Letters-to-the-editor from the Australia Defence Association

Letters-to-the-editor help the ADA to begin addressing new or developing issues swiftly as they occur.

  • Letters can be particularly useful where we seek to remind public discourse of the long-term or institutional causes of many recurring issues. This helps avoid debate being misled by short-term factors often incorrectly assumed to be the sole or chief causes of an issue of current or passing public attention.
  • Letters enable us to provide relevant context, detail and the long-term perspective often missed in general media news reporting. Or where ADA explanations, if reported, might have been unduly summarised, misrepresented using short and/or disjointed quotes, or been otherwise reported inaccurately.
  • This comprehensive letters page also enables us to help maintain the integrity of the overall public record. It records what we actually noted at the time, even if the letter was unpublished or our views were unduly summarised, misquoted or misrepresented in the media or elsewhere.
  • Finally, this letters page helps future public debate on recurring themes and issues to be informed rather than superficial. Not least by explanations of the actual history to relevant issues, our long-term future and specialist focus, and our independent and non-partisan public-interest watchdog perspective.

Australian newspapers and journals tend to give the ADA a fair go because professional journalists usually recognise the value of our independent, non-partisan and informed contributions to public debate.

The same unfortunately cannot be said, however, for ADA posts to some blogsites. Our posts are often not published or are heavily edited in an arbitrary and/or misrepresentational manner because of the blogger's biases or prejudices.

Not all our letters-to-the-editor can be or are published or published in full. Largely due to newspaper space considerations, the normal ebb and flow of public debate and practical editorial decisions.

In some cases however, particularly with our public-interest corrections of inaccurate, untrue or other unprofessional reporting, they are not published because of media glass-jaw syndrome where media organisations react unprofessionally to objective criticism.

Text that is underlined or marked in red below indicates wording omitted by the publisher. Text that is italicised or marked in green highlights wording that has been inserted or changed by the publisher.

In some cases, we have subsequently added small passages of text enclosed in square brackets to explain acronyms and terminology, or to provide context to a letter, for later readers.

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Letters: 2019-20

  • Much public debate on the Brereton Inquiry is reversing reality

    Criticising a CDF (& Minister) for implementing the recommendations of the independent Brereton Inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan is unhelpful at best. Especially where the attacks are so often incorrect factually or otherwise misunderstand, misinterpret or misrepresent the issues involved. This situation is not helped by frequently inaccurate media coverage (eg. a collectively awarded unit citation means a badge, not a personal medal), grandstanding by some politicians and media commentators, and a general failure to read the Brereton Report before assailing it and the resultant reform plans needed to stop war crimes occurring again.


    Letter to The Australian
    Saturday, 12 December 2020
    (not published)

    The Australia Defence Association is long inured to uninformed, emotive or politicised “debate” on defence issues.

    But a nadir is surely being plumbed.

    Public discussion of the Brereton Inquiry into systemic war crimes in Afghanistan is largely ignoring two key aspects:

    Its Australia, not just the ADF, that needs to face up to these crimes being committed in our name.

    We must all understand and back reforms to prevent a reoccurrence

    Alleged perpetrators remain entitled to the presumption of innocence. But whether anyone will be criminally convicted, or not, also remains a separate practical and moral issue to the broad fact such shocking crimes did happen and need fixing.

    As substantiated by Brereton’s independent, 4-year, administrative-law inquiry and its detailed and reasoned recommendations. Crimes now subject to criminal investigation by the AFP.

    In the meantime, two compelling Brereton judgements stand out.

    Those in-denial regarding the war crimes do not belong in our defence force.

    Both organisational and cultural change is required to reintroduce military professionalism in the units concerned.

    Including active and symbolic steps to cure the sick unit cultures that enabled and concealed premeditated and systemic murders of captured prisoners. Not heat-of-battle incidents or battlefield accidents.

    And where subsequent concealment has involved campaigns to intimidate and discredit digger whistleblowers, and peddle straw-man excuses in public generally.

    A campaign still reaping public confusion fed by misinformation, myth and apologia.

    Finally, now is clearly the time to back a capable CDF in his statutory command of the ADF.

    And would be the worst time to reshuffle a capable Defence Minister who so “gets” this and other strategic issues, and is determined to back ADF commanders fixing them.



  • A range of accountabilities for unlawful activities in Afghanistan

    Why breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict in Afghanistan by some Australian Special Forces personnel occurred has numerous causes. A major one was high operational tempos for the units concerned, leading to operational exhaustion, and loss of moral and professional focus. The high tempo was a result of governmental preferences to maximise the use of SF troops because of a feared (but probably low) risk of electoral blowback from casualties among conventional forces. While responsibility for what went wrong ranges from those directly carrying out such activities to those commanding or supervising them up the ADF chain-of-command, it also lies with the governments who directed the ADF to use SF troops for tasks that could have been undertaken by conventional forces. And to Australians generally for wrongly assuming that warfighting only involves the ADF (like only fire services fight fires). Instead of acknowledging that Australia as a whole, not just our defence force, is involved in how Australia fights Australia's wars. Acknowledging these contexts is not deflecting due blame from the personnel, units and command chain involved. It is, however, useful for noting the complex causes of the problem, the lessons necessary to avoid a repeat in future wars, and the range of accountabilities for fighting Australia's wars that lie beyond the ADF.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Saturday, 14 November 2020
    (published Monday, 16 November 2020)

    Popes View [editorial cartoon, Canberra Times], November 14, oddly missed that the unleashed dog’s chain of command was held by Australian governments of both political persuasions. 

    And the rest of that hand’s body was and remains Australia as a whole. 

    No-one serious denies the moral and legal necessity to hold all involved duly accountable. 

    From diggers in an Afghan village to their commanders from the tactical to strategic levels. 

    Including the sergeant-majors meant to keep a particularly wary eye on soldiers, NCOs and junior officers – and to counsel sub-unit, unit and formation commanders accordingly. 

    But it was governments that ultimately set and enforced the scope, nature and limits of Australia’s military commitment in Afghanistan. 

    It was governments which decreed combat action would disproportionally rely on special, rather than conventional, forces. Even though they’re special, in part, because there are much fewer of them and this would mean high operational tempos to sustain force rotation. 

    Despite much unease in the ADF about this force-to-task imbalance from the start, and this breaking out publicly in professional and other journals from 2007. 

    In hindsight, the ADF hierarchy should have challenged these limits more strongly. 

    And Ministers should  be prepared to understand and respect such warnings about the personal, operational and moral exhaustion their limits risk. 

    But its hard to convince Ministers and Cabinets, fearing electoral or other blowback if there are high casualty rates, that their fears are unfounded, exaggerated or inappropriate. 

    And its Australia that was at war in Afghanistan.

    All Australians shouldn’t just ignore what this means by buck-passing responsibility entirely on to the fellow citizens forming our defence force at any one time. 

    Finally, as with previous wars, the eventual Official History will weigh individual, collective and other responsibilities.

    With the dispassionate benefit of examining all the documents, interviews and contexts involved. 

    And help stop governments, Australians and the ADF from making the same mistakes again.


  • Our army needs self-propelled artillery

    Resurrecting the project to re-equip our Army with self-propelled artillery makes eminent sense. That the project enjoys bipartisan support underlines its necessity.


    Letter to The Australian
    Thursday, 16 May 2019
    (Not published)

    Greg Sheridan, Heard the one about our home-grown howitzers?, May 16, advances the absurd proposition that, because we have too few tanks and no self-propelled (SP) artillery, we shouldn't have any.

    And that having such capabilities smack of dependence on the Americans, when they actually ensure the well-rounded force structure opposite.

    SP guns with much increased rates of fire, mobility and protection replace and enhance existing towed artillery, not constitute a new capability.

    Greg also seems unaware that Dutch SP guns ably supported their and our troops in Uruzgan.

    And that the US, British, Canadian and other NATO countries all used tanks and SP guns in Afghanistan.

    The main reason we didn't use tanks in Uruzgan was the terrain, not any supposed unsuitability for modern warfare generally.

    Finally, any worthwhile maritime strategy, especially in our archipelagic region, necessarily involves an ability to manouvre and support well-equipped land forces from the sea.

    Not just row riflemen ashore as at Gallipoli.

    Attempted critiques of ADF modernisation need up-to-date knowledge of what is needed and why.







  • Gun control debate needs to be driven by facts, not fallacies, emotion or ideology

    The National Firearms Agreement has become a shibboleth. Reforms to improve gun laws by eliminating inconsistencies and inequities in their administration are emotively decried as "watering them down", chiefly by those who do not understand the legal, technical and legitimate gun-use facts actually involved. The NFA is not somehow "watered down" if its core principles are unaffected. Reforms to how it is administered actually strengthen our gun control laws by reinforcing these core principles and community support for them.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Thursday, 09 April 2019
    (published, after major deletions marked in boldened text, Tuesday 16 April 2019)


    Peter Brewer, “More silencers for the ACT as gun numbers rise nationally”, April 8, unfortunately misses that no firearms sporting body or serious political party, including the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, now seeks to change the core principles of the National Firearms Agreement.

    These include registration of all guns, strict licencing of individuals based on genuine need (not including self-defence), semi-automatic and pump-action guns largely banned, and very strict secure-storage rules).

    But the NFA as a whole has become a shibboleth.

    Any proposed reform to eliminate inconsistencies and inequities in its application is emotively decried as “watering it down” when the opposite would generally result.

    The pejorative term “gun lobby” is hurled about, despite Australia's only significant firearms manufacturer being the Department of Defence andthere being no real Australian equivalent to the NRA in commercial or political-clout terms.

    Two extreme fallacies confuse the gun control debate; that we’d all be safe if either everyone or no-one was armed.

    The first is primarily driven by irrelevant US-style rhetoric not applicable in Australia constitutionally or culturally. 

    The second, is sustained generally by standard urban-rural incomprehension, magnified by our urban population density nationally. 

    Australia is not the USA. Strict gun control is rightly here to stay, it works very well and both extremes would be much worse. 

    But removing firearms entirely from private users would unfairly and impractically punish many law-abiding Australians across our rural industries, animal welfare organisations and sporting bodies. 

    Divorcing emotion or polemic from discussion also means noting that recent ACT reforms regarding the very strictly controlled use of silencers merely aligns the ACT with longstanding successful laws in most states. 

    And that, for perspective, silencers (which don’t work like on TV) are legal in NZ, and are a compulsory safety and community harmony measure when hunting in most European countries.

    Most gun crime in Australia continues to be committed using illegal, unregistered guns (usually handguns), mostly smuggled in from overseas.

    Despite legitimate use of handguns being increasingly strictly controlled since the 1920s without significantly affecting crime rates. 

    Basing any public policy on punishing the law-abiding for the sins of criminals continues to be as abhorrent as it is ineffective.




Letters: 2017-18

  • Justified army crackdown on unprofessional symbology not "political correctness"

    Contrived ideological furore and media sensationalism is obscuring the point of principle actually involved. The defence force of a democracy necessarily applies lethal force in accordance with international law and military professionalism. No military professional revels in simply killing, no matter how effective they may be at it in the national interest.


    Letter to The Australian
    Thursday, 26 April 2018
    (not published)


    Mark Day’s “Battle over the art of war” and Rory Callinan, “General retreat on war imagery”, April 26, unfortunately risk further public confusion on a matter of principle.

    Our defence force exists to deter and win wars by killing and by maintaining the professional capacity to do so when needed.

    But our laws and the ADF’s military professionalism mean lethal force has to be targeted and proportionate, both legally and morally.

    ADF badges, crests, mottos and ceremonial traditions embody the private and public faces of this professionalism.

    No member of the profession of arms revels in killing for its own sake. Nor do they needlessly boast about it graphically.

    Our experienced Army Chief and RSM of the Army are not somehow being “politically-correct” by cracking down on unprofessional symbology, however well-meaning in some cases, by a few diggers.

    Especially where fad-driven symbols risk helping enemy propaganda, undermining community support for the ADF or causing morale problems among all our diggers.



  • Posthumously promoting Sir John Monash is invalid, ahistoric and unnecessary

    Overly focusing on Monash demeans both him and the 1st AIF as a highly successful team-based and adaptable learning organisation across the board. Its also unfair to other leaders of the 1st and 2nd AIFs. No serious Australian military historian supports the idea or the claims being made about its supposed need. Posthumously promoting Monash also exemplifies the continuing problem of emotive or ideological mythology about our military history hampering informed discussion of the modern strategic security situation Australia faces.


    Letter to The Australian
    Thursday, 12 April 2018
    Published (with substantial editing) Saturday, 14 April 2018

    The proposal to further promote Sir John Monash posthumously to field marshal demeans Monash by exaggerating his undoubted record beyond the wider context and facts in which it occurred.

    For example, the first Australian-born officer to command a division was not Monash, it was Sir Harry Chauvel and he won his corps command and promotion to lieutenant general a year before Monash.

    Chauvel also headed our Army 1919-30, was Inspector-General of our homeguard 1940-45 (dying in the job) and chairman of the 1920 committee which advised the government, accurately and in detail, why primarily basing Australia’s defence on an imperial fleet base in Singapore was doomed to fail.

    Monash, then retired for seven years, was only promoted to full general in 1929 because Chauvel (then still in harness) insisted he could not be so promoted without Monash also being included.

    Or what about General Sir Vernon Sturdee, the Army Chief who held the defence of Australia together in late 1941 and early 1942 1942 amid widespread panic by our political class (largely responsible for the perilous situation), officialdom and much of the populace.

    Over the last 15 years, working with expert military historians from the Australian War Memorial, the Army History Unit, the Australian Defence Force Academy and various universities, I have yet to meet or even hear of one anyone who supports the Monash promotion proposal.

    The only two authoritatively-objective Monash biographies, by Geoff Searle and Peter Pedersen, detail his many strengths and achievements, record his human flaws, and refute both the themes and claims made by those pushing Monash mythology.

    Monash himself specified his gravestone was to read only “John Monash” with no title, rank or awards.

    Finally, by overly focusing on Monash we wrongly obscure why the 1st AIF as a whole was such a successful learning and team-based organisation.

    And why – being part of broader British Commonwealth and French incorporation of innovative logistics, tactics and technology throughout latter 1916 and 1917 – they forced Germany to a crushing defeat in 1918.

    An objective that only a few, such as Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, foresaw as both possible and necessary that year to achieve an end to the bloodshed.


    [An ADA article discussing this issue in detail may be found here.]




  • Anti-US diatribes bereft of context, nuance and facts

    No small irony those accusing the US of "red-neck ignorance" and "hysteria" are often ignorant and hysterical ideologues.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Friday, 01 December 2017
    (published Monday, 04 December 2017)

    Adrian Jackson (letters, 01 December) is even more extreme than most with anti-US diatribes bereft of context, nuance and facts.

    Guam, US territory since ceded after the 1898 Spanish-American war, was invaded by the Japanese not the other way around.

    Cuba was liberated from the Spanish, not invaded, by the US.

    Okinawa was captured to help end Japanese aggression in World War II and handed back to Japan in 1972.

    The US intervention in Grenada was authorised by its Governor-General following a Marxist military coup that arrested the government.

    The US did not “invade Vietnam”. North Vietnam did end up conquering South Vietnam contrary to both sets of Paris Peace Agreements.

    The 2001 US-led multinational intervention in Afghanistan was endorsed by the UN Security Council, following the Taliban refusal to hand over for trial the al Qa’eda leaders responsible for the Twin Towers terrorist attack.

    China is building artificial islands for military purposes in international and other country’s waters – not Chinese territory – in the distant reaches of the South China Sea, not “its approaches”, contrary to international law, good neighbourliness and conservation commonsense.

    Anyone can legitimately disagree with Australia participating with other democracies in US-led alliances.

    But their arguments need to based on facts and logic, not the “hysteria” and “deranged red neck” ignorance they accuse the US of with no doubt unwitting irony.


  • Conscientious objection is not "discriminatory"

    Secular or religious-based conscientious objection does not somehow cause unethical or unlawful discrimination. By not continuing to allow individual conscientious objection to participation in a specific act the participant believes to be fundamentally abhorrent we simply replace one form of actual discrimination, or indeed perceived bigotry, with its opposite extreme.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Tuesday, 28 November 2017
    (not published)

    Over the last two weeks 10 other letter-writers have expressed views on individual conscientious objection (ICO).

    With the exception (November 14) of Dr Hugh Smith, the doyen among Australian academic ethicists studying the moral issues of war – and an expert on ICO – the remaining contributors have been confused as to whether ICO causes unethical or unlawful  discrimination.

    Most have also ignored that Australian law since 1992 has enabled ICO to be based on either secular or religious moral beliefs, and that ICO is neither a religious freedom or Right/Left concept.

    Kevin Andrews, MP, has added to the confusion by asserting, incorrectly, that a Jewish Baker could claim ICO in refusing service to Muslims and vice versa.

    Citing ICO does not result in discrimination because it does not involve refusing service to people as people, no matter the real or alleged type.

    ICO can only be claimed – and has to be provable in court if necessary – when declining participation in specific acts that, while legal, the participant believes to be fundamentally abhorrent.

    Examples include killing in war; male circumcision; medically causing a death or abortion; use of excess embryos in assisted reproduction technology; compulsory voting, jury service or unionism; or providing goods or services to a same-sex or improperly coerced (if still legal) wedding.

    Finally, those claiming that ICO doesn’t exist at all, deny its universal application until now, or claim that it must now be excluded from applying to a particular issue, also need to ponder why MPs of all parties have long been allowed a conscience vote on highly contentious moral issues.

    Including why MPs can abstain, or vote yes or no, when representing an electorate where a majority might support one moral view or the other at that time. 


    [An 11 September 2017 ADA article on applying the ICO model used for compulsory military conscription to other contentious moral issues is on the ABC Religion and Ethics program website at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/09/11/4732614.htm ]

    [A 21 November 2017 ADA letter-to-the editor on this issue can be found here].




  • Preserving and consistently applying the principle of individual conscientious objection

    Liberal democracy and community harmony are buttressed by enabling individuals to conscientiously object to specific acts they believe to be fundamentally abhorrent morally. Our reformed (1992) laws concerning conscientious objection to conscripted military service provide a good model for application of the principle to other contentious moral issues. As a society, the longstanding proven validity of the conscientious objection principle for community harmony and individual liberty means we either accept the right to conscientiously object in every such issue or none. If proposed new laws on contentious moral issues fail to honour the exercise of individual conscientious objection we risk replacing one form of real or perceived discrimination, or indeed bigotry, with its opposite extreme. Conscientious objection does not somehow contradict our laws against unethical discrimination. In fact, it reinforces them.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Tuesday, 21 November 2017
    (published Wednesday, 22 November 2017)

    Debate about SSM and assisted dying is incorrectly confusing individual conscientious objection (ICO) with religious freedom and freedom from religion.

    1992 Hawke Government reforms concerning military conscription now enable ICO to be secular as well as religious.

    This law, and a century of legal precedents, provide a useful ICO model for resolving other contentious moral issues.

    Claiming ICO requires longstanding and deeply-held moral beliefs capable of being articulated intellectually in, and whose nature, consistency, depth and sincerity can be adjudicated by, a court.

    Transient opinion, political belief, prejudice or a bigoted “phobia” cannot justify ICO.

    Moreover, preserving ICO across all contentious moral issues does not cause, “reintroduce” or otherwise risk unethical discrimination.

    ICO instead involves consistently declining to participate in a specific act  which the prospective participant sincerely believes to be fundamentally abhorrent.

    The oft-cited hypothetical baker could not claim ICO in refusing service generally or individually to people as people, such as blacks, whites, asians, Jews, Muslims, gays, Carlton supporters, etc.

    Our notional (and undoubtedly rare) baker could cite ICO to politely decline participation in a particular forced or same-sex wedding celebration, just as medical staff can decline to participate in an assisted suicide or an abortion.

    Finally, tolerant and harmonious liberal-democratic societies acknowledge the ICO principle across all highly contentious moral issues.

    They do not try to pick and choose its application on what a majority may or may not think is proper at any one time.


    [An 11 September 2017 ADA article on applying the ICO model used for compulsory military conscription to other contentious moral issues is on the ABC Religion and Ethics program website at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/09/11/4732614.htm ]




  • ADF contingent in Mardi Gras parade marching in defence force uniform breaches non-partisanship principle

    Our democracy is buttressed by Australia having a non-political defence force. Consistent care needs to be taken to preserve the reality and perception of the ADF's political neutrality institutionally, and its personnel individually. While the Mardi Gras parade continues to include highly politicised floats and activities attacking only one side of politics, it is clearly inconsistent with ADF policy, force unity and public perception for personnel to participate wearing defence force uniform. The one-sided and highly politicised nature of parts of the parade, as an activity, is the problem, not the Mardi Gras itself, LGBTI issues, ADF inclusivity policy or some defence force personnel wishing to demonstrate their "gay pride" publicly. Nor is it analogous with the NSW Police contingent now wearing uniform, not least because this is a separate issue in both principle and practice. The police contingent wear uniform primarily to reassure LGBTI Australians that the era of state police persecution is behind us all.


    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
    Monday, 27 February 2017
    (not published)

    A principle of modern society is acknowledging diversity.

    Another, time-tested, principle is preserving a strictly non-political military.

    The Sydney gay mardi gras is an expression of the first.

    Forbidding party-political participation or endorsement by our defence force expresses the second.

    While most of the mardi gras is no longer intrinsically political, its parade still includes numerous floats and activities that strongly criticise only one side of politics.

    The parade’s one-sided political nature clashes with the propriety of the ADF contingent marching in defence force uniform.

    Parade organisers concede the problem, without solving it, in their various attempts to separate the politically contentious bits from the ADF contingent in the order of march.

    Wearing uniform in the parade is inconsistent with the justified defence force crack-down on doing so in electoral advertising, other partisan activities and social media commentary.

    Just as it would be if ADF personnel wore uniform in any other politically-partisan street demonstration.

    The ADF rightly has an diverse workforce and personnel should be free to march in the mardi gras parade individually or collectively.

    But doing so wearing defence force uniform clearly breaches the non-partisanship principle.


  • Trump panic showing the extent of misunderstandings about the nature and purpose of the Australia-US alliance

    Australia-US alliance is strong, tested, geo-strategically logical and irreplaceable. It is not personality-based, nor does Trump's personality, real or imagined, really matter over the medium to long term. Much of the panic over the election of Donald Trump also seems driven by political biases or outright ideological hostility, rather than objective analysis.


    Letter to The Age
    Sunday, 05 February 2017
    (not published)

    Daniel Fitton, “Donald, maaaate, show some respect”, Sunday Age, February 5, p4, misses six key points.

    First, disregarding the uninformed panic and ideological distaste for President Trump by some, its not clear that such a drastic step is necessary.

    Second, respect rubs both ways.

    Just because someone dislikes Trump, or is prepared to ignore the millions who voted for his policies, longstanding diplomatic relationships are not dependent on personality issues either way.

    Third, even if necessary – and at the risk of making a temporary hiccup a four or eight-year problem – there are far more subtle ways of sending such a message..

    Fourth, withdrawing the senior Australian exchange officer from Headquarters US Army Pacific in Hawaii would more than cut of our nose to spite our face.

    This position is clearly worth more to Australia than the US.

    Not least in terms of being an institutionalised consultation and indeed early-warning mechanism, an inoculation against Melian dialogues, and the result of a unique invitation to the most trusted US ally in the Pacific region.

    Fifth, in geo-strategic terms, the Australia-US relationship is a long-term, grand-strategic level alliance between two maritime, not continental, powers and always will be.

    It is not just a case of short-term mutual diplomatic, military or economic convenience.

    Finally, this type of alliance between liberal-democracies also results from over two centuries of strategic and moral lessons and could not be replicated with an authoritarian power.

    The so-called China alternative peddled by strategically myopic mercantilists would actually mean us losing our sovereign freedom-of-action in the same way the USSR treated Finland. Or indeed worse.

    Those panicking over Trump need to remember all this.


  • Stop MP rorting by aligning all their conditions of service with the strict rules applying to the ADF & APS

    As well as stopping endemic parliamentary rorting, treating MPs like ADF & APS personnel would make parliament pay appropriate attention to such responsibilities. Particularly concerning the pay and conditions of our defence force which, in stark contrast to the pay and conditions of parliamentarians, are often treated tardily, inadequately or otherwise unfairly by governments of both political persuasions. Not least because ADF personnel are necessarily forbidden by law from collective industrial representation but are - now uniquely in the entire Australian workforce - still subject to strict centralised wage-fixing by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal which is itself limited to only accepting or rejecting Department of Finance "offers". The DFRT is not allowed to adjust such offers, as Fairwork Australia can, if they need backdating or are manifestly inadequate or otherwise unfair.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
    Tuesday, 10 January 2017
    (published Wednesday, 11 January 2017

    Further defensive bleating by MPs that their rorted travel and accomodation claims “fall within the rules” misses the point that it is the rules that are so wrong.

    Not least because they are so nebulous, unenforceable and in stark contrast to the strict rules that taxpayers rightly expect other government employees to abide by.

    The answer to MP’s “entitlement culture” and consequent scandals is surely to align all their travel/accommodation standards and allowances only with those applying to our defence force and public service.

    As well as reinforcing accountability with the legal teeth and counter-fraud culture applying to the ADF and APS, it would also help force our MPs to more closely monitor defence force conditions of service instead of neglecting or unfairly reducing them.


Letters: 2016

  • Sydney memorial to Japanese war crimes prompts ridiculous 18C claim of "racist insult" to Japanese

    The RDA's flaws have now permitted denialists for war crimes involving major racist acts to wrongly portray themselves as supposed victims of racial discrimination when such crimes are factually memorialised. In what alternative moral universe can such a specious complaint be entertained, submitted or indeed tolerated? This latest example of the RDA's flaws must surely be the straw that breaks the camel's back for those still trying to ignore the urgent need to amend Section 18C of the Act. Especially concerning the restoration of free speech and the setting of objectively measurable thresholds for accepting, rejecting or assessing complaints of alleged discrimination.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Wednesday, 14 December 2016
    (published Friday, 16 December 2016)

    The section 18C complaint by Japanese atrocity denialists living in Australia — about the Sydney memorial to sex-slaves of the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II — is dangerous as well as ahistoric and offensive.

    What’s next? Denial of the 8031 Australian prisoners-of-war unlawfully killed by barbarous Japanese Army maltreatment.

    That the wording of the Racial Discrimination Act enables such a specious, divisive and genuinely offensive claim of “insult" or "offence” surely proves the RDA needs urgent and thorough amendment.

    The first danger is that such divisive, and indeed racist, claims undermine the national unity Australia’s long-term security depends on.

    The second is because such growing Japanese denialism is not just a historical matter.

    There will be no current and future strategic stability in North Asia, in particular, until Japan genuinely acknowledges its many 1931-1945 war crimes.

    As Germany did over half a century ago.

    Until Japan truly faces up to its past, the mainland Chinese regime — with its even worse human rights record since 1949 — can continue to stoke strategic tensions between Japan and its past victims such as South Korea, Singapore and the Philippines.  


  • Governance and business continuity means three full-time ministers are needed to supervise the Defence portfolio

    Civil-control-of-the-military by ministers (alone) on behalf of Parliament is a constitutional principle needing consistent and adequate attention. The above-politics national role, size and complexity of the Defence portfolio require a team of three full-time ministers, not the one, two or mix of 2-3 part-timers over recent decades. None of them should have responsibilities in other portfolios (including the quite separate portfolio of Veterans Affairs). Only the team-leader should be in Cabinet. The number of ministers allocated to the Defence portfolio, and their roles and titles, should be based only on national governance and business continuity requirements, not on perceived political expediency at any one time. For continuity, the roles and commensurate titles of the junior ministers should be stable, refer only to their main Defence functions and not be changed by prime-ministerial or other politically expedient whim in each ministerial reshuffle. Given the success of such a team based approach in comparative Westminster-system democracies, and Australian experience with our more successful Ministers for Defence over recent decades, a team-based structure of one senior and two junior ministers should also be instituted permanently in order to groom potential Ministers for Defence.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Tuesday, 18 October 2016
    (not published)

    Under governments of both political persuasions, proper ministerial governance of the Defence portfolio has often lost out to perceived electoral gain, factional accommodations and prime-ministerial leadership buttressing.

    In 1957 the only real first-principles review of the defence function constitutionally stressed the role, size and complexity of the portfolio required at least three full-time ministers to master the workloads involved.

    But, since the 1974 second-principles Tange Review, the nominal number of ministers has fluctuated from 1 to 1 ½ to 2 ½ with the actual number often fewer in practice.

    Only the Minister for Defence should be in Cabinet.

    To free the portfolio minister up to concentrate on corporate and military strategic matters they should be assisted by a team of two, full-time, junior ministers and at least one parliamentary secretary.

    None should have responsibilities in other portfolios.

    As the UK does, a Minister for the Defence Force should handle both the day-to-day operational and personnel matters that are the two sides of the same coin functionally.

    We should stop making the Minister for Veterans Affairs also a "Minister for Defence Personnel" to pretend enough ministers have been allocated to the Defence portfolio.

    A Minister for Defence Science and Materiel should handle key support functions including technology, industry and equipment procurement.

    A parliamentary secretary needs to be restored to the portfolio to supervise minor support functions (estate management, cadets, honours and awards, etc)

    The continual re-titling of Defence portfolio responsibilities for electoral or other advantage also needs to cease – as it does for other portfolios

    It causes confusion and delay domestically and internationally, costs a fortune each time and greatly frustrates continuity of governance and the historical record.

    As does confusingly re-titling parliamentary secretaries "assistant ministers", particularly when they have no more staff as such pretend-ministers.

    Finally, as with the UK, a consistent team-based approach to ministerial governance best grooms potential portfolio ministers, minimises the effect of personality clashes and enhances continuity of governance over decades.

    After all, part of Kim Beazley, Brendan Nelson and John Faulkner all being among our most competent Defence Ministers stemmed from their earlier experiences in junior Defence positions.


  • Strategic principles underly Commonwealth resumption of land for military purposes

    Compulsory resumption of farmland can be heartbreaking for owners or leaseholders and naturally controversial. Such measures stem, however, from any Government's reluctant but necessary application of key principles to the long-term strategic security benefit of every Australian. While resulting controversies are often inevitable, they need to be discussed and justly resolved based on facts, the principles involved and patient listening to all concerned. Claims by any side based instead on emotion, simplistic pseudo-solutions or other subjective views simply exacerbate and needlessly prolong the controversy without actually helping anyone.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
    Monday, 05 December 2016
    (published Tuesday, 06 December 2016)

    As part of the eventual post-World War II modernisation of the ADF, the resumption of freehold and leasehold land for the High Range and Shoalwater Bay military training areas, in north and central Queensland respectively, was greatly assisted by the 1967 drought depressing prices.

    But Commonwealth resumption of land, even on just terms under Section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution, can involve heartbreak — as can not efficiently using our continental landmass for strategic purposes to the benefit of all Australians over the long term.

    All Australians, and indeed our natural environment, have benefited from our defence force having permanent access to, and stewardship of, large-scale training areas.

    The strategic, operational and financial efficiency of High Range is particularly boosted by its proximity to the Army’s largest combat force base in Townsville.

    Being on the coast, Shoalwater Bay is used by all three Services and our allies. Its contribution to Australia’s security and diplomacy is substantial and enduring.

    Finally, simplistic claims that our defence force should instead be based in widely separated and far-flung areas no good for anything else ignores that members of the ADF and their families are fellow Australians.

    As they often don’t get to choose where they live, isolating them for decades in remote places is both unfair in terms of community standards and ineffective economically.

    Not least in incurring high financial and operational costs when personnel retention rates rise due to family discontent.


  • Its the nature of China's government, not China the country, that is the problem

    If China was democratically governed, and truly accountable internationally, it would present little or no risk to international stability, peace and security. But while China remains under authoritarian rule it remains primarily focused on regime survival, prone to challenging a rules-based system for resolving international disputes, and too unpredictable to sustain longer-term international confidence in its reliability as a member of such a system. This is exacerbated by the current Chinese government encouraging hyper-nationalism, and increasingly military solutions to disputes, in order to distact the Chinese people from the regime's lack of democratic legitimacy and accountability to those it rules. This situation institutionalises strategic security risks for China's immediate neighbours, the wider regional neighbourhood and international peace and stability generally.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Tuesday, 02 August 2016
    (published Wednesday, 03 August 2016)

    Euan Graham (“We must not be bullied out of South China Sea”, 2/8, p.12) rightly criticises China’s “Melian Monologue” challenge to the existing rules-based strategic system anchored in the UN Charter.

    Three aspects unfortunately cripple objective debate on China.

    None of them involve supposed “xenophobia” or “unblinking deference” to the Australia-US alliance.

    First, many in business, and in our official and academic strategic bureaucracies, are too sanguine or subjective about China.

    They tend to ignore long-term risks and discount inconvenient facts in a similar fashion to those who championed appeasement of fascist and communist dictatorships.

    Second, it is not China per se that is the problem but how that country is currently governed — including China’s growing proclivity for hyper-nationalistic, and increasingly militarist, propaganda domestically and her bullying behaviour internationally.

    Until China stops being run by an authoritarian regime the probability that its substantial military and economic power could be misused must remain the key principle of Australia-China relations.

    When China is governed democratically — and truly accountable to its people, neighbours and the world generally — it will probably pose no risk of forcibly challenging the primarily rules-based peaceful resolution of international disputes.

    Third, whether the NT’s Governments 99-year lease of Darwin’s port to Chinese commercial interests was ill-judged or not (and it was), how the decision was made and the loopholes used to achieve it, exposed major weaknesses in our national strategic security management.

    Until China democratises and has an economy subject to the rule-of-law, Chinese commercial ownership of major Australian infrastructure has long-term strategic security implications well beyond any economic ones.

    Such grand-strategical decisions must be taken only by the National Security Committee of Cabinet, not just the Foreign Investment Review Board.


  • Every Australian needs to stop using Islamist terminology to describe Islamist terrorism

    Instead of mindlessly regurgitating Islamist propaganda, every Australian and particularly the media need to think carefully about the terminology they use. Otherwise Islamist scaremongering among Australia's Muslim community is needlessly bolstered and Australians of all faiths suffer. Unfortunately, sufficient depth of thought is not occurring over much of the media, with time-tested counter-terrorism principles being forgotten or ignored. In some cases, continued use of Islamist terminology also seems to be due to unprofessional reactions when journalists are reminded of this problem. Particularly where the journalist is oddly convinced that their individual opinion on such matters somehow invalidates lessons hard-won over many years by our intelligence and security agencies and our defence force.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Wednesday, 13 July 2016
    (not published)

    All wars are ultimately conflicts of will and end when one side gives up. Generally by a combination of both armed force and diplomatic/intellectual persuasion.

    In the international conflict with Islamist terrorism - as with any counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism struggle - no democracy should ever legitimise enemy propaganda by sloppily repeating their self-descriptions or ideological terminology.

    This is why, for example, the terrorists’ self-reverential term “Islamic State” must always be prefixed by the qualifier “so-called” or used only within inverted commas as in this sentence (but which your newspaper invariably removes).

    Not least because it is not an Islamic state, certainly not “the Islamic State” and definitely not an entity that complies with international humanitarian law.

    Similarly, journalistic terms must be scrupulously accurate when referring to those agencies that lead our fight with such enemies.

    The term “spies” is beloved of sub-editors because it’s a shorter headline but its constant and simplistic use is buttressing, not contradicting, terrorist propaganda.

    Such sloppy terminology wrongly emphasises that legitimate surveillance of Islamist extremism by our national security-intelligence (not “spy”) agency is somehow illegitimate or, as the Islamists claim, targeted against all Muslim Australians rather than just the extremist bigots within their faith community.

    Similarly, your national security editor, Paul Maley, also needs to stop incorrectly referring to ASIO intelligence officers as “spies” (“ASIO to swap spies with Jakarta”, July 13, p2).

    ASIO staff do not include a single “spy” and it is high time the media put the national interest ahead of lazy headlines and other coverage.


  • Preserving the non-partisanship convention concerning our defence force and police services

    Cavalier dismissal of the need for political neutrality in our military and police forces needs fixing by the next government. Too many Australians have grown complacent about the institutional and professional need for our defence force, and our police services, to be politically neutral in both fact and perception. This is demonstrated by how many of our politicians, and others who should know better, who now seek to politicise the ADF or a police service for electoral expediency - thereby ignoring that the obligation to observe the non-partisanship convention is also reciprocal across civil society. Australian democracy faces potential risks when the convention is not consistently respected by every Australian, not just serving or former members of the ADF or a police service. Changes to the Electoral Act are now necessary to reinforce the non-partisanship convention.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Friday, 17 June 2016
    (published Monday, 20 June 2016)

    Fleur Anderson (“Uniform agreement on military careers, June 17) notes an important but sadly not well understood issue.

    No democracy can tolerate a defence force or police services that are not politically neutral professionally and institutionally.

    Australia has longstanding and reciprocal constitutional conventions governing this, but some electoral candidates are now forgetting or ignoring that the convention applies across civil society just as much as it applies to the military and police.

    There is nothing wrong with electoral advertising mentioning a candidate has served in the ADF or AFP when this forms part of illustrating their wider life experience.

    It is improper, however, if such references to military or police service lack such context and mislead voters into thinking the ADF or AFP endorse a candidate, party or policy.

    Due to their prominence, but without context, billboards and posters of candidates wearing uniform are highly misleading and unequivocally contravene the non-partisanship convention.

    It is actually scary, not just disappointing, when even parliamentarians and former ADF personnel forget such important principles of our Westminster system.


    [Detailed ADA comment on abuses of the non-partisanship convention by both major parties may be found here. The ADA has also raised this issue with all the candidates and parties concerned.]

  • Billboards & posters of candidates in military uniform are not just misleading advertising

    Candidates wearing ADF uniform in advertising devoid of context breaches the non-partisanship convention. Billboard and poster advertising in particular is liable to be misinterpreted as the ADF supporting that candidate. However, similar pictures in leaflets and social media telling the candidate's life story are not a breach if part of that wider context. Our defence force must always be neutral politically in both fact and perception. The obligation to support this non-partisanship convention is also reciprocal across civil society. Australian democracy faces potential risks when the convention is not consistently respected by every Australian - whether in the ADF or not.


    Letter to The West Australian
    Thursday 09 June 2016
    (published Friday, 10 June 2016)

    Andrew Hastie seems to miss the point about election candidates wearing ADF uniform in electoral billboards and posters

    Since the English civil wars, nearly 400 years of Westminster system constitutional evolution has entrenched the “removal of the gun” from our politics.

    A large part of this is about the ADF being apolitical institutionally and professionally.

    But the reciprocal part of this non-partisan convention, across civil society, includes “removing politics from the gun”.

    Recent examples, from both sides of politics, where election billboards and posters feature candidates wearing their former ADF uniform unequivocally contravene the convention.

    What defenders of such advertising ignore is that it is the high visibility, without any context, of billboard and poster advertising that is particularly liable to be easily misconstrued as the ADF somehow endorsing that candidate or their political stance.

    Similar photos in an election leaflet or on social media are not such a breach if contextually part of a candidate’s wider life story (and not on the cover).

    Given the convention breaches in this election, the only solution now is to regulate the wearing of defence force uniforms in any form of election material by amending the Electoral Act (which already prohibits other forms of potentially misleading electoral advertising).


    [Detailed ADA comment on abuses of the non-partisanship convention by both major parties may be found here. The ADA has also raised this issue with all the candidates and parties concerned.]

  • The non-partisanship convention concerning our defence force is always a reciprocal one

    Preserving the ADF's political neutrality means never dragging it into politics for partisan advantage. Particular care needs to be exercised by all candidates and parties during election campaigns.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Wednesday, 25 May 2016
    (published Monday, 30 May 2016)

     Since the English civil wars, nearly 400 years of Westminster system constitutional evolution has entrenched the removal of the gun from our politics.

     Our defence force is institutionally and professionally non-partisan in the execution of its duties.

     But this non-partisan convention is also reciprocal across civil society.

     Recent examples, from both sides of politics, where election billboards and posters feature candidates wearing their former ADF uniform unequivocally contravene the convention.

     Such highly visible advertising, without any wider context or indeed other knowledge of the candidate, is particularly liable to be easily misconstrued as the ADF somehow endorsing that candidate or their political stance.

     If the non-partisanship convention continues to be abused , the wearing of ADF uniform in all forms of election material will need to be regulated by the Electoral Act – as occurs with other aspects of misleading electoral advertising.

     If political parties can no longer be trusted to respect the need for ADF political neutrality by reciprocating the non-partisanship convention, statutory prohibition becomes the only solution. 


    [Detailed ADA comment on abuses of the non-partisanship convention by both major parties may be found here].

  • Isolationist pseudo-solutions ignore ethical, legal and practical considerations

    "Letting" Australians embracing Islamist terrorism go overseas is the type of impulsive reaction that results when ethics, practicalities and the relevant international law are ignored. Such isolationist impulses and lack of understanding occur when ideological fervour, complacency and the invalid belief that foreign lives somehow do not matter over-ride commonsense, respect for the universality of international humanitarian law and Australia's obligations under the UN Charter.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Wednesday, 11 May 2016
    (published Saturday, 14 May 2016)

    Leon Arundell’s questioning (Letters, May 11) of why Australia chooses to fight Islamist terrorists overseas, and his claim “they pose no threat to Australia while they remain” there, ignore fundamental ethical and legal responsibilities.

    Both to the many victims of such terrorism and to international humanitarian law in general.

    Where some of these terrorists in Syria and Iraq are or were Australians our responsibility to comply with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions — to stop such terrorist migration to “Islamic State” and to help defend Iraq from that group’s many atrocities —  is surely beyond any reasonable doubt.

    Moreover, if Australian traitors anywhere are hell bent on killing people here in Australia we also have a practical need to deter, punish and deal with such treachery at source and elsewhere.

    Not to pretend that such serious crimes somehow do not matter if they mainly or only affect foreigners.    

  • Deterring & punishing traitors must acknowledge their rejection of citizenship by stripping it

    Traitors fighting overseas cannot usually be captured for trial in Australia and no diggers should be risked to do so. If such traitors choose to serve with an Islamist terrorist group and are killed on the battlefield as a result, justice is just as well served. As well as our laws deterring and punishing treachery as a crime, all Australians need to acknowledge their abhorrence of treachery because it involves a fundamental rejection of the reciprocal citizenship obligations we all share - including to fellow citizens serving in our defence force and deployed to fight such traitors. We owe similar legal and ethical obligations to all our allies in these UN-endorsed operations, and to all the victims of the Islamist terrorism some Australians support in clear breach of their citizenship responsibilities and international humanitarian law generally.


    Letter to The Australian
    Friday, 06 May 2016
    (published Saturday, 07 May 2016)

    The unlamented death of Neil Prakash and other Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria again highlights logical and ethical inconsistencies in those still quibbling about the necessary stripping of citizenship from traitors who go overseas and take up arms against Australia.

    Particularly when they agree with the majority of Australians who note that such battlefield deaths are a direct, and indeed proper, consequence of the treachery involved.

    Double standards about enforcing the reciprocal citizenship responsibilities every Australian shares are especially unfair to those fellow citizens in our defence force that we lawfully deploy to such conflicts on our behalf.

    Why should our diggers and our allies ever have to fight such traitors with the traitor still wrongly able to claim the privileges of Australian citizenship after choosing to reject and betray them.

    Strong and consistent measures are always necessary to mark both our national abhorrence of treachery and to deter and punish such a serious crime.

    Especially when the traitor cannot be captured for trial in Australia - and no digger’s life should be unduly risked to do so when killing them still delivers the appropriate deterrence and punishment.

  • New submarines also protect our future national welfare and do not affect spending on pensions, hospitals & schools

    Announcements about the new submarines, just before a budget, need to be very carefully worded to avoid misunderstandings and to make it harder for those keen on deliberate misinterpretation or polemical misrepresentation.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Tuesday, 26 April 2016
    (published Wednesday, 27 April 2016)

    Before the 2014 budget inept timing and wording announcing the purchase of more joint-strike fighters caused many Australians to believe, incorrectly, that this future aircraft buy caused the large expenditure cuts in that budget.

    Even leading economic commentators, who should have known better, reinforced this confusion by claiming that pension and health cuts were due to the new fighters.

    We need to clearly avoid such confusion in announcements this week about new submarines

    Politicians are naturally prone to quote large sums when announcing re-equipment of our defence force, but this is invariably spent over many future budgets and the larger the sum cited the longer the term involved.

    Through-life operating costs over several decades are also often included in initial announcements, particularly when electoral advantage is sought in marginal electorates or beleaguered state economies.

    But investment in new ADF equipment is already programmed into future defence portfolio allocations.

    It is not funded by diverting expenditure from other portfolios — even though defence investment has often been diverted elsewhere for political expediency.

    Kept in perspective, annual investment in re-equipping the ADF is around 4-6 weeks of social security spending alone. Annual equipment maintenance costs are very similar.

    Finally, most economists and other commentators tend to ignore that defence is the only major area of government expenditure that is wholly funded federally, is the portfolio most often subject to arbitrary and substantial cuts budget by budget, and therefore prone to needing periodic catch-up investment to replace very old equipment.

    Simplistic comparisons with federal expenditure on social security, health and education, for example, are always grossly inaccurate as total national spending on the latter compared to defence is around 7.5:1, 5.5:1 and 4:1 respectively and growing at much faster rates (when defence grows at all in real terms).   

  • More ideological polemic rather than academic-grade discourse - and from a professor

    Nonsensical claims that a public-right-to-know applies to every national secret surely prove the opposite. Every democracy necessarily protects itself, and the common good, by delegating key national security decisions to those elected to govern - and the accountable institutions Parliament supervises - rather than every detail of every defence capability or operation somehow having to be detailed to every citizen (and therefore invariably known by every potential enemy eventually) every time.


    Letter to The Age 
    Monday, 25 April 2016
    (bits of it published on Sunday, 01 May 2016)

    Richard Tanter (Letters, 24/4),

    up to his usual ideological alarmism, decries that some aspects of our national defence infrastructure and operations are necessarily secret for the common good.

    Whereas his desire for the public to know every detail would counter-productively

    ... if the public knew every detail of our defence operations, it would,

    endanger our country, risk our diggers,


    undermine deterrence of war

    , and encourage potential enemies to further undermine a rules-based international system by military aggression.  

    Richard also ignores that ...

    our national defence is also duly overseen by Parliament generally, ministers in particular and a range of all-party parliamentary oversight committees on our behalf – as it should be in any democracy.

    And that thankfully ... 

    our defence force not only remains the most institutionally non-partisan part of our constitutional system, but also one run



    All leading ...

    This all leads

    to opinion polling regularly placing the ADF as one of Australia’s most trusted institutions.

    Richard’s polemical belief that every citizen should somehow know every national secret, no matter their ideological obsession or lack of commonsense, surely proves the opposite.

  • Absurd claims about supposed levels of defence investment compared to other national spending

    Yet more polemical claims that investment in our defence infrastructure is somehow much greater than national spending on social security, health and education when the actual figures completely reverse such comparisons, in each case, by huge margins.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Monday, 06 April 2016
    (published Thursday, 14 April 2016)

    In an unfortunately common but significant comparative mistake, Peter Hill (Letters, April 6) ignores that defence is constitutionally the only major area of government that is wholly funded federally.

    He further claims that we somehow have "billions of dollars for ... submarines, but no money for hospitals and schools".

    Whereas overall national spending on social security, health and education already far exceeds total investment in defence capabilities at ratios around 7:1, 5:1 and 4:1 respectively.

    Peter's concern about "armaments" spending is also wildly exaggerated as the annual amount invested in re-equipping the ADF comes in at around 4-6 weeks' worth of social security spending alone.

    The worst inter-generational inequities facing our descendants are instead the eventual greater strategic risk — and commensurate large catch-up costs financially — we are inflicting on them by not paying our fair share now of the sustained investment our national defence infrastructure needs over a very long timescale.

    Peter also oddly claims that Australia "spends more on armaments than any comparable country". 

    As Australia is a large, sparsely-populated, island-continent with strategic, sovereignty, conservation and search & rescue responsibilities for some ten per cent of the Earth's surface, which countries are supposedly comparable and how?

    And what robust contextual bases, per-capita figures and relative spending power criteria, if any, did he use?

    Finally, why does he not factor in the obvious need for prudence when hedging against strategic risk over a likely quite uncertain next half-century? 

  • Misapplying the opportunity-cost principle

    Calls to divert defence investment elsewhere citing the opportunity-cost principle generally ignore the risk management principle that provides the necessary context for any prudent opportunity-cost decisionmaking.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Monday, 07 March 2016
    (published Thursday, 10 March 2016)

    Apparent complacency is no excuse to inflict even greater inter-generational inequity on our descendants by not shouldering our fair share now of the long-term investment required in our national defence.

    Rod Price’s call (Letters, March 5) to divert even more defence investment elsewhere ignores or unduly discounts long-term risk management principles.

    Long periods of relative peace are optimal in opportunity-cost terms for moderate but sustained investment in our national defence infrastructure, and our diplomatic capacities, to deter and manage a wide range of serious strategic risks to our national interests over many decades hence.

    The potential cost of one day losing our strategic freedom of action as a nation, however unlikely this might seem to some at any one time now, far outweighs the relatively minimal national investment we make in our common defence.

    At only 7.5 per cent of (only) the Commonwealth budget, Rod also ignores that this investment is already dwarfed by federal and state spending on each of social security, health and education.

  • Defence White Paper 2016: Yet another invalid comment by yet another prominent economist

    Why is so much economist commentary on national defence investment so wrong so often? Surely practioners of the dismal art should know something about our constitution and Australia's history. Even if so many of them apparently understand little or nothing about how our long-term strategic security infrastructure needs adequate and sustained resourcing (not the opposite) so it can best deter or manage strategic risks over many decades hence.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Friday, 26 February 2016
    (not published)

    In trying to comment on Defence White Paper 2016 your economics editor, David Uren, appears to confirm large gaps in his understanding of other disciplines (“Big spending means other portfolios hit”, 26/2, p6).

    He incorrectly compares only federal, rather than national, spending when mistakenly claiming defence investment is the “third largest area of government spending”.

    He ignores that defence is the only major area of government spending that is wholly funded federally.

    And that national spending on social security, health and education in particular each continue to dwarf investment in our national defence infrastructure.

    As federal and state debt repayments often do too.

    Moreover, David claims that projected defence allocations over the next decade will mean other portfolios face cuts without the necessary qualification that, for once, this actually reverses what normally happens in Australian governance – and why this infrequent fiscal trend is now necessary.

    Nor does he provide the necessary context that it is defence investment alone that has suffered the biggest proportionate and actual cuts in recent years and that much of the new program is catch-up financing to redress the damage inflicted by constant and generally arbitrary reductions.

    The greatest single strategic security risk facing Australia continues to be vertical fiscal imbalance – largely driven by the selfish and short-sighted belief that the federal level of government should solve every problem regardless of the effect on those functions, such as defence, only the federal government can do.

    The consequent inter-generational inequity we inflict on our children and grand-children is threefold.

    • Not paying our fair share now of the long-term and sustained investment needed in Australia’s strategic security means they will eventually have to pay much more in taxes to fix our neglect.
    • Unlike us though they may not have sufficient time to do it before a crisis hits them.
    • We are also needlessly exposing them to greater strategic risk, both in terms of weakened deterrence and significant consequences if our gambling with their future goes wrong.


  • Discussing calls for "more troops" in the Middle East

    Whether Australia should increase its military commitment in Iraq and Syria must be based on expert advice and facts, not on perceived party-political expediency or incorrect memories of supposed historical lessons.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Friday, 15 January 2016
    (published Monday, 18 January 2016)

    Your January 15 editorial, "Turnbull right to resist US call for troops", unfortunately included two problems that so mar proper public debate on strategic policy issues.

    First, the discussion largely used a party-political prism, and indeed an intra-party rivalry one, rather than objectively view the matter on its merits and via the national decision-making processes that need to be involved.

    Second, it included the types of factual and conceptual error in historical knowledge that so often mar current informed debate.

    The attempted British diversion of the returning 6th and 7th AIF divisions, was from Java to Rangoon, not to help defend Singapore, which had already fallen with the loss of the 8th Division.

    Moreover, the consequent profound political and bureaucratic panic in early 1942 was a result of Australian governments of both political persuasions having so consistently ignored the military advice predicting such strategic risks, in detail, since 1920.

