Formal comment by the Australia Defence Association

Formal comment by the Australia Defence Association records our analysis and commentary on current or recurring national security issues as they arise.

Other coverage of current issues by the ADA can be found through our text search facility (above), or on our letters-to-the-editor, opinion articles or media interview pages.

Our commentary and background information on longstanding or recurring national security issues can be found through the issues index, the Defender index covering our national journal Defender, and in our electronic bulletin Defence Brief.


Media Citation

Formal comment by the ADA on this website is endorsed by the Board of Directors on behalf of the Association.

If an individual citation for our formal comment is required for media reporting, please cite our executive director, Neil James.


Feedback to the ADA

 As an independent, non-partisan, community-based, public-interest watchdog organisation and think-tank we take particular care to provide informed contributions to public debate — and with the conduct of our public education activities generally.

We welcome supportive or critical comment on our efforts through our feedback link, but naturally expect that your feedback will also respect community standards for courtesy and informed public debate.



  • Sourcing Governor-Generals

    Some discussion about how to find suitable Governor-Generals has been sidetracked by desired diversity outcomes being advanced in isolation from longstanding key issues. Particularly by not acknowledging the skill sets needed and the effects this requirement can have in limiting the pool of qualified and available candidates. Moreover, it doesn't help broaden and diversify the pool of talent by complaining about a retired general (especially one who has been a successful and popular state governor) becoming Governor-General, without acknowledging why judges and generals have often been considered so suitable. Understanding what makes judges and generals particularly suitable in terms of non-partisanship, and replicating and institutionalising such strengths and cultural influences in other professions and backgrounds, is surely the best path to achieving real diversity.

  • Respecting John Monash by respecting his actual record

    Calls to promote General Sir John Monash posthumously to field marshal are invalid because they ignore the real context of his undoubted achievements. They are also yet another symptom of so many Australians being wedded to emotive and mythological beliefs about our military history that this hampers objective discussion and sustainment of Australia's current and future strategic security requirements.

  • "Anzackery": A draft dictionary definition

    Some commemorations of the 100th anniversary of World War I ending continue to suffer from Anzackery.

  • Party-political misuse of our non-partisan defence force is always wrong

    The ADF's institutional, cultural, professional and practical non-partisanship must never be compromised for party-political expediency. The fact and public perception of our defence force's political neutrality must be preserved, and preserved consistently, for the enduring benefit of the whole Australian community. And at all times, not just during election campaigns. In summary, to keep the "gun out of our politics" our constitutional system - and its supporting conventions and practices - has necessarily evolved over centuries to ensure that "politics is kept out of the gun".


  • Vale Michael James O'Connor, AM, 1938-2017

    Executive Director, Australia Defence Association 1981-2003. PNG kiap, naval officer, credit union CEO, strategic policy and defence capability commentator, public-interest advocate, novelist

  • Gender dysphoria treatment for ADF personnel: Informed and calm discussion needed

    Media coverage concerning ADF personnel undergoing gender dysphoria treatment tends to adopt emotive, sensationalist and sometimes prurient themes. Only by noting the facts and context applying can we have commonsense discussion of any implications for the operational effectiveness of our defence force and for the medical care of the individuals concerned.

  • Contemporary lessons from the Fall of Singapore

    Why the Fall-of-Singapore occurred has enduring lessons for Australia's future strategic security. We ignore them at the cost of inflicting further inter-generational inequity on future Australians. Especially by increasing their strategic risk, reducing their contingency warning time and inflicting additional financial catch-up costs when they will least be able to afford them in both the time and expenditure available. We needlessly imperil them by not paying our fair share now of the long-term and sustained investment needed to ensure Australia's strategic security, liberty and sovereign freedom-of-action as a nation-state.


  • Botched 99-year lease of Darwin port compounded by largely irrelevant public debate

    The NT Government's flawed 99-year lease of Darwin's port to a Chinese company has been compounded by most political, official and public commentary missing the higher-order strategic issues actually involved.

  • Treachery as the crime, not how we revoke citizenship as a punishment, is the real issue

    The nature and social consequences of any crime need to be discussed before deciding how guilt and punishment is to be determined. Not following this logic sequence with the very serious offence of treachery has led to a signififant categorisation error sidetracking discussion of how citizenship revocation might occur as a potential punishment. There is also a major conceptualisation fault further sidetracking much public debate. Where the treachery involves Australians choosing to serve overseas with the so-called "Islamic State" this is essentially a wartime crime and even more serious, yet many of those trying to discuss the treachery issue remain subjectively trapped in unduly "peacetime" mindsets and ignore or downplay wartime treachery as the nub of the issue.

