What are we doing in Syria?

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Kellie Tranter believes Australians have a right to know why our troops are in Syria but obtaining this "free" information requires a substantial financial investment, so she is asking for our help.

LATE LAST YEAR, I embarked on a crowd-funding exercise to raise funds to issue a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in relation to our aerial bombing of Syria.

We commenced carrying out airstrikes in Syria in September in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution. The Australian public still has not been provided with any evidence upon which this decision was based. As hundreds of thousands of Syrians flee their country and flood the borders of Europe our Government’s claims that our operations ‘are not directed against Syria or the Syrian people’ ring a little hollow.

DFAT responded by supplying heavily redacted documents, as you would expect. But the smattering of words they left exposed did provide a useful summary of the publicly stated reasons for our misadventure into Syria.

The reason was simply, 

‘The Government of Syria has, by its failure to constrain attacks upon Iraqi territory originating from ISIL bases within Syria, demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to prevent those attacks.’

As I understand it, we may have bombed in areas where ISIL had already been driven out by the Kurds and the Syrian Army. I also note that our Government failed to mention the complete ineffectiveness of Iraqi Security Forces to secure their own border against ISIL, when we were pointing the finger at Syria. Yet any mention that the United States had spent about $25 billion to train and equip Iraq’s security forces was casually overlooked.

In any case, like getting your first tattoo, one FOI request inevitably leads to another. DFAT pointed out to me that they were not the "lead agency".  So this prompted further FOI requests on the Department of Defence and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).

PM&C sent a practical refusal because the request would result in 71 documents comprising 327 pages to be examined and redacted which, unlike war itself, would be

'a substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources.' 

The Department of Defence – on the other hand – are prepared to provide copies of cables and briefings to and from the Minister of Defence and/or his office for a mere $1,300. After I requested that those fees be waived, the Defence Department "generously" agreed to reduce the fees to $1,000. A deposit of $250 must be paid if I wish to pursue the request.

I do think these FOI requests should be pursued but I simply cannot afford to keep paying FOI charges on top of spending a lot of unremunerative time pursuing matters that should properly be the province of investigative journalists. However, I am prepared to do my bit if others are prepared to chip in to help pay the FOI charges.

One supporter has agreed to contribute $100 and at that level, it wouldn't take many contributors to raise the money. I'm not prepared to beg in order to raise funds to pay these charges but if you agree that the purpose is important and would like to assist me in ascertaining the facts surrounding Australia’s involvement in the bombing of Syria, please contact me on or direct message me on Twitter @KellieTranter.

Read more about this Freedom of Information request here.

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can read more on her website or follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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