    In terms of further contemporary relevance, the decision that the AIF convoys should return directly to Australia (and not Java or Burma) was almost entirely based on the professional advice of Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, the only Australian among the Chiefs of Staff and the quasi-CDF of the era.

    Indeed Sturdee noted that if Cabinet declined to accept his professional advice he would have to resign as their principal military adviser.

    The lesson — apart from throroughly undue historical credit often being given to Curtin alone — is that national strategic policy should be steered with the help of expert diplomatic and military advice, not by partisan or intra-partisan political considerations.

    Just as the professional advice of the current ADF Chiefs is surely a major factor in whether we can or should increase our current commitment to the latest Middle-East war.

    A complex civil war that, on the ground, can only be effectively resolved by concerted Iraqi and Syrian efforts for once — and with actual, not nominal or counter-productive, help by all their neigbouring states.  

    Constantly being bailed out by the international community cannot replace local effort in the long term.

  • Preserving the essential non-partisanship of our defence force

    Public concern over controversial political statements by serving ADF personnel is best resolved by reinforcing universal adherence to the longstanding principle of defence force non-partisanship. And in emphasing the criticality of personnel avoiding public, and generally private, participation in political or associated controversies. With Australia involved in a UN-endorsed international campaign against terrorism by Islamist extremists - but not of course against Islam as a religion - clearly distinguishing between the responsibilities of the ADF's chaplains and it's "cultural advisers" would be a good first step towards restoring public confidence. A good second step would be to crack down consistently on all sides of politically controversial public exchanges on social-media, and elsewhere, between squabbling defence force personnel. Especially where particularly extreme political views, or religious bigotry, are aired by such personnel and this exacerbates the deterioration of both wider public debate and community confidence in the ADF.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Tuesday, 05 January 2016
    (published Thursday, 07 January 2016)

    Readers of Rosie Lewis’s and Cameron Stewart’s article (“Row over Navy’s Islamic account after Tony Abbott retweet”, 5/1) surely reflected on the long-accepted Westminster-system principle that our defence force must always be non-partisan institutionally and needs to be seen as such.

    During the international community’s complex conflict with Islamist terrorism, but not Islam, three contextual points need particular emphasis.

    First, it is the Australian Defence Force's chaplains, of all religions, who remain solely responsible for providing advice to ADF commanders on theological and associated pastoral matters, and spiritual support (where sought) to personnel generally.

    For over a century the principles and procedures concerned have been well-tested in maintaining the necessary balance between ADF capability collectively and religious freedom individually.

    Where personal religious beliefs are strongly held, or involve customs that affect daily schedules or diets, we have the successful example of Orthodox Jewish chaplains arranging individual and collective compromises between unavoidable military requirements and dietary or other observances.

    Second, in appointing a Navy “Islamic culture” adviser, however, there appears to have been insufficient definition of where cultural advice stops and chaplaincy expertise and responsibilities apply.

    Particularly as the ADF now has a reservist Islamic chaplain.

    Some of this confusion may have inadvertently resulted from the role of indigenous cultural advisers where, in the absence of clergy in indigenous belief systems, they have occasionally also advised the ADF about respecting some spiritual practices during inter-actions with specific communities.

    Finally, public concern naturally arises — as it does across our defence force — when statements attributed to ADF sources result in political or related controversy.

    Considerable public confusion about the necessary distinction between Islamism as a bigoted politico-religious movement — and mainstream Islam as a religion — surely means that ADF comment on specifically religious complexities is best left to it’s chaplains, not to cultural advisers.

    All ADF personnel may also need reminding that holding personal political or religious beliefs does not mean they can ever misuse the force’s reputation, their ADF status or it’s resources to pursue such individual quests.

  • Fixing the UN's main problem begins with acknowledging it

    Achieving lasting world peace means facing up to why the UN often fails as a collective-security mechanism


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Saturday, 02 January 2016
    (not published)

    Harry Davis (Letters, January 2) surely accords undue modern weight to Einstein's 1931 view that the lack of world peace is due to "the craving for power which characterises the governing class in every nation".

    While the League of Nations failed utterly, and the UN's record remains chequered, their core principle of collective security remains valid.

    It is only the effectiveness of the principle's exercise that remains hamstrung, chiefly due to how some states are still ill-governed and especially since true liberal-democracies ceased constituting a majority of UN members by the mid-1960s.

    And while three of the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members have remained democracies, Russia and mainland China are still highly authoritarian states whose adherence to the UN Charter in particular — and support for a rules-based international system in general — remain ambivalent at best and often worse.

    Finally, the UN's systemic failure to fully protect humankind from war and its repercussions is why Australia still needs to invest in our own defence, and to participate in collective defence arrangements with other UN members, as the Charter duly enables.

    And, where imperfect UN mechanisms occasionally allow this to occur, why Australia has a notable record of consistently being one of the minority of states to meet its membership obligations in helping enforce the Charter.

    Such as reversing North Korea's 1950 invasion of South Korea and Iraq's 1990 conquest of fellow UN member, Kuwait; with the latter being a totally unambiguous case of the collective security principle in action.

    Noting the more numerous cases that the UN has been unable to resolve.

    Such as Russia's invasions of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979, Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine from 2014; and China's support for North Korea, and conquest of Tibet, in 1950.

    And perhaps China's current resort to military action over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Letters: 2015

  • ASIO official history series stands tall

    Subjective attacks surely reinforce the integrity and balance of ASIO's official history series. Particularly where the subjectivity is clearly demonstrated by factual errors and conceptual misunderstandings about the principles, conventions and practices underlying official histories that could be easily rectified by adequate and objective research.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
    Wednesday, 23 December 2015
    (not published)*

    Brian Toohey (“ASIO’s official history has a $1.75m subplot”, AFR, December 23, p4) poses a polemical “apples and oranges” comparison between the writing of official history series and books on specific historical topics or people written by individuals.

    Since World War I federal governments of all political persuasions have rightly funded official histories.

    Chiefly because they are rarely viable commercially but remain important to Australia recording what actually happened, and why, concerning major events and institutions in our national history.

    This national-interest expense is also justified because they involve many years of archival and other research by teams of highly-qualified historians working under particularly stringent academic, professional, independence and objectivity standards.

    With the ASIO history the team’s winning competitive tender duly insisted on full research access and editorial freedom from that agency and indeed governments generally.

    The two volumes published to date have won critical, academic and general acclaim for their balanced analysis and for their detailed refutation of certain politically-inspired conspiracy theory myths.

    That Brian’s inaccurate and subjective reaction also fails to disclose his personal disputation with their efforts surely further reinforces the professional integrity of their work.


    * On Monday 04 January 2016 The Australian Financial Review published a letter from the ANU's Professor David Horner, the editor of the three-volume official history and the author of Volume I, pointing out several factual errors in the Toohey article. In particular, Professor Horner noted that, contrary to claims in the Toohey article, his ANU-based team of historians were the winning competitive tender and that the selection of the publisher was also decided by competitive tender.


  • Discussing the legality of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars

    Slogans claiming the supposed "illegality" of every phase of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a lack of even the most basic research and/or understanding of the applicable international law.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Wednesday, 09 December 2015
    (published Monday, 14 December 2015)

    Steve Ellis (Letters, December 9) not only evades every point in my letter of  December 4 but even begins by claiming that — at some time undefined and conveniently uncited — I somehow "labelled those who criticised the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] as traitors".

    This never occurred.

    Steve's extensive misquotations of what my letter actually noted when challenging blanket sloganeering about Afghanistan and Iraq being "illegal wars" further evades the issue.

    As the vast majority of international law scholarship agrees, different  phases of both conflicts all had — or in only one case might not have had — the required legal bases.

    Perhaps Steve could address facts, complexity and what is actually said in explanation, rather than resort to ad hominem attacks in particular and misrepresentation generally.



  • Darwin port lease: Addressing the real issues

    Defenders of the 99-year Darwin port lease continue to evade detailed criticisms actually being made. Fortunately, they will not easily be able to repeat this political and intellectual cowardice at the forthcoming Senate Inquiry.


    Letter to The Sunday Territorian (and The Northern Territory News) 
    Sunday, 13 December 2015
    (published, in The Northern Territory News, Monday, 18 January 2016)

    Sam Bateman (“Darwin port lease fallout highlights how we’re being caught in the China-US crossfire”, Sunday Territorian, December 13, p15) merely echoes continued evasions by the NT Government concerning major criticisms of the flawed lease of Darwin’s port.

    Rather than Darwin media regurgitate these well-discredited responses to arguments not actually being made, how about addressing the deeper and largely unaddressed objections that have now inevitably resulted in a Senate Inquiry widely supported within both the federal government (however quietly) and the opposition parties and independents (openly).

    Both into the lease itself, and into closing the loopholes in our national decision-making machinery through which such a long-term, and wide-ranging, mistake was deliberately slipped by myopic local politicians apparently unaware at best of their national responsibilities to all Australians, including generations yet unborn

    Moreover, key criticisms do not involve a “China-US Crossfire”, or even China as a country per se, so cannot be “overstated”, “amateur-hour”, “xenophobic” or “patronising”.

    The key, and institutionalised, strategic risk of a 99-year lease to Chinese commercial interests instead stems only from China’s current, but seemingly entrenched, authoritarian political system.

    Particularly the consequence that this largely unaccountable regime, with ultimate control over every Chinese company, even now often seeks to destabilise the overall rules-based international order under which Australia thrives.

    The inability to recognise the direct long-term effects of this on Australia’s sovereign freedom-of-action — independently of our longstanding and perhaps not perpetual US alliance — again highlights the extent of the naïveté behind such a flawed local political decision.


    [Detailed ADA comment on the Darwin port lease may be found here.]


  • Blanket claims of supposedly "illegal wars" ignore complexity and lead to false moral comparisons

    International military efforts to assist Afghanistan and Iraq are legally uncontentious, except for one aspect of the latter. Blanket claims that all phases of such efforts were supposedly "illegal" is just sloganeering that ignores well-known facts and legal concepts in general, and continuing argument among international lawyers about that one aspect in particular.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Tuesday, 01 December 2015
    (published, Thursday, 03 December 2015)

    Contrary to Peter Marshall’s claim about supposedly “illegal wars” (Letters, November 25), the 2001 US-led intervention in Afghanistan was fully endorsed by the UN Security Council — following the Taliban regime’s refusal to co-operate with criminal trials for those responsible for the Twin Towers and Washington terrorist attacks.

    Similarly, UNSC Resolutions (UNSCR) fully underwrote the subsequent decade-long NATO-led mission to enable free elections and rebuild Afghanistan.

    A minority of international lawyers consider that the UNSCR implementing the 1991 ceasefire following the UN-endorsed operation to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait — and particularly those relating to consequent WMD disarmament — sufficiently covered efforts in 2003 to end Iraq’s sustained and confirmed 12-year violation of these resolutions.

    An additional UNSCR would have prevented such argument but was improperly blocked by veto-wielding and opportunist powers unwilling to enforce the ceasefire a decade later.

    But further UNSCR fully underwrote the subsequent US-led coalition that enabled free elections and assisted with the rebuilding of Iraqi civil society over 2003-11.

    There is, however, no serious dispute among international lawyers about Da’esh’s IS’s flagrant and serious breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Syria, Iraq and now elsewhere.

    Criticism of the possible technical illegality of the initial Iraq intervention would surely hold more water if critics were objective and consistent.

    Particularly by admitting the more serious threat to IHL stemming from continual, far worse and indeed ideologically deliberate breaches by various Islamist terrorist groups.


  • Darwin port lease: Structural problem in national-interest protection decisionmaking

    Those trying to defend the 99-year lease of Darwin's port might try addressing the detailed criticisms actually being made. Scattergun allegations of supposed "xenophobia" surely show a desperate attempt to evade discussing the real strategic security issues involved with such a long lease.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
    Monday, 30 November 2015
    (published, Wednesday, 02 December 2015)

    Brian Toohey (“Security risks no judge of Chinese investment, AFR, November 30, p39) mostly repeats mundane defences against straw-man arguments that strategically-informed critics of the Darwin port lease are not making.

    Such as the lease supposedly only involving foreign investment review, espionage, sabotage and port access questions.

    Foremost among the real issues instead is how the Darwin decision, with its 99-year timeframe, could be made without consideration of the consequent grand-strategic context and without integrated and whole-of-government deliberations.

    Particularly its deliberate use of loopholes in our national interest protection mechanisms that clearly indicate the need to thoroughly reform such machinery so such inadequate consideration does not re-occur.

    The lease risks significant constraints on Australia exercising our sovereign freedom of action over a long, and probably not always strategically benign, period

    Particularly in causing casus belli and escalatory risks during times of strategic tension that can be best avoided by not leasing such major geo-strategic infrastructure in the first place.

    Finally, it is not a Chinese leasee per se that poses such risks and political accusations that critics somehow suffer “xenophobia” are as invalid as they are desperate.

    It is the authoritarian nature of China’s system of government, and its ambivalence about supporting the rules-based international system under which Australia has thrived, that causes such a degree of strategic risk over such a long term.  

    A stable and democratised China fully supporting a rules-based international system would pose few or no problems with such a lease, not least because no two democracies have waged war on each other since 1812.  


    [Detailed ADA comment on the Darwin port lease may be found here.]

  • Darwin port lease: Complete failure of national-interest protection mechanisms

    NT political commentary and media coverage continues to largely evade the real issues concerning the Darwin port lease


    Letter to The Northern Territory News 
    Monday, 23 November 2015
    (published, Thursday, 26 November 2015)

    Ben Smee’s “Butt out of our business Canberra” (Sunday Territorian, Nov 22, p14) falls into the very contextual trap he accuses others of committing — looking narrowly and backwards.

    Countries have only permanent interests, not permanent friends or the opposite.

    If China was an internally and externally accountable democracy and a co-operative member of the rules-based international system under which Australia thrives – rather than a powerful, authoritarian and regional country apparently seeking major changes to this system – such a lease would pose minimal risk.

    In its necessary grand-strategic context, the lease is a mistaken and unnecessary hostage to fortune over a very, very, long timeframe in circumstances that are likely to be strategically fluid and perhaps turbulent..

    Particularly concerning overall casus belli risk and creating a future situation where detrimental Chinese perceptions, real or contrived, about the lease (such as where a temporary resumption became necessary) would increase strategic tensions when we would most need to reduce them.

    The best way to avoid such long-term risks is to avoid them in the first place by cancelling the lease.

    Despite subsequent spin by the NT and federal governments, what has really occurred is a state/territory-level government narrowly focused on short-term political expediency taking a major decision — which affects the future strategic security of the whole country over the next century — without realising the full implications.

    It’s not primarily a commercial, foreign investment review or other economic issue.

    Nor does it ultimately concern potential barriers to defence force use of commercial facilities, an increased risk of foreign espionage or sabotage, or whether Landbridge has [Chinese] Communist Party or military connections or not.

    What the lease — achieved only by exploiting legal and procedural loopholes — really shows is a complete failure by both the NT and federal governments to think grand-strategically, plus major flaws in our national security decision-making machinery. 


    [ Detailed ADA comment on this issue can be found here ]

  • What really caused the rise of the so-called "Islamic State"

    Simplistically ascribing the subsequent rise of "Islamic State" to the international intervention in Iraq ignores the geo-political complexity of the region before, during and since 2003. Such claims also generally reflect an ideological and/or ahistoric belief rather than an informed viewpoint.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Thursday, 19 November 2015
    (published, Monday, 23 November 2015)

    Mike Reddy’s reply (Letters, November 19) to A. Pavelic (Letters, November 17) accuses him of something he did not say (closing borders) and, somewhat ironically, of “one-eyed” and “short-memory” barracking.

    Followed by a syllogistic and largely linear claim of cause to effect  that Australia “played a major role in the rise of [the so-called] Islamic State” to 2014 by joining the 2003 intervention in Iraq.

    In a complex geo-political situation other factors surely played predominant roles over this decade.

    First, the Shiite sectarianism and general corruption and incompetence of Iraq’s Maliki Government once free elections had been enabled, international forces had left over 2009-11 and there were few external or internal restraints on Nouri al-Maliki’s counter-productive actions.

    Second, the Arab Spring and particularly its resonance in authoritarian Syria, where the supposedly malign “Western” influences to which Mike attributes continual blame have been almost totally absent, and no actual military interventions have occurred, since the final French withdrawal in 1946.

    Finally, the ideological or other simplistic belief that countries contributing to multinational stability and peacekeeping operations in overseas trouble spots incur some kind of additional responsibility for refugees fleeing such locations surely turns morality, logic and the UN Charter on their heads.

    Instead it is the countries that avoid helping UN and other multinational efforts to ameliorate or resolve crises at source so refugees can safely return home that are usually the same humanitarian bludgers who refuse to sign the Refugee Convention, or only pay lip service to its obligations, even for crises in contiguous countries.

    For all our occasional faults in execution — and especially in contrast to virtually all our neighbours — Australia rightly takes both types of international obligation seriously.


  • Defence Housing Australia: A defence capability enabler, not an administrative or market function

    DHA must be preserved as a Government Business Enterprise. The Government needs to unequivocally confirm to all those still bent on asset-stripping DHA that such a move is clearly not in the national interest and will not be sanctioned.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
    Tuesday, 03 November 2015
    (published Thursday, 05 November 2015)

    At the Customer Service Institute of Australia awards last Wednesday night the managing director of Defence Housing Australia was named “CEO of the Year” and DHA was also runner-up in the national organisations category.

    On the following day Peter Howman was pushed out of his job, ostensibly by the DHA Board, and a former Department of Finance official later appointed acting CEO.

    DHA is one of the best performing Government Business Enterprises in the country, paying some $55m in dividends, $50m in tax and with return-on-equity the envy of most commercial enterprises.

    The authority is also widely respected across the defence force, by both its customers and those employing them, and across the housing industry generally.

    Howman’s successful arguments against privatisation or asset-stripping of DHA have long attracted the ire of ideologues bent on privatisation of GBEs at all costs.

    The timing of this move, and its lack of transparency and reasoning, naturally raises suspicions of hidden bureaucratic agendas being pursued — contrary to the whole-of-government and wider national interest in maintaining an effective defence force.

    Only two weeks ago DHA was examined uncritically in Senate Estimates. The move also popped up during the changeover of ministers in the defence portfolio when ministerial charters (including responsibility for DHA) had yet to be fully promulgated.

    Under governments of both persuasions, recent defence ministers, Defence officials and ADF commanders have successfully argued against any change to DHA’s structure as a GBE.

    Not least because the provision of community-standard housing to defence force families is a major defence capability enabler, not an administrative or market function.

    As ADF personnel often have little or no choice where they are sent to live, such community-standard housing also involves a social equity responsibility for a workforce not allowed the collective representation other Australians take for granted

    Until DHA was established [as the Defence Housing Authority] in 1988, the ADF had a structural and escalating personnel retention problem because of poor and distant housing provided through ad hoc arrangements with State housing commissions.

    DHA must be fully retained as the efficient, innovative, responsive and purpose-designed GBE it is.

    The DHA Board also requires more directors with housing industry experience.


  • Defence equipment advertising is both lawful and morally legitimate in a democracy

    How banning defence equipment advertising in Australia would prevent overseas wars remains unexplained by its proponents. As does how such advertisers are also somehow responsible for atrocities overseas by those not using their products. Or why it is somehow no longer morally legitimate for liberal democracies such as Australia to lawfully use such defence equipment in, say, UN-endorsed operations to end or ameliorate overseas atrocities.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Thursday, 03 September 2015
    (published Thursday, 10 September 2015)

    In answer to Martyn Hearie, Harry Davis and Peter Marshall (Letters, September 3), defence equipment advertisers surely retain the right to advertise their products lawfully.

    Especially to the tax-payers of a country needing to modernise it’s defence force and which uses them only as per international law.

    In answer to Peter’s queries, most of those advertising at Canberra airport are not ADA corporate members.

    Indeed one of them has long reacted to the criticism that our independence enables and our public-interest watchdog role requires.

    As the ADA website explains, to preserve this independence:

    No ADA advocacy is or can be directed by any corporate member.

    Our income has always mainly been from individual and institutional members with no commercial relationships with the Department of Defence.

    Total contributions from the few institutional members with such relationships are capped at $5000 annually.

    Finally, Peter should check with those of his party with national security portfolio responsibilities.

    These Greens senators have always acknowledged the ADA’s independence and our institutional integrity as a public-policy contributor.


  • Using military force is not somehow universally "wrong"

    The numerous ethical and legal distinctions governing use of military force are being ignored by opponents of defence equipment advertising. Whether deliberate polemic, or just caused by conceptual or factual misunderstandings, claims that such advertising in Australia results in "untold human suffering" are simplistic, invalid and unethical. Moreover, Australia still needs a defence force and we owe it to the men and women who serve us in it that they are adequately equipped.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Monday, 31 August 2015
    (not published)

    David Stephens’ confusion (Letters, August 31) over making necessary distinctions in the morality and utility of military force might be resolved by asking himself ten questions.

    Could Australia guarantee its current and future way-of-life without maintaining a defence force?

    Is our defence force an illegal body under international and Australian law?

    Does David universally, primarily or even partly equate the ADF and it’s operations to uphold international humanitarian law (IHL) with those purposefully breaking it?

    Does he believe the ADF inflicts “untold human suffering” on anyone, even when fighting those committing such atrocities?

    Given what we ask of them, is it fair, ethical or practical to not equip our defence force to do its job?

    What is wrong with companies from countries ruled by law legally providing their products to those who only use them responsibly and lawfully?

    Why shouldn’t such providers advertise this accordingly — including to inform and educate the taxpayers of the democracy concerned?

    Does David believe those lawfully providing equipment to the ADF, for use on lawful operations, are really equal or even analogous to those committing the gross breaches of IHL we all deplore and surely wish to stop?

    How would preventing such advertising hamper or stop atrocities by those who are not, and cannot be, their customers anyway?

    Has he considered that it might actually risk the opposite, not least by ignoring the necessary distinction generally between a force for good and amoral or evil force?


  • Steel is cheap and air is free so build warships for our environmental & operational conditions

    Long experience shows that Australian warships need to be big enough to meet our real strategic, operational and environmental needs. Not be ships built down to a budget (usually based only in short-term political expediency) and not up to a capability realistically derived from Australia's long-term strategic circumstances. Pursuing a cheaper build option (about 15 per cent of lifecycle costs) also generally means greater overall expenditure due to the higher costs of through-life maintenance and the upgrades eventually needed. Nor should our warships ever again be "fitted-for-but-not-with" the weapons and other equipment required, thus incurring further costs and operational downtime when the ship needs to be fitted with them (often swiftly when a crisis hits). Finally, our warships should also not be kept unrealistically small to satisfy temporary policy fads, such as the odd desire for our warships to appear less "confronting" regionally. The bottom line in all respects is that bigger vessels generally mean greater survivability in combat and, over their several decades-long operational lives, reduced costs, greatly increased operational flexibility and much greater adaptability for modernisation and strategic change.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Thursday, 27 August 2015
    (not published)

    B.L. West (letters, August 27) somewhat generously described the Anzac ship project as successful but omitted that flawed strategic policy guidance meant the ADF ended up with under-sized and initially under-gunned frigates with quite limited operational utility.

    And, even more importantly,  with very limited through-life adaptability due to the inadequate hull size greatly constraining the significant modernisation works needed soon afterwards and subsequently.

    The clear lesson with both the FFG and Anzac frigates is that under-sizing limits strategic and operational flexibility over their working lives.

    Under-sizing also limits survivability in combat and, due to greater hull stresses in regional sea-states, reduces platform life and increases through-life maintenance costs.

    Such small thinking further complicates, and with the FFG prevented, economic and operationally-optimal mid-life upgrades.

    Steel is cheap and air is free. Resulting from continuous-build programs or not, Australia is generally best served by big enough warships — commonly known as destroyers — operationally suited for our oceanic, wider environmental and varying tactical conditions.

    Not warships primarily specified as needing to appear “non-confrontational”, as various types of navel-gazing landsmen dogmatically demanded in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

    Finally, is Admiral West being ironic when noting Hugh White’s contribution to the Anzac ship project?



  • Responsible "weapons" advertising is legitimate

    Australia maintains a defence force for national defence and to meet our collective-security responsibilities under the UN Charter. Both purposes are legally and morally legitimate and the ADF needs to be adequately equipped on both practical and moral grounds. Companies have a legitimate right to advertise their equipment where it is relevant to the effective and economic modernisation of our defence force. Pacifism is a legitmate belief, as is the just-war moral and legal tradition, but it is intellectually invalid and morally bankrupt to simplistically equate equipment needed for ADF modernisation with the misuse of weapons in the atrocities committed by some other countries and all terrorist groups.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Tuesday, 25 August 2015
    (published Friday, 28 August 2015)

    Calls to remove supposedly offensive defence equipment advertisements from Canberra airport (“Ads of weapons at airport anger city group”, Ross Peake, August 25, p3) again exemplify the emotively expressed, ahistoric and one-sided views that replace actual reasoning among the unduly ideological.

    Entirely missing from the claims and their false moral equivalences is acknowledgement that military force can also prevent “untold human suffering” — and is often essential to re-establish peace, the rule-of-law and the overall conditions needed to effectively negotiate an enduring end to violent disputes.

    After all, we only have a UN Charter and all its subsidiary law because the principal liberal democracies led the fight to defeat ideologically-based military aggression, and indeed genocide, by the Axis powers.

    Finally, it's noteworthy that the airport-ad campaign’s cited leading figures are not well known for consistent criticism of the frequent, deliberate and gross violations of international humanitarian law by, say, Islamist terrorists, North Korea or Hamas.


  • The facts about defence investment levels

    Many Australians misunderstand how little we actually spend on our defence, especially compared to other spending. Many also misunderstand that the very long timescales over which capital investment in modernising our defence force occurs needs to be consistent and sustained, rather than funded spasmodically. Finally, many ignore that the strategic security of generations of future Australians means us paying our fair share of this investment now.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Thursday, 20 August 2015
    (not published)

    Bernie McComb (Letters, August 19), commenting on other issues, oddly claims that defence expenditure is somehow “unlimited …. while everything else is cut”.

    And that the “threat” does not justify defence investment anyway.

    But, defence capabilities are essential national infrastructure to forestall or mitigate general strategic risk over many future decades — not what some might believe, or not, to be specific “threats” just now.

    While defence investment did finally rise in the last budget it had been the only government responsibility viciously hammered in the preceding four. And the latter situation is common under most governments.

    Contrary to Bernie’s claims, the $3-6bn annual investment in re-equipping the ADF has instead long been quite limited — and is around 4-6 weeks of national social security spending alone.

    Moreover, at around 7-8% of (only) the federal budget, defence investment continues to be dwarfed by both the totals, and the rates of increase, in national spending on each of social security, health and education.

  • Withdrawing Australian citizenship from traitors

    Treachery is no ordinary crime and should be deterred, countered and severely punished accordingly.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Wednesday, 27 May 2015
    (published Thursday, 28 May 2015)

    Community confusion about revoking the Australian citizenship of those serving with the so-called “Islamic State” is surely best fixed by explaining its correct counter-treachery context.

    Australians fighting for, or otherwise assisting, an enemy at war with Australia are clearly guilty of treachery.

    Not just some ordinary type of crime or democratic dissent with few or no implications nationally or individually.

    A core reciprocal obligation of Australian citizenship is not to betray fellow Australians generally, or members of our the Australian Defence Force specifically, by fighting with or otherwise assisting an enemy in armed conflict with Australia.

    The 2002 reform finally closing the Wilfred Burchett loophole in our treachery laws (about wars needing to be “declared” when the UN Charter had prohibited such declarations in 1945) provides the obvious precedent.

    First, not reciprocating our citizenship responsibilities to fellow Australians deployed with our defence force during 1946-2001 was too long delayed and we should not let them down again.

    Second, the reform also proscribed acts assisting any armed group fighting the ADF, not just an enemy nation-state.

    Third, this is especially relevant when an enemy deliberately contravenes international humanitarian law across the board and contemptuously regards our adherence as a vulnerability to be exploited, not emulated.

    Unless they can be prosecuted for treachery in Australia all such traitors, even those with no other citizenship, need to have it withdrawn to properly reflect the serious nature of treachery as a crime.

    The UN convention on preventing statelessness does not absolutely prohibit this in such cases and the traitors have freely chosen to switch allegiance to their supposed new “state” anyway.  


  • Reintroducing compulsory national service is not the assumed panacea for society's problems

    Citizenship equity, strategic utility, and economic and social philosophy issues must be part of any serious discussion about reintroducing compulsory national service.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Tuesday, 26 May 2015
    (not published)

    John Perkins (letters, May 26) advocates reintroducing universal national service but, as with many, his nostalgic enthusiasm overlooks several key points (discussed in detail on the ADA website).

    Civil conscription for medical services is expressly prohibited by Section 51 XXXiiiA of the Constitution.

    The universal civic responsibility to render some form of military service is only necessary when expanding our defence force needs to be done substantially, swiftly and equitably (the Defence Act reserves conscription for times of apprehended or actual war).

    Modern workplace health and safety requirements would probably require a service period over 18 months and conscripting, say, all the 250,000 males and females turning twenty each year would cause major labour market shortages and serious inflationary pressures across the economy.

    Neither the ADF nor civil agencies could usefully employ such numbers anyway.

    Conscripting only some of them, such as only males or those unemployed, would rightly be unlawfully discriminatory.

    As the last universal* military conscription scheme throughout 1950s proved, the funds needed to modernise the ADF — and much of the force itself — were diverted to training very short-term conscripts, this provided a political cop-out for insufficient defence investment overall, and the ADF’s ability to deploy in the national interest actually declined.

    Finally, it is all society’s job to fix society’s perceived problems.


    [*The 1965-72 conscription scheme was a selective, not a universal, one.]


  • Measuring the adequacy of defence investment over the very long timescales needed

    Comparing expenditures on all the major governmental responsibilities remains the best way to measure their respective adequacies over time. Defence, however, is the only major national responsibility wholly funded federally. Accurate comparisons therefore rely on measuring both Commonwealth and State-Territory expenditures (and rates of increase) in the other major areas. Defence investment also generally requires the longest timescales. Sustaining the necessary investment over such long periods means continually having to face competing short-term budgetary trends driven by societal complacency or apathy at any one time, and politically expedient electoral desires most of the time.


    Letter to The Canberra Times 
    Wednesday, 20 May 2015
    (published Monday, 25 May 2015)

    Rather than address the serious inter-generational inequity issue raised by the Australia Defence Association, Bronis Dudek (Letters, May 20) offers a straw-man diversion about GDP percentages

    Anyone who keeps up with defence debate would surely know that the ADA has long criticised the bipartisan consensus on defence eventually “getting” two per cent of GDP.

    Or that we continually point out that GDP percentage is really only good for trendline comparisons between countries.

    The ADA has instead always argued that the ongoing adequacy of any national investment is best measured by comparing budget allocations and their rates of increase over time.

    But in the case of defence — as the only major governmental responsibility wholly funded federally — such comparisons must also account for national expenditures by both the Commonwealth and the States on debt interest, social security, health and education.

    Finally, adequate and sustained investment in national defence infrastructure is essential to mitigate general strategic risk over rolling three to five decade periods, not just to counter overly-specific “threats” as they are perceived or not by some now — usually mistakenly or complacently.

    Just as other infrastructure investment is needed in dams, roads, ports and communications to also enhance future community safety and prosperity.

    Understanding and actually debating the issues would help attempted critics of the ADA’s independent, non-partisan, public-interest watchdog advocacy to lift their game.



  • Asylum-seeking remains a primarily strategic policy problem and can only be resolved in that context

    The Refugee Convention is intended to encourage neighbouring countries to resolve refugee flows at source and permanently. Extra-regional permanent resettlement is also often not the panacea assumed by some. First, few countries provide it and even fewer in large numbers (such as the USA, Canada and Australia). Second, contrary to a key intention of the Refugee Convention, it removes strategic and moral pressure on neighbouring countries (to the source of the refugees) to get actively involved so persecution ends permanently and the refugees can return home swiftly, safely and with the best chance to rebuild their civil society. Third, the willingness by some signatories to permanently resettle refugees now often tends to discourage countries from even signing the Convention, temporarily hosting refugees (as the Convention principally intends) or respecting even customary international law regarding them. Finally, rescuing some refugees through extra-regional resettlement often now perpetuates greater misery and danger for most refugees over the long run. Not least because it takes pressure off the perpetrators of persecution, and off the complacency or apathy of the neighbouring countries usually best placed to end it.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Tuesday, 19 May 2015
    (published Wednesday, 20 May 2015)

    By confusing actual resettlement by Refugee Convention signatories with the temporary hosting of refugees by neighbouring countries intended by the convention, James Sharp (letters, 18/5) repeats the confusion besetting most asylum-seeking debate.

    A confusion long propagated, often deliberately, in much refugee advocacy.

    Australia continues to have has a longstanding, notable and rare record for refugee resettlement and we also remain the only genuine convention signatory among the 40-odd countries between here and Europe.

    Our situation in particular, and the now widespread break-down of the 1949 UN Convention generally, remains primarily a strategic policy issue with domestic ramifications, not vice versa, and can only be tackled effectively using this context.

    As the convention breaks down — mainly due to its modern gaming by economic migrants,  people smugglers and corrupt officials and bludging governments in non-signatory countries — its principal aim of tackling refugee flows at source by concerted regional action becomes even more important.

    In the case of Rohingya asylum-seekers and Bangladeshi economic migrants, only other ASEAN members and Bangladesh can pressure Myanmar to stop creating them in the first place.

    Australia and other convention signatories bailing them out, yet again, will mean future and growing regional and wider refugee flows are certain because the perpetual misery involved is never permanently resolved.


  • Budget 2015 starts to restore inter-generational equity regarding future strategic risk

    Finally we are starting to pay our fair share of the long-term and sustained defence investment needed over coming decades. Perhaps now more Australians will understand the inter-generational inequity caused when defence investment is wrongly regarded by the current generation of citizens as somehow a discretionary choice rather than, as with investment in all essential national infrastructure, actually our generation's rightful contribution to the long term preparations needed for Australia's very long term strategic security.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Tuesday, 12 May 2015
    (published Thursday, 14 May 2015)

    At around 1.93 per cent of GDP, investment in national defence infrastructure is finally beginning to restore inter-generational equity.

    For too long middle-class welfare and complacency about future strategic risk has meant us not paying our fair share of the sustained defence investment needed over coming decades.

    We have been selfishly inflicting both greater strategic risk and inevitably high catch-up costs on our children and grandchildren.

    Even now, though, defence investment still lags well behind national spending on each of debt interest, social security, health and education in both absolute terms and rate of increase.


  • Dwelling on Anzac mythology hampers modern thinking about our future strategic security risks

    Both ideological extremes are guilty of conceptually simplistic and generally ahistoric mythology about the Gallipoli campaign. Made worse because so many of those involved are unable to recognise that their opinions are extreme and/or uninformed historically. Such mistaken opinions about the past are harmful because they often result in Australians ignoring or making mistaken judgements about Australia's future strategic security risks.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Wednesday, 29 April 2015
    (published Saturday, 03 May 2015)

    D.J. Fraser (letters, April 29) seems to have oddly reversed the very point being made by the Australia Defence Association [in our letter of 22 April below].

    Anzac mythology on all sides hampers due consideration of Australia’s future strategic security risks.

    Ideological mythology about World War I being a “foreign war” somehow divorced from Australia’s then strategic interests is just as conceptually simplistic as traditional jingoist myths about the “nation being born at Gallipoli”.


  • Current bout of "Anzackery" diverting attention from real problems in defence investment

    Gallipoli 100th anniversary fervour is distracting us even more than usual from due attention to Australia's future strategic security risks. Australians need to think about our common defence and future strategic security on other days as well — and in the long-term and modern contexts reflecting the strategic security risks we actually face over the next half-century or more.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Wednesday, 22 April 2015
    (published Monday, 27 April 2015)

    Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings is important.

    But the problem further highlighted this year is that most Australians only think about defence issues — if at all — on Anzac Day, and then only from a historical, mythological or sentimental perspective.

    Paying due attention to Australia’s future strategic security means sustained defence investment is needed over the long term and this is not somehow discretionary.

    Moreover, our perennial under-investment in national defence infrastructure is causing serious inter-generational inequity.

    Not paying our fair share now means inevitable high catch-up costs for future taxpayers to repair our neglect.

    We are also selfishly inflicting greater strategic risk on our children and grandchildren.

    Defence issues don’t sway votes now only because those most affected by our current complacency and neglect can’t vote to stop it as most of them are not born yet.


  • Scrupulously accurate and consistent terminology is required to defeat Islamist terrorism

    The international law enforcement campaign against Islamist terrorism is fought in complex politico-religous terrain intellectually. Scrupulously accurate and consistent terminology is necessary to win arguments in such emotive, ideological and theological contexts. Not least because of the importance of informed debate in properly targeting the extremist's centre-of-gravity, their ability to recruit terrorists, sympathisers and apologists.


    Letter to The Australian
    Tuesday, 07 April 2015
    (not published)

    Winning the struggle with Islamist terrorism means acknowledging its politico-religious setting and your laudable 07 April editorial generally reflected this.

    However reference to the terrorist group “Islamic State” in English should always be only in inverted commas or, better still, prefixed with the terms “so-called” or “self-described”.

    Even more importantly, some 17 years into this problem the editorial’s lazy reference to “Islamic [rather than Islamist]  fundamentalism” was counter-productive and surely avoidable.

    Using “Islamic” and not “Islamist” means the terrorists and their apologists get to have their enemies — us, the rest of humanity — describe them using their own extremist terminology and thereby appear to endorse the bigoted interpretations of Islam underlying it.

    Consequently, mainstream Muslims get pilloried because failing to observe the necessary distinction between “Islamic” and “Islamist” causes community confusion, suspicion and worse.

    Those Muslims still in denial about the perverted religious basis for Islamist extremism get their denial reinforced rather than exposed by informed theological and wider public debate.

    All Australians, of all religious faiths, are endangered because necessary counter-radicalisation efforts are undermined by appearing to reinforce the Islamist myth that community counter-terrorism measures are somehow aimed at “all” or “only” Muslims.

    Thorough consistency in definition is vital to contests of will, especially between democratic societies and extremists attacking them from within.


  • The irrefutable legality of UN-endorsed international military assistance in Afghanistan

    Some ideologues are prone to polemics about Australia's modern wars and those we send to fight them. Dissent from such government decisions is legitimate, but only when based on facts and reasoned argument. Particular care is necessary where dissent is not objective or reasonable in the circumstances. This is especially the case if the security, safety and welfare of the fellow Australians we deploy to war on our national behalf is endangered, however unintentionally, by recklessly providing opportunities that can be exploited in enemy propaganda. In a society based on mutual citizenship obligations, and where key responsibilities are rightly enshrined in legislation, disregard for such risks is surely as unacceptable as the intentional acts of treachery directly prohibited by our laws.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Saturday, 04 April 2015
    (not published)

    Adam Rustowski (Letters, 30 March) claims that the multinational campaign in Afghanistan is “futile”, “shameful” and “illegal”.

    Together with Graeme Dunstan (Letters, 26 March) he implies that ADF personnel deployed there are “criminal mercenaries” motivated by  pecuniary or careerist personal interests.

    Both surely ignore five contexts for informed debate:

    • Numerous UN Security Council Resolutions mean that this is probably the most uncontentious military endeavour in international law since the collective security responsibilities of the UN Charter came into force universally in 1945.
    • This international assistance effort has also been broadly endorsed in two consequent elections by the Afghan people; elections that would not have occurred under Taliban rule.
    • Australia’s involvement  remains entirely in accordance with our constitutional and statutory processes — and with our responsibilities as a founder-member of the UN.
    • ADF personnel necessarily obey the lawful orders of our elected government.
    • The ADF has undertaken its operations in a professional and moral manner against an enemy who not only does not do so, but who regards our difficult adherence to general moral norms and international humanitarian law as a vulnerability to be shamefully and illegally exploited.

    Whether this international effort has been futile or not, to whatever degree, is a judgement not fully possible for many years although the steep rises (from an exceptionally low base) in, say, literacy, female emancipation and general standards of living cannot be denied even now.

    Nor that the need for, or success of, such an international effort can only be judged by considering the probable alternatives, morally and practically, had the international community ignored the plight of the Afghan people and the sanctuary provided to Islamist terrorism internationally under the Taliban dictatorship.

    Finally, as the relevant independent and apolitical public-interest watchdog, the ADA has long been the most consistent and comprehensive critic of attempts by all sides and extremes of politics to politicise our defence force, its operations and the casualties and family grief inevitably incurred.


  • Blind obedience rightly plays no part in our defence force

    Arguments about politics that inappropriately use analogies to supposed "blind obedience" in the ADF are more than just disappointing. Such examples again point to the profound and continually damaging dearth of real knowledge and understanding about our defence force, and national defence issues generally, across the community; even among those, such as journalists and academics, commonly expected to research such topics before commenting. Just as importantly, ill-researched commentary is not just a national security issue as such uninformed and invalid analogies also hinder effective debate on the wider public-policy issues in which they are misused.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Tuesday, 17 March 2015
    (published Friday, 20 March 2015)

    Jenna Price (“Government whip Andrew Nikolic lashes out at academic freedom”, March 17) criticises the new Liberal Party Whip, and approvingly quotes her university’s definition of academic responsibility as making a “… significant contribution to society by drawing on their considerable knowledge and discipline expertise to support public discussion based on evidence, and on reasoned arguments”.

    Jenna Price, however, oddly ascribes Nikolic’s approach to party discipline as being the result of his military training “… where its blind obedience. So you can imagine, can’t you, the kind of behaviour he [Nikolic] thinks is appropriate”.   

    Now anyone, academic or not, with due considerable knowledge of military training would surely know that ADF personnel instead obey orders because — having been required to think about it considerably throughout their training — they realise that the complex, high-stress and often lethal activities we ask of our defence force rely utterly on combining mutual trust and individual initiative to achieve the necessary coherent teamwork.  

    Whatever Nikolic may or may not believe, Jenna Price has clearly used only imagination and certainly no evidence, reasoned argument, knowledge or academic expertise to draw her subjective conclusions.

    These cascading failures to live up to her own professed academic standards surely also constitute an even more inappropriate example of partisan polemic in public discussion than the one she alleges in another.   


  • The David Hicks saga can only be analysed objectively using all the relevant law and facts applying

    Whether David Hicks is "innocent" or not, and of what, depends on much more than his much later US criminal conviction being eventually struck down technically, on filing date and retrospectivity grounds. His actual activities in Afghanistan in 2001 also involved the international law applying; particularly to his entirely lawful internment as a captured belligerent in a war. In terms of Australian law, this surely includes him escaping criminal prosecution here only through the 1945-2001 Burchett loophole in Australia's then treachery laws. A loophole rightly closed by reformed legislation in 2002 - as a direct result of the Hicks case - but which (rightly) could not be applied to him retrospectively.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 23 February 2015
    (published Tuesday, 03 March 2015)

    Several recent correspondents have objected to the Australia Defence Association highlighting that international humanitarian law is necessarily universal and that Australians, such as David Hicks, are not somehow immune.

    Moreover, Hicks’ own US military lawyer has acknowledged that the ADA’s objective analysis since 2002, and our public and private efforts calling for Hicks' release from internment (on his parole not to resume belligerence), helped resolve the complex legal limbo in which Hicks had placed himself.

    A downloadable article in the Summer 2006/07 edition of our national journal subsequently summarised the politico-strategic, legal and moral complexity applying.

    In short, as IHL has long required with prisoners-of-war in armed conflicts,* Hicks' entirely lawful internment — not “jailing without trial” — was solely due to him being a captured belligerent.

    Hicks’ much later, and completely separate, criminal trial and imprisonment — now overturned on retrospectivity grounds (as the ADA has long predicted) — was under US domestic law.

    The Burchett loophole in our 1945-2001 treachery laws prevented trial in Australia and ended up prolonging his internment, but resulted in 2002 reforms meaning Australians rightly now face prosecution for doing what Hicks then did.

    Matters concerning Hicks’ motivation, activities, weight of responsibility for consequences, and the relevance of guilt, innocence or repentance, can surely only be adequately discussed across this whole context.


    [* In its 2006 Hamdan ruling the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the longstanding international law that belligerents captured in a war, in this case the Afghanistan War, could be lawfully interned under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Just as importantly the Supreme Court also ruled that while they did not qualify for full prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention, because their methods of belligerence (terrorism) contravened LOAC and wider international humanitarian law, they were still protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions. Both rulings have been widely accepted internationally as definitive precedents in clarifying and bolstering customary international law concerning the internment of captured belligerents, even when the belligerents do not satisfy recognition as prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention.]



  • Accurate terminology is needed to counter extremism and maintain public confidence effectively

    ASIO has the difficult job of countering undemocratic and other extremism. Incorrect descriptions of ASIO's function, activities and staff - regardless of whether this stems from thoughtlessness, ignorance or bias - unnecessarily undermines public confidence and hinders the community co-operation needed to protect the constitutional and practical liberty of all Australians.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Friday, 13 February 2015
    (published Wednesday, 18 February 2015)

    Architectural aesthetic and construction mishap grounds surely mean the Ben Chifley Building, where ASIO is to be headquartered, should be appositely nicknamed the “Aquarium”, rather than "Lubyanka on the lake" ("Lubyanka on the lake looks as if it's about to be occupied", February 12, p5).

    This would also apply a more accurate-for-once Russian analogy for conspiracy theorists (with the nickname of GRU headquarters in Khodynka).

    But jokes, however ironic, comparing ASIO’s new headquarters to a “Lubyanka” exemplify a broader inability to debate national security issues intelligently.

    This is particularly puzzling when 2014 saw publication of the first volume of ASIO’s official history to wide acclaim.

    Whilst rightly not uncritical, Professor David Horner carefully explained the actual history involved, methodically deconstructed cherished myths among some, and explained the principles and practices involved with how a security-intelligence function is necessary to protect the constitutionalism of any functioning liberal democracy.

    ASIO headquarters can never be a “Lubyanka”, literally or even figuratively, because in our tried and tested Westminster-system model this function is vested in a research and advisory agency, not a police force of any description.

    ASIO intelligence officers (not “spies”) rightly cannot arrest or incarcerate anyone, and several layers of statutorily independent, ministerial and parliamentary oversight apply to their professional advice to government.

    Finally, copy-editors using “spy” for a shorter headline is perhaps explicable at times, but thoughtless media and wider reference to ASIO as a spy-agency — rather than a counter-spy and counter-terrorism one — generates public confusion, assists extremist and emotive scare-mongering, and hampers the citizenship co-operation with ASIO necessary to combat national security crime fairly and effectively.



  • International and Australian law applying to David Hicks

    Many discussions of David Hicks continue to ignore the international law actually applying. And subsequent Australian law applying to someone who did now what he did in 2001. In particular, Hicks was controversially subject to criminal trial and conviction under US law, chiefly because Australia's pre-2002 treachery laws then had a loophole meaning he could not be tried here. But this criminal trial is an entirely separate legal issue to his prior lawful detention as a captured belligerent - under that part of international humanitarian law known as the Laws of Armed Conflict. At least until his criminal trial and sentence, Hicks was not detained "illegally" or "without trial" for a single minute as incorrect, polemical or emotive slogans often claim.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Friday, 09 January 2015
    (published Monday, 12 January 2015)

    In explanation for Richard Ryan (Letters, January 9), if another Australian did now what David Hicks did in 2001 they could be convicted of an Australian crime under 2002 reforms to our treachery laws.

    Moreover, while Hicks’s US criminal conviction and sentence are rightly controversial, his prior and entirely separate detention as a belligerent captured in the Afghanistan War remains entirely legitimate under international humanitarian law (IHL).

    This is why there are PW camps under the Third Geneva Convention and why even belligerents not qualifying for full PW status, such as Hicks, are still protected by IHL.

    Finally, those who continue to deny or obfuscate Hicks’s belligerency, for at least the Taliban, simply ignore Hicks’s own claims to this effect before and after his capture.



  • Governance needs, not political expediency, should drive the selection of Defence Ministers

    The public interest is rarely served by the appointment of Defence Ministers in the twilight of their ministerial or parliamentary careers. Serial short-term appointments, generally the result of prioritising temporary political expediency over the needs of long-term portfolio governance, have occurred far too frequently and unthinkingly. This causes recurring problems with effective ministerial supervision of what is necessarily a particularly complex and long-term focused portfolio responsible for an essentially supra-partisan national function.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Saturday, 03 January 2015
    (published Tuesday, 06 January 2015)

    Your January 3 editorial (“Who will be calling the shots”) rightly emphasises the importance and complexity of national defence as a key, collective and indeed holistic responsibility under any government.

    But, while correctly lamenting the propensity for both sides of politics to misuse defence acquisition projects for electoral pork-barrelling, essential points about reinforcing ministerial governance were surely missed.

    Ensuring proper ministerial supervision of this particularly complex and long-term-focused portfolio should always win out over party-political or factional expediency.

    Not compromising the supra-partisan nature of national defence overall — and of a Westminster-system military in daily practice — also means not appointing ministers unable to quit the daily political fray or subdue their personal national leadership ambitions to the public interest, such as occurred with Peter Reith and Stephen Smith.

    There is also the problem of high ministerial turnover unduly delaying policy development, adequate and well-steered investment, and project implementation.

    And to simplistic claims that “Defence devours its ministers” whereas this instead primarily stems from being allocated ones near the end of their ministerial careers anyway.

    Where capable ministers still well on top of their parliamentary game are appointed many years of efficient portfolio service results, such as Labor’s Robert Ray (6 years) and the Coalition’s Robert Hill (5¼ years).

    Finally, giving the job to those uninterested in strategic security matters, or in meeting the intellectual and moral demands of the Defence portfolio, always ends badly whereas the alternative does not.

    This is especially the case where ministers such as Kim Beazley, Brendan Nelson and John Faulkner had previous served in the portfolio as junior ministers or parliamentary secretaries.

    This career-progression governance model — as it does in the UK — is another reason why Defence needs two full-time junior ministers to test and ready future senior ministers, and hopefully limit prime-ministerial tendencies to appoint the unprepared, uninterested or politically expedient to this nationally crucial portfolio.   

Letters: 2014

  • Man Haron Monis saga again highlights the need for further reform to our treachery laws

    While the Burchett-Hicks loophole is finally closed, our modernised treachery laws need to proscribe reckless as well as intentional acts of treachery. There is no danger to free speech or legitimate dissent, not least because treachery involves acts of betrayal that go well beyond the exercise of democratic rights - and indeed involves acts that undermine those rights.


    Letter to The Australian
    Tuesday, 23 December 2014
    (published Wednesday, 24 December 2014)

    Graham Hyde (Letters, 23/12) rightly condemns Man Haron Monis’s despicable letters to the grieving families of troops soldiers killed in action.

    But he is surely mistaken to couch Monis’s criminal prosecution as just a potential free-speech dilemma.

    When our government commits our defence forces to war, every Australian has a reciprocal citizenship obligation to not join, or otherwise assist, the enemy our troops are fighting on behalf of us all.

    Monis's letters, in both intent and effect, clearly went well beyond legitimate dissent from the national decision to resort to war.

    His intentional, or at least reckless, assistance to the enemy constituted treachery and should have been prosecuted as such.

    While the Burchett loophole in our treachery laws was finally closed (post Hicks) in 2002, they unfortunately still only outlaw intentional acts.

    Further reform is now needed to proscribe reckless acts of treachery, not least to remind all Australians that their right to free speech is not so absolute it can over-ride all our mutual citizenship obligations.

    Especially where so many factually or conceptually-flawed contributions to public debate recklessly cross over into undermining the community resolve, and national unity, we again need to face down extremist threats to our liberty domestically and internationally.

  • Criticism of CIA abuses is being incorrectly and unthinkingly extended to other US agencies

    Debate on CIA abuses 2001-06 has become so polarised ideologically that key facts and legal principles are being ignored. In particular, other US agencies which did not torture prisoners, and which spoke out against such abuses, are being wrongly accused of torturing. The role of the US Supreme Court in restoring the rule-of-law is also being wrongly ignored.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Friday, 19 December 2014
    (published Tuesday, 23 December 2014)

    Objective readers must surely be puzzled how the words of my December 15 letter — such as “CIA’s undoubted breaches of international humanitarian law”, and “there is no doubt CIA torture seriously contravened IHL, and the ethical standards expected of any liberal-democracy” — could somehow be misconstrued by Geoff Barker (Letters, December 18) as “an attempt to justify the atrocities of the CIA”.

