Former Labor leader Kevin Rudd has accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of acting "irresponsibly" in committing Australia to a military response in the event of a North Korean attack on the United States.
“My response to the statement when I first saw it …. was simply, ‘Good God have the conservatives in Australia learnt nothing from the Iraq experience?’” the former prime minister told ABC radio on Monday.
Mr Rudd says it’s a difficult and dangerous time amid rising tensions over a potential North Korea strike, which call for “calm language” and “solid diplomacy” from leaders.
“Not the sort of waving of arms into the air which we have seem to have seen from Mr Turnbull,” he said.
The former Labor leader, who has in the past criticised Mr Turnbull for not endorsing him for a top UN job, says the government should not have given the US a “blank cheque” on what Australia would do in the event of an attack from Pyongyang.
“There are multiple scenarios which could arise from the Korean peninsula and we cannot predict which of any of them would occur,” he said.
“But for an Australian prime minister to say we automatically would become militarily involved in the event of a North Korean attack frankly I think is irresponsible in terms of our core national security interests.
“What any sensible prime minister would do, when you’re dealing with something as fundamental as military conflict and therefore broader national security, is not simply say in advance, ‘There is a blank cheque here’.
“You would wait to see what practical scenarios unfolded and the extent to which they actually complied with the terms of the treaty.”
Mr Rudd said the “smart thing” a leader would do is very plainly state that Australia upheld the ANZUS treaty and would honour the terms of the pact.
“Without saying it means anything specific in a particular scenario when there could be multiple variants,” he added.
It comes amid calls for parliament to debate Australia's involvement on North Korea before it signed such a move off in the event of a conflict.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants a debate to preclude any commitment of Australian troops.
But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says quick action is often necessary in such events.
“It would be unheard of for the executive to wait for the parliamentary debate before the prime minister acted,” she told Sky News.
“In these circumstances if a threat were imminent or if in fact there had been an attack on the United States the government would need to act quickly.”
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne says Australia is a long way from facing the possibility of war.
And the decision of invoking the ANZUS treaty was for cabinet to make.
Mr Pyne also rebuffed calls for Australia to build a missile defence system similar to the US’s THAAD, saying it’s “patently absurd” such a shield could be built in a matter of months.
“It would be tens of billions of dollars and take many years to replicate what the United States has done for continental US,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Rudd said "the Chinese baseline conclusion" was Mr Trump's threat of unilateral military action against North Korea was just "one huge bluff".
China, because of this view, will only do a few things to try and talk North Korea into coming around to a more reasonable posture.
"This guy is a serious hard head," Mr Rudd, referring to President Xi during an interview on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS on Sunday, said.
"I mean, this guy has been around for a while and if there is going to be a serious conversation here about the future of the Korean Peninsula it has to be conducted in clear, bottom line, but quiet, terms between one administration and the other."
Mr Rudd, who has just returned to the US from a trip to China, said Mr Trump was unique to past US presidents dating back to 1993 who have dealt with the North Korean regime because he sees a virtue in his own strategic unpredictability.
"At the end of the day if the North Koreans evolve into a fully replete nuclear weapons state with ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) with miniaturised warheads on top then, well, the Chinese view is, the US will then just have to accept that reality," Mr Rudd said.
"And what none of us know is whether President Trump will ultimately accept a position in history which says, 'I'm the guy and it was on my watch that this state finally crossed the threshold of constituting a threat to the US mainland'."