Most think our leaders have it about right on Afghanistan
When should Australia wage war? Has anyone asked you? Have you given it much thought or is that a job best left to the government?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that twenty one Australian men lie dead, lost on the battlefields of Afganistan. Each of them is easy to admire - young, supremely fit, highly trained, brave soldiers.
It’s pretty clear they all possessed courage and commitment to their task, their training and their mates most of us would struggle to emulate. They all have families and friends - even more tragically, a number of them have young children who will never see or know their dads.
Many more of their comrades in arms have been terribly wounded. It’s a heavy, hideous price we are paying to support our allies in this conflict.
These are extremely sombre facts about our country’s support for the war against the Afghani Taliban. This week Federal Parliament has been largely devoted to debating that commitment. At Auspoll we thought it timely to ask Australians what they think.
Do we think the price is too high and we must pull out or does the heavy toll in lives lost and damaged make it all the more important to stay the course?
In a national survey of 1,500 people this week, only 22 per cent supported an immediate withdrawal of Australian troops. Nearly twice as many - 40 per cent - backed the proposition of staying in Afghanistan until the mission our soldiers are engaged in is complete. Around the same proportion – 37 per cent – favoured a compromise: to set a date for withdrawal and bring our soldiers home soon.
Julia Gillard’s government and Tony Abbott’s opposition are – for once – in broad agreement on this question and both may take some comfort from these results. There is no widespread clamour to end our involvement in this war immediately.
If you listen to a lot of talkback radio however, you might be forgiven for thinking there is a huge groundswell of opinion on a different question. Some strident voices have been raised against the decision of the independent director of military prosecutions to charge three soldiers over an incident in which civilians including children were killed.
The officer who took this decision has been attacked, there have been calls for the government to step in and overturn the military judicial process and its unwillingness to do so has even characterised as “stabbing in the back” our troops in the battle zone.
So what do Australians think should happen if our soldiers are alleged to have acted against the laws governing military engagement? Asked to choose between an investigation by senior officers and trial in a military court and an option suggesting our soldiers should never face charges over actions that occur in battle, a big majority (65 per cent) favoured the court martial process compared to 35 per cent who feel combat and rules don’t mix.
It’s noteworthy that that 35 per cent against any charges relating to active service rises to 47 per cent in 65-74 year old respondents.
Asked if the government should intervene to have the charges dropped, intervene to investigate the incident itself (as some of those strident voices have demanded) or stay out of it and allow the military’s legal process to proceed without interference, a majority (54 per cent) back our defence force to run its own affairs and legal procedures.
There was just 20 per cent support for government intervention to drop the charges and another 25 per cent for it to conduct its own investigation, though it’s far from clear how this could be accomplished without resort to the army, since they are the ones doing the fighting and administering the rules of engagement.
The Gillard government has been very clear it is not about to interfere in a judicial process. On this highly charged and complex policy question, with its tragic overlay of death and sacrifice, it has broad community support for this judicious approach, whatever the strident ones say.
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