    Geoff also ignores my two key points about needing to differentiate between the detention and interrogation records of different US agencies, and the ground-breaking effect of US Supreme Court rulings extending some Geneva Convention protections to those captured belligerents who do not qualify as prisoners-of-war (such as David Hicks).

    None of these points excuse the CIA for anything.

    Indeed they further highlight the culpability of the CIA and those meant to supervise them, and the restoration of the rule-of-law.

    Finally, like many, Geoff also seems to misunderstand key facts and applicable international law.

    • The US military, and the FBI, have not allowed abusive CIA interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre — operated by the former under the Geneva Conventions and regularly inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross as the authorised inspecting power.
    • CIA torture occurred elsewhere at overseas “black sites” and, according to the US Senate Report, ceased in 2006.
    • While always inexcusable, IHL breaches by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been prevalent proportional to the numbers deployed or in comparison to most countries in the international coalition.
    • Abuses at Abu Ghraib were by a few ill-disciplined guards for a short time, not interrogators, and were reported and punished.
    • Hicks' detention and his later, separate and questionable, criminal trial are entirely discrete issues legally and ethically.
    • Hicks was never tortured by the CIA or, it seems, anyone else.


     [The "Geoff Barker" mentioned above is not Geoffrey Barker, the distinguished and longtime former defence correspondent for The Australian Financial Review]

  • Criticism of CIA abuses should not necessarily be extended to the US overall or indeed the US military

    While CIA abuses are undoubted, the US military has a generally good IHL compliance record. Moreover, both US Supreme Court rulings over the last decade, and the recent Senate Committee Report into CIA abuses, demonstrate that the eventual self-correcting mechanisms of a liberal-democracy continue to advance international humanitarian law.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Thursday, 11 December 2014
    (published Monday, 15 December 2014)

    Rex Williams (Letters, December 11) reverses both the law and key facts in so broadly condemning the US for the CIA’s undoubted breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL).

    While there is no doubt that CIA torture seriously contravened IHL, and the ethical standards expected of any liberal-democracy, the US military actually has a very good IHL compliance record in its detention of both prisoners-of-war (PW) and of captured terrorists not qualifying for PW status under the Third Geneva Convention.

    It was also the notable international precedent established by a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling (in the Hamdan case) that has effectively modernised and extended a key aspect of IHL by noting that such captured terrorists are still protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions.

    Moreover, contrary to Rex’s claim, David Hicks’ undoubtedly lawful detention as a belligerent captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan — and Mamdouh Habib’s necessary release from US custody after being originally arrested in Pakistan (ie. not captured as a belligerent) — were both assured by the US’s overall commitment to IHL, not the opposite.

    Finally, Islamist terrorists continue to abuse, torture and murder captives in flagrant violation of IHL without even a skerrick of criticism from those prone to condemning the US for everything.

    IHL is universal and criticism of IHL breaches should be too.


  • Fixing the structural inequities wrongly governing defence force pay and conditions of service

    Reversing the abolition of several longstanding conditions of service is welcome but wider reforms are needed to stop such arbitrary mistakes re-occurring. And to stop the ADF as a necessarily apolitical institution being misused, or perceived to be misused, for partisan purposes.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Monday, 01 December 2014
    (published Wednesday, 03 December 2014)

    The decision to reverse reductions to defence force allowances and leave entitlements is welcome but several structural inequities remain unresolved.

    Our defence force is, and needs to be, a thoroughly apolitical institution.

    All governments have a reciprocal obligation to avoid politicising the ADF in any way — or even being perceived to do so.

    Moreover, the ADF is now the only major part of the national workforce that is still wholly subject to centralised wage-fixing but not permitted, by law, to negotiate outcomes or take other industrial action collectively.

    Using the ADF wage case as a bargaining strategy in negotiations with public sector unions may have seemed clever politics to some at the time, but this ignores longstanding imperatives against politicising the ADF and picking on those forbidden to defend the rights all other Australians enjoy.

    Finally, no matter whether the remaining below-inflation wage deal is unfair or fiscally necessary or not, four fundamental problems remain.

    First, no No Chief of the Defence Force can properly represent both the employer and those employed.

    Nor is it either ethical or good leadership in such a two-way-loyalty-based force, subject to statutory discipline, to put them in this situation.

    Second, Also the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal needs to be resourced and made independent enough to reject or amend inadequate or otherwise unfair government pay offers.

    Third, members of our defence force should not be continually expected to subsidise under-investment by the whole national community in overall defence capabilities, particularly by sacrificing the income their families depend on.

    Fourth, we We need to revise the flawed methods of identifying and reaping so-called “productivity savings” in a defence force, especially where this results in proven compensatory entitlements being abolished arbitrarily.

    For example, punishing the busiest and most productive parts of the ADF by axing their extra leave — in lieu of overtime for very long hours worked daily — was particularly inept as this is actually a very low-cost productivity-enhancement measure that instead saves the taxpayer money.

    Even any notional “costs” reaped would have been cancelled out by the resultant decreases in equity, morale and eventually personnel retention because recruiting and training their replacements would cost much more.


  • Determining ADF pay fairly means independent representation and a truly independent tribunal

    If ADF personnel want to stop further unfair pay determinations they need to join the Defence Force Welfare Association and help the DFWA to represent them independently at the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. The DFRT also needs to be made truly independent.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Thursday, 06 November 2014
    (published Tuesday, 11 November 2014)

    John Passant (Letters, November 6) suggests ADF personnel unionise themselves. If only it was so easy.

    The last time our defence force was truly unionised was The English army was unionised in 1647 after parliament refused to pay its soldiers for winning the first civil war for them. It did not end well all around.

    Since then various Mutiny Acts, and in Australia’s case the 1903 Defence Act, proscribe union-style, but not necessarily other, collective representation in our defence force.

    After the Fraser government’s nationwide pay freeze was unfairly extended to only the ADF by the Hawke government for a further two years, the Armed Forces Federation of Australia (ArFFA) was created in 1984 as a “non-strike” professional representative association modelled on the former state police associations that predated modern police unionism.

    While ArFFA’s membership crossed all ranks most came from the “coal-face” leadership of sergeant to lieutenant colonel equivalents.

    However, the federation collapsed in December 2006, despite 22 years of independently and effectively representing the ADF in pay negotiations, when its membership declined through complacency.

    Moreover, while ArFFA’s first president was a brigadier, its last was a flight sergeant, and ArFFA’s demise also represented collective and individual leadership failures by the ADF’s officer corps.

    When fielding numerous (misdirected) emails and calls over the last few weeks bewailing the unfairness of the latest ADF pay case, the ADA has asked each interlocutor whether they were once ArFFA members, or now regretted not having supported the federation when they had the chance. Many sheepish admissions have resulted.

    If you are a serving or former ADF member learn two lessons.

    First, get off your backside and join the (non-union) Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA).

    Second, if the ADF is to be the last significant part of the Australian workforce subject to centralised wage fixing — and there is no real alternative — parliament must make the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal truly independent and fair rather than perpetuate the 1647 situation.


  • Insufficient increase in ADF pay is result of flawed wage determination system for a defence force

    Determining ADF pay using commercial or public service productivity measures is as silly as it is unfair. How productive our defence force is, or needs to be, may be difficult to work out at times, but it certainly cannot be measured by inappropriately applying most commercial and public service administrative standards.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Thursday, 16 October 2014
    (published Monday, 20 October 2014)

    Rather than relying on sentiment about “shedding blood” as your October 16 editorial alleged ("ADF coffers full, but lower ranks lose"), organisational and community criticism of the well-below inflation pay rise offered to the ADF has instead overwhelmingly focused on the structural faults and inequities of the wage determination process involved.

    And of the fundamental unsuitability of trying to apply commercial and APS administrative productivity measures to the training, readiness, warfighting and deterrent activities of a defence force.

    Especially one that governments of both political persuasions have committed to four conflicts and numerous other operations since 1999.

    Furthermore, while the editorial rightly noted that “Defence had become more complex and top-heavy”, it then wrongly conflated departmental and ADF roles, costs and staffing figures.

    Compounded by blindly citing Commission of Audit figures wrongly base-lined as at 2000, rather than 1998, after the 1997 Defence Efficiency Review resulted in a 30 per cent cut to colonel-equivalents and above.

    Comparisons made even worse by not noting It was noted that the DER’s commensurate recommendation to cut Defence’s senior civilian staff (EL2 up) by the same percentage has never occurred

    Also not acknowledged is that most of the one and two-star ADF increases since 2000 are temporary liaison and co-ordination positions stemming from participation in coalition wars since 2001, are winding back with the various commitments and will never be permanent.

    Whereas the much larger real and proportional increases in senior public service positions, including the quadrupling of deputy and associate secretary-equivalents from 4 to 16 have been, with one possible exception, permanent.

    An accurate comparison is that the increase in three-star ADF jobs from four to seven includes one temporary position (Operation Sovereign Borders) and the successive splitting of the VCDF’s roles into three jobs resulting from independent reviews of the unsustainable workload of that position.

    Finally, the editorial was misleading. It ignored the sustained and savage cuts to largely Defence alone over 2009-13, and wrongly compared the department's 2014 catch-up allocation to cuts in other departments that have largely occurred this year only.



  • Correct terminology is vital when discussing defence and domestic security issues

    Islamist terrorism, for example, must be countered intellectually and correct terminology is part of this effort. Correct terminology prevents confusion by disproving Islamist propaganda that counter-terrorism measures applying to all Australians - and aimed only at the terrorist minority and their sympathisers - are somehow directed instead against only or all Muslims. Using correct terminology also helps counter false claims of legitimacy for any extremist cause generally.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Friday, 10 October 2014
    (published Tuesday, 14 October 2014) 

    The pervasive incorrect nomenclature highlighted by messrs Callaghan and Lee (letters, 8/9 October) is indicative of a much wider problem hampering informed public debate.

    When the ADA recently raised the jarring inaccuracy of “fighter jets” with relevant ABC staff we were told the public understood this term and would not understand “jet-fighters” or “strike aircraft”.

    My observation that, given its Charter, surely the ABC should instead help educate the public in this regard was met with indifference.

    Part of the problem is sloppy (or biased) media use of “fighters” and “militants” to describe militiamen/troops and terrorists respectively.

    The basis of the problem is that most reporting of defence, security and intelligence matters is now by generalist journalists and columnists, rather than by specialists — as usually occurs with business, science, economics, etc, topics.

    Together with the incessant demands of the 24-hour media cycle, incorrect fads easily become prevailing terminology.

    A prevalent example where this is actually dangerous, as well as dumb, is where ASIO is wrongly described as a “spy” agency.

    This particular habitual and thoughtless usage causes unnecessary unease, and often worse, about the security-intelligence function necessary in any liberal democracy and the public co-operation with ASIO needed to protect the community generally.   



  • Islamic community leaders must stop denying the basis for Islamist terrorism and stop blaming the victim

    Blaming the victim - the Australian community generally - by scattergun allegations of supposed "Islamophobia" is surely the last refuge of scoundrels. Leaders of Australia's Islamic community, and many Australian Muslims generally, need to stop blaming their fellow Australians under actual attack from Islamist terrorism. They need to focus instead on the denial and equivocation prevalent among so many Muslims as to why Islamist terrorism is occurring and the basis the Islamists claim for their terrorism in Islamic theology (no matter how incorrect or bigoted such interpretations are).


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 25 August 2014
    (published Wednesday, 27 August 2014) 

    Several claims made in the article “Muslims feel pain of association with horrors abroad”, August 23, p.4, seem to reverse objective reality. 

    Since the early 2000s, for example, no respected Islamic theologian has ever queried the Australia Defence Association's use of “Islamist” to preserve the necessary distinction between mainstream Islamic practice, and propaganda or worse by Islamist terrorists and their apologists. 

    To the contrary, our consistent usage of “Islamist” has invariably been well received by mainstream and informed Australian Muslims. 

    As has our longstanding criticism of those who sloppily refer to Islamic or jihadi terrorism, or those referring to the terrorist organisation “Islamic State” without using the prefixes “so-called” or “self-described”. 

    (Jihadi should not be used to describe terrorism undertaken because of religious bigotry rather than theologically sound beliefs about purely spiritual renewal). 

    But it did take a very long time for many Islamic community leaders, and indeed the community as a whole, to always condemn terrorism carried out by professed Muslims supposedly in Islam’s name. 

    Moreover, recent mutations of such denial continue to smack of blaming the victim — and even then only for their alleged words — rather than the terrorist perpetrators for their actions. 

    Over the last decade and a half over 100 Australians of several religions have been murdered by Islamist terrorists. 

    Yet not a single Australian Muslim has been murdered by religious or other bigotry except when killed by Islamists. 

    The resilience and tolerance of the Australian community is to be admired, not misrepresented. 

    Indeed, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, scattergun allegations of Islamophobia seem to have become the last refuge of scoundrels.


  • Defence investment should not and does not divert funding from other high-priority national needs

    Informed public debate on defence issues is again being side-tracked by polemics based only on ideology and emotion. Once again, extreme Left-wing micro-groups, such as the so-called "Medical Association for Prevention of War", refuse to debate the actual issues, conceptual frameworks or arguments raised, and resort instead to just red-herring and straw-man arguments.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Thursday, 08 May 2014
    (published Monday, 10 May 2014) 

    By ignoring that Paul Ronald’s claim that F-35 funding supposedly outweighs foreign aid is actually the exact opposite of the annual budgeting really involved, Sue Wareham (Letters, May 8) seems to prove my point about ideological myopia’s ability to mar informed public debate.

    Moreover, using Sue’s odd reasoning, any budget funds spent on higher priorities than foreign aid — such as the 60 per cent share expended in social security, health and education or the six per cent on defence — wrongly detract from such aid.

    Finally, when trying to answer my point about synergies between Australia’s military and development aid efforts in helping establish the overall conditions necessary for socio-economic progress, Sue may have been confused by the Canberra Times unfortunately editing out the full list of: “South Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Somalia, Cambodia, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga and Afghanistan, and in a long-term context, even less successful attempts to help in South Vietnam and perhaps Iraq.”

    And despite their many continuing problems, and mistakes undoubtedly made during the UN-endorsed multinational military efforts to help them, even in Iraq and Afghanistan independent opinion-polling regularly confirms that, on balance, substantial majorities remain thankful for such assistance.


  • Defence investment is also foreign aid

    A foreign aid charity has absurdly reversed the annual comparative costs of foreign aid and the F-35 fighter. Such apples and oranges polemics do not contribute to informed public debate. Moreover, there is no contradiction or zero-sum game anyway between national investment in both defence capabilities and development assistance to other countries. Both contribute to Australia's strategic security, regional strategic stability and the implementation of our moral ideals and practical help.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 05 May 2014
    (published Wednesday, 07 May 2014) 

    Paul Ronalds (“Boost aid not defence - and we all reap the rewards”, Times2, May 5, p4) offers an invalid and unnecessary apples and oranges polemic in trying to compare the 30-year lifecycle investment for the F-35 fighter with our annual foreign aid allocation.

    The annual cost of the fighters over three decades will be under $1 billion (in today’s dollars), not the supposed five times the yearly aid budget Paul wrongly claims.

    Indeed our annual aid budget of $5 billion or so is instead five times the yearly cost of the fighters’ long-term contribution to Australian and regional strategic security.

    Moreover, military assistance to help liberate or protect vulnerable peoples and societies remains one of Australia’s most noble and practical foreign aid contributions over the long term anyway.

    And as Anzac Day again reminds us, such help cannot and should not be measured in just monetary, bureaucratic or other short-timescale terms.

    Just ask, for example, people from South Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Somalia, Cambodia, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga and Afghanistan.

    And in a long-term context, even about less successful attempts to help in South Vietnam and perhaps Iraq.

    Our defence budget also covers Australia’s proud record of international aid through military contributions to multinational peacekeeping globally and to regional disaster relief specifically.

    Informed debate recognises preserving long-term strategic security at home and regionally, and offering development aid to other countries, are the opposite of mutually exclusive responsibilities or ideals.

    Informed debate also uses facts and objective contexts, not emotion or ideology.


  • Cognitive dissonance or worse?

    Only cognitive dissonance, ignorance or polemics can explain invalid claims that defence investment somehow threatens people's pensions, healthcare or education. The accompanying false assumption that necessarily long-term focused defence investment can or should be substantially turned on and off, year by year, depending on the temporary economic circumstances (and subjective short-term wants) of individual voters, is just as dangerous. Both inter-generational equity (financially and with strategic security) and ADF operational efficiency are instead maximised by sustaining defence investment each year, even at a lower level over the long term, to insure Australia properly against general strategic security risk over the next half-century.


    Letter to The Age
    Wednesday, 30 April 2014
    (not published) 

    The cognitive dissonance encapsulated in Petty’s cartoon about the F-35 fighter project (April 28) unfortunately exemplifies a widespread and serious public policy development problem.

    Defence, a wholly federal responsibility, comprises just over six per cent of the Commonwealth budget and has already been savagely and continually slashed over recent years. Hence its quarantining from further cuts.

    But health, education and social security spending comprises over 60 per cent of the federal budget and has kept growing, well ahead of the inflation rate, for generations.

    Moreover, overall spending nationally in these three areas is further boosted significantly by the states and territories

    Another perspective is that, using 2014 dollars, long-term investment in purchasing and operating our updated fighter force will amortise out at around one billion a year over their 3-4 decade lifecycle.

    Whereas national spending on social security alone will be at least one billion dollars every week of every year over the same period.

    Finally, while no-one’s healthcare, pension or education is affected by the necessary maintenance of national defence infrastructure – except in the sense that it helps preserve them – adequate strategic security for our children and grandchildren is being risked, and inter-generational equity comprised, by the obvious budgetary imbalances being caused by ever-increasing spending elsewhere.

    Particularly by us not investing our fair share, now, in Australia’s defence infrastructure for the next half-century.


  • Moaning about the likely personal effect of this year's budget whilst not hesitating to inflict inter-generational inequity on our descendants

    The odd view that defence investment can or should be substantially turned on and off, year by year, depending on the temporary economic circumstances (and subjective wants) of individual voters, is skewing objective consideration and debate concerning current budgetary priorities. Surely it is better for the nation as a whole to instead maximise both inter-generational equity (financially and with strategic risk) and ADF operational efficiency. Especially by sustaining such investment each year, even at a lower level over the long term, to insure Australia properly against general strategic security risk over the next half-century.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 28 April 2014
    (not published) 

    Our national defence capabilities help insure us all against general strategic risks over the next half-century. Not just for this budget cycle or the next few.

    Concern about the impending budget, however, tends to ignore that adequate and sustained investment in our defence is not somehow discretionary.

    As it isn’t discretionary for sustaining other national infrastructure essential to our whole way of life.

    Moreover, updating ADF kit as it wears out also helps deter strategic risks as well as handle them directly.

    And for those with memory failure of our strategic history so soon after Anzac Day, ensuring the ADF has modern kit helps minimise danger to the men and women who have to use it the next time we deploy them to buy time while the rest of us get organised again from “peacetime”.

    Yet Debbie Cameron, Letters April 28, oddly cites even “our ABC” as somehow a higher national priority than adequate defence investment.

    While John Davenport, same day, appeals to the ballot box on behalf of the vulnerability of older Australians, but ironically misses the far greater inter-generational inequity and overall community vulnerability his viewpoint risks.

    The main reason defence investment, alone, has already been so savagely and selfishly cut in recent years is because those Australians most risked by it over the next four or so decades — our children and grandchildren — don’t get to vote now to stop our short-sighted “me-centric” complacency.

    And particularly to make us contribute our fair share now of the sustained investment needed, not inflict even greater costs on them.




  • Flawed debate on joint strike fighter

    Given government warnings of a tough budget, the timing of the decision to purchase more JSFs has sparked much uninformed criticism. Especially from those who ignore that defence investment is essential, not discretionary, and is anyway dwarfed by the eight-fold higher national spending on social security, health and education. Critics are also ignoring that defence is the only major area of government spending that is wholly funded federally, making such huge differences in national funding even starker.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Friday, 25 April 2014 (Anzac Day)
    (published Tuesday, 29 April 2014)

    Despite historical lessons that Anzac Day of all days emphasises about inadequate air combat capabilities, many still apparently misunderstand the plan to update Australia’s future capacity.

    While the Australia Defence Association has long noted concerns about the F-35 joint strike fighter, the way it has been developed and the cost, it is now — however unfortunately — the only available option strategically, tactically, technologically and commercially.

    That Australia and our allies should not let this situation happen ever again is irrelevant to managing the risks and costs now involved.

    As is the invalid assumption that maintaining adequate defence capabilities for the long-term is somehow a discretionary choice.

    Either generally or when fiscal conditions are temporarily tough.

    Such capabilities instead remain essential national infrastructure to insure against general strategic risk well into our future.

    Even more mistaken, intellectually and practically, is the flawed assumption that such long-term de-risking can and should instead be based only on supposed specific “threats”, or their absence, as some perceive them now.

    And the even sillier notion that a large island-continent country in a strategically uncertain, and perhaps volatile, region over the next half-century can somehow forego having an effective air force.     

    There is also a failure to acknowledge that our strategic environment geographically, demographically and economically means we have to continue cancelling out such enduring disadvantages partly by maintaining capability edges regionally.  

    Clearly, no-one’s pension, health care or education is affected by the JSF decision. Except, of course, that it will help preserve continued provision of them.

    The costs of the JSF have already been factored into long-term investment programming, will be amortised over three or so decades anyway, and the aircraft’s lifecycle is likely to be three decades or more.

    Just as the F111 served for 42 years and the outgoing FA-18 will last around 40 years.

    Finally, more F-18F Super-Hornets are not a viable alternative over the long-run operationally, technologically or financially.


  • Our Army must be equipped for modern warfare against other armies, not just guerillas

    The notion that our Army somehow does not need modern equipment is being dishonestly and immorally regurgitated by those who ignore recent and other operational lessons. It particularly avoids objective analysis of the ADF's hard-won recent experiences in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also ignores commensurate objective analysis of Australia's future strategic risks and responsibilities over a largely unpredictable future. It is also worth noting that the principal proponents of the light-scales army notion are retired Department of Defence officials whose flawed theorising and policymaking throughout the 1980s and 1990s resulted in the ADF eventually having to deploy to East Timor so unprepared in 1999.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Thursday, 06 March 2014
    (published Monday, 10 March 2014)

    The AFR defence supplement brought yet another fact and context-free ahistoric rant from Geoff Barker.

    In reference to the article in the defence supplement by Geoffrey Barker ("Army leaders crusade for $10bn-plus vehicle upgrade", AFR March 6). 

    Our Army’s two armoured fighting vehicles that carry and protect troops were introduced in the mid 1960s (M113) and early 1990s (ASLAV).

    The project to replace the M113 was cancelled in 1987.

    – and via the very long-retired Defence bureaucrats Geoff credulously lauds.

    Even with an eventual compromise upgrade to only half of them, none could be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years because they are no longer capable of modern battle, especially against a real opposing army.

    Yet Geoff oddly demands to know just what specific enemy the Army would have to fight in the future before he can entertain replacing such obsolete vehicles.

    His straw-man is also disproved by applying it, just as wrongly, to naval and air capability requirements.

    Moreover, in Iraq and Afghanistan we lost many of our ASLAVs, and (newer) Bushmaster armoured trucks, even when fighting a low-intensity war against guerrillas.

    Australia faces an unpredictable long-term future strategically.

    Not re-equipping our diggers with medium-scale modern weapons, so they could fight another army if needed, is stupid, callous and immoral.

    We do not need the straw-man heavy armoured force that Geoff incorrectly ascribes to ADF planners, but neither can we go back to the failed light-scales “field gendarmerie” model — of Geoff’s “advisers” —  that made East Timor such a close-run thing and risked lives unnecessarily.

    Geoff is merely regurgitating the type of armchair prejudices that claimed, throughout the 1930s, that the Japanese were somehow incapable of operating modern equipment.

    And which resulted in so many of our under-equipped diggers being killed because they had no armoured vehicles at all when the Japanese ably employed hundreds of them in conquering Malaya.


  • Cuts to US defence spending puts greater onus on allies

    Projected cuts to US defence spending puts an even greater onus on allied burdensharing. As we are in a healthier economic and fiscal position than the US, we should help pick up the strategic security slack.


    Letter to The Age
    Wednesday, 26 February 2014
    (not published)

    Your February 26 editorial rightly noted the impact of projected US defence cuts on the responsibility of other countries to help maintain global strategic stability and the influence of the rule-of-law in international relations.

    Moreover, the time to help mates is when they most need it. Especially when your economic and fiscal situations are healthier.

    This was particularly ignored by the previous defence minister, Stephen Smith, who oddly cited US and European cuts as somehow an excuse to slash Australia’s defence investment to pre-WWII levels.

    A policy adopted solely for political expedience, contrary to the national interest, during bitter leadership rivalry within the ALP.

    And one duly opposed by his respected predecessor as Labor defence minister, John Faulkner, as indeed it was and is by MPs of all parties who understand strategic security issues.

    Since 1788 our enduring geo-strategic reality is that a middling-power island-continent country totally dependent on uninhibited seaborne trade will always need to seek strategic security alliances with fellow maritime powers.

    Particularly where there is a shared commitment to global stability and opposition to authoritarian regimes who do not respect the rule-of-law domestically or internationally.


  • "Anzac's long shadow" by James Brown

    James Brown's new book has provoked knee-jerk reactions. It should be provoking considered thought. Every Australian shares a universal civic responsibility to concern themselves seriously with strategic security and defence issues. Instead, many only think about defence issues on Anzac Day and then only in an historical sense, and even then mostly via ahistoric misunderstandings and mythology.


    Letter to The Australian
    Friday, 14 February 2014
    (not published)

    Controversy thus far over the thrust of James Brown’s book, “Anzac’s Long Shadow”, has unfortunately been simplistic or sensationalised.

    No-one is objecting to perpetual due commemoration of the substantial wartime sacrifices made to preserve our national sovereignty.

    Nor to due acknowledgment of the 100th anniversary of “the landing” at Anzac Cove.

    But, as James’ subtitle aptly notes, there have been great and enduring costs to our national obsession with the Anzacs.

    Not least that the degree of attention given to “Anzac” is now surely diverting due national care for the long-term plight of ill and disabled war veterans of all ages.

    Moreover, ahistoric cultural mythology about, say, “unnecessary", "avoidable" or "foreign" wars, or all Aussies somehow being “natural super-soldiers”, detrimentally affects how we really need to think about Australia’s actual and enduring geo-strategic situation.

    Especially as — just as it did in 1914 — we still inhabit an island-continent where our whole-way-of-life and sovereign freedom of action is totally dependent on uninhibited seaborne trade via a rules-based international system that works globally.

    And where inter-generational equity also means we should not continue risking the strategic security of future Australians, and dumping additional costs on them, by not providing our share now of the sustained investment in defence capabilities needed as essential (not discretionary) national infrastructure.

    We need to think carefully about our strategic security every day. Not just in only historical terms and only on the famed “one day of the year”.

    Particularly where that focus is actually often ahistoric. Especially about the true, and largely enduring, strategic context of our past wars.



  • Chinese naval exercises south of Indonesia

    Recent Chinese naval exercises south of Indonesia need to be kept in perspective. It is peacetime, the exercise was in international waters, the number and type of ships involved indicated a limited capacity to operate in the area, and Australia was easily able to monitor such an exercise anyway. Such activities, at worst, demonstrate some potential, and increased, strategic risk over the long term, but one that can be deterred or countered if necessary. They do not constitute a specific "threat" to Australia's stategic security now.


    Letter to The Australian
    Thursday, 13 February 2014
    (not published)

    Robert Bond’s “desperately needed” response to Chinese naval exercises south of Indonesia (letters, 12/2) ignores existing ADF bases and dispositions — and the oceanographic constraints of northern Australia coasts and waters.

    Even assuming we need to respond so strongly to such limited, and peacetime, exercises in international waters as supposedly “unannounced intrusions”.

    Robert misses that the RAAF already has the bases at Weipa and Exmouth he oddly calls for. And one more suitably located near Derby, rather than his Broome.

    Even ignoring the necessary civil engineering and logistic infrastructure, there are also no suitable deep-water harbours between Perth and Darwin (and then Sydney) in which to locate a major fleet base.

    And few spots for even limited naval facilities capable of supporting more than peacetime patrolling.

    There are certainly no harbours with the necessary immediate access to oceanic deep water for his suggested “nuclear-powered attack submarines” (or indeed other types).

    Moreover, the very shallow Gulf of Carpentaria south of a line Gove-Weipa, for example, is quite unsuitable for any type of submarine operations, especially in daylight.

    Most importantly, Robert misses the strategic and operational distinctions between basing, dispositions, mobility and the ADF’s capacity to monitor, operate in and defend any area without needing to live there 24/7.

    Finally, glancing at a map (or weapons marketing brochures) surely provides no sound basis to study Australia’s unusual strategic security challenges.


  • Vale Bill Pritchett

    As well as a noted former diplomat and respected Secretary of the Department of Defence (1979-84), Bill has been much valued member of the ADA for many years.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Friday, 07 February 2014
    (not published)

    Further to Bob Furlonger’s comprehensive obituary of Bill Pritchett (February 7).

    Bill was that perhaps rare diplomat (or bureaucrat) who, to his bootstraps, thoroughly understood that strategic security entailed more than diplomacy or international relations theory.

    Including the importance of demonstrating enduring national will by integrated moral, diplomatic and military means.

    Throughout 1975, as the relevant first-assistant secretary in the Department of Defence, Bill — almost alone among senior officials — argued logically against Australia acquiescing to Indonesia’s forcible incorporation of East Timor.

    And against the prevalent appeasement mythology in diplomatic and (prime) ministerial circles underlying the push for it.

    He accurately foresaw that such an Indonesian conquest would greatly worsen Australia-Indonesia relations for a generation or more and that it would eventually need reversing anyway.

    Acknowledging the high risk that this would probably require Australian-led military action of some sort, he further advised that the sooner this occurred the better for both countries over the long run.

    As Defence’s Secretary for 4½  years from 1979, Bill also did much to ameliorate the poisonous departmental culture in Public Service – military relations propagated during his predecessor’s reign of terror.

    On a personal note, for over a decade the ADA has greatly valued Bill’s counsel as the doyen of the retired Secretaries among our membership.

    When he rang to renew this year’s subscription Bill remarked that the August expiry date of his credit card would probably outlast him. Sadly, at 93, it has.


  • Defence investment: No further room to cut, let alone slash

    The Grattan Institute needs to do its homework. Suggesting defence investment could somehow be slashed by 12 per cent is economically invalid and strategically irresponsible. Not least because our defence capabilities are the only major area of government to already have been slashed.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Thursday, 16 January 2014
    (not published)

    Cassie McGannon (“the $40bn question: where will the money come from", January 16) exemplifies the flawed assumptions and conclusions that bedevil supposed analysis of Australia’s structural budget deficit by Left and Right-wing pseudo-“thinktanks”.

    Defence investment has already been cut by more than her suggested 12 per cent over recent years.

    Even more importantly, defence is the only major area of national expenditure to already be substantially slashed.

    Moreover, unlike social security, health and education, defence is the only major government responsibility where total national funding is purely federal so the effect of Commonwealth cuts is absolute.

    Cutting defence by even a further few per cent is not possible without inflicting serious damage now and much greater economic costs and strategic risk for future Australians in repairing the damage over the long term.

    Defence capabilities are essential national infrastructure underlying Australia’s future prosperity and strategic freedom of action in all aspects.

    Not somehow a magic pudding for plunder when ideological biases and political expediency make cutting discretionary spending on middle-class and corporate welfare too hard to even contemplate, let alone pursue.


  • ASIO: Documentary and commentary lacks balance

    The documentary selectively showing ASIO surveillance footage from the 1960s and 1970s has excited much commentary. Much of this, however, has ignored the film's historiographical flaws, flawed assumptions and unbalanced analysis.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 06 January 2014
    (published Wednesday, 08 January 2014)

    Even excluding apparent ideological biases, Rick Fenely (“ASIO’s all-seeing eye”, January 4) and several subsequent letters have fallen into common historiographical traps.

    Depicting all security-intelligence monitoring of foreign spies and domestic political extremists as somehow unwarranted ignores the context of the times — and current reality.

    And the enduring constitutional legitimacy of liberal-democracies monitoring domestic extremism, especially where it includes co-operation with foreign dictatorships posing strategic security threats.

    Such depictions also suffer from the “condescension of posterity” by ignoring that only now can we confirm that the then monitoring of some individuals may have been unnecessary — as the unavoidable but passing byproduct of monitoring inter-actions with foreign diplomatic missions actively running major espionage and subversion operations in Australia.

    Another flaw is “presentism”, the projecting of current values and beliefs into the past when trying to explore motivations and contexts that bear little or no correlation with them.

    It seems the documentary on ASIO and much commentary have concentrated on only a few celebrities rather than the range of people, extremist activities and foreign contacts involved.

    Moreover, most security-intelligence “files” actually act to clear people through prophylactic recording, or legitimate checking, of potential vulnerabilities or false allegations.

    Finally, there are the purported trends in ASIO funding and staffing that dishonestly quote figures from only 2001 onwards.

    These ignore the substantial base-line cuts to both throughout the 1990s as a supposed post-Cold War “peace dividend” was mistakenly extracted — as post-Bali experience now proves.

    Such biases are exemplified by the fashionable but surely invalid belief that an active engagement with far-Left and often violent ideologies at some stage in your life can be airily dismissed as having no personal consequences or intellectual meaning, then or now.

    But even “youthful” involvement with far-Right ones should somehow still earn perpetual condemnation and retain meaning.

    Despite the far-Left’s much wider incidence of extremist political violence, intimidation and subversive or worse co-operation with hostile foreign dictatorships throughout the 1925-1991 period.


Letters: 2013

  • Submarines: Program requires more than thought bubbles

    Craig Emerson's call for manufacturing more submarines in place of Holdens has not been thought through. More broadly, it reflects the type of shallow, short-term and politically expedient thinking on strategic security issues by our political class and commentariat that has bedevilled adequate national defence planning over recent decades.


    Letter to The Australian
    Sunday, 29 December 2013
    (not published)

    On the up side it is good to see Craig Emerson (“Deep thinker says subs are the solution”, December 28/29) finally think a bit about a defence issue — even if only ostensibly in his desire to replace manufacturing Holdens with building submarines.

    Particularly as Craig was a senior Cabinet minister when defence investment was savagely slashed — contrary to the long-term national interest — solely for short-term personal and factional advantage during internecine rivalry in the governing party.

    On the down side, Craig’s claims are completely nonsensical.

    Tails should never wag dogs in both economic and strategic security terms.

    Moreover, while an island-continent totally dependent on seaborne trade needs some submarines, no credible strategic security expert advocates relying on them alone or indeed even predominantly.

    Nor is it possible to create and sustain a fleet of 24-36 subs, even if most of the other defence capabilities Australia needs for the next half-century could somehow be sacrificed to achieve it.

    And not in the manufacturing rescue timeframe Craig envisages anyway.

    Finally, even if Australia needed and was able to build and sustain so many submarines, the long construction timescales involved mean that most of these boats — the generation-after-next ones built from the mid 2030s onwards — will inevitably need to be nuclear-powered for financial, technical, strategic and operational reasons

    Have Craig and either his fellow rent-seekers or nuclear-phobes considered that?


  • Defence investment: Further calls for cuts ignore the facts

    While 65 per cent of the federal budget is allocated to social security, health, education and defence (in that order), defence is only 8 of the 65 per cent, is the only one wholly funded federally, and the only one already subjected to deep cuts. Discretionary spending should be cut instead.


    Letter to The Sunday Canberra Times
    Sunday, 22 December 2013
    (published Sunday, 29 December 2013)

    In targeting the 65 per cent of the federal budget allocated to “welfare, health, education and defence” for cuts, Paul Malone (“pledging beyond means haunts PM”, December 22) ignores five salient points.

    Defence investment is less than 8 per cent of the federal budget and under one-eighth of the 65 per cent.

    Only defence is wholly funded federally. Total national spending in the other three areas is even greater than Paul’s figures.

    Defence alone has already been savagely cut over recent years.

    Defence capabilities are long-term and non-discretionary national infrastructure requiring sustained investment, rather than fluctuating attention driven by short-term political expediency.

    Moreover, knee-jerk defence cuts cause marked inter-generational inequity, unnecessarily increased strategic risk for our children and grandchildren, and eventual higher financial costs and economic damage when the inevitable catch-up investment is required swiftly when a strategic crisis catches us unprepared again.

    Discretionary spending, such as corporate and middle-class welfare, should be targeted instead — even if the votes of the short-sighted or selfish might be at stake.

    Investing responsibly now, in Australia’s strategic security over the next half-century, is not somehow a magic pudding for plunder when times are financially tough.


  • Defence investment: Already cut savagely

    Leading economists continue to ignore that defence investment has already been cut savagely in recent years. Australia's structural budget deficit should be solved by instead tackling discretionary spending, not further cutting already insufficient investment in essential national infrastructure such as our national defence capabilities.


    Letter to The Australian
    Thursday, 19 December 2013
    (published Friday, 20 December 2013

    Your economics editor, David Uren calls for big cuts to defence investment but ignores that this has already been savagely cut over recent years (“If in a hole, best to stop digging”, 19/12).

    Far more than any This has been far greater than any other major area of government spending in both absolute and percentage terms.

    David also ignores that unlike health, education and social security, defence is wholly reliant on federal funding

    Investing now, in Australia’s strategic security over the next half-century, is not a magic pudding to be plundered when times are or appear financially tough.

    Defence capabilities are long-term and essential national infrastructure.

    They require sustained investment, not wildly fluctuating attention driven by short-term political expediency.

    Over the long term, thoughtless defence cuts undoubtedly cause marked inter-generational inequity and increased strategic risk for our children and grandchildren.

    Cuts also mean eventual higher financial costs and economic damage when the inevitable catch-up defence investment is required — usually suddenly when a crisis catches us unprepared again.

    Existing discretionary spending, such as corporate and middle-class welfare, should be targeted instead — even if the votes of the short-sighted might be at stake.

  • Commission of Audit: Why defence must be quarantined

    Australia's structural budget deficit is due to discretionary spending rather than our defence capabilities where investment is essential but has already been cut savagely in recent years.


    Letter to The Age
    Tuesday, 29 October 2013
    (published Thursday, 31 October 2013

    Peter Allan’s puzzlement (Letters, 29/10) is easily resolved by resort to the facts.

    Defence investment should be exempted from the Commission of Audit, Peter Allan (Letters, 29/10), because it is the only major area of government that has already been subjected to drastic cuts — and for several years

    Chiefly because the future Australians risked by this don’t get to vote now to rectify it and short-term political expediency thus wins out.

    Defence is also the only major area of government that is wholly funded federally — meaning such cuts bite even harder.

    Finally, Australia is a continent, as well as a country, in a volatile region.

    Over the long term we face quite different strategic circumstances and needs to Peter’s Mr Allan’s mistaken comparisons.

    Defence capabilities are essential national infrastructure. Under-investing in them remains a false economy, not somehow a cheap fix for structural budget deficits grounded in excess discretionary spending.


  • Commission of Audit: Defence has already been cut savagely

    Investment in our national defence capabilities has already been cut savagely in recent years. In targeting Australia's structural budget deficit it is surely time to tackle spending in discretionary portfolio areas instead.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Wednesday, 23 October 2013
    (published Friday, 25 October 2013

    If the Commission of Audit is fair dinkum it will base any examination of defence spending on several facts.

    • Defence is the only major governmental responsibility that is wholly federal.
    • There are no votes in it.
    • Because of this, since 2008 national investment in defence has already been cut far more savagely than any other major area of government expenditure.
    • Our defence capabilities remain essential national infrastructure. Not somehow a discretionary matter in either financial or electoral terms.
    • We maintain such infrastructure to deter, shape or cope with general strategic risks over Australia’s long term.  Not specific “threats”, or their absence, as invariably perceived now incorrectly.
    • Our near-run 1999 experiences in East Timor resulted in increased investment until 2007, chiefly to cancel out all the sustained under-investment throughout the 1971-1999 period. We should not repeat such dangerous lessons yet again.

    Cutting defence investment even further simply gambles with the security of future Australians who don’t get to vote now to stop such irresponsibility.


  • ADFA: Still no apology for Commodore Bruce Kafer

    Mistaken public attacks on the ADFA Commandant have continued, despite the trial of of those charged over the April 2011 "skype" incident again proving that many public beliefs about the circumstances are untrue. And despite Commodore Kafer having long been exonerated by an independent inquiry by a respected QC.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Wednesday, 16 October 2013
    (published Monday, 21 October 2013, but with editing of the third paragragraph unfortunately resulting in its meaning being reversed)

    David Groube (Letters, October 16) claims “skype affair revelations” somehow mean former defence minister Stephen Smith should get apologies from his many critics concerning many different issues.

    But the recent trial of the “skype” offenders revealed nothing new and again disproved the numerous false claims and beliefs prevalent at the time.

    Claims that Smith, who was briefed on the facts from the start, took nearly two weeks to refute publicly for reasons he has never explained and despite his silence worsening the misinformed public hysteria.

    Smith, who was briefed on the facts from the start, took nearly two weeks to refute claims publicly and, despite his silence, worsened the misinformed public hysteria involved.

    ADFA Commandant, Bruce Kafer – the undoubted second victim of the “skype affair”, was also subsequently exonerated by an independent inquiry but Smith still refuses to apologise for scapegoating him and denying Kafer natural justice and worse.

    Moreover, Major-General John Cantwell’s post-retirement criticism concerned Smith’s demonstrated lack of empathy or even respect for our diggers when visiting Afghanistan.

    David might ponder why Smith is the first Minister for Defence since World War II never to address the annual course at Command & Staff College and the first never to address the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies since its inception in the mid 1990s.

    Or why, during his three-year tenure and even before the “skype affair”, he never attended a graduation parade or otherwise visited ADFA or the three Service officer-training colleges.

    The common thread is that when ministers address diggers in a war zone, or ADF students here in Australia, they are naturally expected to answer reasonable questions.

    Especially informed ones about that Minister’s policy views, expectations, responsibilities and actions.

    Smith’s continual evasion of this responsibility, and his persistent failure to reciprocate loyalty downwards, is telling.

    Finally, in mentioning me, David might try to cite an ADA explanation about the “skype affair” that has been proven incorrect subsequently.

  • NT Intervention: Never a military operation

    The intervention into NT Aboriginal communities was never a military operation. Despite scaremongering by its opponents, and the resulting mythology, the Commonwealth intervention was always a civil function and operation - and always undertaken under civil law. The ADF only provided some logistic and administrative support to the civil agencies concerned. There has never been a "military intervention" of any sort into an indigenous community anywhere in Australia.


    Letter to Crikey.com
    Monday, 09 September 2013
    (published Wednesday, 11 September 2013)

    Bob Gosford, “Warren Mundine’s new military intervention into Aboriginal Australia” (Crikey, Monday), unfortunately repeats a complete and harmful myth about the NT intervention.

    There has never been a “military intervention” of any description into an indigenous community in the Northern Territory or elsewhere.

    The continuing NT intervention, for example, has always been a civil-government response with the civil authorities always in charge and always under civil law.

    Both at the ministerial and departmental (FaHCSIA) level.

    All the defence force has done is to assist the civil authorities, through the various implementing departments and agencies, with logistic and administrative support.

    The ADF has never been used in a law enforcement role in indigenous communities. Such tasks have properly remained with the civil police and family/child welfare services.

    No ADF personnel supporting the NT intervention have ever deployed with weapons, used force or been required to use force (except for self-defence as with any Australian citizen).

    The operational head of the intervention on the ground was an ADF officer initially. However, he was seconded from the defence force to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), and appointed in a civil role.

    This only occurred because the senior federal police officer originally arranged for the position became unavailable and the emergency nature of the intervention, at least initially, was used by the then government to justify such a step.

    The Australia Defence Association warned against this at the time because of the risk it would be misconstrued, or deliberately misrepresented in an inflammatory and sensationalist fashion by some opponents of the intervention.

    Such misrepresentation and scaremongering subsequently occurred. Such as ridiculous and indeed nasty claims that the “army was coming to grab children”

    As the ADA continues to remind all Australians, governments of all political persuasions need to take great care not to risk the staunchly apolitical status of our defence force in Australian society by using the ADF in situations of party-political or major social controversy.

    This underlies the historical reluctance to use the ADF in activities such as domestic law enforcement and strikebreaking.

    It is not unusual, however, for federal or state governments to call on ADF assistance in national emergencies where no controversy is involved.

    The two most common criteria governing such assistance are that the resources of the civil community are exhausted and require supplementation (as with natural disasters such as bushfires, floods and earthquakes), or that capabilities peculiar to the ADF are required (as with open-ocean search and rescue).

    As background, military assistance rendered to civil authorities falls, constitutionally and professionally, into two definite categories: force and non-force situations.

    ADF use, or potential use, of force to aid civil authorities enforce law and order within Australia is extremely rare and has only occurred three or four times (all cases of serious riot) since federation.

    Contingency plans to assist police services with an assault on terrorist strongholds (where such measures are beyond police capabilities) also fall into this category but no actual situation requiring such assistance has arisen.

    Some offshore ADF assistance to the Customs and Border Protection Service, such as boardings of fishing boats (during anti-poaching operations) and other vessels (during counter-smuggling ones), can also fall into this category.

    Non-force assistance covers everything else including:

    • bomb disposal;
    • firefighting;
    • search and rescue;
    • logistic, communications or ceremonial support to events from the Olympic Games down to local community fetes;
    • infrastructure construction in remote communities (both indigenous and otherwise); and
    • the continuance of essential services during natural disasters or (very rarely) prolonged industrial action.

    ADF involvement in the Northern Territory intervention remains wholly a non-force situation.

    To wrongly describe the intervention as “military” in nature is therefore particularly absurd.

    Finally, Bob seems quite unaware of the extent that the Furthermore, the ADF, particularly the Army, has been working in and with outback Aboriginal communities since before World War II.

    Army surveyors mapped most of Northern Australia from the 1920s to the 1980s. The Navy's coastwatcher networks have utilised Aboriginal members for nine decades.

    Various Army Reserve medical and dental units have conducted their annual camps helping outback Aboriginal communities since the early 1950s.

    The Army's various regional force surveillance and regional intelligence units across northern Australia have been often comprised of mainly Aboriginal diggers since the late 1970s.

    Since 1997 Army engineers have been building houses and environmental health infrastructure in such communities, and running associated trade-training schemes, under the Army-Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (AACAP).

    Since the early 1990s many members of the ADF have studied Aboriginal culture in detail while qualifying on Defence-sponsored cross-cultural awareness courses at Nungalinya College in Darwin.

    Indeed the The ADF personnel providing the logistic support to the NT intervention wear their uniforms proudly and reassuringly because indigenous Australians are so used to the presence of our defence force supporting their communities or otherwise interacting with them.

  • ADFA: Commodore Kafer's natural justice submission

    There have always been two victims of the April 2011 incident at the Australian Defence Force Academy. First, the female cadet wrongly filmed without her apparent consent during consexual sex with a fellow cadet. Second, the Academy's commandant wrongly scapegoated by the Minister for Defence at the time - and then subsequently denied an apology by the Minister - even after an independent inquiry by a QC had found the commandant acted appropriately in his handling of the incident.


    Letter to The Australian 
    Thursday, 15 August 2013
    (published Friday, 16 August 2013)

    Cameron Stewart (“ADFA Chief lashes out at Smith”, August 15, p.1) unfortunately risks perpetuating the public victimising of Commodore Bruce Kafer over the so-called “skype affair” at ADFA.

    After being vindicated by an independent inquiry by a QC, Bruce Kafer is fully entitled legally and morally to seek redress on natural justice and common decency grounds.

    Especially as Defence Minister Stephen Smith sat on the inquiry report for nearly a year to avoid personal and political embarrassment.

    After being shamed into finally releasing it, Smith still refuses to apologise for his sustained scapegoating of Kafer.

    Or for the other abuses of ministerial authority involved.

    Kafer’s lawful and reasoned submission up through the defence force chain-of-command is not a public document.

    To sensationalise it as somehow “lashing out”, and as “an explosive letter”,  may unfortunately lead those unfamiliar with the facts to again wrongly believe Kafer has acted improperly.

    This remains the opposite of the case.

    Moreover, despite consistent insult via selective political leaks, Kafer has always acted impeccably in not criticising his treatment by Smith publicly or privately.

    It is shameful that Australia is shamed by Bruce Kafer has having to await the retirement of Stephen Smith to get the justice, decent treatment and apology he deserves as the second victim of the “skype affair”.


  • Border security: Turning back people-smuggler boats

    Whether foreign boats smuggling people into Australia can be turned back, or not, is a different issue to whether they should be turned back. Unfortunately, politically-polarised, narrow or emotive views regarding asylum-seeking generally mean this important distinction is often lost in public discussion. No matter whether such boats should be turned back, or not, the ADA notes that proper debate on the issue is advanced if it based on the following six-point summary of military professional judgement concerning the matter.


    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Saturday, 27 July 2013
    (published Tuesday, 30 July 2013 and, with corrections to misleading editing of the original version, on Friday, 02 August 2013)

    John Kerin , “Military leaders split on boat turnbacks” (AFR, July 27), surely over-simplifies professional discourse about turning back people-smuggler boats at sea.

    The Australia Defence Association position, for example, has always noted six points: 

    • turning back at least some boats is possible;
    • the option to do so should never be ruled out publicly otherwise the people smugglers and corrupt Indonesian officials concerned win by default;
    • how turnbacks might be done cannot be discussed publicly but only because it is a dynamic problem and no law enforcement action involves telling the crooks what policing action you will do next;
    • turning boats back is difficult and getting harder as the people smugglers get more ruthless, particularly with their hull-integrity sabotage preparations and general indifference to the plight of their customers;
    • any decision to turn back or not can only be made by the on-scene commander of the intercepting Australian vessel because only he or she can appropriately weigh potentially competing law enforcement, crew safety and safety-of-life-at-sea considerations; and
    • there must be no ministerial or other interference in such on-scene command decisions or any repercussions for the commanders concerned from anyone.

    It is probable that all the serving and former military experts cited in the article broadly agree on all six points.

    Professional debate overwhelmingly centres instead on applicable circumstances, methods, potential strategic consequences, or legal aspects depending on where or how a boat might be turned back.

  • Border security: Holding Indonesia to account for people-smuggling

    Indonesia has again escaped criticism for recent outrageous posturing by the Indonesian Vice-President and their Ambassador to Australia. This is largely due to public debate on asylum-seeking in Australia once again mistakenly assuming that this is an Australian domestic issue alone when it is integrally a strategic policy issue with domestic ramifications. The situation has been exacerbated by the usual emotive sidetracking into irrelevancies that dwell on the symptoms of Australia's dilemma rather than address the real causes and the actual solutions needed. The hypocrisy and contravention of international law and international good citizenship of Indonesian posturing needs to be robustly challenged rather than naively accepted at face value.


    Letter to The Australian
    Saturday, 29 June 2013
    (published Monday, 01 July 2013) 

    Asylum-seeking is a strategic policy issue with domestic ramifications, not vice versa, as most public debate wrongly assumes.

    And also just one facet of our complex strategic relations with our regional neighbours.

    But enough is enough.

    Recent Indonesian posturing that they are not the source of asylum-seeker flows, that this is solely Australia’s problem and that Indonesia is somehow not involved, are examples of a perpetrator blaming the victim.

    When an Indonesian boat, organised by Indonesia-based (and often Indonesian) people smugglers, leaves an Indonesian port contrary to Indonesian law through the corruption or incompetence (at best) of Indonesian officials, Indonesia cannot evade majority responsibility.

    Especially where the passengers illegally entered Indonesia using false documents that Indonesian officials know to be false but ignore through corruption, incompetence, misguided religious sympathy, anti-Australian racism or plain disregard for their national responsibility to reciprocate Australia’s longstanding status as a friendly and supportive neighbour.

    Or when the boats are deliberately sabotaged well inside Indonesia’s internationally-designated zone of search & rescue responsibility, to force rescue by our navy, because the Indonesians refuse to rescue them as a deliberate policy response or through further incompetence or corruption.

    Moreover, while refusing to sign the Refugee Convention — and rarely held to account for it in Australian debate — Indonesia is a signatory to the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air of the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime.