  • "Anzackery": A draft dictionary definition

    Some commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings has clearly detrimental aspects.

  • First-principles Review 2015: Yet another missed opportunity for real reform?

    The first-principles review is a mixed bag, not least for some recommendations clearly resulting from second-principles analysis.


  • Coalition's new plan to combat people-smuggling

    Asylum-seeking in its current manifestation is primarily a strategic policy issue with domestic ramifications, not vice versa. Not appreciating this strategic context continues to cause most of the misunderstandings so undermining informed and effective public debate. Even more importantly, it continues to hamper the implementation of effective solutions for combatting people-smuggling, the processing of asylum-seekers and the protection of genuine refugees. We have also long lamented that both sides of politics tend to put perceived short-term electoral advantage ahead of their responsibility to protect the long-term national interest regarding Australia's strategic security and national sovereignty.

  • 2013 Defence White Paper

    While the Department of Defence has put considerable effort into the new Defence White Paper, its essentially partisan motivation in an election year has detracted from these efforts. The large reductions in defence investment over the last three years, and the absence of an investment plan in the paper, also detract from the credibility of the document. Ministerial waffling about such issues also emphasises the considerable and unjustified risks being taken with Australia's future strategic security.

  • Proposed dual use of naval base at Garden Island

    Public discussion about the lack of cruise-ship infrastructure in Sydney Harbour, and renewed calls for greater dual-use of the naval base at Garden Island as a supposed "solution", avoid that this issue is actually another manifestation of the faltering federal-state compact.

  • Royal Commission or judicial inquiry now needed to test allegations of harassment and abuse in the ADF

    Not long after the last vestiges of public hysteria about Lindy Chamberlain were finally lanced there is both considerable irony and tragedy about an outburst of public hysteria on another issue. There are therefore seven principal reasons why a Royal Commission or a judicial inquiry is now the best way to resolve untested allegations about the past prevalence of bullying, harassment and, in some cases sexual abuse, in our defence force.

  • 2012-13 Defence budget

    Cuts of $5.5bn in defence investment over the next four years announced in the 2012 federal budget have generated more heat than light on all sides. A fresh concern, however, has been the re-emergence of particularly uninformed commentary from economists, politicians and others who should know better.

  • Finding fault but not exaggerating bad behaviour in the ADF

    Media coverage of bad and criminal behaviour in our defence force has led many Australians to assume, incorrectly, that problems such as alcohol abuse, sexual harassment and youth suicide are prevalent in our defence force and occur at rates far higher than community norms or in other professions and industries.

  • Stephen Smith and the ADF

    Since June 2011 ("Defence Brief" 144 refers) the Australia Defence Association - as the relevant independent, non-partisan, public-interest watchdog - has been warning of a burgeoning problem with Stephen Smith’s approach to his responsibilities as Minister for Defence.

  • Strategic basics of asylum policy

    By fixating on the recurrent symptoms, not the causes and cures, most public argument on asylum seeking continues ineffectively. Politicians are addicted to electoral point-scoring. Refugee advocates are prone to discuss factors selectively.


  • Amphibious fleet woes

    Both sides of politics are being less than correct historically, and indeed less than honest, when trying to attribute blame for the burgeoning deficiencies in defence force amphibious vessel capabilities.

  • HMAS "Sucess" inquiry

    Having been appointed to conduct an independent inquiry by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Honourable Roger Gyles, AO, QC has presented an excellent report into allegations of unacceptable sexual behaviour and indiscipline aboard HMAS Success. There is no doubt a toxic subculture of unacceptable sexual attitudes and behaviour was allowed to flourish among parts of the marine technical department of this particular ship for nearly a decade.

  • Clashing perspectives cause equipment difficulties

    Recent controversy about the poor state of the Navy’s amphibious fleet has again demonstrated three great truths about the confusion underlying much public debate in Australia on defence issues.

  • Social media irresponsibility

    Media and consequently public controversy about certain Facebook and YouTube postings by a very small number of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan needs to be put into perspective. Those seeking to excuse the soldiers' behaviour and those seeking to portray such behaviour as typical in our defence force are both guilty of adopting extreme opinions that ignore the facts and the context involved.

