Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

12 - Debate and decision



As Task Group 627.4 steamed across the Indian Ocean, heading for the Gulf, the Australian Government was grappling with a series of challenges and questions that it had not contemplated for at least twenty years. For the first time since Vietnam, Australian forces might soon be exchanging fire with a capable and determined foe. In Canberra, the Defence Department was labouring over rules of engagement, command arrangements, logistics, medical support and evacuation plans. In Washington, New York and the Middle East, Australian diplomats were negotiating arrangements for the multinational force, seeking to determine whether the Task Group would be under UN or US command, and where it would be deployed.

The government was also under political and public pressure. Some members of the Australian Labor Party were criticising the Prime Minister, Hawke, and his key ministers Ray and Evans for their willingness to respond to US requests. Farmers were expressing concern about trade prospects, motorists were facing an increase in fuel prices, and there were fears for the safety of Australian citizens in Iraq and Kuwait. The outstanding question was whether the United Nations would approve the use of force in applying sanctions. Fortunately, not all issues needed to be resolved immediately; it would be more than three weeks before the ships reached the operational area. But August 1990 was a busy month of debate and decision-making.