    Its now well past the time that Indonesia was held to account for not meeting its obligations under international law, its own law and international good citizenship.

    They could, for example, turn the tap off at Jakarta airport.

    Australian discussion of asylum-seeking is invalid if it does not address the major part played by Indonesia’s serious derelictions of responsibility.

    And especially where Indonesian official blustering is accepted blindly rather than challenged objectively.

  • Defence Management: What if General Brudenell White had survived the August 1940 Canberra air crash

    Former NSW politician Andrew Tink's new book on repercussions of the August 1940 air crash in Canberra ("Air Disaster Canberra: The Plane Crash that Destroyed a Government", New South, Sydney, 2013, 308pp., $A45.00), concentrates on the political ramifications of Prime-Minister Menzies losing three of his senior Cabinet ministers and closest political supporters within the United Australia Party. But the longer-term and more enduring detrimental effect was surely the death in the same crash of the universally respected Army Chief, General Cyril Brudenell White. If White had survived, the whole modern history of the strategic-level, politico-military relationship in Australia, and of real rather than often nominal joint-Service command of our defence force, is likely to have been quite different. Particularly in being less difficult structurally; being free of so many aberrations and misunderstandings constitutionally, professionally and culturally; being reformed decades earlier and more effectively than it eventually has been; and evolving much more in conformity with the tried and tested Westminster-System conventions and institutional processes practised sucessfully elsewhere.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 08 April 2013
    (published Monday, 14 April 2013 

    Surely the real “what if” exercise of the August 1940 air crash in Canberra ("Compelling probe", Panorama book reviews, April 6, p25) was not the short-term effects on the subsequent collapse of the first Menzies Government through losing three key ministers.

    If the highly respected General Cyril Brudenell White had instead lived to remain Chief of the General Staff, it is likely that the Service Chiefs would have correctly remained the principal professional advisers to the War Cabinet on military strategic matters — as occurred in every other Westminster system.

    Rather than the resulting hybrid practice of Australia’s leaders coming to depend improperly on a foreign supreme commander (Douglas MacArthur) and an arch bureaucratic manipulator with no military experience (Sir Frederick Shedden), with the result ministers too often neglected Australia’s sovereign strategic interests during coalition warfare.

    While General Vernon Sturdee — as the only Australian of the three Service Chiefs in early 1942 — ably functioned as a quasi-CDF when it was most needed as politicians on all sides panicked, Brudenell White would have been even better placed to bed in a proper strategic-level, politico-military interface.

    Moreover, the later mistaken appointment of  General Thomas Blamey as commander-in-chief (but only for the Army) would not have further delayed effective joint strategic command of our defence force, its testing in war and the swift post-war evolution that occurred in comparable countries. [Blamey was not able to function effectively as both the Army's senior operational commander and as a strategic-level adviser to the government].

    Instead Australia sat out reform during the 1950s and 1960s and then, alone in the Western world, combined the Service departments before instituting joint strategic command of its defence force.

    It even took a further 11 years from 1973 before we instituted rudimentary joint command and a further seven before we had a CDF with real command authority and a joint headquarters able to exercise it.

    Many bad bureaucratic, political and military habits have kept mutating in the interim.

    Chiefly because of institutional, cultural and legislative gaps in systematic civil control of the military — and over the ever-burgeoning Public Service and uniformed Defence bureaucracy — by the Ministers who are alone meant to exercise such civil control constitutionally.

  • ADF capabilities: What our new LHDs are really for

    As an island continent permanently situated in a maritime region Australia remains primarily dependent on the sea and our maritime lines of communication and commerce. Our surrounding oceans also comprise a large part of the ten per cent of the Earth's surface that is some form of Australian sovereignty, conservation or international search and rescue responsibility. Prominent critics of the new amphibious ships being procured for the ADF invariably ignore or obfuscate these factors and their implications. Just as they tend to ignore or selectively cite hard-won strategic and operational lessons from recent experiences and longer ago.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Tuesday, 19 February 2013
    (published Friday, 22 February 2013 

    Renewed “debate” about the ADF’s new amphibious ships reinforces the maxim that one of the quickest ways to spot a strategic policy amateur or ideological zealot is by their continentalist or isolationist mindset.

    Particularly when they ignore or deny that Australia is organically a maritime power in near and wider maritime regions.

    Similarly fraudulent is using “aircraft carrier sized” or “assault ships” when describing the new LHDs, or peddling the myth that they are somehow intended for supposed use in high-end war in the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea or off North Korea.

    In reality, Australia has long needed a better capability for the emergency evacuation of Australians from regional troublespots — with or without the tacit or even unwilling co-operation of the country concerned — and for manouvre, stability support operations, peacekeeping, disaster relief and general support to our diplomacy.

    Each successive class of our amphibious transports has necessarily been bigger because of lessons from a wide range of events in our immediate region.

    Such as the Bougainville, East Timor and Solomons interventions, Fiji coups, rioting in Tonga and Vanuatu, and tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions generally. Plus all that could go wrong in PNG.

    The LHDs are therefore primarily designed for amphibious manouvre in lower-end crises.

    They have some limited capability for tactical assault, but one clearly focused in scale, intent and informed foreign perception only on plausible contingencies in our near region.

    Moreover, the wider ADF lacks all the supporting capabilities for large-scale amphibious assaults like Normandy and Iwo Jima — and indeed medium-scale ones such as Lae, Inchon and the Falklands — and no-one credible is arguing for them.

    Finally, the LHDs will necessarily further advance true “jointery” in our defence force and referring to them only as naval ships again misses the point.

  • Defence Investment: Australia has inescapable strategic responsibilities

    Australia's strategic situation and its commensurate responsibilities and implications do not somehow vanish by the exercise of political spin, short-term political expediency or wishful thinking. Our current political leadership has chosen to plunder defence investment, and ignore the long-term damage caused, because there is no electoral backlash to them now from the future Australians (some perhaps not even born yet) seriously affected by this government's neglect of the first responsibility of any government.


    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
    Thursday, 31 January 2013
    (published Saturday, 02 February 2013 

    Peter Hartcher is correct to note that Australia — as the world’s only island continent and the only continent occupied by only one sovereignty — cannot just wish the world away strategically (“Defence is headed for its own crisis”, January 29).

    New Zealand, Ireland and, to an extent, Canada often ignore their defence responsibilities only because a larger neighbour permanently protects them geo-strategically.

    We have the opposite situation. Although our nearest neighbours are strategically benign, our wider region is subject to growing, often unpredictable and increasingly unstable great-power tensions.

    Australia also has internationally designated sovereignty, conservation and search & rescue responsibilities for some ten per cent of the Earth’s surface that do not somehow go away.

    More importantly, we have an economy, political system and whole way-of-life totally dependent on seaborne trade over sea-lanes that always need to be secured by a balance of international law, diplomacy and, in the final analysis, military force applied by us or with maritime-power allies.

    Finally, the current crisis is caused only by the current Prime-Minister, Defence Minister and Treasurer plundering the long-term and sustained defence investment needed as a supposed “magic pudding” for short-term factional and careerist purposes.

    It is not a Labor problem per se. Labor defence experts, across all party factions, are rightly strongly opposed to the burgeoning under-investment in our defence capabilities and the needless gambling with the security of future Australians involved.

    Only minority government in an election year — and simmering leadership tensions — prevent these loyal Labor figures from commenting publicly.

  • Defence investment: Renewed criticism of further cuts is not party-political

    Maximising Australia's strategic security is a primary-level national governance responsibility but is being seriously neglected by the Gillard Government. Criticism of this irresponsible neglect has come from across the range of defence expertise and indeed from across the political spectrum. The criticism cannot be discounted as party-political disagreement, as the current Minister has tried to do, not least because some of the more concerned and informed critics are experienced members of the Labor parliamentary caucus. They are rightly furious that Labor's reputation for national security management is now being trashed for no valid reason.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 31 December 2012
    (published Wednesday, 02 January 2013)

    Your perceptive Saturday editorial ("At war with our defence", December 29) on defence still missed two key points.

    Severe under-investment in the ADF (and DFAT) is yet another symptom of much deeper problems besetting our short-term-focused, ideology-free, personality-centred political culture.

    This is not a party-political issue. Much detailed criticism is coming from within the parliamentary caucus and the wider ALP.

    Particularly from those with the most strategic security and defence experience, across all party factions and from both Gillard and Rudd supporters.

    After the destructive polarisation of the Vietnam era, two generations of Labor thinkers worked hard to restore community confidence that the ALP could be trusted with national security. And that adequate investment in our common defence was both a core Labor value and a major responsibility of any government.

    They are naturally angry that their work is now being trashed for perceived short-term personal advantage – at the cost of serious damage to Labor’s long-term political and national governance credibility.

    With grim irony, that the critics include some of the most conscientious parliamentarians and loyal party members is the only thing that has stopped their fury becoming more public in a minority government.

    Finally, your judgement that Stephen Smith’s responses to last year’s ADFA incident were “cack-handed” is not just confined to what you term the “military”.

    Surely anyone who understands the principles of civil-control-of-the-military, administrative law and natural justice grasps that “cack-handed” is the type of severe understatement that not only continues to prevent resolution of the underlying issues but exacerbates them by confusing the public.

    Moreover, even within the ADF the outrage at Smith’s “studied lack of interest” in the defence portfolio, as you describe it, is widespread across all ranks and both genders (not just in wardrooms or messes).

    More widely, a continuing online debate among defence experts rating the records of the 19 defence ministers since the mid 1960s has him in the bottom 25 percentile. Well below every Labor defence minister bar one and where three of the rated top five ministers are Labor including the first two.

  • ADF capabilities: Future submarines

    Much public argument on replacing our Collins-class submarines is confused and nugatory through not using a common basis of facts and assumptions.


    Wednesday, 28 December 2011
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Tuesday, 03 January 2012)

    Brian Toohey's ”Adelaide to Detroit, the underwater route” (December 28-January 2) is again underwater in his fixation on European submarines, but not in his scepticism about political pork-barrelling by federal and state politicians ever eager to divert the defence budget elsewhere to buy votes. And in rejecting the supportive claims by feather-bedding interests in commerce, the unions and indeed parts of academia. 

    Can we therefore summarise recent debate on replacing our Collins-class submarines (which is meant to start in the mid 2020s). 

    ASPI’s estimate of up to $36bn (over decades) for an Australian build could be somewhat high but they are correct about the technological, industrial and budgetary risks of another local indigenous project. The Kokoda Foundation’s estimate of $18bn seems on the low side at first glance but their study (when released in full) might justify it. 

    Toohey's Brian’s off-the-shelf European submarine alternative, however, will not work; except perhaps as a four-boat interim option because they cannot really meet the capability needed in the long term unless greater numbers than 12 are procured. 

    This would increase the $9-12bn claimed for this option substantially. It would also be harder to crew and operate the larger but less suitable fleet needed.

    If no-one else is building the type of conventionally-powered submarines we need, and the task might be too big for us to build them again, then the option of leasing Virginia-class nuclear-powered boats from the US also needs to be examined. Much fewer than 12 boats would then be needed (greater range, endurance, speed, etc) and the cost differential between nuclear and conventionally-powered boats continues to drop anyway. 

    They would be the most modern submarines available, a tested commodity, and fully compatible with our major ally operationally and logistically. The Americans would look after the reactor, thus negating our limited nuclear engineering capacity (and paranoia among some about nuclear energy).  

    No-one credible seems to doubt that the class that replaces the Collins replacements will be nuclear powered (and probably leased from the US). 

    We should at least look at jumping a generation directly. 

Letters: 2012

  • AWM Roll-of-Honour: Criteria

    The criteria supposedly governing inclusion on the Roll-of-Honour at the Australian War Memorial are inconsistent historically, flawed conceptually and indefensible morally.

    Letter to The Canberra Times

    Tuesday, 18 December 2012
    (not published)

    Eugene Holzapfel (Letters, December 18) misunderstands Peter Londey’s article (Canberra Times, December 14).

    The title of Dr Londey’s comprehensive 2004 history of Australian peacekeeping operations, “Other People’s Wars”, aptly sums up the crux of the issue.

    There will also always be cut-off dates for inclusion on the AWM Roll-of-Honour or indeed for campaign medal qualification.

    But it is the duty, deployment and dangers involved, not overly bureaucratic definitions of whether it is an “Australian war” or not, that should primarily govern inclusion.

    In 1989 I wrote the first complete history of Australian peacekeeping (to that date) and was later the author of the Army’s peacekeeping manual.

    I soon received a deputation of very angry young captains.

    The commandant of RMC Duntroon had vetoed the inclusion of their classmate, Captain Peter McCarthy, on the college flag station where graduates killed in the line of duty overseas are honoured.

    This decision was misinformed rather than ill-intentioned and was subsequently reversed after careful discussions.

    It largely stemmed from the historical trend whereby some in each era of war veterans come to believe that only their experience was a “real war” and that succeeding operational experiences are not or are of lesser value.

    Just as some World War II veterans were dismissive of Vietnam as a real war, some Vietnam veterans fundamentally misunderstood the peculiar dangers and stresses of the more dangerous forms of peacekeeping.

    They wrongly believed, for example, that peacekeeping could never result in PTSD or indeed provide worthwhile operational experiences.

    On 12 January 1988 Peter McCarthy was blown up by a landmine in Lebanon doing his duty as an Army officer on an overseas operational deployment at the direction of his government.

    The dangers Peter faced and the one that killed him were no less than that faced by thousands listed on the AWM Roll-of-Honour and greater than many.

    The AWM Roll properly includes those killed by illness, injuries or in training accidents during both World Wars, including in Australia, not just those killed in action or died of wounds when fighting overseas.

    Peter has a widow, children, siblings, parents and he will have generations of descendants.

    They too should be able to draw some comfort from his inclusion on the AWM Roll.

    Bureaucratic definitions of warlike and non-warlike merely govern compensation and medallic recognition arrangements and try to rigidly classify necessarily fluid concepts anyway.

    They can also change over time as with the Namibia, Cambodia and Rwanda  deployments.  

    Captain Peter McCarthy’s death, when deployed on dangerous duties overseas in a war, is now honoured on the flag station at RMC. It should also be recorded on the AWM Roll-of-Honour.

  • ABC coverage: The problem of partisan bias

    The Australia Defence Association is widely acknowledged as a genuinely non-partisan public-interest watchdog. As an organisation whose public-interest advocay also necessarily requires extensively interaction with the media, the ADA notes that discussion of partisan bias in ABC programs seems to be missing several of the key points actually involved. This includes the continuing decline of professional standards within journalism overall and the inability of journalism as a purported profession to arrest or reverse the decline by self-regulating such standards.

    Letter to The Australian 

    Friday, 14 December 2012
    (published with significant deletions and misleading editing on Saturday, 15 December 2012)

    As a non-partisan national public-interest watchdog, the Australia Defence Association has considerable experience in working objectively with politicians of all parties and with the parliamentary press gallery.

    We also strongly support the principle that any taxpayer-funded organisation, be it the ADF or the ABC, must always be absolutely non-partisan.

    Therefore the political biases of other media are surely irrelevant to the role of the ABC and a complete red herring morally and intellectually.

    But while left-leaning biases clearly pervade parts of the ABC institutionally, three points are worth noting.

    • First, journalism is now not a profession because it no longer self-regulates professional standards.
    • Second, an entrenched institutional culture means some ABC staff are now simply unable to distinguish or eradicate partisan bias or reason through the professional need to do so.
    • Third, the ABC is not an amorphous mass.

    Our experience is that partisan bias is least evident in ABC local radio — perhaps due to more direct audience accountability.

    It is generally not a serious problem in News-24, TV news, and radio news and current affairs — in that order of increasing vulnerability.

    Current affairs television, however, is often the most partisan in both fact and perception.

    This could best be eradicated by not using producers and presenters who have worked for, or strongly identify with, either side of politics.

    But surely the elephant in the room is the mistaken belief that journalists specialising in politics are, can or should be “insiders”, rather than professional reporters of unbiased fact.

    For example, respected party elders from both sides (and the Greens) often scoff privately at much of the discussion on “Insiders”.

    Our experience in the ADA’s particular area of responsibility backs up such scepticism.

    Discussion of defence issues is more often than not factually incorrect or conceptually flawed, even ignoring the real or apparent political views being espoused.


    What The Australian actually edited and published (and by doing so substantially changed the import of the whole letter, reversed the meaning of our fourth-last sentence and omitted our key conclusion in the final four sentences):

    As a non-partisan watchdog, the Australia Defence Association has considerable experience in working objectively with politicians of all parties and with the parliamentary press gallery.

    We also strongly support the principle that any taxpayer-funded organisation, such as the ABC, must always be non-partisan.

    The political positions of other media are irrelevant to the role of the ABC.

    But left-leaning biases clearly pervade parts of the ABC.

    An entrenched institutional culture means some ABC staff are now simply unable to distinguish or eradicate partisan bias or reason through the professional need to do so.

    But the ABC is not an amorphous mass.

    My experience is that bias is least evident in local radio.

    It is not a serious problem in radio news.

    Current affairs television, however, is often the most partisan.

    This could best be eradicated by not using producers and presenters who have worked for, or strongly identify with, either side of politics.

    But it's a mistake to believe journalists specialising in politics are insiders rather than professional reporters of unbiased facts.

  • Debating Australia's modern strategic security

    Some opinion comment on the Chief of Army's recent academic address at the University of Canberra has completely missed the point, through either outdated thinking or straight out ideological or sectional bias.

    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 

    Thursday, 22 November 2012
    (published Monday, 26 November 2012)

    Your retired defence correspondent Geoffrey Barker (“Army Chief’s outcry tests boundaries”, November 22) again regurgitates long-disproven opinions from another era.

    General Morrison’s closely argued academic address to the University of Canberra's National Security Institute was an entirely timely and legitimate professional opinion that carefully avoided the potential for misquotation and party-political controversy.

    But not, it seems, careful enough to avoid sensationalisation by Geoff.

    It was certainly not constitutionally or otherwise improper behaviour – as Geoff’s confusion about civil authority (the actual constitutional principle) and “civilian control” (an invalid notion) in the article clearly shows.

    Moreover, such “Mr Blimp” spluttering about propriety meant the real point involved was missed.

    Twelve years after the 1999 East Timor crisis proved the complete failure of the old Defence-of-Australia strategic fad, fading public memories have meant some of its ideological proponents are trying to peddle myths and fibs again.

    But the Australian strategic security debate has moved on.

    Anyone who has kept up with such debate over the last decade would surely agree that the modern basis of Australia’s defence policies and strategies are not dependent on ideology, ill-defined or undefinable “threats” (we now manage general strategic risks instead), or false linear choices between the isolationist (homeland defence or “DOA”) and internationalist (collective defence or “expeditionary”) schools.

    Nor indeed on ancient views that ignore geography, technological and economic change, the need for strategic mobility in our region, or that our modern defence force is finally constituted and operates jointly in deterring and fighting Australia’s current and potential wars.

    Within the obvious limits of civil-control-of-the-military by ministers on behalf of parliament, it is not intellectually, professionally or constitutionally improper for the Army’s professional head to refute outmoded thinking that risks our future national security and prosperity.


  • David Hicks: Partisan apologists do not help the truth or indeed Hicks

    The complex legal situation applying to David Hicks can cause confusion, but there is no excuse when ideological or emotive apologists for Hicks disregard or twist the facts to obscure objective discussion of the important issues involved.


    Letter to The Canberra Times
    Monday, 29 October 2012
    (published Thursday, 01 November 2012)

    John Richardson and Marilyn Shepherd (Letters, October 29) avoid all of my four substantive points about the complex legal situation applying to David Hicks.

    John also suggests that Hicks could not be interned as a captured belligerent based on the contradictory notion that the Afghanistan War somehow did not exist but that the US still resorted to a “brutal and illegal act of aggression”.

    In international law armed conflict exists as a material fact, not least to prevent partisan claims that it does or does not exist.

    And so the responsibilities and protections of international law apply automatically despite denials — or a presumed dependence on “declarations of war” (as John believes) which have been illegal since the UN Charter was promulgated in 1945.

    Moreover, the US-led multinational intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, that evolved into the International Security Assistance Force helping Afghanistan, was legally endorsed by UN Security Council Resolutions 1378, 1383 and 1386, with six-monthly extensions of the ISAF mandate ever since.

    Both writers again ignore that Hicks has freely admitted to serving under arms with the Taliban during the war.

    Both again fail to distinguish between Hicks’ consequent and undoubtedly lawful internment as a captured belligerent and the justifiably contested legality of his later and separate criminal trial, conviction and sentence. 

  • White Papers: Under-investment

    Critcism that the intentions and programs in the new "Australia in the Asian Century" economic white paper are mostly unfunded will surely have considerable resonance for those familiar with the failings of all the Defence White Papers since 1976.

    Letter to The Australian Financial Review

    Monday, 29 October 2012
    (published Thursday, 01 November 2012)

    Given the new Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, perhaps all Australians will now understand the recurrent major problems for our long-term national planning caused by all five defence White Papers since 1976 having been largely unfunded too.

  • White Papers: Non-delivery of promised investment

    Critcism that the intentions and programs in the new "Australia in the Asian Century" economic white paper are mostly unfunded will surely have considerable resonance for those familiar with the failings of all the Defence White Papers since 1976.

    Letter to The Australian

    Monday, 29 October 2012
    (published Tuesday, 30 October 2012)

    Given the new Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, perhaps Australians will now understand the recurrent major problems for our long-term national planning caused by all five defence White Papers since 1976 having been largely unfunded too.

  • David Hicks: Continuing confusion about the laws applying

    The entirely lawful internment of David Hicks as a captured belligerent under the Laws of Armed Conflict remains a completely separate matter to the legality or not of his later criminal trial and conviction by a US military commission.

    Letter to The Canberra Times 

    Monday, 22 October 2012
    (published Thursday, 25 October 2012)

    John Richardson (Letters, October 22) misquotes a recent United States Appeals Court decision on the military commission conviction of Salim Hamdan to claim that David Hicks was somehow “illegally incarcerated”.

    But in an earlier and higher judicial ruling concerning the same detainee, the US Supreme Court reaffirmed long-standing international law about interning belligerents captured in a war.

    Four facts about David Hicks, then and now, surely cannot be denied.

    First, if any Australian did now what Hicks has admitted doing in 2001 they would be liable for criminal prosecution under the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002.

    Second, it was only because the Burchett loophole in our treachery laws was not closed until after Hicks served with the Taliban in Afghanistan that he could not be prosecuted in Australia.

    Third, it was this loophole that also ended up prolonging his separate internment as a captured belligerent.

    Fourth, at least until his undoubtedly controversial military commission conviction, Hicks had not been “held without trial” or otherwise detained illegally under US, Australian or international law for a single minute.

    John also repeats the furphy that al Qa-eda and the Taliban were once US proxies.

    Both organisations were not even founded until long after US support for the Afghan mujahidin during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation had ceased.

  • Defence Department: Problems are mainly structural and financial

    Continuing problems in the Department of Defence are mainly due to two reasons. First, insufficient investment by the Government and poor recognition that the capabilities they say they need require additional funding. Second, deep-seated structural inefficiencies in accountabilities, how the department is organised and how operational outputs are met. They are not due to either the civil bureaucracy or the defence force having too much power overall or in supposed competition with each other.

    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    Monday, 24 September 2012
    (not published)

    Geoff Barker’s over-reliance on the reminiscing of old-guard bureaucrats (“Doubts remain as another Secretary bites dust”, September 24) has again led him back to 1980s viewpoints. 

    Rather than being entrenched, defence force chiefs serve on 3-year contracts and are retired regularly, whereas senior departmental officials have 5-year ones that are often renewed. 

    Senior ADF officers have also been known to resign on points of principle. 

    As Air Marshal John Harvey rightly did last year, to protest the improper and bizarre idea to create an unnecessary Associate Secretary to oversee both capability development (primarily a military professional function) and equipment procurement (mainly the opposite). 

    Moreover, the military’s statutory and war-tested chain of command is neither “wasteful” or somehow improper as Geoff claims. 

    Nearly all major Defence scandals such as Children overboard, Abu Ghraib, ADFA and numerous procurement bungles have been caused instead by commercial management fads being imposed on, or political or bureaucratic interference in, the chain of command. 

    As to ADF chiefs being somehow “untouchable”, “unaccountable” or “considering money a free good”, all the major independent reviews over the last decade and a half by parliamentary committees and external experts have instead recommended re-empowering the Service Chiefs. 

    Largely because departmental matrix-management structures stripping them of most responsibility for inputs, while still holding them responsible for operational outputs, keep failing. 

    Most problems besetting Defence are not attributable to supposed “undisturbed arrogance” among the military, but are instead the legacy of some truly arrogant civilian bureaucratic attitudes and methods across the last quarter of the 20th Century - until Australia’s near strategic failure in East Timor exposed their dangers. 

    Finally, Geoff ignores that civil-control-of-the-military is necessarily a ministerial function constitutionally and legally - never a bureaucratic one - even when Ministers are indecisive, uncaring in their duties or irresponsibly ambitious. 

    Many problems in Defence could be readily fixed if ADF commanders are allowed to command where purely military professional functions or responsibilities are involved.

  • Defence: The real reasons behind the latest ructions

    Much public commentary about the sudden departure of the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Duncan Lewis, has unfortunately concentrated on the personalities involved and not the structural causes.

    Letter to The Australian 

    Wednesday, 19 September 2012
    (published Friday, 21 September 2012)

    Further ructions in the Department of Defence have little or nothing to do with tired spin about the supposed “Brass” or that Duncan Lewis's former career in the army somehow hampered his effectiveness as Secretary ("Coalition lays blame for Lewis exit on Minister", 18/9). 

    Indeed departmental and ADF confidence in the professionalism and dedication of the Lewis-Hurley diarchy has been the main buttress preventing a catastrophic loss of morale across all areas in the department and the defence force

    And with stemming deep losses of confidence elsewhere among those with a serious understanding of defence issues. 

    It is noteworthy that the leak that Lewis was leaving came through a journalist long favoured by old-guard (and largely long-retired) Defence bureaucrats. 

    These were the men who, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, provided the strategic policy fig-leaves that supposedly justified prolonged, insufficient investment in our common defence. 

    Australia’s consequent near failure in the 1999 East Timor intervention led to necessarily increased investment to rebuild the ADF. 

    Far from being generous, this would have occurred no matter who won the 2001, 2004 and 2007 elections because there was no alternative for any government which took its national defence responsibilities seriously. 

    Moreover, the budgetary allocations for defence (a wholly federal function) have remained within two per cent of long-term historical norms, while the much larger federal allocations to social security, health and education (shared federal-state responsibilities) have continued to increase by much more.

    The bottom line in all regards is that our defence is not a financial magic pudding to be plundered relentlessly and myopically to achieve a surplus federal budget. 

    Nor is Dennis Richardson [the new Secretary] a magician who can make bricks without straw.

    Nor indeed someone who will somehow also not But he will tell the Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister the truths they are so unwilling to hear and fix

    Real damage to the ADF is being caused, and merely for short-term factional and personal advantage within of the current government. 

    This particularly horrifies the two generations of Labor defence experts who have worked so hard to reassure the public that Labor governments can be trusted with national security responsibilities.

  • Treachery: Applying objectivity to arguments that assist the enemy

    Because of reciprocal citizenship resonsibilities every Australian needs to think first, and deeply, before advancing arguments in public or private that might assist the enemy we send our troops to fight on our behalf. Intentional or reckless disregard for these responsibilities can be treacherous.

    Letter to The Canberra Times

    Wednesday, 19 September 2012

    C.J. Johnston (letters, September 17) poses several commonplace false arguments. 

    First, the Australia Defence Association has not accused anyone of treason. 

    Blindly repeating this straw-man fib does not make it true. 

    Second, he ignores that for over ten years the ADA has cautioned that counter-insurgency wars, such as Afghanistan, have to be won by political reform and national development means as well as military ones - and that periodic negotiations with all or some of the insurgents are often involved. 

    Third, we have continually noted that this is Australia’s war, not one just involving our defence force, and that all wars are ultimately contests of will and end when one side (sometimes both) gives up. 

    Every Australian therefore has a responsibility to apply objectivity to arguments that we should simply quit our UN-endorsed mission in Afghanistan. 

    Particularly regarding factually incorrect, simplistic, emotive or ideological claims that blindly regurgitate enemy propaganda themes. 

    Numerous High Court rulings have consistently reinforced the distinctions in wartime between responsible dissent and treacherous, defeatist or otherwise irresponsible behaviour. 

    Fourth, “overthrow” necessarily involves forcible (and unconstitutional) change. 

    Changing Australia to a republic by constitutional means would not, by definition, be treason.

  • Treachery: Preserving the distinction from responsible dissent

    No Australian has a right to dissent so absolute that it somehow over-rides their reciprocal responsibilities as a citizen not to endanger our troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

    Letter to The Canberra Times

    Sunday, 16 September 2012
    (published Wednesday, 19 September 2012)

    John Passant, David Stephens and David Roth (Letters, September 15) continually avoid the nub of the issue that no Australian has a right to dissent so absolute that it somehow over-rides their reciprocal responsibilities as a citizen not to endanger our troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

    This is why intentionally assisting the enemy our defence force is fighting is, quite rightly, already illegal under laws such as the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002.

    The further reform the Australia Defence Association is advocating is only that reckless acts of assistance should also be criminalised — using the standard courtroom tests of recklessness when prosecuting many other offences (driving a car, workplace safety, criminal defamation, incitement to racial hatred, etc).

    No censorship or other unreasonable limitation on dissent would be involved because responsible and justified arguments, honestly made, would be an absolute defence in court using the reasonable person test.

    David Roth’s misrepresentation that the ADA is instead somehow advocating “speech crime” offences worthy of dictatorships, or John Passant’s wild claim that we seek the destruction of democracy in Australia and his jailing, are simply more straw-man hyperbole and ideological fervour.

    Indeed expressions so lacking in intellectual merit, relevance, forethought and community fraternity might well be found unreasonable and reckless by a court in other peacetime and wartime contexts where the lives of fellow citizens were at stake.

  • Treachery: Subjective reactions to reform proposals

    Some critics of the ADA's proposal to criminalise reckless as well as intentional acts that assist the enemy have again resorted to fibs, abuse and straw-man arguments. Rather than explain how, as they claim, such reforms to our treachery laws could limit reasonable and legitimate dissent and objective and informed debate.

    Letter to The Canberra Times

    Sunday, 09 September 2012
    (published Thursday, 13 September 2012)

    Several letters in Saturday’s Canberra Times [08 September 2012] helpfully demonstrated the ADA’s point about public debate on Australia’s role in Afghanistan needing to be more informed, sensitive and, above all, responsible, rather than relying just on opinion, abuse and attacking straw-men not actually used by a perceived opponent.

    Furthermore, voicing your own opinions is not always an absolute right that over-rides our legal, practical and moral responsibilities as Australian citizens.

    Such behaviour is particularly not harmless, justified or indeed morally legitimate when it seriously endangers the very lives in combat of fellow Australians.

    Moreover, our proposal that Australia’s reformed treachery laws now criminalise reckless (as well as intentional) acts is entirely consistent with the principles behind many other laws.

    As with driving a car recklessly.

    Or, as with criminal defamation and vilification inciting or resulting in violence against those vilified, where the right to dissent and its responsible practice would be unaffected.

    As long as an act rather than just an opinion is involved, and you are willing and able to prove in court that your actions were reasonable and justified in the circumstances.

    Finally, to avoid further confusion for some, treason is attempting to overthrow our governmental system. Treachery involves serious betrayal of your fellow Australians generally.


  • Treachery: Further reform to our treachery laws is needed

    Our treachery laws rightly outlaw assisting the enemy if it is intentional and an act. Given some recent thoughtless, irresponsible and even callous behaviour, reckless acts should also now be outlawed.

    Letter to The Canberra Times 

    Wednesday, 05 September 2012
    (published Friday, 07 September 2012)

    John Passant (Letters, September 5) exemplifies the lack of empathy and citizenship irresponsibility that needlessly endangers our troops and undermines informed public debate.

    Especially when, as in this case, such factually incorrect, simplistic and perhaps ideological claims about complex and nuanced issues bolster enemy propaganda in both Afghanistan and Australia.

    And where this consequence would or should be known by any reasonable and responsible person.

    Our reformed treachery laws now rightly criminalise intentional acts, anywhere in the world, that assist an enemy we send our defence force to fight on Australia’s behalf.

    Thus closing the 1945-2001 Burchett loophole that allowed its namesake, and later David Hicks, to escape prosecution for acts that if undertaken now are criminal offences.

    Australia is at war, not just our defence force.

    The recognition, discouragement, prohibition and punishment of irresponsible acts are necessary reciprocal obligations every Australian owes to the fellow citizens our government lawfully commits to war.

    As with many other offences, such as dangerous driving and racial vilification, our treachery laws need further reform to also criminalise reckless acts.

    As with vilification offences, reasonable, responsible and morally legitimate public dissent would be unaffected.


  • Treachery: Further law reform needed

    Our treachery laws rightly outlaw assisting the enemy if the assistance is both intentional and an act. Given recent subjective, thoughtless and irresponsible claims which mindlessly parrot or spread factually incorrect enemy propaganda, reckless acts of assistance should also now be prohibited.

    Letter to The Australian

    Wednesday, 05 September 2012
    (published Thursday, 06 September 2012)

    Australia is at war, not just our defence force.

    We all therefore need to debate the Afghanistan War with sensitivity to bereaved families, without endangering our troops and without undermining informed public debate.

    Especially where factually incorrect, simplistic or ideological claims about complex and nuanced issues bolster enemy propaganda in both Afghanistan and Australia.

    And where this consequence would or should be known by any reasonable and responsible person.

    The recognition, discouragement, prohibition and punishment of irresponsible acts are necessary reciprocal obligations every Australian owes to the fellow citizens our government lawfully commits to war.

    Our reformed treachery laws now rightly criminalise intentional acts — anywhere in the world — that assist an enemy we send our defence force to fight on Australia’s behalf.

    Thus closing the 1945-2001 Burchett loophole that allowed its namesake, and later David Hicks, to escape prosecution for acts that if undertaken now are criminal offences.

    As with many other offences, such as dangerous driving and racial vilification, our treachery laws need further reform to also criminalise reckless acts.

    As with vilification incitement offences, reasonable, responsible and morally legitimate public dissent would not be affected.


  • Afghanistan: Please debate the war responsibly and sensitively

    Debate the war by all means, but at least have the consideration and sensitivity to wait a week or two while the grief of each digger's family peaks.

    Letter to The Australian

    Friday, 31 August 2012
    (published Saturday, 01 September 2012)

    Australia is at war in Afghanistan, not just the defence force that our governments have lawfully deployed to fight this UN-endorsed action.

    This means all of us have significant responsibilities to the men and women of our defence force and their families.

    Five more of these families and many friends are now grieving the loss of sons, brothers, husbands and mates.

    Could those prone to simplistic, opportunistic or subjective theorising about Australia’s commitment not being worth it, as they see it, please show some sensitivity to the grieving families.

    Debate the war by all means, but at least wait a week or two while each family’s grief peaks.

    And then debate it with facts, understanding and consideration, not simplistic sloganeering about “deaths in vain” or “quitting” as a supposed panacea.

    The real practical and moral questions are whether Australia’s strategic security risks would be increased or decreased by either withdrawing (precipitately or not) or persevering.


  • Asylum Policy: Discussion of Houston panel report ignores pitfalls ahead

    Asylum and refugee policy remains primarily a strategic issue with domestic ramifications, not the opposite as many incorrectly assume.

    Letter to The Australian Financial Review 

    Tuesday, 14 August 2012
    (published Wednesday, 15 August 2012)

    Asylum and refugee policy remains primarily a strategic issue with domestic ramifications, not the opposite.

    Despite the Houston panel clinically removing most party-political controversy out of public debate, much subsequent discussion is still bogged down in false assumptions, single-issue perspectives and mis-aimed (only local) compassion.

    The prime strategic and humanitarian purpose of the Refugee Convention is to bolster Chapter VIII of the UN Charter by encouraging neighbouring countries to a conflict to solve it, so refugees are not created in the first place or so they can return home directly, swiftly and safely.

    But most countries now refuse to accede to the Convention or otherwise meet their strategic, legal and humanitarian responsibilities.

    Especially in our near and wider region where only one out of 35 countries between here and Greece is a genuine Convention signatory.

    Little or nothing is done to resolve conflicts, nor the consequent misery and danger suffered by the bulk of the refugees thereby marooned by them.

    Globalisation and modern transport further encourages and complicates such strategic and moral bludging.

    Neighbouring states to a conflict can simply export the most troublesome or exploitable refugees extra-regionally to countries of mass immigration that are Convention signatories.

    Australia’s strategic situation is that virtually all our neighbours regard refugees as Australia’s problem alone, not a shared humanitarian or strategic responsibility, and exploit us accordingly.

    Any debate on the issue needs to start from this geo-political reality, not ignore or downplay it, by dwelling on only domestic policy aspects.

    Any discussion of neighbouring countries, for example, needs to start with asking how they can refuse to accede to the Convention and how do they supposedly justify their perpetual buck-passing to Australia.


  • Asylum Policy: Houston panel succeeds in defusing much of the politicisation

    Asylum and refugee policy remains primarily a strategic issue with domestic ramifications, not the opposite. Despite the Houston panel clinically removing most of the party-political controversy out of public debate, much subsequent discussion ignores the geo-political realities actually applying and is instead still bogged down in false assumptions, single-issue perspectives and mis-aimed (local only) compassion. Any debate on this issue needs to start from Australia's geo-political situation, not ignore or downplay it by dwelling on only domestic policy aspects.

    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)

    Tuesday, 14 August 2012
    (published Wednesday, 15 August 2012)

    Asylum remains a strategic, not domestic, policy issue.

    The prime strategic and humanitarian purpose of the Refugee Convention is to encourage neighbouring countries to a conflict to solve it, so refugees are not created in the first place or so they can return home directly, swiftly and safely. 

    But most countries now refuse to  meet their strategic, legal and humanitarian responsibilities. Only one out of 35 countries between here and Greece is a genuine Convention signatory.

    Little or nothing is done to resolve conflicts, nor the consequent misery and danger suffered by the bulk of the refugees thereby marooned by them.

    Globalisation and modern transport further encourages and complicates such strategic and moral bludging.

    Neighbouring states to a conflict can simply export the most troublesome or exploitable refugees extra-regionally to countries of mass immigration that are Convention signatories.

    Virtually all our neighbours regard refugees as Australia’s problem alone, and exploit us accordingly. 

    Any discussion of neighbouring countries needs to start with asking how they justify their perpetual buck-passing to Australia.



  • Procurement: Patrol boat woes

    Stress fractures in the hulls of the Navy's hard-worked patrol boat fleet are not the result of the high operational tempo per se. They are really a symptom of not building the right type of boat in the first place despite ADF professional and wider scientific advice to do so. This short-sighted decision was insisted on by the then government to supposedly save money but, like all such politically expedient decisions, it costs the taxpayer much more over the long run as well as resulting in considerable operational costs and risks for our defence force.

    Letter to The Australian 

    Friday, 10 August 2012
    (published with editing that changed some of the meaning substantially (see below), Saturday, 11 August 2012)

    Cameron Stewart, “Asylum demands breaking navy fleet”, 10/8, confuses symptoms with causes and misses the wider defence capability lesson involved.

    The high operational tempo is only causing the Navy’s patrol boats to break down because, to supposedly save money, they were built down to a price and constructed to commercial not warship standards.

    ADF professional and wider scientific advice not to do this was ignored.

    Saving money in the short term has again come at the long-term financial and operational costs of sacrificing most of the factors that make warships rugged, dependable and able to remain operable when coping with a combination of high tempos, tough sea-keeping conditions and damage.

    People need to stop reflexively blaming the victim, our Navy, for problems with its ships.

    If the procurement of the right ships is not authorised and appropriately funded in the first place - and then the Navy’s responsibility and capacity to maintain them is taken away (as the independent Rizzo Report noted) - any blame must be duly sheeted home to the short-sighted and ideological decisions made by governments of all political persuasions.



    What The Australian oddly chose to publish instead:
    (changes in italics, deletions underlined)

    Your story “Asylum demands breaking navy fleet”, 10/8, confuses symptoms with causes and omits the wider defence capability lesson involved.

    The high operational tempo is only causing the Navy’s patrol boats to break down because, to supposedly save money, they were built down to a price and constructed to commercial not warship standards.

    ADF opinion and wider scientific advice against this course was ignored.

    Saving money in the short term has again come at the long-term financial and operational costs of sacrificing most of the factors that make warships rugged, dependable and able to remain operational when coping with a combination of high tempos, tough sea-keeping conditions and damage.

    People should stop reflexively blaming the victim, the Navy, for problems with its ships.

    If the procurement of the correct type of ships is not authorised and appropriately funded in the first place, then the Navy’s responsibility and capacity to maintain them is taken away.

    Any blame must be duly sheeted home to the short-sighted and ideological decisions made by governments of all political persuasions.


  • Alarmism about Australia-US-China relations

    The recent Pentagon-funded think-tank report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discussing options for future redeployments of US forces across the Asia-Pacific actually says quite different things to what much of the Australian media are reporting it says.

    Letter to The Australian

    Friday, 03 August 2012
    (not published)

    Most discussion about options to perhaps redeploy US forces to Australia are way off track.

    Those worrying need to study some geography, oceanography and history.

    US air and ground combat forces have regularly trained in northern Australia for six decades, often for long periods.

    Because this has mainly occurred outside the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra triangle, the apparent novelty of the recent Pentagon-funded CSIS options paper is exciting the type of feverish speculation down south that had largely stopped in northern Australia by the mid 1980s.

    The current flurry of uninformed comment also misses that locating a USN carrier strike force in Perth was discussed in only the most speculative terms.

    As an option among many that might (not will) need to be pursued, far off in the future — but only if strategic circumstances changed, the massive funding needed was somehow available (which it isn’t), and Australian approvals were likely.

    As the paper discusses, but again only as an option, relocating a US Marine Air-Ground Task Force from Okinawa to Australian bases in northern Australia (outside Chinese missile range and closer to some regional contingencies) is far more likely one day, but again only if numerous conditions could be satisfied.

    But no actual use of Australia made it to the conclusions or recommendations of the CSIS paper.

    Finally, in grand strategic terms, a mature stance that reconciles China as Australia’s major trading partner with the US alliance as the cornerstone of our security and regional stability is nowhere near as difficult over the long term as various alarmists keep claiming.

    For example, in microcosm, we sold mainland China huge quantities of wheat all through the 1960s when Austraia did not diplomatically recognise the mainland regime and while we were actually at war in Vietnam against Chinese-backed forces.

    No democracies have gone to war with each other since 1812. Once China eventually democratises the grand strategic challenge for Australia, the whole region and the US will become even easier.

    There would be no ideological need for a democratic China to be a military threat to its near or far neighbours, or for peer-strategic military competition with the US.

    The wider region’s only problem concerns the period before Chinese governments become truly accountable to the Chinese people in particular, and to an international system based on the rule of law generally

  • Public Affairs: Addressing all the problems

    As he often does with his "reporting" about our defence force, an opinion article by Ian McPhedran tells only half the story about the problematic interfaces between the Minister for Defence, the Department of Defence and our defence force on one hand, and the media and the Australian people on the other.

    Letter to The Advertiser (Adelaide)

    Friday, 03 August 2012
    (not published)

    As the country’s most longstanding and detailed critic of the way Ministers for Defence and the Department of Defence now mishandle defence force public affairs — and of the poor standard of media coverage of defence issues generally — the Australia Defence Association notes the considerable irony of Ian McPhedran’s opinion article (“In my View”, August 3).

    The ADA has long advocated a return to the decentralised pre-1995 policy of defence force commanders from unit level upwards being authorised to run their own public affairs and interact with Australians and the media directly.

    Especially where no operational security matters, international sensitivities or party-political controversies are involved.

    The current over-centralisation in Minister’s offices, the ever-increasing desire of Ministers to micro-manage and spin everything, and the sheer bureaucracy involved departmentally, has long hampered the ability of our defence force to explain what it does to the Australian people swiftly, comprehensively and in easily understood terms.

    But, typically, Ian McPhedran tells only half the story at best.

    He misses the demographic contribution of growing community ignorance of defence matters through no first-hand, or even extended family, knowledge and how this is now often exploited or exacerbated by ill-informed, sensationalist or careerist media coverage.

    Whereas specialist journalists with business, science or health qualifications still cover such issues respectively and well, most defence coverage is now by generalists with no qualifications, relevant experience or long-term knowledge and insight.

    The resulting poor coverage contrasts strongly with the days of through-career war/foreign correspondents backed up by knowledgeable defence columnists who had been experienced members of the ADF.

    Worse still, virtually all defence coverage is now via political journalists in the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra and often for only very short periods as a box-ticking career exercise.

    The irony is that Ian McPhedran's "reporting" typifies the inaccurate, sensationalist, un-insightful and self-centred journalism that so adds to the problem.

  • ADF Basing: Fleet Base East

    The Gillard Government's backtracking on limiting cruise-ship access to the naval base at Garden Island again elevates party-political expediency and local pork-barrelling above the national interest.

    Letter to The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)

    Monday, 16 July 2012
    (published Tuesday, 17 July 2012)


    Your understandably Sydney-centric, but deeply flawed, editorial unwisely lauded the PM for “accurately judging there is no practical reason why Garden Island cannot be a dual use facility” ("Gillard cruises in with good news for city's tourism", July 16).

    There are, in fact, numerous and compelling strategic, operational, financial, geographic, oceanographic, maritime trade and national equity reasons preventing this already overcrowded base being used as a “cheap fix” to bail out NSW Governments and various industries for not investing in deep-water wharfage for cruise ships.

    And they were explained again as recently as March this year, when an independent report on defence force basing was handed to the PM which noted that such dual use was not a viable or long-term solution.  

    Fleet Base East - as the name denotes - is long-established and irreplaceable national defence infrastructure built up over a century  to defend all Australians, not just Sydneysiders.

    No other location on the Australian east coast can replicate its strategic, operational and industrial facilities and advantages.

    Claims that the base could or should be moved elsewhere are particularly farcical. Every vaunted alternative location is strategically, practically and/or financially impossible, not just unsuitable.

    Your editorial massaging selfish local views ignores that the national taxpayer should not have to foot the bill, or cop the many other costs, because successive NSW governments have neglected harbour infrastructure.

    Nor should the long-term national defence requirements of all Australians ever be sacrificed for short-term and local political expediency.

  • ADF Basing: Fleet Base East at Garden Island

    Decisions about national defence should be long-term national interest matters and well above party politics, political expediency and day-to-day politicking. As with this year's federal budget slashing defence investment (at greater eventual and long-term financial and operational cost), so the decision to allow even more cruise ship access to national defence infrastructure at Fleet Base East in Sydney Harbour demonstrates another classic example of a government that puts the quest for short-term political advantage above any apparent thought for the needs of actual governance in the national interest.

    Letter to The Australian

    Sunday, 15 July 2012
    (not published)


    Following on from massive cuts to defence investment in this year’s federal budget, the decision to allow cruise ships even more access to the already over-crowded naval facilities at Garden Island is yet another disgraceful example of sacrificing long-term national interests for short-term party-political advantage.

    As with the budget destroying the Government’s own 2009 Defence White Paper, the cruise ship decision contradicts the detailed conclusions of the independent Force Posture Review in only March this year.

    It ignores that Fleet Base East is long-established and specialist national infrastructure operated on behalf of all Australians, not just Sydneysiders.

    It ignores enduring strategic principles derived from the geographic, oceanographic, economic and maritime trade constraints of the Australian east coast

    It ignores Sydney’s central location strategically and that there is no other large deep-water harbour, with immediate deep-water access, for such a base on the entire east coast of the continent.

    Even if there was, the base’s huge dry dock and engineering facilities built up over a century, and Sydney’s supporting industrial infrastructure, could not be replicated elsewhere  without the national taxpayer having to fork out tens of billions of dollars.

    ADF bases are not somehow a cheap fix for decades of poor planning and insufficient investment by private industry, state governments and the city council.

    With some 317km of shoreline there is plenty of space elsewhere in Port Jackson for the state government, the city council and the tourism industry to invest in appropriate cruise ship facilities without trying to steal our biggest naval base from the taxpayer.

    Even within Sydney Harbour itself, more investment by the state government on deep-water wharfage for cruise-ships, and less emphasis on reaping stamp duty from harbourside townhouse development and casinos, is what is needed.


    [This issue in particular, and the Force Posture Review in general, were analysed at length in Defence Brief, Number 146, February 2012]

  • ADF Misbehaviour: Why there is no respect

    A correction to an opinion article based entirely on the incorrect claim that serious crimes within the ADF were and are not investigated by civil police. The article also misunderstood why the behaviour of the Minister for Defence is not respected across former and serving defence force personnel.

    Letter to The West Australian

    Monday, 11 July 2012
    Published Saturday, 14 July 2012 in the Weekend West Australian
    (under the headline "Why there's no respect")

    Daniel Flitton (“Outside review the only course”, West Australian, 11/7) is factually incorrect, and as a result conceptually mistaken, throughout his opinion article on the ADF.

    Within Australia the responsibility to investigate and prosecute all serious criminal matters involving defence force personnel has been undertaken by State or Federal police since at least the 1970s.

    We saw an example of this at ADFA last year when the AFP were immediately called in by the Academy’s commandant to investigate the so-called “Skype” incident.

    Military police handle only minor criminal offences. Generally of the type and degree that civil police no longer bother with in the whole community because of resourcing constraints.

    MPs also investigate Service offences under the Defence Force Discipline Act — but these are disciplinary matters that are not civil crimes — and they investigate criminal offences committed on overseas deployments.

    The Australia Defence Association has long advocated a Royal Commission into allegations of bullying, harassment and abuse in our defence force.

    This is the best way to establish the facts, test allegations, provide resolution to victims, restore public confidence in the ADF, restore ADF confidence in the ability of the Australian community and media to cover defence issues accurately and in a balanced fashion, and stop further politicisation of the issue by the Minister for Defence.

    Especially him repeating the abuse allegations time and again, without announcing any resolution of the issue,  seemingly as a distraction when the government is being criticised on other grounds.

    Finally, Daniel is quite wrong about why Minister Smith is not respected across current and former defence force members. Or indeed, by most Australians who understand defence issues and the Westminster Conventions governing civil-control-of-the-military.

    Our Service personnel are happy to cop deserved criticism.

    What they object to is the Minister not reciprocating their loyalty by ever defending them — as people not allowed to answer back — against inaccurate, untrue or unfair criticism.

    Just as our attorneys-general are expected to defend the judiciary.

  • Afghanistan: SASR soldier killed in action on his 7th operational tour

    Much public discussion about the tragedy of our latest casualty in Afghanistan is missing the real point involved about his large number of operational tours.


    Tuesday, 03 July 2012
    Letter to The Australian

    (published in part, Wednesday, 04 July 2012)

    Most Australians seem to be asking the wrong question about our latest casualty being killed in action on his seventh operational tour in 11 years.

    Many are also drawing the wrong conclusions from him being a volunteer, a very experienced professional soldier and someone who will have seen over a decade what our military effort in Afghanistan has progressively achieved at a local level.

    The Australia Defence Association has long voiced concerns about the risks inherent in sending our diggers to the frontline too often and for too long.

    The risk of death, wounds or subsequent and long-term psychological trauma increases with the number of tours (even when they volunteer and are well-trained and motivated professionals).

    But the even greater national problem is that countries, not defence forces, need to fight wars.

    But most Australians are now so disengaged from our modern wars, and our troops, that they have intellectually and morally sub-contracted their citizenship responsibilities to the ADF.

    Many assume it is the ADF’s war not Australia’s war.

    Unlike the mass participation in the world wars, or the significant community participation in Vietnam through conscription, Australia now fights its wars with a very small part of the national community.

    And, indeed, quite a small part of our small defence force.

    Australia now relies on this small force, and their families, shouldering a disproportionate burden of our country’s current wars because there are no alternative defence capability options.

    Largely because Australians acquiesce to perennial under-investment in defence capabilities, because it is personally convenient for the funds needed to be diverted to buying their votes elsewhere.

    And because governments so fear the perceived political risk of casualties they have fallen for the myth of niche contributions by Special Forces being somehow “safer”.