  • ADFA: April 2011 incident

    Reporting of the non-consensual filming of consensual sex between two cadets at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), contrary to ADF discipline, has now evolved into incorrect assumptions and claims that affect informed public debate on defence force capability and operational matters.

  • ADFA: Echoes of Dreyfus

    From the beginning, the Australia Defence Association has unreservedly condemned the despicable abuse of a female cadet at ADFA when her consensual sex with a male cadet was allegedly filmed and relayed to others without her apparent consent. But two wrongs do not make a right . There are two sides to every story. Now there are two victims: the female cadet wrongly filmed and the commandant being wrongly scapegoated.

  • A black day for the ADF

    There is much wrong with, and in, the Department of Defence, most of it however usually in the department, not the defence force. This is lost on many Australians, including it now seems Professor Rufus Black and those Ministers running Defence (and many of those advising them) who should know better.

  • Women in combat: The ADA’s 10-point summary

    The longstanding ADA position on the gender aspects of combat employment is summarised in the following ten points derived from our comprehensive discussion paper on the subject. We suggest that even if you do not necessarily agree with some or all of our deductions or conclusions summarised in these ten points, you cannot do so objectively unless you have worked through all the complexities and implications explored at length in the comprehensive discussion paper.

  • Back to the strategic basics, not the politics or emotion, on asylum and refugee policy

    By fixating on the recurrent symptoms, not the causes and cures, most public argument on asylum seeking continues ineffectively. Politicians are addicted to electoral point-scoring. Refugee advocates are prone to discuss factors selectively.


  • ADF combat uniforms

    In early July 2009 a sourced tender was released for the further supply of combat uniforms for our defence force. Tenders closed in early August and the contract was let on 22 December 2009. Being a sourced rather than open tender, only two Australian manufacturers were involved on the basis that both had previously supplied the defence force.

  • More "borrowing" of Greg Combet

    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 party-political expediency and the short-term electoral and media cycles.

  • Afghanistan: February 2009 incident (1)

    In mid February 2009 a night raid in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of six Afghan civilians, four of them small children and one a youth, at the hands of the ADF. Two more children and two adults from this family group were wounded.

  • Flawed reshuffle of ministerial responsibilities

    The new ministerial supervision arrangements in the Defence portfolio are profoundly disappointing for the cause of long-term reform in the Department of Defence through improved and sustained ministerial supervision. They also appear to have paid grossly insufficient attention to the fact that the ADF is currently fighting a war on the nation's behalf, and that this means national governance and national interest responsibilities must have priority over considerations of party-political or party-factional advantage, or indeed mere prime-ministerial convenience when reshuffling her ministers.

  • Proposed military court

    The Government's 24 May 2010 announcement of new higher judicial structures governing the Australian Defence Force (under Chapter III of the Constitution) requires careful analysis. The proposed model risks creating new problems in practice through its attempts to avoid further constitutional (and comity) complications.

  • Afghanistan: February 2009 incident (2)

    Again, recent media and public commentary concerning charges being preferred against some ADF personnel for their alleged actions in Afghanistan in February 2009 has tended to miss the point — and to misunderstand the complex legal background involved.

  • Discussing combat

    A recent prolonged firefight over three hours by Australian troops on 24 August 2010 once again indicates considerable confusion about ADF operations in Afghanistan's Oruzgan Province. This confusion has several causes and effects, and at several levels, among the public, the media, our politicians and the profession of arms.

  • Afghanistan: February 2009 incident - Commando charges

    It is nothing short of appalling that inaccurate and often sensationalist media coverage of the February 2009 incident in Afghanistan is causing so much public confusion and even ill-informed political comment. Even many war veterans, who were assumed to have a better understanding of the laws and accountabilities involved, seem confused. Much media reporting and especially commentary is grossly misleading about the legal and operational contexts, and nature of the charges, and indeed concerning the most basic facts about the incident they stem from.


  • Closing Guantanamo

    Most recent exchanges about accepting or not accepting released Guantanamo Bay internees into Australia are ahistoric. They often merely repeat the same factual, conceptual and legal mistakes and misapprehensions that have often bedevilled public “debate” about Guantanamo in general and the case of David Hicks in particular.

  • Ministerial-ADF tensions

    If your knowledge of defence issues was confined to reading newspaper headlines, the last few weeks might give the impression that the Minister for Defence is a hopeless nong, that members of the defence force are somehow conspiring against him or that the Department of Defence is out of control. Luckily the first two are not true and the third very much exaggerated but the real state of affairs, as is usually the case, is complex, nuanced and the product of longstanding historical causes.

  • Resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon

    The Australia Defence Association is sorry to see Joel Fitzgibbon resign as the Minister for Defence. This is preliminary comment and we will be discussing this matter further in our forthcoming publications. A longer analysis of the background to this resignation may be read in the earlier comment below.

  • Hugh Court strikes down military court

    The 26 August 2009 decision by the High Court to invalidate the Australian Military Court (AMC) instituted in October 2007 was not unexpected. The underlying constitutional, legal and philosophical issues have been debated widely for over a decade. Unfortunately much of the ensuing public commentary has not reflected these debates or their history. This is also a matter with few, if any, party-political, individual personality or bureaucratic power-play aspects of any note. This has not suited some commentators and unnecessary confusion has resulted from their purported explanations claiming such effects.


  • 2009 Defence White Paper

    The announcement by the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, of the outline process for writing the next Defence White Paper is tentatively welcomed. Although disappointingly expressed in much Department of Defence jargon, and with much detail unclear or unexplained, it is encouraging to see Minister Fitzgibbon’s announcement avoid some of the major pitfalls that so beset the development of previous defence white papers. Most importantly the Minister acknowledges that our defence capabilities are needed to defend Australia and promote our national interests. The ill-defined and unrealistic concentration on just the former has caused numerous problems with the development and implementation of previous white papers.

  • Frustrations of the modern digger

    The withdrawal of our small infantry-cavalry force from southern Iraq, and spirited professional debate in the Autumn 2008 Army Journal, have prompted media commentary – much of it superficial – on how our current diggers see themselves and how our allies see them. Both set against the iconic Australian folk memory of ‘the digger’.

  • Afghanistan dilemmas

    The operations and prospects of the current coalition campaign in Afghanistan are often mistakenly compared to the 1978-1988 Soviet occupation or to various 19th Century British-led invasions and punitive expeditions. Such simplistic thinking ignores that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is supporting an Afghan government that, however imperfect, was originally elected democratically under UN auspices amid very challenging conditions. ISAF has extensive authorisation by several UN Security Council Resolutions and is in Afghanistan with the authority of the Afghan government. It is certainly not an "occupying army" as some simplistically or polemically claim. More generally, the strength of opinion in Australia about our participation in the current war in Afghanistan is often inversely proportional to real knowledge of the country, its actual history, and the various political and strategic challenges involved.

  • Reporting of ADF casualties

    In recent years the ADA has strongly protested media intrusion into the grief of families mourning the death of defence force personnel. In at least two recent cases, reporters have door-knocked ADF housing areas on the day of a fatal casualty trying to find the widow so she can be interviewed. After approaching the ADA for assistance in their quest, and consequently being challenged by us about their ethics and methods, the reporters concerned (and their newspapers) in both cases have denied any breach of ethics and claimed their behaviour was somehow "in the public interest". This is an invalid excuse for clearly unprofessional, insensitive and even callous journalism.

  • Mortimer Review

    The Mortimer Review is a curate's egg.


  • DNA databases

    Instances of casualties being classified missing presumed dead, or unidentified, declined dramatically over the course of the 20th Century. However, given the enduring nature of combat, a compulsory DNA database for defence force personnel deploying overseas on operations makes sense, especially in order to assist with potential post-mortem identification of fatal casualties. The institution of a DNA database for defence force personnel as an addition to current pre-deployment medical, legal and administrative measures should, however, only be implemented if there are sufficient privacy safeguards.

  • Releasing David Hicks

    On the fifth anniversary of his internment at Guantanamo Bay after capture during the early days of the continuing war in Afghanistan, many Australians remain confused about the international law underlying the internment of David Hicks as a belligerent captured in that war. The apparent unfairness and delay of the proceedings for his separate criminal trial have resulted in most Australians focusing on this issue alone. This, in turn, has led to the spread of two related but false assumptions: that David Hicks is merely a criminal prisoner awaiting trial and that if the criminal proceedings are dropped then he could be automatically freed. Both assumptions ignore the relevant international law. Arguments to release him based on such serious misunderstandings are actually delaying the option of releasing him on captured belligerent parole.

