Formal Comment by the Australia Defence Association: 2008
The Mortimer Review is a curate's egg.
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.
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.
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’.
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.