    If Australia is going to fight wars to win we need a larger and better balanced defence force

  • ADF capabilities: Amphibious manouvre

    Critics of the new amphibious ships the ADF is getting either do not understand, or wilfully misrepresent, the amphibious manouvre capabilities Australia needs in our near region.


    Sunday, 27 May 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Nic Stuart (Opinion, May 26) cites the example of the 1987 coup in Fiji to discuss the defence capabilities Australia needs in our near region but then oddly draws the opposite conclusions to what this and other examples have really proved. 

    Australia’s big strategic problem in 1987 was not somehow overthrowing the new Fijian military regime or restoring order by force — as some in the Hawke cabinet wanted at first until military professional advice counselled otherwise. 

    Our immediate strategic and operational problem was instead evacuating several thousand Australian, New Zealand  and other foreign tourists if the coup led to prolonged instability and violence. 

    Especially if civil aircraft could not be used or the use of RAAF aircraft and RAN ships was opposed by factions of the Fijian military or civilian rioters. 

    The new amphibious ships (LHDs) that the ADF is finally getting are expressly designed to provide the amphibious manouvre  capability in regional contingencies that Australia so lacked in 1987. And in several other evacuation, stability operation or disaster relief contingencies since then in Fiji (again), Vanuatu, Bougainville, East Timor, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Aceh and Nias. 

    Indeed their size and overall capacity — which is often misrepresented or just not understood by certain armchair critics — is driven by, among other relevant things, the tactical need to launch, receive and refuel six helicopters simultaneously and then a second wave of six. 

    This is a direct lesson from what we could not do with HMAS Tobruk in 1987, or indeed with Tobruk, Kanimbla and Manoora together subsequently. 

    The LHDs are not “assault ships”. Nor intended for war with China as biased criticism dishonestly claims. 

    Nor are they for “storming the beaches” as Nic mistakenly suggests, not least because manouvre and support are very different to “assault”.

  • Defence investment: The siren song to under-invest

    Columnist Ben Herscovitch advances some new lyrics but still to the usual tired music of the siren song that defence investment can somehow be safely slashed.


    Monday, 21 May 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (partly published Thursday, 24 May 2012)

    In 1918 our weary soldiers vowed that we should never again send them to fight a war so unprepared.

    Most Australians agreed because their families had directly experienced the consequences.

    But short-sighted politicians, idealist ideologues and the sectionally selfish soon began singing the complacent siren song that defence capabilities could be savagely run down and the funding diverted elsewhere.

    In 1940, and particularly in 1942, and again at war’s end in 1945 our soldiers of the next generation made the same vow – and so did most Australian families for the same reasons.

    Similar strategic conclusions were reached in 1950, 1965 and 1972.

    But each time fewer and fewer Australians understood. Chiefly because they had no personal or extended family experience that enabled them to see through the siren song and its singers.

    Again in 2000 many Australians, and certainly our leaders, re-learnt a serious lesson in strategic shock - after our 1999 humanitarian intervention in East Timor was such a close-run operation and could so easily have resulted in serious military defeat.

    The siren song had become the national anthem of many Australians wallowing in their complacency after five decades of relative peace.

    It had grown so strong throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that our hollowed-out, grossly underfunded and ill-equipped defence force struggled to mount and sustain a relatively minor operation only 800 km from Darwin.

    From 2000-2008 investment in our defence capabilities was then finally boosted to cancel out the decades of chronic under-investment and resulting block obsolescence and operational risk.

    But the siren song is rising again.

    Ideologues and plain liars again tell the Australian people that recent defence investment was “generous” or “excessive”. But they always omit its context of reversing decades of severe neglect.

    They never admit defence investment has been relatively stable as a percentage of the federal budget.

    They rarely contrast it appropriately to national spending on social security, health and education, which is larger by orders of magnitude and ever-growing in both budget percentage and real terms.

    Benjamin Herscovitch ("Reduced defence spending may well be sound public policy", Opinion, 21 May) massages the lyrics but still croons the same old siren song luring us towards national disaster.

    Hopefully it will be spurned by objective listeners.

  • Defence investment timescales

    AFR columnist Brian Toohey's analysis of defence investment needs is fundamentally flawed due to false assumptions.

    Friday, 04 May 2012
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Tuesday, 08 May 2012)

    Brian Toohey (“Decisions won’t weaken defences”, May 04) bases his opinions on two false assumptions. 

    First by not using an appropriate timescale when discussing Australia’s appalling record of usually under-investing in defence. 

    After 2000, the strategic shock of the ADF nearly failing in East Timor, after three decades of often chronic under-investment, brought logical catch-up increases under Howard and Rudd to begin redressing all the capability deficiencies. 

    Our defence force cannot miraculously restore and modernise itself. It is also not a political magic pudding that enables funding to be diverted elsewhere harmlessly. 

    The latest cyclic plundering for short-term electoral advantage simply means future governments eventually have to reinvest larger sums to fix the ensuing problems. 

    The taxpayer loses over the long run. Coherent and long-term planning suffers from a lack of sustained investment. 

    Equipment has to be retained long after it reaches obsolescence. Strategic, operational and OH&S risks increase unjustifiably.

    The victim – the ADF – is wrongly blamed when ships, etc, well past their use-by dates break down all the time. 

    Moreover, Defence (solely a Commonwealth responsibility) remains around eight per cent of the federal budget. Unlike federal and state spending on social security, health and education, defence investment is not increasing proportionally as a national economic outlay. 

    Brian’s Toohey's second false assumption is that our defence capabilities should be only those needed to deter or repel military attack on Australia itself. 

    Defending Australia has instead always meant protecting our territory and our national interests. 

    It is a particularly absurd notion to believe otherwise for a country so dependent on international trade in a world, and especially a region, not naturally stable and peaceful.  

    The  strategically secure sea-lanes that over 99 per cent of our trade by volume (and over 75 per cent by value) uses are not a free gift. We need to help secure them. 

    We need to help secure our sea lanes. 

    And we will always need sufficient military capabilities to have at least some strategic freedom of action and real national sovereignty more broadly.

  • ADF Basing: Cruise ship access in Sydney Harbour

    Major defence force facilities are essential national infrastructure. State and local governments have no right to try and steal them from taxpayers nationally to cover shortfalls or worse in their own planning and investment.

    Friday, 04 May 2012
    Letter to The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
    (not published)

    Bleating by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the tourist lobby and others about access to Garden Island by visiting cruise ships ignores the geographic, oceanographic, economic, strategic and maritime trade constraints of the Australian east coast.

    Naval facilities at Garden Island are long-established and specialist national infrastructure operated on behalf of all Australians, not just Sydneysiders.

    They are not somehow a cheap fix for decades of poor planning and insufficient investment by private industry, state governments and the city council.

    With some 317km of shoreline there is plenty of space elsewhere in Port Jackson for the state government, the city council and the tourism industry to invest in appropriate facilities

    Even within Sydney Harbour itself, more investment by the state government on deep-water wharfage for cruise-ships, and less emphasis on reaping stamp duty from harbourside townhouse development and casinos, is what is needed.

  • Strategic security: Isolationist fallacies

    The Age's political editor oddly dredges up several long-disproven isolationist strategic fallacies

    Friday, 04 May 2012
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (not published) 

    Daniel Flitton (“Smith ready to do battle”, May 04) succumbs to even more insidious Anzac mythology than the alleged one he rails against.

    He pushes the ahistoric and long-disproven fallacy that we never need to invest much in our defence because invasion is the only thing we need to worry about, its not imminent and we would somehow always be able to predict it early enough and in enough detail to forestall or defeat such a crisis successfully anyway.

    Daniel also propagates the isolationist myth that defending Australia only means protecting our territory and not our national interests as well.

     An absurd notion for a country so dependent on international trade in a world, and especially a region, not naturally stable and peaceful.

    The  strategically secure sea-lanes our trade uses are not a free gift. We need to help secure them.

    And we need sufficient military capabilities to have at least some strategic freedom of action and real national sovereignty more broadly.

    Cyclic plundering of defence as a political “magic pudding” for short-term electoral advantage simply means future governments eventually have to reinvest larger sums to restore or modernise our defence force (and the taxpayer loses over the long run)

    Just as recent increases in defence investment under Howard and Rudd – convinced by the strategic shock of the ADF nearly failing in East Timor – have been needed to begin redressing chronic underinvestment in the ADF over the 1972-1999 period.

    Moreover, Defence (solely a Commonwealth responsibility) remains around eight per cent of the federal budget.

    Federal and state spending on social security, health and education exceeds that on defence by several orders of magnitude and continues to grow inexorably.

  • ADF Capabilities: Army size

    Pointing out the facts in answer to yet another polemic from Hugh White.

    Tuesday, 01 May 2012
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (not published)

    Hugh White (“Army should be careful with its aim”, May 01) gets even his history wrong.

    After Vietnam the army’s nine, not 12, battalions were cut to six, then five, then hollowed out to just over three effectively.

    As Australia re-learned the hard way, by risking a major strategic shock in East Timor, during 1972-1999 the whole ADF became quite unbalanced and largely unusable even in our near region.

    Chiefly due to flawed strategic theorising in the Defence bureaucracy, insufficient national investment and political neglect.

    Hugh forgets his own admission, at the 2001 ANZUS Seminar, that the biggest single lesson of the East Timor intervention is that we ran out of infantry with no time to develop more.

    He also omits that by 2005 over half our infantry were, unsustainably, deployed overseas and mainly in our near region.

    The 2006 Enhanced Land Force initiative was therefore implemented to rebuild the Army’s manouvre force around seven infantry battalions (plus a regular commando one).

    Most importantly, Hugh ignores all the strategic, scientific and academic studies since 1999 explaining why any viable concept of maritime manouvre in Australia’s near region cannot rely on ships and aircraft alone.

    Not least because our region is full of islands, people and complexity.

    Perhaps this is because he still thinks of military capabilities only in old-fashioned, single-Service stovepipes.

    Instead, as part of a modern, integrated, balanced, joint force, the new amphibious ships and supporting capabilities are primarily for strategic and operational manouvre, in our near region, in circumstances well short of war between major powers.

    They are not “assault ships”, not intended for a potential war with China and therefore not anywhere near as vulnerable as Hugh claims — even though these mistakes have been pointed out to him many times.

  • Procurement: Institutionalised difficulties

    An answer to a recent letter that exemplifies much of the public confusion on key defence planning issues.

    Friday, 27 April 2012
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)

    John Evans (Letters, 27/4) exemplifies many of the misconceptions bedevilling effective debate on defence issues. 

    Civil-control-of- the-military (by ministers on behalf of parliament) is a necessary constitutional function disputed by no-one. 

    Indeed controversy over the last year is chiefly because our defence force have unusually had to insist it be exercised properly by their Minister as per the Defence Act. 

    Cries of “civilian control”, on the other hand, are invariably false-flag and usually partisan excuses for incompetent political or bureaucratic governance contrary to the national interest. 

    Under governments of both political persuasions defence budgetary woes are institutionalised by four inter-related phenomena. 

    First, few Australians now know much about defence planning or war, especially through personal or even extended-family experience. 

    Hence the popular fallacy of assuming investment should be linked rigidly now to perceived threats that are rarely agreed, or agreed  in time, or are different to what happens in the future anyway. 

    Rather than invest to sustain effective base capabilities, and foster adaptability, to cope with a largely unpredictable future. 

    Second, few or even no Australians change their vote on a defence issue alone. 

    Third, there are perennially clashing perspectives between politicians driven by three-year electoral cycles and the 10-15 year cycle needed to develop and field defence capabilities and the further 20-25 year cycle to sustain and eventually replace them. 

    No politician invests more now to save money, and increase ADF operational efficiency, over the long run. Especially when it might cost votes now. 

    Finally, as a steadily worsening problem over the last four decades, all this results in wildly fluctuating levels of defence investment and higher costs over the long term. 

    What does increase is largely irrelevant blame-storming between the political parties, accountability confusion and specious ministerial excuses no matter who is Minister for Defence.

  • ADF Capabilities: Amphibious manouvre

    Critics of the poor state of our amphibious fleet need to stop blaming the victim - our Navy.

    Thursday, 05 April 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Your Defence Correspondent, David Ellery, and the Chief of Navy (letters, April 5) appear to be talking at cross purposes.

    As Admiral Griggs notes, the purchase of the commercial offshore support ship Skandi Bergen is logical from a whole-of-government perspective.

    Built in 2007 it has a 140-tonne crane, an easily accessible 1100 square-metre loading deck, a seven square-metre internal moon pool (for access by divers, etc) and a small helipad (but no hangar).

    This provides some additional interim Navy capability for humanitarian operations in the short term. More importantly, as a Customs vessel, over the long run the ship will also fill the significant gap in national patrol capability for the oceans south of Australia.

    But why the Navy’s amphibious fleet is so worn out is a classic example of poor decisions by governments long gone creating significant long-term problems. And indeed of short-term corporate memory in political, departmental and community circles causing incorrect conclusions to be drawn and aspersions tossed about carelessly.

    If the Keating Government had bought new (and bigger) ships in the first place rather than old American ones built in 1970, and the Howard Government had also replaced HMAS Tobruk (built in 1979-80) after 25 or so years with a bigger vessel as scheduled, our Navy would not be being wrongly blamed for the state of such ships.

    Amphibious ships tend to wear out faster than other vessels, not least because they are deployed extensively, rust on both sides of the hull and Ro-Ro versions are constantly grounded deliberately.

    Buying new amphibious ships and replacing them around the 25-year mark is what comparable countries do because it is more efficient operationally and much cheaper over the long run.

    Having to keep operating amphibs for 32 and 42 years instead is not the Navy’s fault, especially when the responsibility for maintaining them was foolishly taken off the Navy in 2005 supposedly to save money.

    Critics of our Navy need to stop blaming the victim.

  • ADFA: Looking after both victims

    Yet more uninformed criticism of the ADA when the truth could easily be learned by a modicum of research and objectivity.

    Tuesday, 20 March 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 02 April 2012)

    Howard Carew (Letters, March 19) again claims to have missed all the Australia Defence Association material sticking up for the female victim of the ADFA incident last year.

    Assuming Mr Carew's professed lack of knowledge remains accidentally mistaken, he can easily update himself from the ADA website.

    This includes numerous letters defending her rights oddly not published by The Canberra Times before and after Mr Carew's previous mistaken letters on this subject.

    Mr Carew also confuses public clamour with informed, careful and necessarily discreet support for her return to the Academy and potential for an ADF career.

    Group dynamics remain important here.

    Unfairly or not, some of her fellow cadets blame her alone for the subsequent avalanche of inaccurate and sensationalist media coverage and misinformed (at best) public hysteria that has wrongly continued to slander them all.

    Even more importantly, to protect her privacy, health and rights at the forthcoming civil trial of the alleged perpetrators, much of the defence force, ADA and other community effort on her behalf cannot be public.

    Finally, Mr Carew would perhaps be much better informed if he read, listened or conversed more widely than the necessarily limited pages of The Canberra Times.

  • Civil-control-of-the-military

    Ministerial control of our defence force is not somehow absolute. As in any Westmister-system democracy it must still comply with the Constitution and the law.

    Monday, 09 March 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Saturday, 14 March 2012)

    Mike Reddy (Letters, March 09) mistakenly believes that the Australian [sic] Defence Association somehow represents members of the defence force professionally.

    As the relevant, independent, national public-interest watchdog for Defence defence issues we only stick up for anyone when they are slandered or mistreated.

    We also criticise anyone concerned when they are wrong and act contrary to the public interest.

    The essential constitutional principle of civil-control-of-the-military does not allow a Minister untrammelled power.

    Defence ministers are still bound by the Defence Act and by the principles of natural justice, administrative law and the separation of powers generally.

    And surely by community standards of fair play and common decency.

    Just as the ADA strongly criticised Peter Reith over the children overboard affair, and the whole Howard Government over the AWB-Iraq wheat scandal, we will continue to stick to the facts and independently criticise Stephen Smith’s mishandling of the ADFA skype incident and its aftermath.

    And we will continue to confront claims and prejudices about this and other matters that are contrary to the public interest.

  • ADF Misbehaviour: Inappropriate use of social media

    Racist, sexist or otherwise stupid comments by some soldiers on social media are unacceptable morally and professionally counter-productive.

    Friday, 02 March 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Michael McCarthy (Letters, March 2) misrepresents the Australia Defence Association position.

    As for the handful of Youtube videos last March, the ADA again notes that such racist and sexist comments are not only wrong in themselves but also counter-productive.

    In a conflict Australia is fighting against Islamist extremism, both domestically and overseas, only an unprofessional idiot provides our enemies with propaganda. If they are in the ADF those responsible should be punished — as occurred in the past.

    However, based on the reports of numerous independent inquiries, the ADA remains confident that only a tiny minority of defence force personnel are involved, and that such misbehaviour is not widespread, systemic or a result of a supposedly perverted institutional culture.

    Moreover, the media and indeed the general public need to accept some responsibility too. First, for continually rushing to judgement about the ADF despite all the independent evidence.

    Second, the frequent sensationalist and inaccurate media coverage about, and low levels of public awareness of, defence issues contribute by provoking a reaction and often an over-reaction.

    The vast majority of detailed comments by soldiers on social media, including this latest site, are not sexist or racist.*

    They are instead expressions, however inchoate at times, of growing outrage.

    They reflect considerable professional frustration about unrealistic ideas and outright myths commonly held by the public about defence matters, and the repeated failure of the mainstream media and some public commentators to cover such issues comprehensively, accurately or fairly.

    [*Note: Subsequent investigations by the Department of Defence by mid March 2012 found that on the social media discussion site concerned, which claimed membership by 1300 former and serving members of the Royal Australian Regiment, and among thousands of comments, only 30 were inappropriate (even less were offensive) and only one of these inappropriate comments was by a serving ADF member. He is now subject to disciplinary action.]

  • ADF Basing: Gold Coast naval base not possible

    The suggestion that a naval base should be established on the Gold Coast omits the obvious constraint that there is no suitable harbour.

    Monday, 06 February 2012
    Letter to The Gold Coast Bulletin
    (not published)

    Monday’s editorial advocating a naval base on the Gold Coast was ridiculous. 

    First the primary role of the Department of Defence is defence, not national development (or pork-barrelling). ADF bases must be located where they are most useful strategically, operationally and sustainably. 

    Second, rather than “available options in terms of a location for a base are perfect”, a moment’s study of nautical charts clearly indicates the Gold Coast’s marked unsuitability.

    Not least the total lack of a large, deep-water harbour, with preferably two deep-water entrances, and unimpeded access to oceanic deep water and offshore exercise areas away from civil shipping and boating. 

    Third, the cost of housing on the Coast would mean the sailors and their families having to live unreasonably long commuting distances from such a base. 

    Fourth, encroaching “lifestyle farmlets” mean the operational utility of the existing defence force base at Canungra in the Gold Coast hinterland is already subject to unreasonable complaints. 

    Some selfish NIMBYs even want to close it, although its establishment in 1942 long predated them and the cost of duplicating it elsewhere is prohibitive.

  • ADFA: Continued public confusion

    Uninformed critics of the ADA surely could at least try to learn what our stance on an issue actually is.

    Monday, 06 February 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Howard Carew (letters, January 31) accused the ADA of “humbug”, lack of sympathy and being an “apologist” for our defence force merely because an ADA letter in the Canberra Times on January 27 did not mention the female victim of the filming incident at ADFA last year.

    It is odd that Mr Carew misses the ADA’s championing of her predicament in many forums (as numerous material on our website readily proves).

    Including, of course, in letters on 03 and 10 January that The Canberra Times chose not to publish, perhaps to keep readers like Mr Carew content in their prejudices.

    Finally, Mr Carew’s opinion that the male cadets concerned should have been “immediately turfed out” of the Academy exemplifies the misconceptions and misinformation underlying past public hysteria and continuing community confusion about this incident.

    In particular, he ignores that criminal and disciplinary investigations have to be completed first in order to establish the facts, satisfy the principles of natural justice and the presumption of innocence, and avoid prejudicing ongoing or future judicial, disciplinary and administrative proceedings.

    It is Mr Carew’s mindset that is unacceptable, not the supposed mindset of the ADFA authorities he so wrongly and recklessly accuses.

    When the Minister for Defence eventually gets around to releasing the Kirkham Inquiry report into the ADFA incident, perhaps Mr Carew can join him in apologising to all those defence force personnel so carelessly slandered and scapegoated.

  • ADFA: Hot-issue-brief proves allegations are incorrect

    The release of the relevant "hot issue brief" completely disproves the wild allegations made at the time that the Commandant and staff at ADFA had somehow acted inappropriately on learning of the non-consensual filming incident among two first-year cadets in their first ten weeks at the Academy.

    Sunday, 22 January 2012,
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published, with significant ommissions, Friday, 27 January 2012)

    The first Defence “hot issue brief” on the 2011 sex act filming incident at ADFA unequivocally refutes claims several particularly vile slanders that caused misinformed public outrage and worse at the time.

    The brief proves that the ADFA commandant and his staff treated the matter very seriously from first learning of it late on 31 March.

    Contrary to the highly damaging but false allegation that it supposedly took subsequent media publicity before they acted.

    The brief also proves that the completely separate, and very minor, disciplinary proceedings already applying to the female victim of the filming incident were not somehow a subsequent attempt to intimidate her into silence about it.

    Dated 7:06PM on 01 April (and apparently read by the Minister by 10:00PM), the first brief confirms that the commandant immediately called in the civil and military police — well before Channel 10 broadcast an interview with the female victim on 05 April.*

    Minister of Defence, Stephen Smith, must surely now do four things if his ostensible quest for greater transparency and accountability in the ADF is dinkum.

    First, instead of further inexplicable delay (having received it in mid December), the Minister must immediately release the independent report by Andrew Kirkham, QC, into the incident.

    Second, he must immediately allow the reinstatement of Commodore Bruce Kafer as ADFA commandant and apologise to him publicly for the unfair and dishonourable way he has been treated;

    Third, he must finally stop unfairly gagging Commodore Kafer from defending himself in public.

    Finally, Minister Smith must explain why it took him nearly two weeks to publicly refute, and finally help allay, the vicious slurs and other damaging public confusion about the incident  that he knew to be untrue, and which so undermined public confidence in our defence force.

    Unless there is some unknown and peculiar explanation, the obvious one is Stephen Smith deliberately chose to inflame and exploit public hysteria for his own personal political leadership ambitions.

    Public and defence force confidence must be restored that future ministerial control of the ADFA ADF will instead be exercised properly according to the Defence Act; the principles of natural justice, administrative law and civil control of the military; and normal community standards of fair play, honour and public office integrity.

    [*Note: As the ADA noted at the time and on several occasions subsequently, the handling of this matter by Channel 10, following the approach from the victim, was undertaken professionally and with sensitivity and some perspective by the two experienced journalists concerned (Hugh Riminton and Matt Moran). The ADA continues to believe that the subsequent situation would have been much worse for both victims of the incident had many other journalists been involved. It is noteworthy that both journalists have considerable experience in covering defence issues, with one having served in the defence force. Their accurate and balanced reporting of the initial circumstances, as they were then known, is acknowledged. It was not their fault that the subsequent general media frenzy so ignored the facts of the matter and continually reported the most untruthful, ridiculous and maliciously dishonest allegations about the ADF and its handling of the matter. Nor was it their fault that subsequent public hysteria whipped up by the disgraceful media coverage, and ministerial inaction, was so ill-informed, unjust and unjustified.]

  • Asylum policy: Inability to deport failed asylum seekers

    The growing inability to deport both failed and assessed asylum seekers who pose a security risk if granted Australian residency requires resolution.

    Wednesday, 18 January 2012
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    The growing inability to deport both failed and assessed asylum seekers who pose a security risk if granted Australian residency requires resolution. 

    Detaining them all indefinitely is not an option on humanitarian grounds.

    But neither is blanket release or dilution of the necessary security checks. 

    Resolute action is now necessary to bolster public confidence in both the fairness and overall integrity of immigration law. 

    Former LTTE belligerents (who cannot qualify for refugee status anyway under the Refugee Convention), and proven supporters, now detained should be deported back to Sri Lanka without further ado once appropriate guarantees are obtained from that government so the non-refoulement provisions of the Convention do not apply.

    Propaganda from the Tamil community in Australia and other LTTE apologists should rightly be ignored. 

    The valid principles underlying ASIO security checks of asylum seekers should be strengthened by the institution of a non-public but still accountable appeals process using similar operational security safeguards to those applying to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Intelligence Services. 

    After all, the former Security Appeals Tribunal set up to allow appeals of ASIO assessments generally was soon merged with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal because of pronounced lack of work and the lack of merit in most appeals. 

  • ADF capabilities: Gender equality

    The many women in our defence force currently serving in frontline positions cannot understand the mindset that so readily and continually ignores that they exist, perform superbly, and are best equipped to offer expert and professional opinions on female employment in combat roles and gender-relations in the defence force generally.

    Monday, 16 January 2012
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (not published) 

    Saturday’s editorial (“Long way to a level battlefield”) was riddled with inaccuracies, misconceptions, poor research, selective quotation and seemingly outright prejudice. 

    The ADF’s many women currently serving in frontline positions cannot understand the mindset that so readily and continually ignores that they exist, perform superbly, and are best equipped to offer expert and professional opinions on female employment in combat roles and gender-relations in the defence force generally. 

    Nor that enquiries and applications by females for entry into ADFA, for example, have risen since the April 2011 scandal.

    Chiefly because applicants and their parents have been impressed by what they have found out on enquiry, contrary to what media groupthink has so often reported sensationally, selectively and inaccurately. 

    Moreover, while the federal sex discrimination commissioner’s report into ADFA did note that sexual harassment had been “widespread” she qualified this by emphasising it was low-level and involved no actual crimes.

    The media, including your editorial, omit to mention such specificity. 

    Ms Broderick has also noted that ADFA is a well-run institution, it’s record in gender and sexual misconduct is much better than any other tertiary institution in the country, and the only reason she cannot quantify the extent in more detail is because of poor record-keeping in the universities and TAFEs. 

    Finally, there is the editorial’s misguided thrust that our defence force is somehow out-of-step with the society it comes from. 

    It is, but only to the extent that rates of sexual misconduct (along with drug abuse and youth suicide) are markedly lower in the ADF than society at large, even allowing for 50 per cent of the force being under 25 years of age, and ADF personnel being as Australian as anyone else - not some moral praetorian guard. 

    In fact the main reason why the media is able to dwell on the ADF so much is only because it has better record-keeping and a better and more open record of dealing with such matters than most other organisations in our society. 

    Our defence force’s “sensitivity to adverse publicity” is perfectly explicable, and justified, when you consider how often such publicity is incorrect, unfair and just plain wrong in both senses. 

    PS. The documents obtained by Channel 7 under FOI recently are not “new”, not “allegations”, not “classified”, mostly relate to incidents that are already public knowledge (including well-publicised court cases), and the 19 briefs concerning gender or sexual matters (even by the widest definition) constitute a miniscule number in a workforce of over 100,000 over a two-year period. Perhaps even the Age’s rate is worse than this one in 10,000 comparison? 

  • ADFA: Justice needed for both victims

    There continue to be two victims of last year's scandal at ADFA. Both also continue to deserve justice.

    Tuesday, 10 January 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Gary Wilson (letters, January 10) rightly worries about equal justice for both victims of last April’s incident at the Australian Defence Force Academy. 

    The female cadet wrongly and dishonourably filmed, without her apparent consent, by fellow cadets she should have been able to trust. 

    And the commandant wrongly stood aside, traduced and then denied natural justice by ministerial intervention that was unfair at least — and deeply improper according to most experts on administrative law and the principles of civil-control-of-the-military. 

    Continuing civil court proceedings are providing the cadet with the normal opportunity for justice. Dependent on the outcome, administrative action by the defence force concerning those who allegedly filmed her is also likely. 

    Her right to a potential ADF career also needs protection but reintegrating her into ADFA, at this stage, poses serious group dynamics difficulties.

    Not least because many cadets naturally resent, and (however unfairly or not) blame her in part for, all the media sensationalism and untruths, the public hysteria and continuing confusion it spawned, and the trashing of all their reputations. 

    Finally, the sooner the Minister apologises to the commandant and allows the CDF to reinstate him the better for all concerned.

  • ADFA: Kirkham Report now well overdue

    The attitude and consequent behaviour of the Minister for Defence unfortunately remains the biggest obstacle in achieving justice for both victims of last year's scandal at ADFA. He can, however, easily fix this.

    Tuesday, 03 January 2012
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Releasing the report into the offensive sexual incident at the Australian Defence Force Academy last April needs to be put in context. 

    A general “warts and all report” by the federal sex discrimination commissioner (a statutory officeholder independent of ministerial influence) has already concluded that ADFA is, overall, an impressive and well-run institution. 

    If, as reported in the media, the inquiry by Andrew Kirkham QC has effectively exonerated the specific actions of the commandant and his staff, then duly reinstating Commodore Bruce Kafer should be done before the new ADFA training year starts later this month. 

    But this is only part of the solution. 

    The ADF also needs to continue protecting the stalled potential career of the other victim of the incident, the young cadet filmed without her consent.

    And where the group dynamics of the cadet body have led many to blame her, however unfairly, for the subsequent public hysteria fed by the extensive and mostly inaccurate media coverage that so unfairly traduced all their reputations. 

    Then there are the likely consequences of an objective report reflecting poorly on the judgement and actions of the Minister for Defence (even though Kirkham’s terms of reference prevented him examining such actions). 

    It is not in the national interest for there to be further tension between this Minister and the defence force.

    Alleviating this is no doubt concentrating the minds of the ADF and departmental hierarchy, especially if the report is likely to embarrass him politically and personally. 

    A personal and public apology to Commodore Kafer from the Minister would undoubtedly help. 

    As would his admission that, as widely acknowledged among administrative law experts, the Minister’s attempted interference in an unrelated defence force disciplinary proceeding concerning the female cadet should not have occurred.

    Being contrary to the principles of administrative law in particular and the separation of powers between executive and judicial (and quasi-judicial) functions generally. 

    Civil-control-of-the-military by Ministers (on behalf of Parliament) is engrained in the institutional and professional cultures of our defence force, the Constitution, and the necessary separation of civil political control from military command in the Defence Act.

    But such civil control must be exercised properly, lawfully and carefully.  

    Now, the Minister’s spokesman claims that the Kirkham Inquiry “was formally requested by the Chief of the RAAF [sic]… and is not for the Minister to release”.

    But the Minister directed the Service Chiefs to hold the inquiry (as is his right) and would have approved the terms of reference. 

    Its formal institution by the Chief of Air Force only reflected the longstanding constitutional and statutory separation of military command from ministerial control. 

    Whoever is responsible for the report’s release this should occur now.

Letters: 2011

  • Letters archive 2011

    This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2011.

    Wednesday, 28 December 2011
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Tuesday, 03 January 2012)

    Brian Toohey's ”Adelaide to Detroit, the underwater route” (December 28-January 2 is again underwater in his fixation on European submarines, but not in his scepticism about political pork-barrelling by federal and state politicians ever eager to divert the defence budget elsewhere to buy votes. And in rejecting the supportive claims by feather-bedding interests in commerce, the unions and indeed parts of academia.

    Can we therefore summarise recent debate on replacing our Collins-class submarines (which is meant to start in the mid 2020s).

    ASPI’s estimate of up to $36bn (over decades) for an Australian build could be somewhat high but they are correct about the technological, industrial and budgetary risks of another local indigenous project. The Kokoda Foundation’s estimate of $18bn seems on the low side at first glance but their study (when released in full) might justify it.

    Toohey's Brian’s off-the-shelf European submarine alternative, however, will not work; except perhaps as a four-boat interim option because they cannot really meet the capability needed in the long term unless greater numbers than 12 are procured.

    This would increase the $9-12bn claimed for this option substantially. It would also be harder to crew and operate the larger but less suitable fleet needed.

    If no-one else is building the type of conventionally-powered submarines we need, and the task might be too big for us to build them again, then the option of leasing Virginia-class nuclear-powered boats from the US also needs to be examined. Much fewer than 12 boats would then be needed (greater range, endurance, speed, etc) and the cost differential between nuclear and conventionally-powered boats continues to drop anyway.

    They would be the most modern submarines available, a tested commodity, and fully compatible with our major ally operationally and logistically. The Americans would look after the reactor, thus negating our limited nuclear engineering capacity (and paranoia among some about nuclear energy).

    No-one credible seems to doubt that the class that replaces the Collins replacements will be nuclear powered (and probably leased from the US).

    We should at least look at jumping a generation directly.

    Wednesday, 28 December 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    published Thursday, 29 December 2011

    Argument about replacing our Collins-class submarines (meant to start in the mid 2020s) can be easily summarised.

    Ignore the renewed pork-barrelling claims by federal and state politicians ever eager to divert the defence budget elsewhere to buy votes. And also the supportive claims by feather-bedding interests in commerce, the unions and indeed parts of academia.

    ASPI’s estimate of up to $36bn (over decades) for an Australian build could be somewhat high but they are correct about the technological, industrial and budgetary risks of another indigenous project. The Kokoda Foundation’s estimate of $18bn seems on the low side at first glance but their study (when released in full) might justify it.

    The off-the-shelf European submarine alternative is unlikely to work ("Half-price super subs tempt navy", 26/12). Except perhaps as a four-boat interim option because they cannot really meet the capability needed in the long term unless greater numbers than 12 are procured.

    This would increase the $9-12bn claimed for this option substantially. It would also be harder to crew and operate this the larger but less suitable fleet needed.

    If no-one else is building the type of conventionally-powered submarines Australia needs, and the task might be too big for us to build them again, then the option of leasing Virginia-class nuclear-powered boats from the US also needs to be examined. Fewer Much less than 12 boats would then be needed (greater range, endurance, and speed, etc) and the cost differential between nuclear and conventionally-powered boats continues to drop anyway.

    They would be the most modern submarines available, a tested commodity, and fully compatible with our major ally operationally and logistically. The Americans would look after the reactor, thus negating our limited nuclear engineering capacity (and paranoia among some about nuclear energy).

    No-one credible seems to doubt that the class that replaces the Collins replacements in the 2040s will be nuclear powered (and probably leased from the US).

    We should at least look at jumping a generation directly.

    Thursday, 22 December 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Recent public argument on asylum seeking continues to be mostly flawed. Even ignoring the emotion or ideology on both sides, most protagonists falsely assume the issue is a domestic rather than a strategic policy issue.

    In particular, Australia’s geo-political situation and its implications should not be ignored.

    Nor should the original intention of the Refugee Convention (and Chapter VIII of the UN Charter). This is to pressure neighbouring states to resolve conflicts so refugees can directly and swiftly return home, rather than be marooned permanently in refugee camps watching their society, polity and families destroyed.

    Asylum policy also necessarily involves Australia’s wider strategic relations with neighbouring states. Including not letting them pressure us on this and wider issues by facilitating extra-regional refugee flows or not.

    It is also axiomatic that any effective regional mechanism to protect refugees must involve “offshore processing” in an Australian context, particularly with such extra-regional flows.

    But we are our near and wider region’s only effective signatory to the Refugee Convention. Even NZ is mostly able to avoid responsibility because of its location.

    The nearest real signatories to our north-west are Israel and the EU. To the north-east it’s the USA and Canada. To the north its no-one.

    Australia is also a highly desirable first-world country and one of only four with a mass immigration program, a diverse society and no national ID card.

    We have resettled over six million immigrants since 1946. We have also permanently resettled, rather than just temporarily sheltered (as the Convention requires), nearly one million refugees.

    Our near and farther neighbours have no incentive to sign the Convention, or otherwise care for refugees, not least because they regard us (and the EU) as their permanent solution. And now we cannot even send bogus asylum seekers home with deportation rates sinking to as low as two per cent.

    These are all the major pull factors that must be targeted to destroy the people smugglers’ business model.

    And the main push factor is not conflict per se ? as some are prone to claim reflexively ? but that the Convention is not universal, especially in our near and wider regions.

    Current numbers of unauthorised arrivals are manageable but the strategic, operational and humane effectiveness of current policy, including sustaining public confidence, is wholly dependent on the numbers remaining low and slow.

    But there is no longer any criminal, economic migration, refugee flow or international travel complexity rationale for this to continue.

    We also continue to let our neighbours off the hook by being not only the region’s soft touch but it’s only touch. And by wrongly assuming in our domestic arguments that our neighbours are somehow blameless or not involved.

    Meanwhile, genuine refugees continue to suffer overseas.

    [Editor's Note: The ADA's comprehensive discussion paper on asylum and refugee policy can be read here].

    Wednesday, 16 November 2011
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Thursday, 17 November 2011)

    For many years the Australia Defence Association has argued that India should be rewarded for not proliferating nuclear weapons technology in practice, rather than punished in perpetuity for not acceding to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty on principle.

    Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation (Letters, November 16) criticised the selling of uranium to India, even under strict NPT-type safeguards. But his simplistic and sensationalist claims actually inverted the real strategic implications.

    India is a great power, a democracy and generally a much more responsible international actor than, say, NPT signatories Russia and China.

    Rewarding India would be stabilising not destabilising in terms of both the regional and global nuclear balances. And in reducing the risks of nuclear war through progressing arms control and eventually disarmament in practice.

    Rewarding Indian restraint also sends a powerful strategic message to serial proliferator and sub-continental rival, Pakistan. Stop and recant or your marked strategic inferiority to India can only get worse.

    Finally, the ADA does not intrude into the ACF’s commensurate public-interest watchdog responsibilities for environmental matters. Perhaps the ACF should think twice before again straying into national security policy when so clearly lacking the perspective and expertise to do so.

    Tuesday, 01 November 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Thursday, 03 November 2011)

    Debating war is always difficult, especially as Australia is generally a junior partner in complex coalition wars. It is now much more difficult as so few Australians have personal experience of military service or war, even in extended families.

    But all wars end when one side gives up so anti-war arguments need to be reasoned and evidence-based, not merely ideological, emotive, simplistic or plain defeatist (letters, November 01). Moreover, thoughtless arguments, however inadvertent, actually assist the enemy and unnecessarily complicate the job of our diggers on the ground.

    Since the ADF deployed to Oruzgan in 2005 the Australia Defence Association has regularly warned that our governments were not adequately explaining the strategic rationale for our military effort there and that public support was waning leaking away. Overly-tight ministerial control of defence force public information activities and often poor media coverage exacerbates the problem.

    Much of the ensuing vacuum in informed debate has been filled by emotive or ideological stances, or by arguments that are well-meaning but dependent on misconceptions, over-simplifications and outright myths.

    David Lewis (Letters, November 1) is simply wrong. The international effort in Afghanistan is not illegal, immoral or an “invasion” in law or practice. It has always been underwritten by numerous UN Security Council Resolutions and, as numerous independent polls show, a significant majority of Afghans.

    Patricia Saunders (Letters, November 1) misses that Australia has strategic interests in helping fix Afghanistan as well as our responsibilities under the UN Charter and our wider alliance and moral commitments as an activist liberal democracy.

    Alan Stretton (Letters, November 1), who should know better, omits that warfare is inherently dynamic. Strategic objectives and the potential to attain them necessarily change over the course of any war.

    The relevant strategic calculus is surely that the longer-term and wider geo-political risks of quitting still remain greater than the costs of persevering (for both Australians and Afghans). If this was not so, the ADA would obviously insist on withdrawal.

    Just as we lead criticism of lip-service justifications, formulaic condolences and other political grandstanding whenever the price for the security all Australians enjoy is sadly paid by our diggers.

    Wednesday, 19 October 2011
    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
    (published Thursday, 20 October 2011)

    Steve Biddulph ("its time for the truth to allay, or confirm, our fears about SIEV-X", SMH Opinion, October 19) unfortunately adds to the confusion and paranoia surrounding the October 2001 SIEV-X tragedy.

    Some survivors report their abandonment by unidentified naval vessels following the sinking. The majority do not.

    What Biddulph Steve should have pointed out anyway is that as the nearest Australian naval (or other) vessel was some 250 kilometres away they were definitely not ours.

    And Moreover, an Occam’s razor analysis indicates that the sinking is much more likely to have been a wholly Indonesian activity no matter what their motivation.

    The reluctance by Australian authorities to hold a Royal Commission into SIEV-X is therefore probably for four reasons.

    First, a lack of legal or other jurisdiction as this Indonesian vessel left an Indonesian port and did not sink in Australian waters. sank in Javanese waters well inside Indonesia’s internationally designated zone of search and rescue responsibility.

    Second, given the undoubted involvement of corrupt Indonesian officials in organising the voyage, there was a decision to prioritise our long-term strategic relations with Indonesia rather than further complicate them by publicly exposing the extent of Indonesian criminality involved.

    Third, there was a belief (largely justified by subsequent Indonesian actions to clean up their act), that holding Indonesia responsible forcefully via diplomatic channels instead would achieve more for everyone over the long-run, including preventing further victims in future.

    Fourth, both Australia and Indonesia are a signatories to the November 2000 Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air of the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime. It is surely better that consequent law enforcement measures taken to disrupt people smuggler activities in Indonesia legitimately are undertaken jointly with the Indonesians than by them alone.

    Finally, to infer thatAustralian AFP, ASIS or ADF personnel would somehow deliberately or recklessly kill women and children as some form of deterrent or punishment is despicable.

    So is the inference that they would somehow cover it up if the Indonesian authorities they were working with had done so for whatever reason.

    Wednesday, 12 October 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Professor Bill Maley, Australia’s top academic expert on Afghanistan, appropriately rebutted the wilder claims of Howard Carew and John Coochey (Letters, October 11).

    But Bill’s citing of the lack of Refugee Convention signatories between Afghanistan and Australia also needs to be turned on its head.

    Asylum seeker flows (and the conflicts causing them) are and always should be a regional problem, not Australia’s protection and especially resettlement dilemma alone.

    There will be no effective solution, and increasing risks of broader strategic instability, until more than 7 of the 35 countries between the Aegean and Arafura Seas sign and respect the Refugee Convention.

    India, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia would be a good start, both morally and strategically. No opportunity should be lost in pointing out their hypocrisy, and strategic and moral buck-passing, to any Indian, Singaporean, Malaysian or Indonesian you meet.

    After all, as the comprehensive ADA discussion paper on this issue notes, there is a good take-up of the Convention regionally across South America, the Caribbean and much of Africa and Central Asia.

    Thursday, 29 September 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 03 October 2011)

    Few juxtaposed letters expose flawed argument so comprehensively as David Kibbey does to Judy Bamberger (Letters, September 28). And indeed to the adjoining editorial ("Equal opportunity taken to front line", September 29, p16).

    Kibbey, a distinguished war veteran with experience of close-quarter infantry combat, was later the commandant of the Army’s recruit training centre when it integrated females to achieve gender-neutral training. Moreover, through serious injury in military training to a female family member, the Kibbey family have sadly experienced all dimensions of this complex issue.

    ADF experience in even carefully planned peacetime training is that load-bearing injuries to females are much greater than to men at ratios between 5:1 and 7:1. This is more due to bio-mechanical differences between the genders than a matter of females not being able to achieve combat task-dictated physicality standards.

    Kibbey logically cautions against the simplistic belief that integrating females into the last few combat roles can ignore bio-mechanical differences between men and women. This particularly applies to combat roles, such as the infantry having to carry heavy loads, where technology or other means cannot render integral tasks gender-neutral bio-mechanically and often physically.

    In stark contrast, Bamberger’s confused ramblings seriously misunderstand the whole issue. Especially the legal, moral, OH&S and operational needs to avoid the risk of equity intent ? inequitable result paradoxes.

    Injuring, wounding or killing our female diggers disproportionately to our men doing the same job would be inequitable, unfair, operationally inefficient and unacceptable to the Australian community.

    We need to maximise female employment in the defence force but the complexities and risks sometimes involved cannot be wished away by ignoring or denying them.

    Thursday, 29 September 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (published with editing that unfortunately partly changed the meaning on Saturday, 01 October 2011)

    David Kibbey (letters, 29/9) is a distinguished war veteran with experience of close-quarter infantry combat. He was later the commandant of the Army’s recruit training centre when it integrated females to achieve gender-neutral training.

    Moreover, through serious injury in military training to a female family member, the Kibbey family have sadly experienced all dimensions of this complex issue.

    ADF experience in even carefully planned peacetime training is that load-bearing injuries to females are much greater than to men at ratios between 5 and 7:1. This is more due to bio-mechanical differences between the genders than a matter of some females not being able to achieve combat task-dictated physicality standards.

    Kibbey logically cautions against the simplistic belief that integrating females into the last few combat roles can ignore bio-mechanical differences between men and women.

    This particularly applies to combat roles, such as the infantry having to carry heavy loads, where technology or other means cannot render integral tasks gender-neutral bio-mechanically and often physically.

    For many legal, moral, OH&S and operational reasons the ADF needs to avoid the risk of equity intent ? inequitable result paradoxes. I injuring, wounding or killing our female diggers disproportionately to our men doing the same job would be inequitable, unfair, operationally inefficient and unacceptable to the Australian community.

    We need to maximise female employment in the ADF but the complexities and risks sometimes involved cannot be wished away by ignoring or denying them.

    Or indeed by ministerial fiats issued to distract public attention from other issues.

    Wednesday, 14 September 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Thursday, 15 September 2011)

    Sylvia Miners (“Gender degradation”, Letters, September 14) exemplifies the prejudices, flawed assumptions, misinformation and worse that continually hinder effective public debate on matters affecting our defence force.

    She does not appear to realise that Duntroon cadets have long been of both genders, that the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon are separate institutions, and that the disgraceful April filming incident was at the former not the latter. She Sylvia also oddly misses that even this incident is quite atypical at either institution using any objective measure - or indeed any statistical comparison with civilian tertiary institutions.

    The forthcoming independent report into ADFA by the federal sex discrimination commissioner will hopefully open Miners' Sylvia’s blinkered eyes.

    Thursday, 08 September 2011
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (not published)

    At the very least, Leunig’s cartoon in Wednesday’s “Age” (September 7) demonstrates his intellectual and moral detachment from his citizenship responsibilities to the diggers our country sends to fight its wars.

    They are our Special Forces not “the” Special Forces. They are fellow Australians, not somehow “someone else”, and are lawfully deployed by our Government to fight a war on behalf of us all.

    It is particularly despicable for Leunig to provide the enemy with propaganda fodder by incorrectly claiming that our Special Forces “murder” anyone. Either in combat with the enemy under the Laws of Armed Conflict or at any other time.

    Leunig unprofessionally and immorally ignores the longstanding principle underlying any debate on Australian participation in any war, whether you oppose it or not. Every Australian always has a responsibility to avoid increasing the risks our diggers have been sent to face.

    Argue with the Government all you like but do so responsibly, not by targeting our troops.

    Thursday, 25 August 2011
    Letter to the Newcastle Herald
    (published instead as a longer opinion article here)

    We can all hope that Jeff Corbett (“Finding reason in war”, Newcastle Herald, August 25, p.10) did not intend to be so thoughtlessly offensive.

    Jeff’s notions that the soldier died just “doing his job”, and was not “driven by a noble cause”, confuse several key differences to civilian accidents or illnesses.

    First, the soldiers death stemmed from him doing his duty, on behalf of all Australians, when lawfully deployed to a UN-endorsed conflict by our elected Government.

    Second, an enemy deliberately killed him when doing so. His death resulted from no random accident or illness, no matter how sad or untimely.

    Third, our diggers do believe in a noble cause because every day they witness, first hand, the benefits they help bring Afghans at village level, even if Afghanistan overall is still a mess.

    Jeff’s further false moral equivalence of an Australian soldier, who applies force only in accordance with the Laws of Armed Conflict, with the Taliban who immorally do not comply with international humanitarian law generally, is simply despicable.

    To cap it all off, Jeff then claims, simplistically, that the digger “died in vain”. This is deeply insensitive to the soldier’s family and friends in their initial grief.

    By all means debate our participation in the Afghanistan War, but wait a week or so and then do it responsibly instead.

    Finally, the Corbett diatribe aptly illustrates the dangers in a liberal democracy when the troops on the ground understand the war, and believe in their mission, much more comprehensively than the people back home who sent them.

    Monday, 15 August 2011
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Tuesday, 16 August 2011)

    Geoffrey Barker, “New bid to rein in Defence”, AFR, August 15, oddly forgets that Defence’s old Force Development and Analysis Division (FDA) did not just “decline in the late 1990s”.

    It’s abolition was a major recommendation of the businessmen-led 1997 Defence Efficiency Review. This found FDA’s function to be counter-productive institutionally, and its personnel and organisational culture a major cause of the decades-long, poisonous relations between the public service and the defence force that made the whole department so ineffective when developing new defence capabilities.

    The Defence Department's Force Development and Analysis Division (FDA) FDA was abolished so such development could instead be focused, collaborative and driven by operational priorities, not divisive, time-wasting, expensive and insufficiently linked to executing strategic policy (“New bid to rein in Defence”, opinion, August 15).

    Far from your columnist Geoff Barker's Geoff’s mythical “iron colonels” being the problem in Defence, the entrenched problem has generally been four real and destructive myths.

    • First, that all All or most problems in “Defence” are with the military, not the ever-burgeoning and very top-heavy department.

    • Second, that our Our Australian Defence's Force's defence force’s widely acknowledged professionalism in the field during war and peace-keeping is somehow irrelevant when examining departmental problems and their reform.

    • Third, Tthat it is somehow improper or inefficient ? the opposite of the truth ? for military officers to offer professional advice to gGovernment as to what weapons our defence force actually needs to use to deter wars, and win them if necessary without unnecessary risks to our own troops.

    • Fourth, Tthat the essential constitutional principle of “civil control of the military”, properly exercised only by Ministers and Parliament, somehow justifies civilian public servants supplanting civil control by Ministers or trying to exert pervasive bureaucratic interference in military professional matters.

    Bringing back an FDA-type function, without reining in bureaucratic arrogance and departmental mythology, will be just as disastrous as it was last time.

    Saturday, 06 August 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (published instead as a longer opinion article in the Inquirer section of the Weekend Australian on Saturday, 13 August 2011 (see here)

    Peter Van Onselen ("Former terror suspect is being denied justice again", Opinion, August 6) mistakenly views the David Hicks saga backwards by not applying the relevant international and Australian law in that order.

    As a belligerent captured fighting in a war, Hicks was lawfully interned under the Laws of Armed Conflict as the specialist international law applying. Whatever the perceived international legality of his subsequent, and separate, criminal trial and sentence by US Military Commission - and whether or not profits from his book or other activities are the proceeds of crime or not (and can or should be forfeit) - his internment until at least his trial did not constitute “imprisonment” or being “held without trial” for a single minute.

    Even more relevantly, treachery remains a crime in Australia. Under our reformed (post-Hicks) treachery laws anyone doing now what Hicks did then can have their day facing an Australian court. We owe our diggers no less.

    Hicks’ actions in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, in fighting against a UN-endorsed international force (including Australia) could not be prosecuted only because of the Burchett loophole. Australia’s then archaic treachery laws required a war to be “declared” before serving with the enemy was an offence. But declarations of war had been invalidated by the UN Charter from 1945.

    Moreover, we now know from the contradictory accounts written by and about Hicks, Mamdouh Habib and Jack Thomas, that they cannot all have been “mistakenly” involved with Islamist terrorism.

    Given the extensive omissions, evasions and tendentious claims in Hicks’ diatribe to the gullible, he remains morally guilty of both treachery and of profiting from it.

    If Hicks gets to keep his profits it will only be by another legal technicality, not justice.

    Friday, 05 August 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Wednesday, 10 August 2011)

    Your editorial "pursuit of Hicks a tad vindictive" (August 5, p16), incorrectly described David Hicks as being “arrested” in Afghanistan in 2001. Such mistakes contribute to the endless confusion for some as to the international and Australian law applying to Hicks.

    Hicks was instead captured as a belligerent fighting in a war. He was consequently legitimately interned under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as the specialist international law applying. He did not qualify for conventional prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention because the force he served with, the Taliban, did not adhere to LOAC and international humanitarian law generally. But as the US Supreme Court confirmed in the June 2006 Hamdan ruling, as a captured and interned belligerent he was protected under Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions.

    Whatever your views of the legality of his subsequent and separate criminal trial and sentence by US Military Commission, and whether or not his book's profits resulted from a criminal offence and can or should be forfeited, his internment as a captured belligerent until that trial did not constitute “arrest” or being “held without trial” for a single minute.

    Four Some other points are worth noting.

    First, Hicks was morally guilty of treachery but saved from Australian prosecution only by an archaic legal technicality.

