to the Australian media this disgraced PM is an oracle on the war of terror. Those acts perpetrated by the SAS is a matter of documented history; thanks (in part) to the ABC’s Four Corners program and to the activists that unearthed the terror they inflicted on Afghan families.
ANZUS should be revoked immediately and Australian governments should be seeking bilateral relations with China, something that Gough Whitlam began nearly 50 years ago when he visited China.
Gough with Mao in 1972
28 August 2021
Transcript of Howard’s speech invoking ANZUS after 9/11. John Howard, Press Conference, 14 September 2001. See https://pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12308
Was the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan legal?