  • Wars are contests of will

    All exercises of military power, especially wars, are ultimately contests of will. Most wars end when one side gives up, some when both do. As a general rule, in wars between democracies and totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, popular support for the war in the former becomes a significant theatre for the overall contest of wills much earlier than in the latter. In some cases it can become as important, or even more decisive, than direct combat on the actual battlefield.

  • ADF gap-year program

    The ADF Gap-Year Program launched on 09 August 2007 is an imaginative step to help solve defence force recruiting shortfalls. But just as importantly the program also has important implications for the integrated relationship between the defence force’s full-time and reservist components, and for the future relationship between the ADF and Australian society generally.

  • Intervention in NT Aboriginal communities

    Governments of all political persuasions need to take great care not to risk the acknowledged and respected apolitical status of our defence force in Australian society. This underlies the historic reluctance to use the ADF in controversial activities such as domestic law enforcement and strikebreaking. The federal government’s extraordinary intervention in several Northern Territory Aboriginal communities has bipartisan support among the mainstream political parties but has attracted wider political and social controversy. The use of defence force elements in the intervention has involved the ADF in this disputation.


  • New sedition laws

    All Australians have a reciprocal citizenship obligation not to assist an enemy our government deploys our defence force to fight. Sedition and treachery laws are therefore essential and in no way affect peaceful and responsible democratic dissent.

  • Afghanistan: Increased commitment

    New commitment to Afghanistan reflects the dynamic situation, as does the exit strategy for Iraq.

  • Brendan Nelson takes over

    Dr Brendan Nelson’s appointment as Minister for Defence has certainly set tongues wagging.

  • Defence woes

    Why are there so many problems in the Department of Defence at present?

  • How stretched is the ADF?

    The defence force is stretched but not over-stretched by current deployments but its ability to handle additional crises may be constrained (depending on the nature of the crisis).

  • ADF equipment procurement

    The ADA welcomes the report of the Review of Combat Clothing Procurement and the Government's adoption of the review's recommendations. Such procurement, of course, is only a small part of the complex problem of adequately equipping and sustaining the entire defence force for the future.

  • National service

    There is no point discussing national service schemes without understanding what previous schemes involved and why they were instituted. Moreover, national service is only necessary strategically when our defence force needs to be increased by very large numbers, quickly and equitably. Our current strategic situation is not one of those times.

  • The vexed legal situation of David Hicks

    As confirmed by the late June 2006 US Supreme Court ruling in the Hamdan test case, David Hicks' internment under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) is a fundamentally separate legal issue to whether he can or indeed should be tried for terrorism offences, and if so, how and by whom. This distinction and its underlying principles of international law are not understood or are simply ignored by too many on either side of the David Hicks controversy.



  • Too much politicking again

    There is not enough regard for the national interest and too much political posturing on defence issues.

  • 2004/05 Defence budget

    As expected, the 2004-05 federal budget was mainly targeted at buying swinging votes in marginal electorates. This was to be expected in an election year where a close race is likely and where, despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, both parties are naturally reluctant to draw attention to their long and indifferent records of insufficient and inconsistent investment in meeting their national security responsibilities.

  • The letter from the 43

    As the relevant and independent, non-partisan, national public interest watchdog on defence and wider national security issues the Australia Defence Association has long held governments of all political persuasions to account. The Association’s parliamentary submissions, our publications and our public statements have been quite critical of the current government in this regard – as we were of previous administrations. The ADA is, however, troubled by the open letter by 34 ex-diplomats, 3 ex-Defence mandarins and 6 retired ADF senior officers published on Sunday 08 August 2004.

  • Credibily overboard again

    Rank disorganisation continues in the Department of Defence.

  • Negotiating with terrorists

    We always need to avoid the peril of negotiating in terror rather than in a disciplined manner.

  • 2004 federal election

    The recent federal election was not only another wasted opportunity to discuss defence issues effectively. It was also another tragic reminder of a deeply institutionalised and worsening national problem underlying our perennial under-investment in national defence capabilities.

  • Inadequate defence investment

    The real situation of defence spending over the last three decades and the probable effect of further changes to the federal-state compact.

  • Problems in Australia's intelligence and security agencies

    A number of fundamental structural, philosophical and professional issues underly the longstanding and recurrent problems plaguing parts of the Australian Intelligence Community.

  • Intelligence agency inquiry

    Lieutenant Colonel Lance Collins has been vindicated in his complaints about management interference within the Defence Intelligence Organisation concerning intelligence support to our deployed force in East Timor.

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