    His actions in 2001 in fighting against a UN-endorsed international force (including Australia) were not then criminal offences in Australia only because of the Burchett loophole in our existing treachery laws. These pre-1945 laws required a war to be “declared” before serving with the enemy could be an offence, but declarations of war had been invalidated by the UN Charter after 1945.

    Second, under our updated treachery laws, anyone doing now what Hicks did then can have their day in an Australian court.

    Third, if you read the inter-related and somewhat contradictory accounts written by and about Hicks, Mamdouh Habib and Jack Thomas, at least one of them has to be lying about their then commitment to terrorism.

    Third Fourth, given the extensive omissions, evasions and tendentious claims in Hicks’ diatribe to the gullible, he remains morally guilty of profiting from his crimes and would keep his book profits only by another technical escape from the law.

    Monday, 01 August 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (published Wednesday, 03 August 2011)

    Various correspondents ignore the particularly damning expert testimony to the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires from Major General Jim Molan and Dr Nick Jans concerning high-level leadership and how to command and run an operational (as opposed to a bureaucratic) headquarters.

    Molan was invited to testify by the Commission as an expert witness based on, among other things, his experiences of commanding a battalion, brigade and division, being our Defence Attache in Indonesia during the 1999 East Timor crisis, and having been the Chief-of-Operations for the army-level joint headquarters conducting the coalition effort during a crucial stage in the Iraq War.

    Jans, an academic specialist from the ADF’s Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics (note the integral inter-relationship) is a retired brigadier and war veteran. He also nearly lost his house in Marysville to the fires.

    Christine Nixon’s failure in command was not just her absences at critical times on the day, her lack of effective deputisation, her lack of contactability, or indeed her unwillingness to subsequently accept responsibility by trying to attribute criticism of her performance to perceptions of politics, gender and obesity.

    As the expert testimony spelled out in detail, her disastrous record before, during and after the crisis encompassed failures to ensure the communications and staff systems of her emergency headquarters were capable of coping with a crisis, failures in exercising and testing them adequately, and failures as the overall commander in not setting an example to every level of her staff, and later the people of Victoria, by necessarily making command decisions and accepting absolute responsibility for everything.

    Not that this should be surprising. Police across Australia have long joked that the easiest way to get Nixon to leave any informal professional discussion was to introduce an operational policing topic.

    Monday, 01 August 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Rod Olsen (Letters, July 31) seems to have fallen into the same historiographical traps that so ensnared Bernard Davis and Peter Marshall (Letters, February 8 and 12).

    As well as avoiding the distortions of hindsight, folk memory and political bias, we always need to be aware of what historians refer to as “presentism” and the “condescension of posterity”.

    The first wrongly applies contemporary perspectives to explaining past events, rather than placing them in their historical context, especially where current political opinions are projected into past strategic debates. The second falsely assumes that, because we now know what happened, we are either smarter than past Australians or would undoubtedly have then thought differently to them.

    In 1914 and 1939 most Australians were just as intellectually and strategically aware as we are now. They considered that Australia would suffer greatly in strategic, economic and liberty terms if Germany and later Japan won those wars.

    Whether they were correct or not, and no matter what some might think now of their decisions then, their heavy sacrifices should continue to be honoured in a non-partisan manner by all Australians. Due commemoration is not glorification of war nor militarist inculcation.

    Tuesday, 19 July 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    John Simmons (Letters, 19/7) touches on some problems with the way the ADF promotes officers to middle and senior ranks but starts at the wrong end (the top) through omitting the history and complexity involved.

    The generation, for example, who pioneered genuine joint-Service approaches in the 1980s and 1990s largely sacrificed their careers in doing so because the three Services then largely ignored or severely under-rated performance outside the Service concerned. Especially where single-Service dinosaurs resisted moves to “jointery” and punished those who excelled in furthering it.

    Angus Houston was unique among the current generation of senior officers in having held two genuine joint jobs below one-star rank. Most have not had a single, even nominal, joint job below that rank.

    Moreover, the recurring inequity of promotion in the Army above major-equivalent being generally harder than in the Air Force and the Navy remains largely insoluble in an increasingly integrated defence force that will always need synergistic but distinct Service professional specialisation.

    There is merit, however, in four bottom-up reforms.

    First, the purported equivalence of military ranks to Public Service grades should be updated to reflect reality, especially the career-experiences and post-graduate training and qualifications actually involved.

    For example, a staff college graduate commander, lieutenant colonel or wing commander whose 15-20 year career has included a range of sub-unit and then unit command, teaching and progressively more senior staff positions is clearly far superior in experience and overall organisational value than virtually all EL1, and probably many and perhaps most EL2.

    This is why "civilianising" ADF positions, supposedly to save money, so frequently backfires. With a lieutenant colonel, for example, within a few years there are often two EL1s (or even an EL2 and two EL1s) doing the same or similar job at much greater expense and at perhaps some operational cost.

    Second, officers whose further promotion is eventually vetoed should have the right to challenge the promotion board concerned directly, face-to-face around the table, to guarantee greater fairness, integrity and transparency of such decisions

    Third, within limits, officers should have the right to challenge selections for unit and higher command appointments and commensurate senior staff positions.

    Fourth, wherever possible, one-star and above vacancies should be advertised, especially joint-Service ones.

    Wednesday, 15 June 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Friday, 17 June 2011)

    Several recent letters [to the Canberra Times] unfortunately exemplify what happens when some in our community become so disengaged from fellow Australians serving in our defence force that they are unable to debate national participation in a war responsibly. To the extent some correspondents seem unable to realise why such responsibility is necessary, some are not even able to recognise irresponsibility or try to excuse it, and one even somehow denies Australia is fighting a war in Afghanistan.

    The Australia Defence Association has not once suggested or implied that Australians cannot or should not debate the war in Afghanistan or Australia’s contribution to it.

    But, as the relevant public-interest watchdog, we will continue to remind the thoughtless or the ideologically rigid that debate and dissent on this topic needs to be undertaken responsibly, and that sensitivity is needed at times to avoid magnifying the worry or grief defence force families in our midst have to endure.

    At least in the case of a war, no Australian has unlimited licence to engage in any form of dissent. Especially dissent that unfairly or improperly risks increasing the dangers our diggers face on the ground in Afghanistan. This was widely understood in our previous wars, up until the withdrawal from Vietnam in 1972, because many Australians had personal, close-family or community knowledge of such risks through fighting or living through World War II.

    Our reformed treachery laws rightly strike an appropriate balance between personal liberty and the reciprocal national responsibility to our troops of every Australian. These laws rightly outlaw acts that assist an enemy our government commits our defence force to fight, on behalf of our country, where such assistance is intentional.

    Irresponsible debate merely strengthens the case for further reform to outlaw reckless acts of assistance as well.

    Friday, 10 June 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 13 June 2011)

    Recent debate on the Afghanistan War continues to demonstrate the longstanding ADA observation that most arguments against the war have a factual deficit and most in favour have a conceptual one. But whether you are for or against this war several things about any war always need to be borne in mind.

    First, Australia is at war, not just our defence force and the families of its personnel. We are all involved.

    Second, our governments commit our defence force to war so criticism, and ensuing actions, should be directed at the former not the latter.

    Third, all wars are ultimately contests of will and end when one side gives up.

    Fourth, there is a moral, legal and intellectual line between legitimate and responsible dissent from such a government decision and assisting the enemy we send our diggers to fight. Every Australian needs to observe this line carefully because encouraging the enemy to believe Australia and our allies might be giving up, however unconsciously or recklessly, unfairly disadvantages our troops in the field and those Afghans on our side.

    Fifth, in the era of the Web, blogs, social media – and the ensuing avalanche of accessible views on each side ranging from balanced to downright ignorant or biased – the risk of assisting the enemy (even accidentally) is much greater than in our previous wars.

    Finally, most Australians now thankfully lack personal experience of war or defence force service, even in their extended families. But this has unfortunately led many to become intellectually and morally disengaged from their citizenship responsibility to debate our nation’s wars responsibly. Indeed some now even deny such a responsibility.

    Too many are also now so insensitive to the grieving families of our war dead that they brutally exacerbate such grief rather than respect the individual and family sacrifice involved. By all means debate the war, but not when such grief is at its initial height and never by thoughtlessly claiming our diggers are dying in vain (even if you believe this).

    Moreover, such a claim is usually just as morally and conceptually invalid as its opposite – that we must continue to fight a war or else such sacrifices would be wasted. And just as disgusting as the increasingly formulaic condolences to the grieving families from too many of our politicians and civic leaders.

    Thursday, 19 May 2011
    Letter to The West Australian
    (not published)

    Your article “Bitter rift over new defence chief” (May 19, p.11) incorrectly described the corporate succession plan for the ADF leadership as a purely military intention.

    As in any large organisation, it has instead necessarily been developed and broadly endorsed over the last half-decade by the last three (Labor) Ministers for Defence, the last three Secretaries of the Department of Defence, the current CDF and indeed all recent (Coalition) shadow ministers and ministers.

    The article also nonsensically claimed that the ADF somehow “resents interference from its civilian masters”.

    As a necessarily apolitical institution our defence force has never resisted the essential constitutional principle of “civil control of the military” by Ministers on behalf of parliament.

    But civil control is rightly different in law, history and practice to a notion of “civilian mastership”.

    Such a notion does not justify, for example, amateurish interference in military professional matters by public servants, armchair strategists in academia or would-be war correspondents in the media - or automatically validate criticism by them - just because they are civilians and the ADF therefore just slaves to their will or always in the wrong because of the uniforms worn.

    Moreover, the ADF is now largely prevented by ministerial direction and bureaucracy from answering back when publicly criticised. This emphasises the need for the longstanding and undoubted loyalty to civil control by our defence force to be reciprocated by ministers defending the ADF from inaccurate, biased or unfair public attacks.

    Monday, 02 May 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Wednesday, 04 May 2011)

    It is Howard Carew (letters, May 01) who has missed the point, not professors Greg Jackson and Jeffrey Grey, but tragically he is not alone.

    The commandant of ADFA did not treat the filming incident as a “misdemeanour” as Mr Carew mistakenly claims. He called in the military and civilian police straight away – and well before the incident became public. The independent Kirkham Inquiry will no doubt vindicate this and other of his actions.

    Both Jackson and Grey were or are longstanding senior (civilian) academics at ADFA and have a deep knowledge of the academy, its student body and its institutional culture. If their judgement is that the recent incident is neither typical, nor indicative of a systemic problem, then surely the community should trust their first-hand views.

    There should be no more public hysteria fuelled by inaccurate, sensationalist and often biased media coverage ? and by ministerial panic.

    Thursday, 21 April 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Your April 19 editorial and letters from John Simmons and Patrick Ryan (April 18) ignore that the constitutional principle of civil control of the military can only be exercised properly when in accordance with the Constitution, the Defence Act and the principles of natural justice and administrative law.

    Whatever his motivation concerning the recent incident at ADFA, the current Minister for Defence has clearly not done so. Instead of pointing out that the incident was being properly investigated (as he now admits) he poured verbal petrol on the fire of uninformed public hysteria.

    Section 2 of the Defence Act deliberately separates civil control (by the Minister) from command (by the Chief of the Defence Force), yet this Minister improperly intervened in the chain of command to publicly traduce and scapegoat the commandant of ADFA. This Minister then sought, improperly and perhaps unlawfully, to quash a disciplinary penalty.

    Mr Simmons is incorrect, This latter action did contravene the separation of powers between executive and judicial or quasi-judicial functions.

    Even if the ADF’s statutory disciplinary code is not based in Chapter III of the Constitution it is still immune from executive fiat. Moreover, under the principles of administrative law, any Minister should avoid trespassing, or being seen to trespass, on the exercise of statutory quasi-judicial functions whether they be an ADF disciplinary tribunal or, say, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal.

    There are also general limits as to what a Minister can direct a statutory officeholder (CDF, Service Chief) to do where Parliament has conferred some authority to exercise power independently of the Minister for good reason – such as to command the defence force.

    In legal terms, the stream (Minister) cannot rise above the source (statute/Parliament).

    Finally, no-one in the ADF, as Mr Ryan oddly believes, thinks the defence force somehow works for the Governor-General and not the elected government.

    The GG’s designation as Commander-in-Chief of the ADF under the Constitution (Section 68) is titular and exercised only on the advice of the Executive Council (ie. the PM and Cabinet).

    For example, when later asked what would have happened if Sir John Kerr had tried to use the ADF to dismiss the Whitlam government, the then ADF Chief (General Sir Frank Hassett) noted that the military would necessarily have followed the directions of that government’s Minister for Defence.

    Thursday, 14 April 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)

    Last Monday’s editorial and many recent letters about our defence force are quite chilling in their shameful, Dreyfus-like, rush to judgement irrespective of the facts, the law and the principles of natural justice.

    Even more importantly, what really went wrong over the last week or so was not that the ADF’s chiefs somehow resisted civil control of the military but that they had to insist on the Minister exercising it properly.

    The clash is definitely not anything to do with the ADF somehow improperly resisting ministerial authority, fighting reform of the Department of Defence or condoning sexist behaviour.

    As per the Constitution and the Defence Act, civil control of the military is rightly exercised by the Minister for Defence on behalf of parliament and the executive. However, our tried and tested Westminster constitutional model deliberately separates control and command to remove the gun from our politics ? and the party politics from the institutional culture and operations of our military.

    Command is vested in the Chief of Defence Force and Service Chiefs as statutory officeholders. By law the only ADF member the Minister for Defence can direct is the CDF, who then converts the Minister’s directions to orders and passes them down the military chain of command.

    If the Minister has concerns about any individual he needs to take them up with the CDF, by convention in private.

    He should never, as occurred last week, worsen public hysteria by reaching down into the chain of command to scapegoat the commandant of ADFA publicly. Nor should he unfairly gag those falsely accused or create a second victim of the ADFA sexual assault incident.

    The Minister further abused his lawful authority by interfering improperly in an on-going defence force disciplinary proceeding ? contrary to longstanding conventions and, at the very least, the spirit of both the law and the principle of the separation of powers between executive and even quasi-judicial functions or statutory disciplinary codes.

    Finally, the Minister is also neglecting his responsibility to defend the ADF collectively, and its personnel individually, from unfair and misinformed criticism. Just as the Attorney-General has to defend a judiciary who also cannot answer back.

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Bruce Haigh (“Looking at Australian Defence Force through a glass darkly”, April 13, p.19), unwittingly encompasses nearly every aspect of the current hysterical stampede following an undoubted and reprehensible sexual assault at ADFA.

    Offering not a shred of fact or responsible argument, Haigh defames the Commandant of ADFA, Bruce Kafer, by claiming that he somehow “failed to perform his duty” and “failed to show the requisite leadership”. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and much against the accusation, as refutations of the many baseless allegations against Kafer and his staff are now finally drip fed out by the Minister for Defence.

    I hope Kayfer sues Haigh for the cowardly calumny, even before the Kirkham Inquiry spreads egg all over the face of Haigh and all the others who have rushed to judgement through ignorance, bias or hypocrisy.

    How Haigh can so brazenly deny that Kafer is the second victim of this incident is also surely beyond the understanding of anyone who respects the principles of natural justice. Haigh is also clearly oblivious to the irony that it is such unfounded and malicious criticism of Kafer that has caused such considerable injustice to a decent man who did his duty – as the Kirkham Inquiry will no doubt find.

    Finally, Haigh fundamentally misunderstands, or more likely misrepresents deliberately, the principle of civil control of the military (by the Minister) and how command of the ADF is properly exercised (by the CDF) under that control.

    What went wrong over the last week was not that the military’s chiefs somehow resisted proper civil control but that they had to insist on it.

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    published Thursday, 14 April 2011)

    “The military versus its masters”, Opinion, April 13, p.55 was entirely wrong about every aspect of the current clash between the defence force and Defence Minister Stephen Smith its Minister.

    Constitutionally, and in the Defence Act, civil control of the military can only be properly exercised by the Minister for Defence - on behalf of parliament and the executive – not by Public Service bureaucrats as Geoffrey Barker Paul Dibb improperly implied.

    The tried and tested Westminster constitutional model deliberately separates control and command. This has long removed the gun from our politics and the party politics from the institutional culture and operations of our military.

    Command of the defence force is therefore vested by law in the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) and Service Chiefs as statutory officeholders. The only Australian Defence Force member the Minister can legally direct is the CDF, who then converts the Minister’s directions to orders and passes them down the military chain of command.

    What went wrong over the last week was not that the military’s chiefs somehow resisted proper civil control but that they had to insist on it.

    The Minister has a responsibility to defend the ADF collectively, and its personnel individually, from unfair and inaccurate criticism (in this case media and public hysteria about the Commandant of ADFA). Just as the Attorney-General has to similarly defend the judiciary.

    If the Minister has concerns about any individual he should take them up privately with the CDF, not worsen the hysteria by reaching down into the chain of command to humiliate an ADF member publicly. Especially when this officer was being defamed, was not allowed to explain what had really occurred and was effectively denied natural justice. And where this Minister has recent form for scapegoating the Chief of Navy over the amphibious fleet.

    Finally, the Minister compounded all this by interfering improperly in an on-going defence force disciplinary proceeding - contrary to longstanding conventions, and at the very least the spirit of both the law and the principle of the separation of powers between executive and judicial/disciplinary functions.

    The clash is definitely not anything to do with the ADF somehow resisting ministerial authority or reform of the Department of Defence.

    Friday, 08 April 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published until 14 April 2011 during which time the public hysteria had become much worse)

    The nub of the constitutional, legal and professionalism issues that have now emerged from a disgraceful sexual assault at ADFA is simple.

    Under the constitution and the Defence Act, the Minister rightly exercises civil control of the military on behalf of parliament and the executive (although some APS bureaucrats improperly think they should too). But command of the defence force is rightly vested by law separately in the CDF and Service Chiefs as the governor-general’s appointment as commander-in-chief is purely titular.

    This tried and tested constitutional model has long removed the gun from Westminster-system politics and the party politics from the institutional culture and operations of the military in those democracies. An apolitical defence force that defends all Australians equally is essential to our parliamentary democratic system and indeed to the professionalism of our defence force.

    If the Minister for Defence thinks he has a problem with anyone in the defence force, both legally, morally and by longstanding convention he should advise the CDF of this, preferably in private, so the CDF can properly address the matter through the chain of command.

    Instead, in answer to an ignorant and provocative question by a journalist, Stephen Smith unwisely humiliated a dedicated senior ADF officer in public, and tried to scapegoat him for doing what that officer considered to be his professional duty where the Minister did not know, nor could be expected to know, all the complex circumstance involved.

    He then publicly interfered in on-going defence force disciplinary proceedings - again contrary to longstanding conventions, probably the law (in spirit at least) and the principle of the separation of powers (between executive and judicial or disciplinary functions).

    This is not a minor matter, nor one of the ADF somehow resisting reform or Minister Smith’s grip on his department and the ADF.

    The Minister has dug himself into this hole and he should stop digging. Including his staff briefing pet journalists to traduce the Australia Defence Association for doing its job as the independent, non-partisan, national public-interest watchdog for defence issues.

    Monday, 04 April 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)

    Your article “Spy chief told UK to boycott Evatt as PM” (April 4, p.1) only confirmed what most students of the period already realised anyway – Spry’s professional concerns about Evatt’s mental stability and consequent reliability if he became PM.

    The article ignored this occurred at a high point in the Cold War, Australia’s strategic relationship with the US had only just been rebuilt, we then had much closer alliance with the UK, and the Petrov affair occurred just after the armistice (not peace) in the Korean War - when the strategic threat from Soviet-led communism was overt and growing - and our diggers still occupied front-line defensive positions there.

    Only cursory mention was made of the major problems caused by the previous Labor government’s initial unwillingness to accept that Soviet espionage had thoroughly penetrated the Australian government throughout the 1940s. A threat which led Chifley to create ASIO to fix the problem and reassure our allies that Australia could be trusted to respect confidences.

    But the biggest omission from the article was commonplace acceptance of Evatt’s burgeoning mental instability even then. Instability confirmed in detail by his bizarre behaviour at and after the subsequent Royal Commission into Soviet espionage, his sudden and disastrous splitting of the ALP in even more bizarre circumstances, and as recorded in most memoirs of the period by Labor politicians.

    There was also no discussion that no modern, mainstream, Australian political party would elect or retain a leader as mentally ill as Evatt. Nor that his leadership when so sick was an undoubted tragedy for Labor and Australia.

    But the key point is that if Evatt could not be trusted to respect the security of intelligence provided by allies (for reasons of illness, ideology or both), then those allies were entitled not to provide it to him.

    In such an unprecedented and extremely difficult situation where the ALP would or could not remove their ill leader, the head of ASIO was surely duty-bound to advise such key allies of his professional opinion. No disloyalty to Australia was involved. Spry did not suggest that such material should not continue to be shared with relevant Australian Cabinet ministers and officials, only that Evatt was a serious problem and why.

    Finally, Spry was Director-General of ASIO, our national security intelligence agency. He was not a “spy chief” as one of ASIO’s roles is to deter and prevent spying, not undertake it.

    Such limited analysis, amateur terminology and shallow conclusions are to be expected when only the subjective views of two left-wing academics are quoted.

    Tuesday, 15 March 2011
    Letter to Crikey.com
    (published Wednesday, 16 March 2011)

    Margaret Simons’ analysis of the first week of “7:30” (Crikey, yesterday, Item 15) claimed that all the stories broken “deserved their place in the program”. But surely the highly inaccurate and sensationalist first-night story about the poor state of the Navy’s amphibious fleet was a particularly disappointing launch for a revamped approach to serious current affairs television by the national broadcaster?

    While wrongly castigating the Navy for the disastrous state of its amphibious ships, the program did not once point out that responsibility for their maintenance was largely removed from the Navy in 2003 by the Department of Defence, supposedly to save money and with little care for the strategic consequences and operational considerations.

    Nor that the root cause of the problem was the particularly short-sighted decision by the Keating Government in 1993-94 to over-rule professional advice from the defence force and buy second-hand American, rather than new, ships in the first place. Again to supposedly save money without due care for the strategic and operational problems caused.

    A disastrous decision that has instead cost the taxpayer more over the long run and saddled the Navy with 40-year old adapted ships, rather than purpose-designed ones that would now be under half-way through their operating lives.

    Given the several decades-long life-cycle of many defence weapons platforms (ships, vehicles, aircraft, etc), short-sighted and incorrect decisions in defence procurement have a very long life. They can reach out to touch politicians and governments well into the future. The current Minister for Defence and Treasurer, for example, were advisers to PM Keating when the wrong decision was taken and must now cope with the consequences nearly 20 years later. This irony is not lost on anyone in our defence force or indeed anyone with a long memory of defence issues.

    The “7:30” program was aware of all this background (because the ADA had advised them) but oddly chose not to tackle the situation from a long-term perspective. It seems the quest for a first-night splash, and perhaps the scalp of the Chief of Navy, won out over the facts and balanced analysis of the causes.

    Again ironically, the current Chief of Navy has done more to fix such problems than anyone else in the Department of Defence.

    Indeed a good question for “7:30” to have asked instead for their splash is why Stephen Smith has not been defending Vice-Admiral Crane from all the incorrect media and political scape-goating?

    Wednesday, 09 March 2011
    Letter to The Geelong Advertiser
    (published Tuesday, 10 March 2011)

    Your article Recent coverage on on the future of Fort Queenscliff failed to explain the problem or sheet home responsibility.

    As with many historic defence sites around Australia the base problem is that the fort no longer has any military utility but high heritage maintenance costs. The defence force (and the Commonwealth government) no longer needs it but the state government does not want to take it over (as has occurred with all the old forts in other harbours around the country) and pay the upkeep costs.

    It could, however, have been very different.

    In the early 2000s the Army sought to move the Land Warfare Development Centre (LWDC) from Puckapunyal to Queenscliff to replace Command and Staff College. The centre was well-suited to Queenscliff, the layout of the fort and the amenities of the area. It could have stayed there for decades.

    Its location in Puckapunyal has long created major staffing problems because that area does not suit the family structure of the older, more senior-ranking personnel needed to staff the centre, especially in terms of career continuity for older spouses and the range and quality of secondary schools and tertiary institutions needed for older children.

    Unfortunately Puckapunyal sits in the highly marginal seat of McEwen and the then federal MP, Fran Bailey, was also the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence. She refused abused her position by refusing to let any unit be moved from Puckapunyal, thereby incurring permanent massive costs for the taxpayer and perpetual staffing difficulties for the LWDC.

    Few ministerial decisions have been so short-sighted and destructive ? for the LWDC, the Army, the taxpayer and now the Borough of Queenscliff and the greater Geelong area.

    Tuesday, 08 March 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)

    Calls by the Opposition Spokesman for Defence, Senator David Johnston, for the Chief of Navy to be held accountable for the worn-out state of the Navy’s amphibious fleet are misplaced at best (and will do nothing for confidence that he is properly across defence issues).

    The Chief of Navy largely lost the responsibility for warship maintenance in 2003 when this was transferred to the Defence Materiel Organisation and Navy Support Command was disbanded.

    Yet again, a departmental reorganisation aimed at supposedly saving money has instead resulted in significant operational costs to the defence force and risks to Australians generally, as well as greater financial costs over the long term to the taxpayer.

    All the virulent public scape-goating of Vice Admiral Crane would not be happening, of course, if the Minister for Defence was properly defending the Chief of Navy from uninformed, and often ignorant, criticism in the media.

    Those with long memories of defence planning know that the main reason why HMA Ships Kanimbla and Manoora are now worn out is because the government in 1993 chose to save money in the short term, against professional advice from the defence force, by forcing the Navy take second-hand American ships rather than get new ones that would now only be halfway through their operational lives.

    A short-sighted decision, incidentally, taken by a government in which Stephen Smith and Wayne Swan were advisers to the prime minister. The irony of this is not lost on members of the defence force and indeed anyone who is informed on defence issues.

    Friday, 04 March 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Friday’s editorial on departmental budgeting unfortunately cited Defence’s purchase of an additional C-17 strategic transport aircraft as an example of wasteful spending, just to expend allocations by June 30.

    It is really an excellent example of the opposite.

    First, capital investment programming to rebuild our defence force after the prolonged neglect of the 1980s and 1990s necessarily means a multi-year, not single-year, approach.

    Second, as Dr Mark Thomson from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has noted in this and previous years, it makes sense to bring other programming decisions forward if a supplier is behind schedule on a current-year program.

    Third, the extra C-17 is not additional investment overall anyway as it is almost entirely offset by cancelling later-year aircraft in the C-130J program.

    Finally, as with the UK and Canada, the decision to obtain more C-17s is based on practical experience of the aircraft’s utility.

    As with most other aspects of the flawed 1980s defence-of-Australia dogma, events and consequent ADF operations in East Timor, Aceh, Nias, PNG, Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan have continued to disprove the idiocy of largely denuding our defence force of the air and maritime strategic mobility capabilities it needs to execute government policy.

    Tuesday, 22 February 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Parts of today’s editorial on ASIO were undergraduate-style polemics from a bygone era, not the considered comment and adherence to facts expected of a major newspaper.

    Perhaps the editorialist’s confusion, or nostalgic rush to the head from their student days, stemmed from misunderstanding that ASIO is a security intelligence agency not an “intelligence service”. And from not appreciating that ASIO, far from being “essentially secretive and undemocratic in nature”, is a well-regulated agency operating under numerous ministerial, parliamentary and other safeguards.

    It has no power of arrest, just like its counterparts in other Westminster-system democracies, and poses no threat to democratic discourse that is undertaken peacefully, publicly, lawfully and with respect to the democracy that ASIO helps protect. ASIO operations are for all practical purposes really no more intrusive than most other departments, especially those who often interact with citizens such as Centrelink or Medicare.

    It is also no more secretive than other departments with an obvious national security or police role such as Defence and the AFP. ASIO is naturally more conscious than most departments of a citizen’s right to privacy and the need for a strict apolitical approach organisationally. Certainly much more so than the ABC and the Department of Immigration.

    Accusing the new ASIO building of being an “intrusive secret police headquarters” is simply emotive, incorrect and irrelevant. The headquarters of all our six intelligence and security agencies are in the parliamentary triangle – as are all other important Commonwealth departments and agencies.

    Friday, 18 February 2011
    Letter to The West Australian
    (not published)

    Andrew Probyn (“Minister faces defence battle”, February 18, p.21), no doubt unconsciously, produced several remarkable ironies when discussing the current poor state of the Navy’s amphibious fleet.

    He misses that most of the responsibility for ship maintenance was long ago removed from the Navy (to the Defence Materiel Organisation), but then suggests “navy chiefs [get] the bollocking they deserve”.

    Andrew then quotes camp oven-to-kettle criticism from former Defence official Hugh White, a leading exponent of the strategic school long strongly opposed to the ADF being strategically deployable at all. A school, in fact, whose trenchant opposition to amphibiosity almost caused us major strategic humiliation in East Timor, if not for the ADF’s “can do” attitude and Dili being relatively close.

    Then we come to the root-cause irony that the now well-recognised incorrect decision to go for old, second-hand and barely suitable amphibious ships in 1993-94, rather than get new ones suited to Australia’s requirements and save money over the long-run, was taken deliberately by the government in which Stephen Smith was an adviser to Paul Keating.

    The final irony is that the current Chief of Navy has probably done more to fix operational, materiel and personnel problems across the whole fleet than anyone else in Defence.

    After Vice-Admiral Crane has been so wrongly blamed and “bollocked” in so much uninformed media and popular comment, it is surely now time for Minister Smith to emphasise this truth in public.

    Friday, 18 February 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)

    Henry Ergas (“Captain Kafka running Defence, February 18, p.12) shows no understanding of how to measure and test defence capability development.

    Nor of the relationship between studying a largely unknowable future, that must be met by effective strategic planning, and then executed by focused, flexible and adaptable force structuring. Hence his 1950s-era claim that “defence acquisition decisions reflect compromises between the Services’ wish lists”.

    Then he oddly describes Sir Arthur Tange as somehow being “the greatest reformer in the department’s history” when Tange was the one most responsible for creating the mess in Defence in the first place. Not least by delaying an effective strategic-level, joint-Service command structure for two generations after they were implemented in comparable countries to, among other things, eradicate harmful inter-Service rivalry.

    Finally, Henry misses that it is primarily not the Navy’s fault that its 40-year old ships are finally worn out (as is much else in the ADF).

    Australia serially under-invested in our defence force for the three decades before 2000, hence the catch-up increases needed since then; another key point Henry ignores. Indeed it is financial theorists, and other closet Napoleons, that have too often produced the glib excuses enabling governments to disguise their prolonged neglect of the ADF from the Australian people.

    Sunday, 13 February 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published)

    Peter Marshall (Letters, February 12) and Bernard Davis (Letters, February 8) seem to have been confused by editing of the ADA letter (February 4) about observing the differences between commemoration and (militarist) celebration of our war dead. The words “had to defend” and “have to” (fight) were unfortunately omitted from our discussion of the defence of liberties in war (in general), both past and probable future ones respectively.

    But Peter and Bernard also ignore an important principle. Current arguments about the causes, justifications and results of the more controversial wars, even those long past, should surely be entirely separate from our honouring of those lost in war because of what they believed at the time were their responsibilities as Australian citizens.

    Moreover, we need to avoid the distortions of hindsight, folk memory and what historians refer to as “presentism” or the "condescension of posterity" ? applying contemporary perspectives to explaining past events rather than placing these events in their historical context (especially where this involves the projection into past strategic debates of current political opinions).

    In 1914, for example, most Australians were just as intellectually and strategically aware as we are now. They considered that Australia would suffer greatly in economic, strategic and liberty terms if Germany won the war.

    Whether they were correct or not, and no matter what some might think now of their decisions then, such heavy sacrifices should continue to be honoured in a non-partisan manner by all Australians.

    Monday, 07 February 2011
    Letter to The Australian
    (published Tuesday, 08 February 2011)
    (similar letter published in full by The Canberra Times on Monday, 14 February 2011)

    Whatever the merits of its arguments either way, the real issue is that the Kokoda Foundation study, “Australia’s Strategic Edge in 2030”, again highlights the flawed Defence White Paper process used since the mid 1970s to plan Australia’s future security ("Boost military to take on China", The Australian, February 7, p.5-6).

    The 2009 White Paper process was better than its predecessors, but neither the way they are prepared or the resulting papers have been intellectually or institutionally robust enough for such an important task. And the defence investment promises made in White Papers have never been kept by governments anyway.

    Finally, such White Papers are limited in how they can justify defence strategies and capabilities because, by definition, they are declaratory policy not what Australia can and does really think.

    Instead of such flawed bureaucratic processes, and the partisan or academic squabbling which invariably follows, we need to use a formal strategic intelligence estimate of the various possibilities and their likelihoods followed by a formal strategic appreciation to derive the best responses.

    Every country needs to work to stop another Cold War. China and the US also need to be discouraged from becoming peer strategic competitors in another Cold War.

    A formal strategic appreciation of the challenges, opportunities and threats caused by the rise of China would be a much better means for Australia to encourage the former and discourage the latter.

    Wednesday, 02 February 2011
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Monday, 07 February 2011)

    Both sides of politics are being less than correct historically when attributing blame for sudden and burgeoning deficiencies in defence force amphibious vessel capabilities.

    There are four root causes to the problem, all of them ignored by the politicians and indeed missed by most media reporting.

    First, largely inadequate investment in defence capabilities by governments of both political persuasions since World War II has meant precious lessons from the Pacific campaign about Australia needing extensive amphibious capabilities were mostly lost for over four decades. Australia remains a heavily seaborne-trade dependent, island continent, surrounded on two sides by archipelagoes and with vast oceans in every direction. We are a country also responsible strategically and/or legally for ten per cent of the Earth’s surface (most of it ocean).

    Second, amphibiosity became a cultural and organisational orphan in our defence force because political horizons, and departmental bureaucratic and funding arrangements, from the 1940s to the 1990s savagely discriminated against joint (tri-Service) capabilities in favour of exclusively single-Service ones.

    Third is a cultural problem in the Navy (and to some extent the other two Services), which for too long regarded amphibiosity as a third-level, or even irrelevant, professional qualification and operational skill. Even now the Navy’s elite Principal Warfare Officers (PWOs) cannot specialise in amphibious warfare as a core skill and be badged accordingly until 2013.

    Finally, once again, governments are at fault for short-term thinking driven by diverting defence investment to vote-buying elsewhere.

    As with many naval vessels, it has cost more over the life-cycle of our amphibious ships to buy, maintain and upgrade second-hand, old or inadequate vessels than it would have cost to procure and maintain adequate new ships and regularly replace them in the first place. Moreover, if the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and early Howard governments had invested in sufficient, bigger, and new ships matched to regional maritime conditions, strategic requirements and operational needs, since 1987 we would have much more easily handled regional contingencies in Fiji, Vanuatu, Bougainville, PNG, Solomon Islands and East Timor.

    In hull terms, steel is cheap and air is free. Modern ships of size can now be run by much smaller crews than in the past. This is why the modern Canberra class amphibious ships coming into service in the next decade mid 20-teens will revolutionise how the ADF can work and should think in deterrence, stability, peacekeeping, disaster relief, warfighting, and diplomatic and sovereignty support operations generally.

    Wednesday, 02 February 2011
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Friday, 04 February 2011)

    Much correspondence on the proposed memorials for the world wars, both for and against, has missed some of the historical and enduring perspectives involved.

    First, the continuing importance of the vista from the new and old parliament houses down Federation Mall across the lake up Anzac Parade to the Australian War Memorial is not just scenic. It is an important symbolic, moral, historical and indeed practical reminder to all at Parliament House, and all who visit it, that generations of Australianshave defended had to defend these liberties in war. Most of them ordinary Australians serving in our defence force temporarily.

    Second, objections to the new memorials on the grounds they somehow encourage militarism are, at best, ahistorical and show considerable confusion about the differences between commemoration and celebration.

    Third, my observation is that the commemorative focus of the current generation of war veterans and their families, both symbolically and personally, is on the names of their mates, comrades and loved ones properly recorded perpetually in bronze in the roll-of-honour above the Australian War Memorial’s pool of memory.

    Finally, Australia has fought 12 wars and mounted some 45 peacekeeping and related operations since federation. We will undoubtedly have to fight and mount many more in future. Only three of the twelve memorial sites along Anzac Parade are spare (with one more reserved for the peacekeepers). Only the Korean and Vietnam Wars have been commemorated individually (for reasons peculiar to their era and community treatment of their veterans since).

    On practical, symbolic and aesthetic grounds these, and the lakeshore parts of the very meaningful Parliament House – War Memorial vista, should surely now be reserved to commemorate worthwhile generic sacrifices (nurses, navy, army, air force, merchant marine, peacekeepers, etc) and not every war, other operation or campaign, current political fashion or ethnic group individually.

Letters: 2010

  • Letters archive 2010

    This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2010.


    Monday, 22 November 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com
    (published Tuesday, 23 November 2010) 

    Re. "Elite Oz soldiers in covert operations for top-secret base” (yesterday, Item 1). As the independent, non-partisan, national public-interest watchdog for defence and wider national security issues, can we point out that the article by Antony Lowenstein in yesterday's Crikey suffered two substantial and serious flaws that surely should have been challenged and corrected during the Crikey editorial process. Or else the whole article should have been spiked as crap, not journalism, or even as reasonable comment in public debate. 

    First, the article was merely a mixture of undergraduate-level urban rumours, historical myth (especially about the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War) and left-wing conspiracy theory, flavoured by numerous factual mistakes, misrepresentations and misunderstandings about our defence force, its compliance with international law and, indeed, the way Australia actually works as a democracy ruled by law. Even the two Australian sources cited, such as an equally fact-free, six-year old, long-discredited Brian Toohey article in the Australian Financial Review, and a more recent but also unbalanced and quite factually erroneous article by Sally Neighbour in The Monthly, provided no actual basis for the specific and general claims made. Journalists quoting other mistaken journalists is not substantiation. 

    Second, everyone is free to write such tripe but it was plainly very irresponsible of Crikey to publish it. Our soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan fighting a UN-endorsed war at the lawful direction of our elected government, and on our behalf. It is unfair at best for any Australian to make their job harder or more dangerous by writing or publishing biased nonsense that can be so easily misused in Al Qa’eda propaganda. There is no excuse to betray the men and women of our defence force by such stupid, thoughtless and irresponsible claims. If you disagree with the war in Afghanistan, argue with our government (using facts), not endanger our troops (by wild claims). 

    Let us also be clear here about what Crikey has boldly stated. “Crikey understands Australia has been engaged in such behaviour [alleged killings contrary to the Laws of Armed Conflict] in the past decade in the Middle East, leaving Canberra and its officials open to potential charges of war crimes and prosecution in an international criminal court”. 

    Previous Ministers for Defence and the current Chief of Defence Force have pointed out on several previous occasions ? when journalists have made incorrect claims about supposed “assassinations” ? that the ADF, including its Special Forces, have not and do not ever assassinate anybody. They do not even deliberately kill anyone, except in battle, and where authorised by Australian rules-of-engagement grounded in the Laws of Armed Conflict and the ethics of a professional defence force made up of honourable fellow Australians. Similar denials have been made by Ministers responsible for ASIS. No journalist, or polemicist, has ever been able to back up such a claim with a single substantiated fact. Furthermore, as in this case, every journalist’s sole defence when challenged to prove such claims has been merely to cite older unsubstantiated claims by other unprofessional journalists or ideologues. 

    Then there is the determined lack of balance that permeated the article. The numerous denials by the Ministers and CDF are not even mentioned. No military or intelligence historian was cited either. The only two academic experts consulted, a defence finance expert and a lawyer who does not specialise in LOAC, naturally commented on a hypothetical basis only (and I suspect were not quoted accurately anyway). Both unsurprisingly made only the qualified observation that, if true, such acts would be illegal. Neither, however, offered any confirmation of the wild claims made or that they considered such claims might or could be true. Moreover, neither the ADA as the relevant public-interest watchdog, or the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers as the relevant professional body, were asked for an opinion. Antony has consulted us before so the omission this time is puzzling if one assumes he approached the topic objectively. 

    And just in case someone claims that the ADA is somehow biased, may I point out our extensive record of condemning the use of torture, rendition and assassination in the UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism (usually referred to incorrectly by polemicists of either extreme as the supposed “war on terror”). 

    Sunday, 14 November 2010
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (published in part Tuesday, 16 November 2010) 

    Waleed Aly’s review of David Hicks’ book (“A prisoner of the search”, The Age, A2, November 13, p.19), deftly tackled its major flaw, the treachery question, and noted that objective readers seeking explanations will be disappointed. 

    As with most of his apologists, Hicks avoids discussing tackling that if any Australian now did what he has admitted doing in 2000-01 they could rightly be prosecuted under our updated treachery and counter-terrorism laws. 

    Too-long delayed amendments in 2002 finally closed the loopholes that allowed Wilfred Burchett, and fifty years later David Hicks, to escape prosecution for assisting an enemy we lawfully sent our defence force to fight in UN-endorsed operations on our behalf. 

    And with even more of the usual monotonous dishonesty, the book also fails to distinguish the undoubted legitimacy of Hicks's his internment as a belligerent captured in the Afghanistan War from the natural legal controversy over his later, quite separate, criminal trial, conviction and prison sentence by a US Military Commission for terrorist offences. 

    The sooner Australians learn first-hand what a dill Hicks is the better ? as is proved every time a microphone is thrust in front of Mamdouh Habib. 

    Thursday, 11 November 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 15 November 2010) 

    The Australia Defence Association welcomes John Warhurst (“Along came Jones with big power to be heard”, November 11, p.19) joining our criticism of broadcaster Alan Jones over his outrageous and cowardly attacks on the Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade. As a necessarily non-partisan public-interest watchdog organisation, we also agree with Warhurst's John’s criticism of Jones for his right-wing bias and less than professional attention to detail more generally. 

    But Jones is a commercial broadcaster and advertising by others, not our taxes, support his vituperation and bias. His audience is also sectional by choice. Even allowing for John Warhurst’s own left-wing predilections, it is therefore difficult to reconcile the inconsistency of his criticism of Jones with his denials of ideological bias in some parts of the ABC as merely “allegations”. 

    By any truly apolitical measure, the ABC as an institution owned by taxpayers of all political allegiances can be less than careful in preserving the non-partisan stance necessary for a publicly-funded broadcaster and required by its Charter. Where many critics of ABC bias go wrong, however, is in regarding the whole ABC as an amorphous mass of “pinkos”.  

    In fact, the marked left-wing bias is largely concentrated in current affairs television and in a lack of sufficient diversity and balanced approaches among radio national talk-show hosts, especially in morning programs. ABC television and radio news, radio current affairs, News-24, and local radio across the country are generally free of political bias.  

    Moreover, the advent of the balanced News-24 has highlighted the often suffocating left-wing bias of programs such as the 7:30 Report, Lateline and Q&A – the audiences of which cannot and should not be sectional by their own, the presenter’s or the ABC’s choice. 

    Friday, 05 November 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    Any debate on civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003 lacks context if it excludes the very high probability that mass bloodshed among Iraqis was inevitable no matter when or how the Saddam Hussein regime finally fell. This was very obvious to those of us who worked in Iraq during the regime (in my case with the UN). 

    Whether the 2003 US-led intervention was the main cause of the bloodshed, or even a primary accelerant, will be a task for historians in more dispassionate times. As will be assessing whether the presence of international forces ended up ameliorating the bloodshed or exacerbating it. 

    What is known now is that the vast majority of Iraqis have been killed by other Iraqis.

    Thursday, 04 November 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Saturday, 06 November 2010) 

    Debates about war are often naturally emotional but this does not mean they need be emotive - or at least emotive or ideological to the extent facts and context can be discounted or ignored. 

    Jochen Zeil (letters, November 4) incorrectly claimed that the “West” somehow established the Taliban and al Qa’eda as resistance movements against the Russians (actually Soviets). But the Taliban arose organically in late 1994, some five years after the Soviets left and the US and other Western powers had, short-sightedly, withdrawn support from the Mujahidin resistance instead of refocusing aid on rebuilding Afghan civil society. 

    From 1995 the Taliban were heavily backed by the Pakistani intelligence services due to fears that the enduring chaos in Afghanistan would spread to Pakistan’s tribal territories or worse, backed up by longstanding but flawed theories about Pakistan needing strategic depth against India by dominating Afghanistan. They still are to varying extents. 

    Similarly, following his service fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and evolution of his Islamist ideology, Osama Bin Laden founded al Qa’eda independently and aimed it first at his own (US-aligned) Saudi government. 

    Wednesday, 03 November 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 08 November 2010) 

    Irfan Yusuf’s opinion article (“artful dodger does himself no favours on David Hicks”, November 3, p.19) itself employs several artful dodges of facts inconvenient to its argument. 

    First, if David Hicks or any other Australian committed the same acts now as Hicks has admitted doing in 2000-01, they could rightly be prosecuted under our updated treachery and counter-terrorism laws. Amendments in 2002 finally closed the loopholes that allowed Wilfred Burchett, and fifty years later David Hicks, to escape prosecution for assisting an enemy we lawfully sent our defence force to fight in UN-endorsed operations on our behalf. 

    Second, Hicks’ question to John Howard on ABC's [television program] Q&A ? misread as it was by Hicks ? was an artful dodge by its author (obviously not Hicks). As far too many do, the question omitted to distinguish the undoubted legitimacy of his detention as a belligerent captured in the Afghanistan War from the obviously controversial legitimacy of his later, quite separate, criminal trial, conviction and prison sentence by US Military Commission for terrorist offences. 

    The US Supreme Court has reconfirmed the legitimacy of interning captured belligerents in several decisions directly, and indirectly by its (correct) application of the general protections of Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions to Hicks and the others so detained (even though they do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention). This is also why the ADA has long noted that Mamdouh Habib was improperly detained at Guantanamo Bay because, unlike Hicks, he was arrested by Pakistan, not captured fighting in a war. 

    Third, the ADA has always defended Hicks’ right to argue his case in public but, on moral grounds at least, not to be financially rewarded for it. As well as the democratic principle involved, we have long argued that the sooner Australians learn first-hand what a dill Hicks is the better ? as is proved every time a microphone is thrust in front of Habib. 

    Finally, every review of Hicks’ book so far has criticised all that it avoids saying, especially when Hicks still refuses to be interviewed or otherwise explain himself. It seems odd that Irfan Yusuf is so silent about all this less than artful dodging. 

    Tuesday, 02 November 2010
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (not published) 

    Dan Oakes (“Australia’s helping hand to warlord condemned”, November 2, p.2) typifies the problems Australia has in debating Afghanistan war issues objectively – and not just for its slanted headline. Asking only Bruce Haigh and Amin Saikal for their views yet again might tenderly massage the ideological stance of many “Age” readers but it does not inform them adequately or air the principles involved more broadly. 

    The Australia Defence Association is confident that checks and balances were applied appropriately in bringing six Afghan police auxiliaries (not militiamen per se) to Australia to participate in an ADF exercise testing our diggers before their deployment to Afghanistan. 

    Contrary to the opinions and background of Haigh and Saikal, the decision was based on up-to-date experience about the situation in Oruzgan province and integrated Afghan-ISAF efforts to rebuild civil society there. We should applaud such initiatives, not subjectively describe or condemn them. 

    Moreover, in any war judicious and nuanced choices often have to be made when fighting common enemies for the common good. In World War II we allied ourselves with one murderous dictator, Stalin, in order to defeat another one, Hitler.  

    Finally, in both principle and long-proven practice, any carefully controlled exposure of foreign security force personnel to Australian society and to our defence force, as organisms ruled by law, is always likely to have benefits far outweighing disadvantages for the foreign society they police or defend on their return.  

    Monday, 01 November 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    Your November 1st editorial on defence funding and equipment procurement admirably addressed problems caused by political pork-barrelling and bureaucracy but misattributed or ignored other causes and their historical background. 

    First, it echoed recent claims about supposedly insufficient parliamentary scrutiny of the Department of Defence without noting that, whatever the sufficiency or not, Defence has long been scrutinised more than any other department. 

    Second, it regurgitated recent armchair strategic theorising, rather than note actual operational, economic and scientific analyses, about the submarines and warships we need and the best way to build and sustain them over their 30-year or more lives. 

    Third, it did not acknowledge that the program of real investment increases promised in the 2000 and 2009 Defence White Papers (but under-delivered) is still needed to cancel out the massive sustained neglect of our defence force throughout the last three decades of the 20th Century under governments of both political persuasions. Moreover, as a percentage of both GDP and the federal budget, defence funding has not increased over recent decades and even remains at lower percentages than in the 1980s and early 1990s. It only seems higher because the economy is stronger. 

    The bottom line is not that we spend too much on defence but that we still do not invest enough or with sufficient long-term, apolitical vision. Especially in comparison to much greater national spending in each case on social security, health and education; spending which also continues to rise exponentially in comparison to defence (the only major government responsibility solely funded federally). 

    Monday, 01 November 2010
    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
    (not published) 

    Your November 1st editorial on the participation of six Afghan police auxiliaries in an ADF operational readiness evaluation (ORE) exercise at the Cultana Training Area in SA was riddled with factual, conceptual and practical misunderstandings. 

    First, the Afghans are formally members of the Oruzgan Police Provincial Response Force, not (or not just) a private militia. This distinction needs to be reinforced not diluted, and not least to the Afghans involved and those back home. 

    Second, no “Special Forces base where the dark arts are taught” was involved conceptually, geographically or with regard to the type and nature of the exercise. 

    Third, the ORE was collective training for our defence force, not individual training (schooling) for the Afghans. 

    Fourth, their participation in the exercise was mainly to benefit our diggers undergoing realistic testing before deploying to Afghanistan. 

    Finally, as the ADF’s long experience of educating and training Indonesian and Filipino soldiers in Australia has shown – and with appropriate commonsense safeguards - exposure to Australian society and how the military of a democracy ruled by law does work is of considerable benefit to authoritarian countries in the cultural re-engineering needed to transform their security forces into ones knowing and implementing how they should work. Indeed the national democratisation of Indonesia and the Philippines has been largely led and partly sustained by military officers trained and educated overseas in Australia and other liberal democracies. 

    Friday, 29 October 2010
    Letter to the Courier Mail (Brisbane)
    (not published) 

    You can generally depend on Terry Sweetman (“Late confession raises questions about way Australia goes to war”, October 29, p.48) to bark up the wrong tree when trying to discuss a defence issue. 

    Terry suggests a grand conspiracy theory for none of Australia’s wars having involved declarations of war since 1941 (actually 1944). He should instead read the 1945 UN Charter which outlawed such declarations. 

    Then there is Terry’s odd belief that because 60 (actually around 50) per cent of those opinion polled oppose the Afghanistan War they must all be informed and correct. Trust Terry to ignore the simplistic, context-free questions asked to gain such high results.  

    He should instead read recent Hansards that detail many thoughtful speeches by MPs from all mainstream parties debating the war. He could then compare them with the large percentage of uninformed and/or ideological opinions on the war offered up on blog sites, talkback radio and letters to the editor (about two thirds of them by our estimation). 

    Terry could also compare this blog-standard nonsense to the detailed understandings of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan. This might help him grasp their growing frustration at silly articles like his — and the dangerous situation for any democracy at war when our troops fighting it become markedly more informed than much of the population at home.

    Friday, 22 October 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Wednesday, 27 October 2010) 

    Few would hate war more than a soldier because few know more about it first-hand or professionally. 

    David Stephens’ suggestion (Letters, October 22) that defence force commanders somehow want to stay in Afghanistan for the supposed training value is as offensive as it is ignorant. 

    With a small, professional, defence force, not the mass armies of previous wars, a very small part of the national family now fights our country’s battles. And, just from Afghanistan, they have suffered 21 dead, 152 wounded, 9 widows, 2 grieving fiancés and 19 children now without Dad. 

    Indeed, much of our country’s combat burden is borne by a very small part of the ADF, including the Special Forces now showing signs of strain with some personnel having done seven tours of Afghanistan, plus Iraq and East Timor. 

    But is the general community now so out of touch with the defence force that protects them that ludicrous and insensitive notions about enduring all this for training can be believed - or thought worth publishing? 

    Sunday, 17 October 2010
    Letter to the West Australian (Perth)
    (not published) 

    The headline of Paul Murray’s article “War criminals or just doing their duty?” (“West Australian”, October 16, p.32) epitomises the mostly uninformed, inaccurate and sensationalist media coverage of the charges against three commandos. 

