Opinion articles by the Australia Defence Association: 2010
Commonplace arguments against Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan tend to suffer from a factual deficit. Arguments for the commitment tend to suffer from a conceptual one. This is not much different from wider public argument about how Australia is best defended now and in the future — and for much the same reasons.
Recent media coverage concerning an ADF officer undergoing gender reassignment treatment has unfortunately tended to adopt sensationalist and often prurient themes. It should instead have stuck to the facts so we could have commonsense discussion of the possible implications for the individual concerned and our defence force.
Monday's [27 September 2010] announcement of manslaughter and lesser charges against three Afghanistan veterans has jolted many Australians out of their customary lethargy about defence and strategic issues. But much of the ensuing public concern has been emotive and not well informed. The Australia Defence Association has been warning the Minister for Defence and senior Australian Defence Force commanders of such a likely public reaction since mid-2009. We have also regularly protested that the time being taken to decide whether charges were warranted or not was increasingly unfair to the diggers concerned.
The vast bulk of material recently released by WikiLeaks would not be new in nature to those who keep up with the Afghanistan War or the difficulties and perennial moral quandaries of fighting wars generally. However, this latest material goes well beyond justifiable whistleblowing, such as the earlier helicopter gun-camera film showing probable breaches of the laws of armed conflict by US forces in Iraq.
Whether politicians should attend the funerals of our casualties from the Afghanistan War is a complex, sensitive and nuanced issue.
Reactions to the recent combat deaths of two Australian Diggers in Afghanistan again demonstrate serious problems in how we decide to initiate, fight and end our wars.
Our national dilemma with asylum-seeking and illegal immigration strategically, and our public debate domestically, are much affected by factors which Australia shares with very few countries. This is why our public debate on refugee policy tends to dwell emotionally on the symptoms of the dilemma rather than its actual strategic, legal and moral causes.
In mid February 2009 a night raid in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of six Afghan civilians, four of them small children, at the hands of the ADF. Two more children and two adults from this family group were wounded.
As in other locations around Australia, local discussions about the future of Borneo Barracks at Cabarlah seem to be caught in a recurring time warp where nothing must ever change. National strategic and administrative efficiency requirements mean this and other small bases must be closed. The only question to be discussed is how soon.
The Prime Minister’s announcement that Greg Combet is to take over many of Peter Garrett’s ministerial responsibilities in the environment portfolio has more than a party-political or issue-of-the-day dimension. Once again, the necessary ministerial supervision of the ADF, and government capacity for appropriate attention to its responsibilities to the men and women the defence force comprises (and which it often sends into combat), have been sacrificed in the interests of political expediency and the short-term electoral and media cycles.