    The charges indisputably involve a battlefield accident, not a war crime. This defamation of the men concerned shows, at best, careless or callous indifference to them, their unit, our defence force and the cause for which they fight on our behalf. 

    Such articles, based on popular misconceptions and assumptions yet to be tested in court, also confuse the general public and needlessly anger many war veterans. Especially where anyone forgets about the laws of war and associated accountabilities that have always applied to our soldiers in combat. 

    Too many Australians are also unnecessarily fearful because poor media reporting has not explained that the known circumstances of this particular battlefield accident are so highly unusual, and specific, that are they most unlikely to apply to combat generally. 

    Wednesday, 13 October 2010
    Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
    (not published) 

    Your editorial defending the principle and process whereby three soldiers have been charged over a battlefield accident in Afghanistan is a refreshing change from the position of your sister paper in Sydney which (wrongly) editorialised on 30 August that such charges could or should never be laid – and then declined to publish the ADA’s objections to that position [below]. 

    Wednesday, 06 October 2010
    Letter to the Australian Financial Review
    (published Thursday, 07 October 2010) 

    Recent letters, editorials and opinion comment on the charging of two Australian soldiers and an officer over a battlefield accident in Afghanistan seem based on mistaken assumptions as to the circumstances, operational context and laws applying.  

    Fears that such charges might now mean a lawyer crouching beside every digger are also generally unfounded. The publicly-known circumstances of this accident, and the resultant charges, are quite specific to this incident. Any added application to wider combat seems minimal to nil because all diggers every digger, in every war Australia has fought, have has had limits imposed on their use of lethal force in combat (chiefly by the Laws of Armed Conflict based on the Hague and Geneva Conventions). 

    That this was a battlefield accident is undisputed by all except Taliban propaganda but, at the very least, four non-combatant children and a youth protected by the 4th Geneva Convention were accidentally killed by the Australian Defence Force in February 2009. 

    The investigation and accountability processes of a defence force deployed by a democracy ruled by law necessarily kicked in. Otherwise we are no different to the Taliban, the SS or the Japanese in World War II. 

    Key facts as to how the accident occurred, and whether reckless or negligent failure to comply with rules-of-engagement or other command orders contributed, will now be tested in court not on letters pages, blogs or talkback radio. 

    Otherwise, as for previous wars, media sensationalists the sensationalist wing of our media, and political extremists, will make scurrilous allegations about supposed ADF war crimes or atrocities for ever. 

    Fortunately for those charged, they will at least be tried by court martial where their guilt or innocence and any punishment, including any mitigating circumstances, will be decided by professional peers who understand the operational difficulties and moral nuances of combat. Unlike in the new Military Court of Australia as set out in the seriously flawed bill before Parliament.  

    In the MCA, serious offences that would mean a jury trial for any Australian civilian would be heard by a Federal Court judge sitting alone, with no jury or court martial board, and with no requirement for the judge to have experience of military service or war beyond a vaguely defined “knowledge of the ADF”. 

    Controversy about the charged commandos further emphasises the conceptual flaws and civil liberties outrages posed by the imposition of the MCA on our nation’s defence force by out-of-touch politicians, arrogant civilian lawyers and a previously apathetic populace. 

    Saturday, 25 September 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Tuesday, 28 September 2010) 

    David Barbeler, “Memorial held over site of ship’s grave” (September 25, p.2), is to be congratulated for at least identifying the submarine that sank the “Centaur”, off Brisbane in May 1943, as Japanese. Unlike, for example, Queensland premier Anna Bligh whose recent press releases notoriously attribute  the sinking only to “a submarine”.  

    Failure to identify the submarine, and omission of any mention that the sinking of a plainly marked hospital ship was a deliberate war crime, is dishonourable historically, disgraceful morally and counter-productive strategically.  

    Worldwide public remembrance of war crimes should never allow fundamental details to be airbrushed away by political correctness, inappropriate fears about commercial consequences, or undeserved sensitivity for contemporary diplomatic niceties. Particularly as most Japanese today know little if anything of Japanese aggression and atrocities throughout Asia in the 1910-45 period because their school and university history books do not tell the truth.  

    We should not condone such revisionism, dishonour our own war veterans or forget their hard-won strategic lessons. By continuing to remember and proclaim the truth about such atrocities in context we also avoid the slippery slope to wider denials and increased risk of future war crimes through loss of deterrent moral force internationally.  

    Most importantly we need to avoid the lazy mistake of assuming this is just an historical issue. As current China-Japan territorial tensions over distant islands again show,  a perennial cause of strategic instability in East and North Asia is Japan’s continued unwillingness to admit wartime aggression and atrocities - in stark contrast to Germany and its reintegration into modern Europe through truly facing its Nazi past and demonstrating genuine contrition.   

    True friends of modern Japan are not those who help the Japanese government and people to continue denying responsibility for major wartime aggression, widespread atrocities and their contemporary consequences.  

    Wednesday, 08 September 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Tuesday, 21 September 2010) 

    As part of a UN-endorsed operation, Australia - not just our defence force - is fighting a difficult war in Afghanistan. Every Australian therefore has a citizenship responsibility to debate Australia’s participation responsibly. Not least so our diggers are not unduly endangered, the enemy not irresponsibly assisted, nor the UN Charter-based international system otherwise undermined.  

    Rather than calling for advocating censorship, as Rick Patten (Letters, September 07) misunderstands, the ADA is calling only for debate to be informed and responsible. 

    This includes letters to the editor, so our objection to David Lewis’s letter was therefore threefold. Every supposed fact he quoted was unarguably incorrect (not just a difference of opinion). His argument would also not be regarded as objective, by either informed opponents of the war or any reasonable or neutral observer generally. The letter was so biased and irresponsible it risks being used by the enemy for misinformation, propaganda and subversion.  

    Critics of this and other ADA stances need to try addressing our logic, rather than just hurl abuse and avoid the nub of our arguments through straw men, red herrings and emotive irrelevancies. 

    Saturday, 04 September 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    Angela Shanahan (“Catholic padres frozen out in Afghanistan”, Weekend Australian, September 4-5, p.7) unfortunately misunderstands the nature, needs and practice of chaplaincy support to our diggers in modern war. 

    This is a great pity as, contrary to growing secularism overall, both our defence force and the broader Australian community have once again re-learned in Afghanistan ? as we do in every war ? the importance of our military chaplains across a range of spiritual, operational, morale, institutional-ritual and national-honouring needs and responsibilities. 

    But Afghanistan battlefields are not mass-casualty, concentrated ones where unit-based chaplains are generally present at the point of death like they were in the world wars. The nature of the fighting, dispersed over large areas in often quite small groups, means that chaplains can rarely be there for deaths in combat although they invariably are if the severely wounded die later in a coalition medical facility.   

    Moreover, in a 43-country, inter-operable coalition force spiritual and medical care is not just nationality based. ADF personnel necessarily have some access to chaplains of all denominations from many countries ? just as they do for surgeons and nurses. 

    Even more importantly, as in every war, every chaplain cares for the spiritual needs of all their diggers, not just those of any one denomination. 

    As there are only five full-time Roman Catholic chaplains in the whole Army, permanently stationing one at Tarin Kowt, even if this was possible, would quickly burn them out spiritually and physically. It would also unbalance rotations and inequitably match chaplains to the denominational balance of the force, thereby unfairly and improperly disadvantaging the diggers of some other denomination. 

    Finally, the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to the forces have not been responsible for posting chaplains since the day-to-day leadership of chaplains passed to each denomination's principal chaplain, in each Service, in the 1980s (replacing diocesan bishops from both major denominations being two-hatted as Chaplain-Generals in the Army Reserve). Each major denomination now has a mix of full-time and reservist principal chaplains organising chaplaincy in the Navy, Army and Air Force. They do a great job in very difficult circumstances. 

    Wednesday, 01 September 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Friday, 03 September 2010)  

    The Canberra Times surely has a responsibility to informed public debate not to publish emotive and illogical letters such as that by David Lewis (September 01), with every sentence being based on a factual mistake and/or misquote, misunderstanding or emotive rant.  

    The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is not somehow “illegal” but endorsed by several UN Security Council resolutions.  

    The incident that he criticises occurred in February not November 2009. Four, not nine, children were killed. Six, not nine, were killed overall and, however tragically, all the children were killed accidentally not “massacred”.  

    Civilian casualties from ISAF (not “NATO”) actions have steeply declined not “steadily gotten worse and worse” ? and UN figures record that more than two thirds of civilian deaths in the war have been perpetrated  by the Taliban and its Islamist allies. Most of these Taliban-caused deaths have involved deliberate or reckless breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL). Virtually none of the ISAF ones have and none deliberately. 

    Australian troops have not committed “shameful atrocities”, nor have “NATO” [ISAF] and Australian forces been involved in numberless civilian massacres”, nor do ISAF forces operate with an “obvious free-fire mentality”, as would surely be known by any objective and informed observer. 

    Finally, as well as getting the name of the Australia Defence Association (and my position) wrong, Mr Lewis carelessly or maliciously misquotes me as somehow saying “our troops (like the rest of NATO) are just an armed rabble”. The point made was the opposite. As the defence force of a liberal democracy ruled by law, the ADF complies with IHL and expects to be and is held properly accountable for doing so. Unlike the Taliban who are indeed an unaccountable, lawless armed rabble in moral and legal terms.  

    Mr Lewis’ letter was based, at best, solely on factually incorrect beliefs and misunderstandings that informed and objective citizens would not reasonably reach or argue. His views add only to public prejudice and ignorance, and recklessly help misinformation, propaganda and subversion by an enemy at war with the international community.  

    Such letters do not merit publication in a responsible newspaper.   

    PS. Given the wartime context, religious overtones to the war and the writer being a clergyman, the factually and conceptually incorrect, and needlessly inflammatory, term “Islamic extremism” (actually Islamist extremism) in the letter by Vincent Zankin should also not have been published. 

    Monday, 30 August 2010
    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
    (not published) 

    Your 30 August editorial is inconsistent with both Australia’s proud war record and our continuing responsibilities under international law.  

    No matter the difficulties, and no matter what our enemies (Nazi Germany, Japan, North Korea, China, North Vietnam, Taliban, etc) have done or might do instead, Australia always fights it’s wars while respecting the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Every previous and current digger knows that their application of force is not, and cannot ever be, unlimited in operational, moral or legal terms. 

    Moreover, the suspicion by some that the court martial of alleged offenders might risk soldiers exonerating soldiers is absurd in historical, ethical, judicial and professional terms. Not least because our counterpart national responsibility to our diggers is to ensure that if charged with breaches of LOAC they get a fair trial, including a jury of their professional peers.  

    In the vexed and nuanced situations involved in fighting wars fellow soldiers in a court martial are far more qualified to assess guilt, innocence and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances than a civilian court divorced from such realities, experiences and knowledge could ever be or be expected to be. 

    Saturday, 14 August 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Saturday, 21 August 2010) 

    Philip Dorling (“Leaks: Love ‘em or loathe ‘em”, August 14, p.27) claims that “no substantive case has been made that the WikiLeaks disclosures have materially harmed US or Australian military operations or security, or put Afghans … at any greater risk from the Taliban ”.  

    Putting aside the illogical qualifier “any” to still emerging facts, and the probable detriment for Australian troops in Afghanistan, Dorling's Philip’s whole approach is based on the syllogistic proposition that this is somehow merely a free-speech issue.  

    But the media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, and human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have strongly condemned WikiLeaks for needlessly risking Afghan lives. Moreover, Australian law surely applies to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, no matter what US, or indeed wider international action, might be taken to curb his (reckless at best) breaches of international humanitarian law. 

    Ironically, Dorling's Philip’s ahistoric description of the notorious Wilfred Burchett as a "journalist" when comparing him to Assange also misses the key point involved. Burchett was a willing communist activist for the North Koreans who, among many other treacherous acts, betrayed Australian prisoners-of-war in Korea while masquerading as a journalist who merely “reported from the other side”. 

    Burchett escaped his day in court only because of a loophole in archaic Australian treachery laws caused by the 1945 UN Charter’s abolition of the declarations of war that such laws depended on. Fortunately, under our reformed wartime treachery laws especially the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002 – Julian Assange would appear to have a case to answer,  legally as well as morally, for assisting by “any means whatsoever another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force”.  

    As Burchett mythology shows, we should let a court determine the facts this time rather than, as with Burchett’s treachery, ignore fair play and dishonor our reciprocal citizenship obligations to the diggers we lawfully send to fight Australia’s wars. 

    Friday, 13 August 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)  

    Consideration of prosecuting Julian Assange under Australia’s wartime treachery laws (the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002) should not depend on, or even need, a request from the US.  

    As an Australian who has needlessly endangered fellow Australian troops, Australian law applies to Assange independently of possible US actions or indeed wider action for Assange’s reckless breaches of international humanitarian law. 

    All Australians owe a moral and legal responsibility to the troops we send to fight our wars not to endanger or otherwise betray them – even if some of us might disagree with the lawful government decision to send them or oppose the war involved. No other position is fair or tenable in a parliamentary democracy ruled by law and based on reciprocal obligations among its citizens. 

    Particularly when there are many alternative avenues available for responsible dissent about any war that do not endanger our troops or their lawful mission as part of a UN-endorsed force. 

    Not when there are alternatives to irresponsibly bolstering enemy propaganda, repression of  dissent among anti-Taliban Afghans and any enemy’s will to fight. 

    And not where dissent recklessly and inhumanely undermines the universal acceptance of international law (and the responsibilities of Australia and every Australian to uphold it). 

    Wednesday, 11 August 2010
    Letter to the Business Spectator
    (published Wednesday, 11 August 2010) 

    Robert's Gottliebsen's article (The grunt needed for Defence, August 11) is certainly provocative, but his purported cure would worsen, not cure, the disease. The next Minister for Defence has much more to do than just sort out the problem of the Joint Strike Fighter. They must fix the Department of Defence's bureaucracy for a start. 

    As for the JSF, this is a particular problem that the Australia Defence Association and others have been pointing out for over six years. Unfortunately, the solutions are not easy and not isolated from wider strategic and corporate problems. Considerable detail on such matters can be found at www.ada.asn.au. 

    Anyone who follows defence issues would also know that Malcolm Turnbull has not shown much interest in such matters, and indeed has made some glib public comments that indicate seriously insufficient reading and research concerning defence issues. Kevin Rudd would not make and ideal Defence Minister either. He does not have the personality and willingness to delegate to handle the portfolio – and the precedent of John Gorton in 1971 bodes ill for making a sacked PM the Minister for Defence. 

    Finally, the F-22 [Raptor] is widely acknowledged in the ADF as part of the solution to the cost, technical and strategic failings of the JSF. Robert's comment about supposed ADF "brass", or "military bureaucracy", being the problem would be laughable if not so tragic. As with most Department of Defence problems, the civilian bureaucracy is much more the cause of Defence's problems than the military.  

    Reforming Defence has to start somewhere and the ADA has always advocated beginning with improved ministerial supervision – in quality, numbers and structure. We can think of several parliamentarians on both sides of politics who would make much better Ministers for Defence than Turnbull or Rudd. 

    Tuesday, 10 August 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 16 August 2010) 

    All wars and arguments about them are morally complex. But your August 10 editorial on the Taliban’s murder of ten international civilian medical-aid workers perhaps exemplifies the problems when double standards emerge, however inadvertently, in arguments about the war in Afghanistan. 

    Just compare your comparatively “wet-lettuce” criticism of a genuine and deliberate atrocity by the Taliban to the often subjective, and sometimes even pompous, uproar that erupts on your letters pages should the ISAF combat with the Taliban inadvertently (but still legally) result in Afghan civilian casualties. 

    Moreover, while broadly condemnatory, the editorial omitted that these murders were unequivocally yet another deliberate and serious breach of international humanitarian law by the Taliban and its Islamist allies. And that this latest Taliban atrocity again clearly typifies the moral, legal and humanitarian chasm between ISAF goals and activities and those of the Taliban. A chasm of principle and practice so often over-simplified, obfuscated or denied by many of those opposing Australia’s contribution to a UN-endorsed force. 

    Surely even critics of ISAF can see the invalidity of bigoted Taliban claims that the aid workers were “preaching Christianity” or “carrying a bible” (both irrelevant under the Fourth Geneva Convention). Or the invalid (and incorrect anyway) Taliban excuse that they were being protected by ISAF and this somehow justified their capture and then murder as unarmed prisoners and non-combatants. Or the bogus and irrelevant Taliban excuse that the murders were by “robbers”, and not the Taliban, even though the Taliban consider this acceptable anyway. 

    In debating Afghanistan we all need to hold fast to the principle that international humanitarian law is universal.  

    There is no opt-out clause for those motivated by religious bigotry. Nor indeed for any apologists motivated by ideology or other prejudices. There is no nuance either. Non-combatants are non-combatants, barbarism is barbarism, cowardice is cowardice and hypocrisy is hypocrisy. 

    This is why our diggers are doing so much good on the ground in Afghanistan, despite the failings of the Karzai government and despite their efforts being little understood in Australia, particularly by those who seem to choose not to understand. 

    Monday, 09 August 2010
    Letter to the Brisbane Courier Mail
    (not published)  

    Queensland premier, Anna Bligh, today announced a “thanksgiving and remembrance service” on 24 September  to commemorate the May 1943 sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship, Centaur, off Brisbane. 

    However the press release twice attributes the sinking to only “a submarine”. It is as if World War II never happened or the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian law generally and the contemporary Asia-Pacific strategic balance are somehow unimportant. 

    The failure to identify the submarine as a Japanese one, and to omit any mention that the sinking of a plainly marked hospital ship was a deliberate war crime, is historical inaccuracy, moral cowardice and strategic stupidity. Worldwide public remembrance of war crimes should never allow fundamental details to be airbrushed away by political correctness or inappropriate fears about commercial consequences. 

    Moreover, most Japanese today unfortunately have a very poor knowledge of Japanese aggression and atrocities throughout Asia in the 1910-45 period because Japanese school and university history books do not tell the truth. But we condone such revisionism, dishonour our own war veterans and forget their hard-won lessons, if we do not have the courage to continue remembering and proclaiming the truth about such atrocities in context - and thereby avoid the slippery slope to wider denials and increased risk of future war crimes through loss of deterrent moral force internationally.  

    Finally, this is not just an historical issue because the strategic instability Japanese [historical] revisionism causes affects us all today and in our shared strategic future across the Asia-Pacific. A major cause of strategic instability in East and North Asia is Japan’s continued unwillingness to admit their wartime aggression and atrocities - in stark contrast to Germany and its reintegration into modern Europe through truly facing its Nazi past and demonstrating genuine contrition.  

    True friends of modern Japan are not those who help the Japanese government and people to continue denying responsibility for major wartime aggression, widespread atrocities and their contemporary consequences.  

    Friday, 06 August 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    Steve Ellis and Basil Johnson (Letters, August 6) surely ignore, conflate or confuse separate moral dilemmas about responsibly protesting any war, and in this case:

    • whether WikiLeaks should have leaked the material or were there not better alternative protests;

    • even if the end somehow justified the means, why at the very least was WikiLeaks so cavalier about not screening out details likely to kill people (and needlessly endanger our troops); and

    • to who is WikiLeaks accountable and what gives them a supposed right to decide who lives and who dies in the Afghanistan War?

    Steve’s justification for the leaks is based solely on democratic government being threatened if a governments lies. But who should judge if it is lying and how? 

    Is not democracy also threatened when unaccountable, often ideologically-driven, groups or individuals selectively ignore facts, and Australian or international humanitarian law, and act irresponsibly through the moral or intellectual vanity that they are somehow better humans or alone know “the truth”. 

    This is why misplaced analogies of WikiLeaks to Daniel Ellsberg leaking the Pentagon Papers are so invalid.  

    No matter your views on whether Ellsberg was justified or not, he was responsible in his method and bravely accountable for his actions. Moreover, the Pentagon Papers risked no lives directly, being an intellectually coherent study of how the Vietnam War had developed, not raw data about its current progress which - as we have seen in recent weeks - is too prone to biased analyses, misunderstandings or selective interpretation. 

    Moreover, emotive and incorrect terminology about “invading” Afghanistan and our presence being a “military occupation” ignore that ISAF has always operated, accountably, under a robust UN mandate and with the overall support of most Afghans. 

    Finally, contrary to Steve’s bizarre claim that worrying about the consistent application of international humanitarian law is “the predictable perspective of the professional military lobbyist”, the ADA believes that such law – and Australia’s treachery statutes – remain necessary to preserve international and national good citizenship respectively, the rule-of-law, and the necessary moral distinctions between our goals and efforts and the Islamist barbarism that rejects such laws and distinctions. 

    Thursday, 05 August 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    John Coochey (Letters, August 5) asks what avenues of anti-war protest are available when some voters might feel misled by governments? 

    Any answer must surely be based on the principle Australia and every Australian, not just our defence force, is at war because the government we all elect has lawfully made this grave decision. 

    Commonsense surely then means that any protest at this decision should be based on real research, rather than partisan sloganeering, and directed only at the government not our troops. And rather than thoughtless or ideological posturing, all protest acts should not endanger or otherwise betray our diggers – even unintentionally or recklessly. 

    Unlike the arrogant, selfish, deliberate, unfair, immoral and probably illegal treachery of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange (and the ethical bankruptcy of his apologists). 

    This is why we, and other democracies, have and need laws to deter and punish treachery when our fellow citizens forget or ignore their citizenship responsibilities and let us and our troops down. Luckily, because of that Australian commonsense, we rarely need to use them. 

    Monday, 02 August 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com (in answer to a claim about an earlier ADA letter below)
    (published Wednesday, 04 August 2010) 

    By totally ignoring the much more successful 2008 book on military-media relations edited by UNSW professors Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey [The Military, the Media and Information Warfare],  Kevin Foster (Crikey, comments, Friday 23 July) artfully avoids even mentioning the biases that largely invalidated the utility of the book edited by him the same year on the same topic (as was noted in its Sydney Morning Herald review). 

    Moreover, Kevin’s claim that he “had trouble sourcing work that supported the ADF’s media policy”, falsely implied that the chapter he sought from by me was somehow in this vein. But this too ignores the Australia Defence Association’s long record of publicly criticising Department of Defence media policy since various Ministers began tightening this improperly in the 1990s. 

    Indeed it was because my draft chapter addressed fault on both sides that it so clashed with Kevin’s simplistic view that journalists are always right and the military always wrong. Moreover, he knows that the ADA criticised Defence at the seminar, for declining to participate, because this was a self-fulfilling reaction that merely reinforced beliefs about the department. 

    Kevin also incorrectly claims that he censored out my chapter of the seminar proceedings only because I somehow “refused any proposed edits”. But I accepted many of them and only withdrew the chapter from publication after Kevin refused to discuss his more unscholarly objections. As an experienced editor of academic and professional conference proceedings, I was simply astonished by his disrespect for the common courtesies of academic debate and the proper neutral role of a proceedings editor. 

    As a professed journalism academic Kevin was oddly most unwilling even to consider my thesis that journalism as a profession was at least partly responsible for the breakdown between the professions of arms and journalism, and perhaps more liable due to declining standards in media coverage of military matters. He also refused even to consider whether the problem was because journalism, both as a profession and in the daily practice of far too many media organs, has apparently ceased to set, respect and police professional standards seriously as a profession properly should. 

    As a final example of ideology rejecting normal academic discourse, Kevin blankly refused to discuss the effect of cultural clashes between the necessarily non-partisan institutional culture of our military (whatever the private views of ADF personnel individually), and the growing unprofessional politicisation of reporting and comment by many reporters, columnists and media organs. Ignoring centuries of democratic constitutional development and the rise of teaching and nursing union militancy respectively, Kevin oddly claimed that the military as a profession were (and needed to be) no more politically neutral than teachers or nurses.  

    Only at this sad stage did I stop persevering with academic argument against ideology. 

    Friday, 30 July 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com (answering comments on an ADA opinion article published by Crikey on 29 July 2010)
    (published Monday, 02 August 2010) 

    Harry Goldsmith (Crikey, comments, Friday 30 July) confuses four separate moral issues about the WikiLeaks saga:

    • whether the material should have been leaked;
    • whether WikiLeaks has sufficient knowledge to understand the material and safely make such decisions;
    • whether it should have been leaked in the reckless way it was (insufficiently vetted to protect Afghans on our side from harm, etc); and
    • to who is WikiLeaks accountable?

    Harry also misunderstands that our moral and practical objections mainly concern the last three issues. This is why his Ellsberg analogy is invalid as, no matter your views on Ellsberg’s justification, he was responsible in his method and bravely accountable for his actions. 

    In a nutshell, no matter how much you might disagree with the UN-endorsed ISAF effort in Afghanistan, this gives no right to actions unfettered by responsibility or respect for international humanitarian law (IHL). All Australians also have a citizenship obligation not to add unduly to the dangers our diggers face there (on behalf of all Australians). This aspect of debate about the Afghanistan War is not a freedom of speech issue but one of fairness, human decency, reciprocal obligations and the universality of IHL. 

    Harry also ostensibly professes concern as to whether his words are subversive or treacherous. Whilst uninformed, illogical and polemical, they obviously fall within legitimate dissent and are therefore not as he fears (or perhaps seeks in would-be “political martyrdom”).  

    But such views would, for example, be rightly criminal if they led Harry, intentionally, to help the Taliban kill or wound an Australian digger. It also goes well beyond justifiable dissent if an Australian is so absorbed in their own views that they neglect (or are indifferent about) their responsibilities as a citizen – and take insufficient care whether their actions, and in some cases even words, result in killing or seriously threatening the lives of Australian diggers lawfully deployed in a war by our elected government on behalf of all of us.   

    This is why the ADA advocates further reform to Australia’s treachery laws to deter and prohibit reckless, and not just intentional, assistance to the enemy. Again this would not affect normal, intelligent and responsible dissent. 

    Finally, Harry repeats the myth that the US somehow created the Taliban. It was instead created by Pakistan in late 1994 (as part of its strategic rivalry with India), five years after the US had stopped supporting various Mujahideen groups who forced the Soviets out (1989) and overthrew Najibullah’s communist regime (1990). The Taliban overthrew the Mujahideen regime in 1996. 

    Wednesday, 28 July 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    Even though 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 fighting wars generally), this latest material goes well beyond justifiable whistleblowing such as the recent helicopter gun-camera film [from Iraq] showing probable breaches of the laws of armed conflict.  

    Put bluntly, Wikileaks is not authorised in international or Australian law, nor equipped morally or operationally, to judge whether open publication of such material risks the safety, security, morale and legitimate objectives of Australian and allied troops fighting in a UN-endorsed military operation. Particularly when there are many alternative avenues available for legitimate dissent that do not endanger our troops and/or irresponsibly bolster enemy propaganda. 

    Moreover, as an Australian citizen, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange may also be guilty of a serious criminal offence by assisting an enemy the ADF is fighting on behalf of all Australians, especially if the assistance was intentional. Whatever his motives, his actions again highlight the need to further amend our treachery laws to also prohibit reckless assistance to such an enemy. 

    Finally, both Wikileaks’ actions and declarations, and much subsequent media coverage, lacks moral, legal and historical contexts..

    ISAF’s battlefield mistakes are the result of typical wartime tragedy, accidents and at times incompetence or personal failure, not deliberate or institutional policy. Moreover, ISAF transgressions are generally investigated and punished and we should expect no less. 

    What Wikileaks and its apologists ignore are the clear legal and moral differences between the actions of rule-of-law democracies applying international humanitarian law in UN-endorsed warfighting (however imperfectly at times), and the deliberate rejection of such law by the Taliban and its Islamist allies – including them treating ISAF’s difficult adherence to this law as merely a vulnerability to be (illegally) exploited. 

    Tuesday, 27 July 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    The republished “Guardian” opinion article (“The dark underside of NATO”, Times2, July 27, p.4), opened with two factual mistakes in its first sentence, was based on several mistaken assumptions, implied a false moral equivalence between the UN-endorsed International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban, and then ignored the governing legal and moral contexts including the Taliban’s regular and deliberate atrocities..

    Taliban and Al Qa’eda belligerents captured in the Afghanistan War are not somehow held “without trial”. They are detained under the Geneva Conventions and this is monitored by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the designated inspecting power. 

    They are not subject to “extrajudicial killings” either. Killing enemy belligerents in a war, even without warning, is not a judicial act but lawful combat (if the Hague and Geneva Conventions are complied with). 

    In contrast, the Taliban and its Islamist allies largely reject IHL in letter and spirit. They routinely torture and murder prisoners, not treat them in accordance with IHL and detain them under supervision by the ICRC. Non-combatants are routinely targeted and killed by the Taliban without compunction and often indiscriminately. 

    Even worse, they treat ISAF’s difficult adherence to IHL as merely a vulnerability to be (illegally) exploited.  

    Whatever the battlefield mistakes of ISAF forces, they are the result of accidents, wartime tragedy and at times incompetence or personal failure, not deliberate policy. Moreover, ISAF transgressions are investigated and punished. 

    Wars are always nasty and morally confusing. But this never justifies failing to distinguish the legal and moral differences between the actions of democracies applying IHL in UN-endorsed warfighting (however imperfectly at times), and the deliberate pursuit of barbarism and rejection of IHL by the Taliban and its Islamist allies.  

    All wars are contests of ideas, morals and ultimately will. Responsible criticism of ISAF in Afghanistan is both legitimate and necessary. 

    But sloppy and biased articles like the “Guardian” one disgracefully undermine IHL, immorally bolster enemy propaganda, irresponsibly weaken support for ISAF in Afghanistan and here at home, and make the difficult job of our troops even harder. 

    Monday, 26 July 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com
    (published Wednesday, 28 July 2010 ? see also our letter of 02 August above)  

    Even for the editor of a leftish literary magazine such as Overland, it was surprising to see Jeff Sparrow (“Should politicians attend military funerals”, Crikey, 23 July, Item 4) recommend the flawed book edited by Kevin Foster on the troubled relationship between our military and our media.  

    Among journalists and the military the best recent Australian book on military-media relations is instead widely judged to be “The Military, the Media and Information Warfare” (being the proceedings of the two-day September 2008 Army History Conference), edited by UNSW professors Peter Dennis and Jeffrey Grey. This appropriately inclusive book features proper scholarly debate by a diverse range of Australian, British, American and German academics and journalists – the latter including famous US war correspondent, Joseph Galloway, and an excellent chapter by SBS TV’s Karen Middleton.  

    The Foster effort, in sharp contrast, was meant to be the full proceedings of a sparsely attended one-day November 2008 Monash University symposium but ended up only including the contributions that Foster agrees with. Even its review in the Sydney Morning Herald (hardly a bastion of conservative views) emphasised that the book was biased and unbalanced.  

    In disclosure, the chapter Foster commissioned from me based on my symposium presentation was one of those censored out in a most unprofessional and un-academic manner.  

    Wednesday, 21 July 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    The general tenor of your July 21 editorial – that Australia’s security and intelligence agencies have somehow grown too big, that this is unnecessary, and that they have insufficient accountability – was ideological not logical. 

    US comparisons were touted without any acknowledgement of differences in scale, threat or constitutional structure. Followed, sadly again, by the incorrect and tired journalistic cliché that ASIO and its sister organisations are somehow “spy agencies”. 

    The claim that ASIO staff numbers have tripled since 2001 omitted mentioning that this was from an historically low base as staffing had foolishly been slashed by half in the 1990s (ostensibly due to the end of the Cold War). 

    But the nub of the editorial, implying an imbalance between our security-intelligence effort and the actual threat, simply resorted to a cheap rhetorical trick rather than argue any measured assessment based on facts.  

    No mention that since 2001 over 100 Australians have been murdered by Islamist terrorists in New York, Bali and Jakarta. Nor mention that 38 Australian residents professing Islamist beliefs have or are being tried for terrorist offences, with 24 convictions or guilty pleas so far and many of them serving long sentences. 

    No recognition that there are Islamist terrorists today who want to kill Australians – thwarted chiefly thus far by pro-active, community-based, security-intelligence and police work. Nor recognition that the perpetual challenge in countering such terrorism is that the terrorists, no matter how capable or not, only have to get lucky once whereas the security and intelligence agencies have to be vigilant, effective and lucky all the time in order to protect us. 

    Finally, as a public-interest watchdog covering the national security agencies, the ADA has considerable confidence in the balance struck between the obvious needs for operational security on the one hand, and delegated public accountability on the other ? through ministerial, statutory and all-party parliamentary committee oversight backed up through independent review by a dedicated Inspector-General. Not to mention the informal internal restraints of professionalism and commonsense among agency staff and the external one of budgetary jealousy in the wider bureaucracy. 

    Monday, 19 July 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    Steve Kenny (“Hicks did not commit any crime”, CT, July 19, p.2), a former lawyer for David Hicks, claims Hicks “did not commit any crime” and “should have his name cleared”. 

    But such claims again ignore three pertinent and undoubted facts. 

    First, as a result of the loophole in archaic Australian law that prevented David Hicks having his day in an Australian court, under our updated treachery laws anyone now serving with an enemy the ADF is fighting necessarily commits a serious offence. This is as it should be and is only fair to the men and women of our defence force we send to fight wars on our behalf. 

    Second, as in any war, Hicks’ 2001-06 detention was as a belligerent captured in war, not for a crime. This was and remains lawful under the Geneva Conventions – as was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in the June 2006 Hamdan ruling - and is not disputed by any serious international lawyer.  

    Third, whether Hicks’ later separate criminal trial, conviction and sentence by US Military Commission was justified in international law or not remains understandably controversial. But it does not change the factual and moral situations that if Hicks was to commit the same acts today as he has freely admitted doing in 2000-01 he would commit an offence against Australian law.  

    Even ignoring Hicks’ own admissions and boasts about voluntarily joining terrorist training camps, in moral terms that preclude any slipping through loopholes in archaic treachery laws David Hicks can, and should, never have his name cleared of any terrorism links.  

    Thursday, 15 July 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published)  

    Discussion about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Tamil asylum claimants has been overly influenced by short-term Australian perspectives on what was a very long and nasty civil war, subjective claims (at best) from LTTE sympathisers in the Tamil diaspora and other apologists, and the often inept and at times equally subjective statements by Sri Lankan diplomats. 

    Plus continuing LTTE intimidation of moderate voices in Australia’s Tamil and Sinhala communities – which alone should surely see it proscribed in Australia as a terrorist organisation whether the war in Sri Lanka has ended or not. 

    We should therefore welcome Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe’s analyses of the situation in Sri Lanka and its Australian linkages – not least because they are based on academic-standard, in-country, research, including in particular detailed first-hand interviews with moderate Tamil community leaders, academics and other observers no longer suppressed or attacked by the LTTE. 

    Moreover, in terms of Tamil asylum claimants, defining and identifying just who was an LTTE combatant, or why (as some were forcibly conscripted), can be difficult but cannot be ignored. 

    Sifting through the sea of LTTE and Sinhala chauvinist propaganda needs to use three time-proven legal sieves, especially when confronted with sloganeering such as “one man’s terrorist is (somehow) just another man’s freedom fighter”. 

    First, LTTE personnel, as combatants, are not eligible for refugee status and cannot lawfully claim or be granted asylum in Australia under the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

    Second, it is indisputable that the Sri Lankan military have not always respected the laws of armed conflict (LOAC) appropriately but they are subject to national and international accountability processes, however imperfectly.  

    So must the LTTE and its personnel and supporters be held accountable.  

    If you start a war, fight it by policies and methods that deliberately contravene not only LOAC but also wider international humanitarian law – and then finally lose the war you start and prosecute by illegal methods – there are and must be moral, legal and practical consequences for the perpetrators. Otherwise no war criminal could ever be tried, and war itself cannot be deterred or its effects ameliorated.  

    Third, the International Committee of the Red Cross, as the inspecting power under the Geneva Conventions, is generally satisfied with the post-war detention and national rehabilitation measures being undertaken by the Sri Lankan government (and the UNHCR agrees). 

    Tuesday, 13 July 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Thursday, 15 July 2010) 

    The Australia Defence Association thanks Nicholas Stuart (“Labor betting the middle way leads to re-election”, July 13, p.11) for acknowledging our longstanding reputation for political and institutional impartiality. And for acknowledging the efforts we make as a public-interest watchdog group to help public debate on defence and wider national security issues be informed rather than the opposite. 

    It may, however, be somewhat disconcerting for some to have Stuart Nic describe our commentary on the departure of Senator John Faulkner as Minister for Defence as "an accurate assessment".  

    This will no doubt intensely worry certain polemicists among your readership who are prone to react with humourless letters-to-the-editor alleging bizarre conspiracy theories and offering plain abuse every time the ADA criticises one of Stuart's Nic's columns in the paper. Has Stuart Nic paused sufficiently to think about the risks his praise of the ADA might cause to the psychological health of this small, but seemingly determined, band who so often suffer ideological apoplexy when the ADA is forced to confront one of their pet prejudices or subjective beliefs? 

    Thursday, 24 June 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 28 June 2010) 

    David Williams (Letters, June 22) stated he was “gobsmacked” by the ADA opinion article on poor public debate about Australia’s wars published on June 18. Alessandro Antonello (letters, same day) claimed to “cringe” at my [opinion article] point that it was insensitive and inappropriate to debate our Afghanistan commitment simplistically when the families of our casualties were enduring their initial grief. 

    No doubt many readers genuinely cringed at Mr Antonello’s insensitivity (at best) or were in turn gobsmacked by Mr Williams’ numerous misunderstandings and factual errors. 

    The sad irony is that both letters only prove my contention that debate on how we initiate, fight and end our wars is usually not objective and informed – and that this situation greatly hampers our strategic and moral decision-making as a society. And Contrary to the claims of both writers, I did not somehow suggest that having more wars to improve societal or political experience of war was desirable or that debate on our wars should be shut down or confined only to the knowledgeable.  

    Furthermore, Mr Antonello’s belief that uninformed contributions to public debate are useful or necessary for “modern democracy” is surely bizarre.  

    Finally, Mr Antonello’s comparison with health or agricultural policy matters is invalid. Our parliaments, communities and families have many members with experience in these occupations so the background level of public knowledge and the consequent quality of public debate is much higher than it is for our societal experience of war and debates on this subject. 

    This situation is as it is and denial or ideological rants do not solve the resultant problems. To improve public debate on whether and how we should fight our wars we first need to appreciate and admit the extent of the problems caused by generally uninformed and too often irresponsible debate so far. 

    Wednesday, 16 June 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published despite advice from The Canberra Times that our reply to an unwarranted attack on the ADA would be published on Friday, 18 June 2010)  

    In a banner-headlined, five-column, 628-word letter,  Glenn Jones (June 16), was generously permitted to pose rambling questions to the Australia Defence Association, especially concerning the application of international humanitarian law (IHL) in general, and the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in particular, to the vexed circumstances of David Hicks. 

    All the matters he raised are, of course, discussed and answered in detail on the ADA website. Some study of them and their links, and not his resort solely to Wikipedia, might have prevented Mr Jones from so many factual errors and from mistakenly accusing the ADA of positions and motivations that are the very opposite of the truth. 

    Now as an independent, non-partisan, community-based watchdog the ADA generally runs some 6-18 months ahead of wider national debate in our particular field of public-interest oversight. As with our fellow public-interest watchdogs some find independent objectivity confronting, particularly where it challenges comfortable prejudices. 

    In the early 2000s we were discussing Australian ramifications of the UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism, Guantanamo Bay and David Hicks ? and criticising practices such as rendition and torture ? when few were interested either way unless through ideology or knee-jerk anti-Americanism. 

    We were the first to point out that, as with previous Australian prisoners-of-war, detention under LOAC as a belligerent captured in a war has quite a different legal basis in IHL to that suggested, or discounted, by the US for their separate criminal trials by US military commission. And that LOAC detention is not and never has been a civil law or habeas corpus matter. 

    We consistently noted that Mamdouh Habib was not captured in a war as such and could not be lawfully detained by the US under LOAC. 

    Because of our belief that IHL is and must be universal we support the US Supreme Court’s June 2006 Hamdan ruling that, although those detained at Guantanamo Bay do not generally qualify as prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention because their methods of belligerency (such as indiscriminate terrorist attacks) contravene IHL, they are protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions. By relying only on Wikipedia Mr Jones got this wrong too. 

    By 2005 Major Michael Mori, the USMC officer appointed to defend David Hicks before a US military commission, had described the 8600-word discussion on the ADA website as the most comprehensive summary in Australia of Hicks’ situation (although he perhaps disagreed with some of it). A former (Labor) federal attorney-general went out of his way to congratulate the ADA on the refreshing objectivity of the analysis. 

    The Summer 2006/07 issue of our journal was again the first to argue practically for Hicks’ release from belligerent detention on LOAC parole. In the Spring 2007 issue, Associate Professor Greg Rose argued for updating IHL and LOAC to cope with new problems from modern wars, including a fifth Geneva Convention to cover captured belligerents [such as Hicks] who do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status.  

    Throughout this period we advised Major Mori (and other responsible members of the Hicks camp) that pressuring the Howard Government for action was not actually being helped by the wider anti-government stridency of many of Hicks' left-wing supporters. This advice (also proffered by others) influenced the reorganisation and reorientation of Hicks’s legal defence efforts, not least because our impartial perspective was acknowledged.  

    Later that year, my chapter in “Law and Liberty in the War on Terror” (UNSW Law School) again reiterated the ADA’s absolute opposition to torture and maltreatment of detainees on moral and practical grounds, and because of the dangerous precedents this posed to Australian military personnel captured in war.  

    It is therefore disappointing to see the “Canberra Times” publish Mr Jones’ subjective and false claims about the ADA’s work as a public-interest watchdog for defence and national security issues. 

    Wednesday, 08 June 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 14 June 2010)  

    Bernard Davis (Letters, June 8) claims long-overdue reform of our treachery laws is somehow “draconian”, “un-Australian”, “one inch from a police state” and “two inches from a military dictatorship”. 

    This tirade ignores Australian history and how laws based on mutual obligations work in a liberal democracy. If we lawfully send our defence force to fight wars on our national behalf, it is surely a crime for any Australian to then betray and endanger our defence force by actively assisting the enemy. 

    And such acts were always unlawful until the UN Charter in 1945 prohibited the “declarations of war” that our previous treachery laws were archaically based on. 

    For 57 years, especially from Menzies in Korea to Hawke in the first Gulf War, every Australian government let down the ADF badly by not updating the law and closing the loophole. 

    The restoration of every citizen’s obligation not to (intentionally) assist an enemy Australia is fighting threatens no exercise of legitimate peaceful dissent from the decision to go to war (just as it did not before 1945). 

    There is now, of course, a good argument that reckless assistance should also be unlawful if it involves an act. 

    Friday, 28 May 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Monday, 07 June 2010)  

    In what again seems to skate closely to an apologia for Islamist terrorism, and among other polemical claims too numerous to refute, Irfan Yusuf (“Rising trend of fearmongering on refugees and passports”, May 28, p13)  incorrectly claims that David Hicks was “unlawfully detained by the United States” in an “illegal prison camp”. 

    Under the Geneva Conventions, as a Taliban combatant captured by the opposite side in a war he chose to fight in, David Hicks was not detained illegally for a single minute - at least, perhaps, until his later separate criminal trial and prison sentence by US Military Commission. 

    Moreover, and somewhat ironically, he was only detained by the US for so long because the war continued, and our then inadequate treachery laws meant he could not be released on prisoner-of-war-type parole for criminal trial in Australia (as the US was willing to do). 

    Fortunately this longstanding and disgraceful legal loophole has been closed so a future Wilfred Burchett or David Hicks can have his their day in court. 

    Rightly, since the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world now commits treason if he or she (among other things): 

    • intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;
    • intentionally assists, by ‘any means whatsoever’, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or
    • forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

    In a liberal democracy ruled by law we owe no less to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force we send to fight Australia’s wars on our behalf. 

    Irfan Yusuf should be prepared to acknowledge this. 

    Friday, 28 May 2010
    Letter to the Australian Financial Review
    (published Monday, 31 May 2010) 

    James Eyers’ (“Victory on military court battlefield”, May 28) omitted discussing several key difficulties with implementing the proposed Military Court of Australia (MCA). 

    First, the purist constitutional desire to make it a fully Chapter III court system risks creating or exacerbating problems with regard to the court’s practicality and equity during defence force operations in the field, especially overseas where all our wars have been and are likely to be. 

    Second, the problem of deploying a Chapter III federal court overseas (even ignoring the comity complications) is not merely a “logistical” matter as Eyers believes, but it is a fundamental issue of the MCA being able to provide fair trials for wartime offences by truly encountering first hand, and understanding in context, the situation and background to an offence and any exceptional or mitigating circumstances. 

    Third, as with present current courts martial, MCA judicial officers will need a real understanding of both wider military matters and war (not just military law), particularly as it is proposed they sit in judgement alone. This poses real difficulties in a purely Chapter III court model.  

    Only two federal court judges, for example, have any general military experience and even then only as peacetime reservists. Only three more have experience as reservist military lawyers (which is not the same thing). In terms of effective deployability, only two of the five are under 60 (and one of them is already the Judge-Advocate General of the defence force as a reservist). Similarly, only two federal magistrates have any military experience and even then only as reservist lawyers.  

    Fourth, the abolition of jury trials and apparent near-total abolition of courts martial needlessly removes the tried and tested safeguard of appropriate trial by peers that modern military law has developed since the 1880s. 

    Finally, the military discipline of a defence force, and its adherence to an integrated system of disciplinary and criminal law when deployed overseas, is constitutionally and lawfully a function of command and must remain so in the defence force of a liberal democracy subject to Australian and international law. 

    ADF commanders also remain legally and morally responsible to those under their command for such subordinates receiving fair trials if charged with disciplinary offences - and criminal offences when serving overseas.  

    Tuesday, 18 May 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times (in reply to one of the flawed points in an opinion article on defence matters by Nic Stuart)
    (published, again unfortunately without it's conclusion (see letter of 14 May below), on Monday, 24 May 2010) 

    Nic Stuart (“This is as good as it gets”, May 18, p.9) tries to discuss ADF senior rank numbers in total isolation from the rampant bureaucratisation, de-professionalisation and policy process politicisation in the Department of Defence that largely causes them.  

    Since the 1974 reorganisation of the defence group of departments into one entity there have always been more SES officials than star-ranked ADF officers, even including reservists and UN secondments in the latter. 

    The 1998 Defence Reform Plan [DRP] duly directed a 30 per cent cut in both. Only the ADF complied. SES and executive positions kept increasing relentlessly. 

    The DRP specifically recommended that Defence needed only four not five deputy-secretary equivalents. By 2010 these have tripled to 14 [16 by 2012]. 

    ADF three-stars also increased by a third from four to six, but no serious observer has questioned the modern need for, and the definite improvements resulting from, having senior enough professionals as chiefs of joint operations and capability development respectively. 

    Further down there are orders of magnitude more EL1s and EL2s than their purported ADF equivalents across the entire ADF. Indeed there are significantly more EL1s and 2s in Canberra than their quoted ADF regular and reservist equivalents everywhere. 

    Yes, there are too many senior officers in the ADF, but most are still rightly employed in professionally planning or controlling the defence of a sparsely-populated country occupying a continental-sized land mass and with significant international responsibilities for 10 per cent of the Earth’s surface. 

    But curbing numbers of ADF senior ranks is only a small part of a far more important reform - reversing and then preventing a reoccurrence of the excessive and continually burgeoning size, complexity and loss of true purpose of the Department of Defence. 

    Unlike all the reactive and failed periodic reviews of the department since 1974, we need a truly first-principles and expert review of how our national defence should be best organised (and resourced) under civil ministerial control not civilian bureaucracy. 

    Friday, 14 May 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Tuesday, 18 May 2010) 

    In a notable use of syllogistic argument, Albert White (Letters, May 12) cites only the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef to claim our counter-terrorism laws are somehow unjust, unworkable and unnecessary.  

    Mr White conveniently ignores the 17 recent convictions for serious terrorist offences that have resulted from these laws - following decisions in fair trials by juries made up of fellow Australians in better possession of the facts, circumstances and nuances involved than Mr White’s apparent ideological stance. 

    Mr White might try reading the relevant trial summations and conviction comments by the presiding judges before making further alarmist claims that only pander to the terrorist propaganda that the laws are somehow directed at all Muslims, rather than targeted specifically against a tiny extremist minority of Islamists seeking to recruit or hide within our mainstream Islamic communities. 

    He should also note that the only terrorist conviction overturned on appeal was one due to a legal technicality about the admissibility of certain evidence obtained overseas, not the known and indeed freely admitted guilt of the accused. 

    Moreover, even in Dr Haneef’s case over-zealous concerns about civil liberties ironically worked against him. 

    Based on the experience of other Western jurisdictions with much longer authorised investigative detention periods, it is probable that Dr Haneef would have been released from arrest quicker if the complex police investigation had not had to be so hurried (and bungled) because he could only be detained for such a short investigative period before charges had to be preferred.  

    Those Australians not murdered by Islamist and other terrorists deterred, thwarted or convicted by our new counter-terrorism laws no doubt disagree with Mr White’s odd belief that our counter-terrorism legislation is not a justified and prudent response to a present and continuing threat to our democratic system. 

    Tuesday, 27 April 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Thursday, 29 April 2010)  

    Anzac Day belongs to all Australians and should not be a politicised or indeed a military occasion. 

    Moreover, despite claims that Anzac commemorations risk becoming militaristic, the ADF’s enduring lack of social and political influence in Australian society proves the absence of militarism. 

    This minimal influence is shown by general under-investment in our common defence, small defence force with perpetual difficulties in regular and reservist recruiting, popular opposition to military conscription in peacetime, lively debates among military historians and the striking lack of a “warrior culture” in the ADF.  

    Instead, most Australians have long and rightly seen Anzac Day only as public honouring of veterans and their families for preserving our freedom to argue – and for acknowledging the sacrifices those veterans and families made and often continue to make. 

    Formed ADF units should therefore not march on Anzac Day unless recently returned as a unit from active service overseas (excepting bands and perhaps, every decade or so, when commemorating some significant milestone anniversary of that unit in battle). 

    Veterans serving in the ADF should surely march, voluntarily, in uniform or not as they choose, with the appropriate unit, ship or other association. 

    Similarly, dawn services are genuine bottom-up community occasions and need no “official party”. 

    Finally, in terms of balancing collective memory, informed analysis and current national governance, our real problem is that for the rest other 364 days of the year most Australians do not think enough, if at all, about applying the costs and lessons of past conflicts to how we can best defend Australia now and in the future. 

    The too frequent and sustained neglect of our defence by governments of both political persuasions, and the armchair-heavy pontifications on defence matters by academic theorists and newspaper columnists, rely greatly on this phenomenon. 

    Monday, 26 April 2010
    Letter to the Brisbane Courier-Mail
    (not published) 

    Ian McPhedran (“Exit plan vital”, April 26, p.2) rightly noted the Defence Minister’s comments that more information needs to be released about what our troops are actually doing at home and overseas. 

    The Australia Defence Association has long argued for this but McPhedran’s article ignored the two elephants in the room by blaming only the military’s occasional misuse of operational security caveats. 

    He ignored the greater effect of hyper-centralised ministerial political control over even the most minor, uncontroversial and unclassified Defence media release – rather than defence force commanders at all levels simply being allowed to brief the public and the media directly on what their forces are actually doing (as generally occurred until the mid 1990s). 

    Mr McPhedran also ignored the greatest difficulty - consistently poor media coverage of Australian defence issues - which is far too often by generalist reporters rather than, as used to occur, by specialist journalists with personal experience and real understanding of military professionalism and war. 

    Contrast defence reporting, for example, with economics, health and business coverage mainly done by journalists career-dedicated to, and professionally qualified in, such subjects. 

    Only by fixing all three problems can we really rebuild mutual trust between the military, the media and the public and ensure our diggers are not unduly endangered by amateurish reporting and/or the thoughtless public debate it often causes. 

    Friday, 23 April 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    Anzac Day continues to belong to all Australians through natural growth culturally. It should not be a politicised or indeed a military occasion. 

    Moreover, too much academic debate about what “Anzac” means and why gravitates to political extremes, not Anzac’s intellectual or cultural centre nationally. 

    These opposing extremes have most recently re-emerged in the book of often polemical essays edited by Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake, and in the conspiracy theory articles in “Quadrant” by Mervyn Bendle. 

    Most Australians, on the other hand, have long and rightly seen Anzac Day as publically honouring veterans and their families – and for acknowledging the sacrifices they made and often continue to make.  

    This is why formed ADF units should avoid marching on Anzac Day unless recently returned as a unit from active service overseas (excepting bands and perhaps, every decade or so, when commemorating some significant milestone anniversary of that unit in battle). 

    Finally, in terms of balancing collective memory, informed analysis and current national governance, it is a pity that for the other 364 days of the year the broad centre of Australians do not think enough, if at all, about applying the costs and lessons of past conflicts to how we can best defend Australia now and in the future.  

    The too frequent and sustained neglect of our defence by governments of both political persuasions, and the flawed force structure and strategy pontifications of armchair academic theorists, rely greatly on this phenomenon. 

    Thursday, 15 April 2010
    Letter to the Australian Financial Review
    (published Friday, 16 April 2010) 

    Like many in the refugee debate, Klaas Woldring ("Boat people are genuine", Letters, April 14) confuses symptoms with causes by ignoring the practical history, strategic intention and realistic humanitarian spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

    The Convention was designed to protect refugees in neighbouring countries temporarily, so they could safely and quickly go home, by forcing those countries to solve the causes of the refugee flow in the first place. 

    It was not intended to encourage the misery of permanent refugee camps in a region or the strategic instability and moral hypocrisy of extra-regional refugee flows. 

    But most countries have never signed the Convention and are now counter-productively rewarded for passing the moral buck to those who do, chiefly in North America, Europe and Australasia. Other signatories (Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc) pay lip service to the Convention, or worse, create refugees.  

    This effective rewarding of non or pseudo-signatories causes endemic strategic instability internationally as well as institutionalising misery communally and individually. 

    Well-meaning but short-sighted reinterpretations of “persecution” in many signatory countries do not help. Based on World War II experiences the Convention rightly defines a refugee as someone facing a well-founded fear of (political or racial) persecution by governments. 

    But “persecution” has come to be so widely defined by some as to include any form of social unpleasantness by anyone, even if non-government sponsored, unorganised, fleeting, just part of the everyday cultural frictions found in most multi-racial or multi-cultural societies or not a “well-founded” belief in other ways. Such loose definitions undermine the Convention. They also make it harder for genuine refugees to gain asylum in competition with floods of spurious claimants just seeking a socio-economically better life in Western countries. 

    Moreover, war itself or the aftermath of losing a war does not automatically constitute “persecution” or justify asylum. 

    In the case of Sri Lanka’s Tamils, for example – and despite real and claimed failings by the Sri Lankan authorities – having to undergo legitimate post-war screening and other security measures after losing a war you start and fight by methods that contravene international humanitarian law does not necessarily constitute “persecution” or indeed merit asylum. 

    Friday, 16 April 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    The Department of Defence bungles mentioned by John Coochey (letters, April 16) have long been highlighted by the Australia Defence Association. 

    Often the Association is the first to point such bungles out, describe their history, offer explanations as to likely causes and recommend reforms. 

    It is therefore odd that John seems to blame us as the public-interest guardian messenger rather than support our efforts, especially in increasing ministerial supervision and reintroducing statutory board-type accountability into the department. 

    Moreover, his apparent puzzlement about some modernised and planned defence capabilities is even odder. Perhaps wider reading would help. 

    As a country with an essentially maritime problem in geo-strategic, economic and defence terms, restoring the ADF’s operational mobility for likely tasks in our region is surely logical. 

    Not to mention broader rebuilding and modernising of our defence force after all the neglect, political pork-barrelling and inwards-looking ideological wishful thinking inflicted on it in the 1975-1999 period - before strategic reality again mugged Australia with the East Timor intervention and subsequent operational commitments. 

    Monday, 12 April 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Wednesday, 14 April 2010) 

    Jenny Stewart’s article on defence force equipment procurement inefficiencies (“Flawed from the very start”, April 12, p.9) rightly describes it as “a milieu of ferocious bureaucratic complexity” where Defence and the ANAO “are locked in a kind of performance audit dance”. 

    This ever-growing prerogative of the harlot, complexity of power without responsibility for outcome, is demonstrated by Defence’s now baker’s dozen of civilian deputy-secretary equivalents. 

    This tripling of the four recommended by the 1998 “Defence Reform Program” is despite, or more likely as a result of, the more than a dozen second, third and fourth-principle reviews of departmental processes (every three years or so) since the early 1970s. 

    Professor Stewart is also practically and morally correct in noting that the “safety of the men and women who will be operating the equipment is also clearly of the highest importance” (even if it is not so regarded under current arrangements) 

    But she does not connect the dots to identify the real culprit, the institutionalised but often intellectually and professionally irreconcilable clash of financial versus operational efficiency.   

    The truly reformist answer is no doubt counter-intuitive to two generations of Defence bureaucrats (both civilian and military) and armchair strategic theorists steeped in Tange dynasty nostrums about supposed ADF “gold-plating” of operational requirements. 

    It lies in separating, not further integrating, how equipment is best procured from the necessarily military professional judgements as to what types of equipment best execute the government’s strategic policy. 

    The recent move by the Rudd Government to dedicate a junior minister to defence science, technology and procurement is a welcome step forward, one which has long been championed by the Australia Defence Association. 

    The next reform needed is to reintroduce the type of statutory management board, combining ministers, senior ADF officers and financial experts (but no theorists) that Defence had until 1974 – an era where colossal cost over-runs due to project management reasons alone were virtually unknown. This was because decision-makers were legally accountable, and had to really know and trust each other, and work as a team. 

    Instituting a second full-time junior minister dedicated to overseeing day-to-day ADF operations, not just its personnel aspects, should be the next reform. 

    Followed for the first time by a truly independent, genuinely expert, first-principles review of Defence's roles and structure, not yet another reshuffling of its ever-burgeoning processes and processors. 

    Only then will Ministers for Defence be able to change partners and dance with other than bureaucrats, and auditors, advisory boards and waste in perpetuity. 

    Tuesday, 09 March 2010
    Letter to the Sydney Morning Herald
    (not published)

    For decades the Australia Defence Association has been Australia’s biggest and most consistent critic of Department of Defence failings.  

    It is therefore very disappointing to see a worthy three-month investigation by the SMH “investigative Unit” finally reported in such a subjective, sensationalist and often out-of-context fashion as your articles on Defence spending [published on 09 and 10 March]. 

    The efforts of the team in researching wasteful spending were unfortunately diluted by emotive inferences about ADF personnel supposedly living high on the hog, incorrect assumptions about the who, why and what behind such spending, and no apparent recognition that the defence force and the Department of Defence are not interchangeable terms. 

    It is also a pity that the only two former ADF officers quoted both retired nearly three decades ago and neither held the appointment cited. Modern views would have allowed realistic explanations of context and the bureaucratic, political, commercial and legal processes weighing down on defence force operations. 

    Three final points are worth noting. First, Defence employs over 80,000 full and part-time ADF personnel and some 22,000 Public Servants – and has extensive international responsibilities. Big expenses for travel, etc, are inevitable. 

    Second, most of the supposed examples of “extravagance” cited or implied refer to mandatory Public Service conditions of service and travel and training policies applied across every federal government department. 

    Third, once the context of most payments is known the justification becomes evident to any objective reader. 

    Saturday, 27 February 2010
    Letter to The Weekend Australian
    (not published) 

    In their curate’s egg article on defence industry policy (“Iron colonels fight the invisible hand”, Inquirer p.4, 27-28 February), Paul Dibb and Geoff Barker oddly end up suggesting that Capability Development Group (CDG) in the Department of Defence should be headed by a civilian deputy secretary rather than a senior defence force officer. 

    This is a very old-fashioned 1980s bureaucratic view. It particularly ignores that the modern, integrated, CDG (replacing separate and sometimes competing branches of Navy, Army and Air Force headquarters) stemmed from the 1998 Defence Reform Programme – as did the logical decision that its professional head needed to be just that, a military professional.  

    This reintroduction of military professional judgement – not Dibb’s mythical “iron colonels” – into processes dangerously bereft of appropriate expertise previously has proved to be one of the most effective reforms of Defence since World War II. 

    Especially in rebuilding the ADF’s force structure after decades of neglect, streamlining ADF and departmental advice to Government, and money, time, morale and overall departmental credibility saved.  

    The CDG’s military officers are obviously much more qualified professionally and morally than public servants to understand the risks to their own lives, and those of the men and women they have command responsibility for, when helping decide what weapons and equipment would best handle combat. 

    Military professional expertise, not game-playing by bureaucratic or academic theorists disengaged from frontline needs and responsibilities, should therefore always lead but never replace appropriate professional, financial and business advice to government concerning which weapons or equipment should be chosen to give our defence force a realistic fighting chance.  

    Finally, Dibb and Barker also deliberately gloss over that most defence equipment project problems occur during procurement or from Government industry policy requirements, not from the earlier research and operational specification phases undertaken by CDG. 

    And they strangely fail to mention that deputy secretary-equivalent numbers in Defence have exploded from 5 to 14 in the last 12 years. 

    Even though the production of his precious deputy secretaries now appears to be a priority Defence output Paul Dibb is apparently still not satisfied. 

    Friday, 26 February 2010
    Letter to the Australian Financial Review
    (not published) 

    Your Friday 26 February editorial on defence force equipment procurement unfortunately regurgitated some well-outmoded subjective views from the era before modern, integrated, joint-Service and departmental staff processes were implemented. 

    In particular, the suggestion that Defence’s Capability Development Group (CDG) should be headed by a deputy secretary rather than a senior defence force officer reflects very old-fashioned and indeed arrogant bureaucratic views from the bygone era when military professional expertise was inappropriately muzzled by over-reaching Defence bureaucrats. 

    It also strangely ignores that most equipment problems occur during procurement, now the job of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), not from the research and operational specification phases undertaken by CDG. 

    And that the DMO now has four deputy secretary slots, plus a more senior associate secretary as CEO, in place of the one deputy secretary considered able to handle such matters until the late 1990s. 

    The creation of the integrated CDG (replacing separate branches of the three Service headquarters) stemmed from the 1998 Defence Reform Programme, as did the logical decision that its professional head needed to be just that, a military professional. 

    This reintroduction of military professional judgement, into processes dangerously bereft of appropriate expertise previously, is one of the most effective reforms undertaken in the Department of Defence in the last four or so decades, especially in terms of ADF and departmental efficiency gained and money, time, morale and departmental credibility saved. 

    Finally, the editorial peddles the well-disproven myths that modern military officers somehow cannot be trusted to be objective or that every capability proposal is somehow unprofessionally “gold-plated”. 

    To the contrary, military officers are obviously much more qualified professionally and morally than public servants to understand the risks to their own lives, and those of the men and women under their command, when weapons and equipment need to be eventually used in combat. 

    Military professional expertise, not game-playing by power-seeking bureaucrats and academic theorists, should therefore always lead (but never dominate) advice to government concerning which weapons or equipment should be chosen for our defence force. 

    Thursday, 25 February 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    Mark Dodd (“Defence to open up on war info”, Thursday, p.2) rightly noted Defence Minister John Faulkner’s admirable decision to release more information about what our troops are actually doing at home and overseas. The Australia Defence Association has been calling for this for a decade and we welcome the Minister’s promise. 

    But the article, and the ministerial speech it is based on, still ignore the two elephants in the room when discussing relations between the military and the media and the flow of Defence information to the public generally. 

    First is the hyper-centralised ministerial political control exercised over even the most minor, uncontroversial and unclassified Defence media release, especially since the days of Peter Reith. 

    Second is consistently poor coverage of Australian defence issues by our media. 

    This is far too often by generalist journalists rather than, as used to occur, by specialist correspondents with personal experience and understanding of military professionalism or war. 

    Contrast defence reporting, for example, with economics, health and business matters covered largely by journalists career-dedicated to, and professionally qualified in, such subjects. 

    To rebuild mutual trust between the military, the media and the public we should start by abolishing centralised spin of any political or defence bureaucracy variety - and revert to the former practice whereby defence force commanders at all levels (including overseas war zones) are authorised to brief the public and the media directly on what their forces are actually doing. 

    Wednesday, 24 February 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com (following imposition of a 200-word limit when replying to a 1200-word letter attacking the ADA stance)
    (published Wednesday, 24 February 2010) 

    Jeff Sparrow, (Crikey, comments, 18 February), emotively brandished more straw men and red herrings than seen in a middle-ages European folk festival. 

    Surely any Australian with a conscience and a sense of social responsibility would reasonably think twice before making untrue and – in the complex and nuanced situation of Afghanistan – inflammatory and dangerous claims about the ADF supposedly “assassinating Afghan civilians”, etc. 

    Sparrow ignores that Air Chief Marshal Houston, in a press conference with Defence Minister John Faulkner, specifically refuted both the “assassination” and “targeted killing” slurs when the incorrect “Australian” article by Mark Dodd appeared in August 2009. Houston also explained the dangers of such careless and incorrect reporting.  

    Sparrow also avoids the commonly accepted distinction between beliefs and actions that are legitimate and reasonable dissent in a democratic society, and intentional or reckless actions that exceed such limits because they infringe the rights of others to a dangerous extent or cause them harm.  

    All Australians have a right to argue with our government about Australia’s participation in a war.  

    But during any verbal or physical protests against a war all Australians also have a moral and citizenship responsibility not to blame, defame or endanger the troops our government sends to fight it on our behalf.  

    Thursday, 18 February 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com (concerning a lengthy purported reply to the ADA letter of 16 February 2010 below)
    (not published)  

    Jeff Sparrow, (Crikey, comments, 18 February 2010), tries to defend his fibs about our defence force that add to the dangers it faces by resort only to more fibs, several red herrings and more straw-man brandishing than a mid-Europe folk festival in the middle-ages. 

    First, our explanation refuting his polemical article in Crikey on Monday [15 February] was submitted to Crikey as an article [see previous letter below] not a comment (hence its length and different style). 

    Second, this matter is not about Breaker Morant, as Sparrow well knows, so he should stop fluttering this false flag. 

    Third, note that Sparrow largely chose not to discuss why his fibs about the ADF somehow “assassinating” Afghan “local leaders” are dangerous for our troops. Or why surely any Australian with a conscience and a sense of social responsibility would reasonably think twice before making such untrue and, in the complex and nuanced situation of Afghanistan, inflammatory and dangerous claims. 

    Fourth, there are the further Sparrow fibs and evasions about “targeted killings” although he has now run away from defending the “assassination” slur and his claim that Afghan civilian leaders were so “assassinated”. He quotes [Chief-of-Defence Force] Air Chief Marshal Houston and the Department of Defence website out of context and (to give Sparrow the benefit of the doubt) when he perhaps misunderstands the legal and operational terminology Houston used.  

    “Targeting and killing” is not the same as a “targeted killing” and the difference is not arcane. In the sense used by Houston, by targeting he was probably referring to an individual Taliban commander being selected by a staff process involving intelligence, legal and policy inputs and then operational decisions taken in consultation with the Afghan authorities. The Taliban commander so selected is then located and whether he is captured without a shot being fired or during any fighting, or he is killed in battle, this is rightly governed by the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and his own choice to fight or surrender.  

    This is not the same as a “targeted killing” – methodology and terminology sometimes used by Israel but never by Australia – involving operational methods of arguable legitimacy depending on the precise circumstances, such as drone strikes outside war zones. “Targeted killing” implies deliberate and premeditated murder outside LOAC and our defence force does not murder anyone.  

    Furthermore, as the original ADA article actually pointed out, Houston had specifically denied both the “assassination” and “targeted killing” slurs, in a press conference with [Minister for Defence] John Faulkner, when the incorrect article in the “Australian” by Mark Dodd appeared in August 2009. He also explained the dangers of such incorrect reporting. It is worth noting, that when Dodd was challenged by me as to his source for the claim, he could only quote the previous “Lateline” opinion. Neither media item was able to offer any proof with the obvious implication the claims resulted from sloppy or sensationalist journalism. 

    Now Sparrow might believe what he reads or hears in the media uncritically, especially when it suits his own particular prejudices, but citing these two examples of incorrect reporting as his only supposed “proof” in such a circular fashion is not factually or logically valid. Even a few minutes Internet research would have established that they were both mistaken opinions with no factual backing and had both been previously exposed as such. 

    Fifth, is it not strange that Sparrow avoids discussing the commonly accepted distinction between beliefs and actions that are legitimate and reasonable dissent in a democratic society, and actions that exceed such limits because they infringe the rights of others to a dangerous extent. After all, it is on such distinctions that individual and collective liberty in a liberal democracy is balanced against our individual and community responsibility to each other not to cause harm. 

    In the context of Australia fighting wars, any Australian has the right to argue with the government all they like about our participation in Afghanistan. What they do not have is a right to blame the troops we send to fight that war for the government decision to send them.  

    Opponents of this or any war also have no right to defame or endanger our troops in any verbal or physical protest against such a war. To do so is both immoral and unfair, not least because the troops are there only because of the lawful orders of the government we elect to make such decisions on behalf of all of us. And, thankfully for our liberty, because our defence force legally cannot, should not and does not disobey lawful orders. 

    Much of the rest of Sparrow’s rant ignores or obfuscates that no Australian law allows any Australian to be imprisoned on the grounds of their political or other beliefs alone. This is as it should be and no-one is arguing otherwise. Sparrow can ignore context and blather on all he likes about people supposedly being in danger of being locked up in their millions for articulating dissenting views but this is simply irresponsible scaremongering and ideological sloganeering. 

    But when dissenting beliefs are converted to actions causing harm they can and sometimes are criminalised (as in the outlawing of racist hate speech, unreasonable discrimination, terrorism and, in this case, treachery or treason). As the original ADA article noted, usually this only happens when the intention to act is deliberate but also sometimes when it is the result of perhaps unintended but reckless disregard for the wellbeing of other Australians.  

    The ADA considers actions such as reckless fibs and smears about our troops “assassinating” Afghan civilians, or committing other serious LOAC breaches, reflect callous indifference about the wellbeing of Australian troops as fellow citizens. The combat risks they face as a result of democratic and lawful processes involving us all mean we all have a reciprocal responsibility to not add to these dangers, such as by carelessly inflaming opinions in Afghanistan when our troops are helping restore peace there.  

    Sparrow’s subsequent attempted defence of his actions surely confirms his arrogant and reckless disregard for our diggers. In our opinion, where justified by the potential seriousness of the consequences, the treachery laws should be amended to criminalise reckless acts. Sparrow and others can bleat all they like about how this would somehow threaten free speech. It would not, as the defences of truth or reasonable steps to determine the truth would excuse or mitigate genuinely-motivated criticism of the government or the Australian Defence Force.  

    Finally, the 2002 amendments to the laws covering treachery are “chillingly vague” only to those who choose not to research their legal and constitutional basis – and their numerous antecedents and contemporary examples in comparable democratic jurisdictions.  

    They are instead a too-long delayed closing of the legal loophole that allowed Wilfred Burchett and David Hicks to avoid prosecution in Australia for certain of their actions (not just beliefs or words) that assisted or seemed to assist enemies that our defence force and its allies were lawfully fighting in Korea/Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively. Even if you believe one or both of them to be innocent of such actions, such matters should surely be decided in our courts as Australia let its defence force down very badly in the 1945-2002 period by not closing such loopholes in our old treachery laws. 

    Tuesday, 16 February 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com (in answer to an "opinion" article by Jeff Sparrow)
    (published Wednesday, 17 February 2010) 

    Re. "War criminal to hero ... a dangerous precedent", Jeff Sparrow (Crikey, Tuesday 16 February, Item 19) used a popular-front agitprop technique, redolent of the Communist Party of Australia in its 1930-1970 heyday period, in tacking on some incorrect claims about current ADF operations in Afghanistan to his supposed conclusion of an historical piece on the execution of Harry “Breaker” Morant in the 1899-1902 Boer War.  

    Sparrow wrongly (in both moral and factual terms) claimed:

    “… in Afghanistan at the moment Australia has authorised elite counterinsurgent forces to carry out targeted killings, in a strategy modelled upon the notorious Phoenix Program of the Vietnam War. A campaign of assassination of local leaders thought to be loyal to the Taliban contains an obvious potential for human rights abuses, especially since it’s almost impossible for the media to monitor what undercover troops actually do.”

    Crikey word-limits prevent further discussion of the false and somewhat arrogant assumption that only “the media” can or should act as a constraint on the operations of our defence force.  

    As to the law and the context applying, under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) as they are now known ? either with Breaker Morant in the Boer War or now in Afghanistan ? the deliberate and pre-meditated killing of enemy combatants outside the authorised rules-of-engagement (ROE) and subordinate orders-for-opening fire (OFOF) is usually plain murder – as is the same killing of non-combatants. 

    But as our Chief-of-Defence-Force has explained on several occasions when similar sensationalist and factually incorrect media reporting has occurred, the ADF does not undertake “targeted killings” or “assassinations” of either enemy combatants or other Afghans. Nor, incidentally, is our Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) in Afghanistan an “undercover” unit.  

    The sloppy terminology of Sparrow and others incorrectly and immorally implies that civilian Afghan community leaders have been murdered by the ADF when even the Taliban commanders killed by our troops have been killed legitimately as enemy combatants in conformity to the ROE applying and in open combat with our troops (who openly wear Australian uniforms). 

    Moreover, in moral and practical terms as a fellow Australian talking about Australian soldiers, Sparrow and others are guilty of more than sloppy terminology. These incorrect claims in the Australian press undoubtedly assist the Taliban and their apologists by providing propaganda quotes of supposed “evidence” that the ADF is somehow acting illegally rather than in full compliance with LOAC. The danger of such actions in a complex and nuanced counter-insurgency war, and one with broader international implications for Islamist terrorism outside Afghanistan, cannot be under-estimated. 

    Whether knowingly or unknowingly Sparrow and other claimants are unfairly adding to the dangers facing the lives of our diggers by, at best, recklessly providing assistance to the enemy they are fighting. Our diggers are fighting in Afghanistan as part of a UN-endorsed international force and consequent to a lawful decision by the democratically-elected Australian government. Any reckless or worse assistance to the enemy our troops are fighting, by any Australian citizen, is an active act of disloyalty and well beyond the exercise of legitimate dissent from the Australian government decision to deploy them. 

    Intentional assistance to an enemy our defence force is fighting on behalf of all of us is, of course, rightly punishable under Australian law (since the Burchett loophole was finally closed in 2002). 

    Under the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world commits treason if he or she (among other things):

    • intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;

    • intentionally assists, by ‘any means whatsoever’, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or

    • forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

    Given continued false claims about supposed ADF “assassinations”, etc, it would now seem high time that this law was tightened to ensure even reckless assistance to an enemy was punishable, as already applies with several terrorist offences.  

    Finally, getting back to Sparrow’s ostensible purpose for his article, no serious Australian military historian that I know of believes that Breaker Morant was innocent in the murder of the German missionary Hesse by his co-defendant, Handcock. Both of them contravened the laws of war (as then applied) to the shooting of Boer prisoners after capture although some summary shootings might have been then justifiable for those captured illegally wearing British uniforms (depending on the extent of the items of uniform worn and their motive and actions in doing so). 

    There were also deficiencies in how the charges against Morant, Handcock and Witton were preferred and in their court martial and sentencing. Senior British commanders were also at fault, even if only indirectly, and were not punished. 

    But several enduring lessons were learnt and have been implemented down to the present day, especially as Australia has fought all its wars as a junior member of an international coalition.  

    Although Morant and Handcock were not serving in an Australian unit at the time of the offences, after their execution without the Australian government being consulted legislative and policy steps were taken to prevent a reoccurrence. The executions also contributed to the continuing successful practice from World War I onwards whereby Australian contingents contributed to international coalitions always remain under Australian command, are placed only under the operational control of allied commanders (where applicable), and are never under foreign command. It also perhaps contributed to the Australian policy not to execute a single soldier for cowardice in either World War. 

    Monday, 15 February 2010
    Letter to the Sydney Morning Herald
    (published Wednesday, 17 February 2010) 

    With some irony Monday’s Your editorial on defence force – media relations with the defence force exemplifies other causes of the problem you lament ("Muzzling the watchdogs of war", February 15). 

    Since the early 1990s there has certainly been excessive and hyper-centralised ministerial political control over the release of any information to the public about what our troops are actually doing at home and overseas. 

    The Australia Defence Association has consistently criticised Defence the defence force and the Howard and Rudd Governments for this. 

    But your editorial ignored the other main cause of the problem – consistently poor media coverage of Australian defence issues. 

    With some notable exceptions this is by generalist journalists (often for short stints) rather than, as used to occur, by specialist correspondents with personal experience and understanding of military professionalism or war. 

    Just contrast defence reporting, for example, with economics, health and business matters, where this is covered largely by journalists whose career is dedicated to, and professionally qualified in, such subjects. 

    To rebuild mutual trust between the military and the media we should start by abolishing centralised spin and reverting to the former practice whereby ADF commanders at all levels (including overseas war zones) are authorised to brief the public and the media on what their forces are doing free of any party-political or bureaucratic control. 

    Sunday, 14 February 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com
    (published Monday, 15 February 2010)  

    Only in “Crikey” could Charles Richardson’s initial ahistoric comparison (Crikey, Thursday 11 February) that Afghanistan was better off under the Soviet Union (or a Soviet-backed puppet government), and Vietnam under the South Vietnamese regime, be criticised only by Guy Rundle (Crikey Friday 12 February) from the even more ahistoric and ideological angle that the South Vietnam parallel was supposedly incorrect. 

    Both of your columnists ignore that the Soviet Union’s sponsoring of successive communist coups in Afghanistan from 1978, culminating in a Soviet invasion and brutal occupation 1979-89, killed many hundreds of thousands, destroyed Afghan civil society in detail, caused five million refugees to flee and sent Afghanistan spiralling down to arguably even worse rule by squabbling warlords and then the Taliban (1989-2001) after the Soviets were finally forced out.  

    Most of Afghanistan’s continuing problems are the direct result of the immense human, social, economic and infrastructural damage inflicted in the 1978-2001 period – not results of the UN-endorsed international intervention and reconstruction effort since 2002. 

    Similarly, whatever the real and perceived ills of South Vietnamese governments, most Vietnamese (formerly South or North) would probably now opt for that type of imperfect but multi-party government if ever given the chance in a free vote to throw off  communist rule in their authoritarian one-party state. 

    What next, claims by Rundle that Russians and Cambodians were better off under Stalin and Pol Pot respectively than they would have been under democratic governments? 

    Wednesday, 13 January 2010
    Letter to Crikey.com
    (published Thursday, 14 January 2010) 

    In an item redolent with irrelevant gossip from bygone eras, one-sided political claims and a view of Australian history as seen through a particular ideological prism, Jeff Sparrow (“ASIO, not the government, calling the shots on refugees”, Crikey, Item 8, 13 Dec 10), was unable to cite one instance where ASIO assessments of refugees have been improper or incorrect, nor was he able to demonstrate that security screening of refugees is somehow unjustified, illogical or immoral. 

    Moreover, those of Sparrow's  Jeff’s ideological bent heartily criticised ASIO for many years for its supposed part in the poor screening of post-World War II refugees and immigrants with fascist or nazi records. 

    The bottom line is that some security screening of those entering Australia, whether as refugees, immigrants or visitors, is clearly required. Not least because we all live in a globalised society and economy, we cannot somehow quarantine Australia from the rest of the world by total exclusion of travel, and there are at least some foreigners who seek to enter Australia with ill intent. 

    With regard to asylum seeking, Australia remains one of only seven countries between the  Aegean and Arafura sea that are signatories to the 1951 Convention and we are the only first-world liberal democracy (and country of mass settlement) among them. The legal and moral dilemmas of our situation are complex and nuanced. Just what can you do, for example, when a claimant for asylum turns out to be a serious violator of international humanitarian law (IHL) especially when likely to remain so? 

    Sparrow's Jeff’s further claim that receiving information from foreign governments is automatically an example of malign influence by such a government is simplistic nonsense. Obviously most of the information on foreigners coming to Australia has to come from somewhere overseas. But equally obviously the views of foreign governments are weighted accordingly depending on their reliability and rule-of-law standards. Information from anywhere in a dictatorship (or compromised democracy such as Sri Lanka) is obviously treated with much more scepticism than information provided legitimately, in accordance with international law and UN processes, by the police force or security intelligence agency of a fellow liberal democracy that respects IHL. 

    Finally, the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka again highlights serious problems with applying the 1951 Refugee Convention and its underlying concepts to today’s realities. Both sides in this war disobeyed international humanitarian law but the Tamil Tigers were much guiltier in this regard. Despite the propaganda emanating from Tiger sympathisers among Australia’s Tamil community, the Sri Lankan government is fully entitled (and indeed required) under IHL to screen the population of areas previously controlled, viciously, by the Tigers in order to segregate and detain Tiger combatants and committed supporters of terrorism.  

    As long as such screening and detention meets IHL norms it does not qualify as persecution in terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention. With appropriate safeguards, returning committed violators of IHL to Sri Lanka for criminal trial or temporary detention under the Laws of Armed Conflict is not necessarily a breach of the non-refoulement principle governing the treatment of asylum seekers or even refugees. As understandably no other Convention signatory seems willing to accept serious IHL violators, the imperfect but necessary alternative of administratively detaining them indefinitely in Australia, as it stretches into years, ends up being improper and eventually even inhumane. 

    Tuesday, 12 January 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times (in answer to an opinion article by Nicholas Stuart)
    (published Thursday, 14 January 2010) 

    Nic Stuart (“Time to shoot down these silly season good news stories", Canberra Times, January 12, p.11) simply writes another one in arguing that the ADF somehow does not now need its only ground-based point air defence unit because wider protection by fighter aircraft can always do all the job. 

    It was this type of flawed bureaucratic thinking and narrow ideological approach in the Department of Defence in throughout the 1980s and 1990s that stripped the ADF in detail of many of the readily useable and deployable fighting, logistic, strategic mobility and medical capabilities we have subsequently had to reconstitute – at considerable tactical and strategic risk, expense, effort and time lost – so we could operate successfully in East Timor, the Solomon Islands and further afield since 1999. 

    Nic also ignores the battle-tested force structuring principles of strategic and operational redundancy even if only maintained at absolutely minimal levels (in ones not threes) to save money. 

    Fighters are not going to be always available everywhere, every time needed,  and should not be risked or misused anyway on tasks best met or supplemented by surface-based point or area air defence capabilities such as the new Hobart class destroyers 

    His Moreover, Nic’s odd view that surface-based air defence is outmoded is not shared by our principal allies, comparable allies such as Canada, all our regional neighbours and by all potential adversaries in our wider region. 

    It could just as well be argued, using Nic’s points and numerous foreign comparisons, that 16 Air Defence Regiment needs re-equipment with more modern weapons or even that, as the regiment has only one not three batteries anyway, that the ADF needs more than one such unit in order to maintain the capability in the three parts needed to deploy it continually for protracted periods or protect more than one airbase or (tiny) deployed force.  

    Finally, there is his odd argument that defence capabilities that have fired few or no shots in anger over recent decades can easily be scrapped. 

    Even ignoring deterrent values, the unpredictability of the future and even minimal force adaptability and technological standards maintenance imperatives, this fallacious suggestion would mean, for example, the ADF scrapping all its submarines (last combat 1915),  bombers (last combat 1971), fighters (last enemy fighter shot down in 1953) and artillery (last combat 1971). 

    Surely the real story about 16 Air Defence Regiment is why its single-unit base at Woodside is not closed, before more funds are expended there, and why it is not moved to a location that offers operational utility, strategic sense and financial savings? 

    Friday, 08 January 2010
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review
    (published Tuesday, 12 January 2010) 

    By all means allow Mark Latham to comment on political or economic matters. 

    But not, such as “Why we must avoid US folly”, AFR, January 7, p.46, where his complete ignorance of the fundamentals of grand strategy, all military operations and most intelligence gathering matters, and his prejudiced misunderstanding of much of Australia’s strategic history, only embarrass him, your paper and anyone who once thought he was qualified to be prime minister. 

    Surely it also simply bizarre for a former Labor Party leader to be so ignorant of the UN Charter, especially Australia’s responsibilities as a member to help restore international peace and security in UN-endorsed military operations. 

    Wednesday, 06 January 2010
    Letter to the Brisbane Courier Mail
    (not published) 

    Ian McPhedran (“Securing a solution”, Courier Mail, 06/01, p.24) oddly claimed that there is a “pro-war lobby” in Australia supposedly arguing that our thankfully low casualty numbers in Afghanistan somehow mean we are not “pulling our weight” strategically. 

    The Australia Defence Association knows of no-one seriously arguing for a boost to our commitment on such specious grounds and we would know because our job would involve vigorously refuting them. 

    Ian also appears to miss that in moral and strategic terms Australia should never risk our diggers’ lives in any war unless it in our national interest, we intend to win it and, at group and individual level on the ground, our diggers can fight for moral ideals and practical initiatives rather than ivory-tower “policy considerations”. 

    The bottom line in such “just wars” is that if we do not fight to win we should not be fighting at all. 

    Moreover, winning deters other potential wars while losing often encourages other aggressors (especially if we quit just because it got hard or wrongly seemed “unwinnable”). 

    If Australia needs to commit more troops to Afghanistan in order to help win, reduce our casualties and shorten the duration of our commitment over the long haul, further reduce the misery of the Afghan people and show our strategic and moral will to stand up to Islamist aggression, then we should do so. 

    But we should never ask our diggers to risk their lives for opinion poll-driven party-political expediency, or as a “token contribution” to satisfy policy considerations or diplomatic aims such as “managing” our strategic relationship with the US, especially when both are invariably postulated by those not called on to risk their lives – and the patience of our US and British allies with such strategic bludging is markedly decreasing anyway. 

    Making token contributions to the UN-endorsed war in Afghanistan, and not persisting in order to win, are just as strategically invalid and morally indefensible as simplistic or defeatist calls to quit. 

    Monday, 04 January 2010
    Letter to The Canberra Times (in answer to a letter from the Chief-of-Army)
    (published Wednesday, 06 January 2010) 

    Hesitant as I am to comment on an exchange between the Chief-of-Army (Letters, January 4) and the national president of the Defence Reserves Association (“Defence warned reserves will quit”, December 30, p.3), I suspect there is some general confusion involved. 

    It is also probable that the “second-class” quote about reservists attributed to General Barry was misreported from quite a different context to that assumed by General Gillespie. 

    But the real issue here, surely (and generally), is why the specific funding now allocated to ADF reservists is insufficient to meet their training and development needs for other than high-priority tasks (now that it can no longer be topped up each year using the salary vote surplus from those full-time ADF personnel not actually able to be recruited when the economy was booming). 

    Numerous army and parliamentary studies of the Army Reserve over the last generation or two, for example, all agree that army reservists need a minimum of 28-32 days annually to maintain basic standards of operational effectiveness and utility.  

    If current funding does not sustain such effectiveness then surely the only practical and long-term alternatives are to increase the direct funding or again cut the size of the Army Reserve (and move it fully to a Ready-Reserve model). 

    While the 3rd AIF-in-waiting model of the 1950-2000 Army Reserve is rightly no longer appropriate for strategic, demographic, technological and budgetary reasons, the smaller, more specialised and integrated reserve forces we now have still need to be adequately sustained. 

    Otherwise we risk further accelerating the general and generational death spiral afflicting the Army Reserve as a whole. 

    Sunday, 03 January 2010
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    In two recent articles on continuing problems with the Navy’s Armidale class patrol boats Michael McKenna has rightly noted how it is unusual for naval vessels to be constructed to commercial rather than warship standards. 

    But he has gone on to blame the Navy incorrectly for this, and for the associated long-term constraints on defence and border protection operations, rather than slot home the real responsibility. 

    These boats were wrongly built to a low funding cap arbitrarily set by the early Howard government, then in full thrall to flawed theories of running our defence force like a commercial business, instead of the boats being designed and constructed to the operational capability logically derived and clearly required - as the Navy and the wider ADF professionally and appropriately advised. 

    The Armidales are sadly not warships. Their only military characteristics are effectively their (one) gun, electronics suite and grey paint scheme. 

    This works for some border protection duties, and in fictional television series where the incoming fire is only blanks and the need for battle-damage control can be ignored, but means they largely cannot be used in most wider defence roles especially in helping deter or fight shooting wars involving missile-equipped adversaries (such as virtually all other navies in the near and wider regions). 

    The clear lesson, once again, is that Australia’s strategic and operational requirements always need to drive defence equipment procurement, not the funding thought to be available politically or various absurd theorising by ideologues, bureaucrats, academics and business figures who have never seen a shot fired in anger, spent an hour on the open sea or experienced any of the other day-to-day realities of defence force operations.


Letters: 2009

  • Letters archive 2009

    This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2009.


    31 December 2009
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    In an otherwise timely opinion article Carl Ungerer, “Spooks caught with their pants down”, The Australian, 31/12, p.12, omitted discussion of another key constraint on intelligence agency effectiveness. 

    In Australia we have filled our intelligence and security agencies with too many “intelligence analysts” at the expense of not enough intelligence officers with through-career  experience in the intelligence profession, especially regarding hands-on intelligence gathering and mastery of intellectual tools such as the formal intelligence estimates needed to adequately understand and counter security threats and then guide consequent intelligence collection. 

    This is akin to trying to run our hospitals with paramedics only and having few or no doctors and nurses at either the working or managerial level. 

    Compounding this problem is that many of those employed as “intelligence analysts” or their managers are really academics and Public Service generalists filling such positions merely as a short-term box-ticking exercise in pursuit of wider bureaucratic, diplomatic or political career aims. 

    That only one, and possibly two, of the heads of our six intelligence and security agencies would qualify professionally for membership of the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers illustrates the extent of the problem – as does the entrenched bureaucratic unwillingness to even acknowledge this deficiency and fix it. 

    With even wider consequences, the proven inability of many senior personnel in such agencies to develop a formal intelligence estimate or, even worse, their failure to recognise that there is a personal, professional and agency inability to do so – and that this is a serious problem – are major process flaws in the development and execution of all national security policy. 

    21 December 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (answering two responses that day to the ADA letter dated 11 December 2009)
    (published 24 December 2009) 

    Michael McCarthy (Canberra Times, Letters, December 21) asks “what proportion of Australia’s intelligence officers are in the 007 category”? 

    The clear answer, factually, conceptually and professionally, is none - and so it should be in a democracy ruled by law with intelligence and security agencies employing professionals. 

    But Michael’s gung-ho and cinema-centric confusion only further illustrates my original point. 

    In the real world continual and sloppy media use of the term “spies” only confuses effective and informed public debate on intelligence and domestic security matters, even ignoring how it also prompts unnecessary fears based on syllogistic arguments such as those of Peter Harris (Letters, December 21). 

    And to reinforce my original point, it is highly probable that the only real spies in Australia are Australian traitors illegally working for foreign intelligence officers (mainly based here under diplomatic cover). 

    In domestic security matters where ASIO intelligence officers may be directly or indirectly assisted by fellow Australians in monitoring extremist threats, those helping are, in legal, professional accountability and moral terms, either informants, agents or even alert members of the general public, never “spies”. 

    11 December 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published 14 December 2009) 

    Surely we should expect better of “The Canberra Times” than the lazy tabloid headline “Spy school” (Friday, December 11, p.3) over an article reporting the planned establishment of the Government’s new national security college as a joint venture with the Australian National University. 

    Moreover, your national affairs correspondent Philip Dorling, of all people, surely knows better than to inaccurately and narrowly describe its intended student body as “Australia’s spies and security experts”. 

    Would it not have been better instead to address some of the meaty issues involved, such as why the new college is being established as part of the ANU rather than independently — or with another university or the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College? 

    After all, the college of diplomacy is already at the ANU and some healthy intellectual separation in how we educate our diplomats, strategists, intelligence officers and broader national security policy-makers is clearly desirable to avoid groupthink and Canberra-centric perspectives.  

    This is especially so when we see the damage done to Australian policy, and to the diversity of thinking in various government departments and agencies, through the ANU’s existing strategic and defence studies centre having developed such an unyielding ideological bias and narrow activist focus to its research (and too many of its academic courses) over recent decades. 

    Finally, sloppy misuse of the term “spies” does nothing to bolster confidence that your paper really knows what it is talking about when it discusses national security matters in the broad. For example, the operational staff of both ASIO and ASIS are intelligence officers not “spies”. Those Jjournalists and indeed readers unable to understand the difference conceptually, professionally or legally are simply unqualified to comment on intelligence and national security matters. 

    Such inaccurate terms also do nothing for informed public debate about the relatively prominent location of the new ASIO building [in Canberra].  Every little bit helps in educating the more paranoid objectors who claim this location is somehow inappropriate. because Tthey do not grasp the clear distinctions between the purpose and arbitrary powers of “secret police” in a totalitarian state and the fundamentally different role, status and checks and balances governing the security-intelligence agency of a liberal democracy. 

    02 December 2009
    Letter to the Sydney Daily Telegraph
    (published in part on 04 December 2009) 

    Noting his longstanding consistency for factual error, outdated jargon and inexpert or wild claims your so-called “defence writer”, Ian McPhedran (“In a war with no rules, there are no losers or winners”, Daily Telegraph, 02/12/09, p.75), again misunderstands war in general and the Afghanistan war in particular. 

    Australia has definite strategic interests in defeating Al Qa’eda and the Taliban. 

    Furthermore, we are not Western Europeans and should never bludge on the greater actual and proportionate commitments of our US and British allies. 

    The bottom line in moral and strategic terms is that we should never risk our diggers’ lives in any war unless we intend to win it.  

    If we need to commit more troops in order to help win – and to reduce our casualties and shorten the duration of our commitment over the long haul – then we should do so. 

    We can legitimately ask our diggers to risk their lives for an ideal or in our national interest. Neither of which justify token contributions aimed purely at “alliance management”, nor simplistic or defeatist calls to quit that would simply leave the people of Afghanistan in the lurch. 

    Finally, could Ian Mr McPhedran substantiate his absurd claim that there are supposedly “warmongers” arguing that the level of Australia's our military commitment to Afghanistan should be increased because the ADF has had “only 11” fatalities fatal casualties. 

    29 October 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    Your Thursday (29/10) editorial and the adjoining column by David Barnett neatly juxtaposed the two extremes of uninformed public exchanges concerning asylum seekers and encapsulated why informed public debate on this subject is so difficult. 

    Moreover, in somewhat of an achievement, the editorial was based on even more factual errors and fallacious assumptions than your token (far) right-wing columnist. 

    Both polemics chose to ignore the international law and longer-term strategic issues involved in order to make politically-partisan or emotional points. 

    Consistency in applying law and principle, however, is the only way to move forward on any international issue posing difficult moral, strategic and diplomatic dilemmas. 

    As with those aboard the Tampa who — when rescued in Indonesian waters illegally forced its captain to divert to Christmas Island rather than sail to the nearest Indonesian port — the asylum claimants aboard the Oceanic Viking are clearly the responsibility of Indonesia under international law and long-established international moral custom. 

    If Indonesia does not accept this, any vessel transiting Indonesia’s zone of international search and rescue responsibility will be most reluctant to rescue distressed seafarers for fear of being marooned forever in Indonesian waters. 

    Such an outcome would be a genuine humanitarian tragedy with significant wider consequences to long-established international treaties and practices governing safety of life at sea and asylum seeking. 

    That those rescued now and in the future may be heading for Australia to claim asylum is irrelevant, as should be their desperate or calculated use of emotional blackmail to undermine the applicable international law. 

    Despite another round of political and moral posturing in Australia over “Pacific” or “Indonesian solutions”, the real underlying moral and strategic problem remains that only six countries between the Aegean and Arafura Seas are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and only one of them, Cambodia, is in South-East or South Asia. 

    The Australian Government is therefore faced with a very delicate diplomatic task in negotiating with Indonesia because our overall strategic inter-relationship, Indonesian “face” and some frankly racist views or politically-pandering by some provincial Indonesian officials are involved. 

    Those Australians undergoing apparent crises of conscience about our approach to refugees might instead expend commensurate moral and intellectual effort in demanding that Indonesia and other regional states respect or sign the Refugee Convention – and ask why such states just keep passing all the moral buck for a supposedly universal humanitarian responsibility to Australia in seeming perpetuity. 

    Our news media might also try not actively undermining Australian diplomatic and humanitarian efforts by suggesting short-term pseudo-solutions to Indonesian officials, either well-minded or racist, that will only make matters worse for everyone, including asylum seekers, in the long run. 

    17 September 2009
    Letter to Crikey.Com
    (published 18 September 2009) 

    Excluding his odd belief that Japan’s attack on Australia in World War II “had its origins in European imperialism” rather than Japanese racism, militarism and home-grown imperialism – or indeed his wider ideological stances on the war in Afghanistan and Australian strategic policy - Guy Rundle (“Women at war: the mother of political betrayals, September 17, item 3), exemplifies key flaws permeating most recent public and media commentary about females in combat. 

    First, women serving in combat positions today throughout the ADF – as you read this issue of Crikey – are getting increasingly annoyed to say the least at so many silly and indeed insulting suggestions that they somehow do not or should not exist. 

    Second, they cannot understand why so many on either old-fashioned extreme of the debate, such as Greg Sheridan opposed to any women in combat or Eva Cox arguing for no limitations in any circumstances, get so much publicity when their public comments demonstrate little or no understanding of, or willingness to consider, the many complexities and nuances involved and neither is an expert on fighting wars anyway. 

    Third, they also cannot understand why virtually every new or old media article or program on this issue over the last weeks has been so riddled with sensationalist slants, factual errors, mistaken assumptions and omission of counter-argument inconvenient to its “theme”. 

    Finally, the vast majority of females in the ADF agree that operational capability, not conservative or feminist ideology, must be the prime determinant of defence force employment criteria, not least because they understand that battlefields are a unique workplace (if indeed they are a workplace at all in the civil sense). 

    If you don’t believe me, check out http://www.ada.asn.au/Recent.Comment_files/Comment.Women&Combat.htm  

    13 September 2009
    Letter to The Weekend Australian
    (not published) 

    James Miller (Letters, Weekend Australian, September 12-13) incorrectly, and worse recklessly, claims that 4000 Italians were somehow “held in concentration camps in Australia during World War II for the sole reason of their ethnicity”. 

    In fact the lawful detention of Italian (and German and Japanese) nationals was based solely on their citizenship and presumed loyalty as enemy aliens during time of war. 

    Such wartime detention was and remains fully consistent with international law and commonsense practice. 

    But even more importantly, there is a huge difference in fact, practice, law and morality between a detention camp run properly by a liberal democracy according to the Geneva Conventions as a temporary wartime emergency measure and a concentration camp run for any period by a dictatorship in breach of international humanitarian law. 

    Mr Miller’s confusion is yet another example why so many trying to comment on the lawful detention (if not subsequent criminal trial) of David Hicks after his capture as a belligerent (not arrest as a civilian) in the Afghanistan War so often ignored the necessary specialist international law applying to wartime detention of enemy belligerents [such as Hicks] and enemy civilian citizens. 

    28 July 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (following a letter to the editor which seriously misunderstood previous ADA commentary)
    (not published) 

    David Roth (letters, July 28) claims international humanitarian law (IHL), including the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) based on the Geneva and Hague Conventions and the UN Charter, are arcane and obscure laws but this view would not be widely shared and nor should it be. 

    Unless we have universal legal standards and consistency in their application, through understanding and acceptance internationally, abuses of human rights and the incidence and violence of war itself will always increase not decrease. 

    Moreover, in terms of universality and practical implementation, IHL moves forward when those respecting such laws are rewarded (especially when compliance is difficult) and those contravening them are disadvantaged even when punishment is postponed or impossible. 

    IHL also moves forward when its basic principles, such as universality and consistency, are widely understood and discussed free of ideology, emotion, misplaced national loyalties or personal prejudices. 

    As an example, IHL applies to everyone - including Australians. The lawful detention of David Hicks under LOAC after his capture, not civil arrest, when fighting in the Afghanistan War was not somehow unlawful, improper or immoral just because he was an Australian or a dill, nor because some mistakenly think he was a civilian and not a combatant in that specific war, nor because some might disagree with Australia’s participation in this UN-endorsed military action. 

    Finally, unnecessary confusion to David Roth at least, has resulted from editing of my last letter, especially the removal of explanations concerning the differing IHL situations governing the detentions (but not any criminal trials or lack of them) of Stern Hu, David Hicks, Mamdouh Habib, the Uighurs improperly detained at Guantanamo Bay and German prisoners-of-war and interned civilians in World War II. 

    As with all ADA letters, the complete version may be read on our website at www.ada.asn.au. 

    21 July 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published in part on 24 July 2009) 

    Various correspondents, columnists and public commentators are mistaken in drawing purported comparisons between, and supposed wider inferences from, the detentions of Stern Hu and David Hicks. 

    Mr Hu is detained, without charge at this stage, by the Chinese authorities under Chinese civil law. 

    Whatever else is involved, his arbitrary treatment and certainly his detention under civil law appear to be clear breaches of the specialist international law applying, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). 

    David Hicks on the other hand was never arbitrarily detained, "held without trial" or "held without charge" for a single minute. 

    Nor was he detained under civil law (and in breach of the covenant ICCPR) until, arguably, following his separate criminal conviction and prison sentence for terrorist offences. 

    Notwithstanding the controversy over the validity or not of his separate criminal trial, conviction and sentence by a US military commission, Hicks' lawful detention as a combatant member of a combatant organisation after capture in the early stages of the Afghanistan War was fully consistent with the specialist international law applying, the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), and especially the Geneva Conventions. 

    Although not qualifying for prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention, or indeed as a non-combatant under the other three, Hicks was protected under Common Article 3 of all four Conventions. His detention was just as lawful, and in its earlier stages at least, just as operationally justified as with all the German military personnel and civilians Australia detained in World War II. 

    The right and responsibilities of the US, as the capturing power under the Geneva Conventions, to detain, but protect, enemy personnel captured in war was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in the June 2006 Hamdan decision. 

    Indeed this seminal ruling has been the basis for most subsequent court decisions extending further LOAC or ICCPR protections to those detained at Guantanamo Bay - and especially in directing the release of those not captured in a war (such as the Uighurs). 

    It is also, incidentally, why the detention of Mamdouh Habib by Pakistan, Egypt and the US probably did contravene the ICCPR because his arrest in Pakistan was effectively a civil matter, not capture of a combatant in the Afghan theatre of war as that theatre was then conventionally defined and understood. 

    19 June 2009
    Letter to the Australian Financial Review (following an ahistoric opinion article by Brian Toohey)
    (not published) 

    While Kenneth Mortimer (AFR, letters June 19) makes some good points about the technical, financial and strategic risks of the F-35 joint strike fighter, his general thrust is based on several invalid assumptions and incorrect historical examples – and it is always somewhat foolhardy to quote your generalist columnist Brian Toohey on defence issues due to the selectivity and polemics invariably involved. 

    In particular, surface warships are not automatically sitting ducks for missile attack and bigger ones are not somehow necessarily more vulnerable than smaller ones. 

    The opposite is often the case as the widespread trend in modern navies away from small frigates and back to bigger destroyers shows. Furthermore, it is systems of hulls, fleets, equipment and operational doctrine, not individual warships, that are important. 

    Mr Mortimer especially misinterprets 1982 Falkands War examples and ignores subsequent developments. Five AM-39 Exocets were fired in that war with two missing completely. Two hit different ships to the ones targeted (eventually sinking HMS Sheffield and the cargo vessel Atlantic Conveyor) but in both cases the ships were not tactically deployed nor equipped to defend against missile attack. 

    HMS Glamorgan was hit by the only Exocet to actually hit the ship it was fired at but survived to keep fighting (not least due to the size of her hull and ability to absorb battle damage). Sheffield also did not sink until under tow six days later, largely because of the distance to a safe port of repair. 

    Similarly, in the only other case where tactically-fired Exocets have hit a warship it was not sunk. In 1987 the USS Stark, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate (FFG) – as are four of the RAN’s ageing warships – was mistakenly targeted and hit by two Iraqi Exocets but survived. 

    War naturally means any weapons platform (or other target) on the sea, on land or in the air is vulnerable under some conditions. But, even assuming we have a strategic choice in every instance, that is no reason not to ever employ any weapon – and you do not deter or win wars, or preserve peace, by such general disarmament anyway. 

    The real lesson is to make sure any weapon system or platform is fit for purpose, equipped adequately for self-defence and, where necessary, deployed strategically and tactically to minimise vulnerability or defeat attacks respectively. 

    16 June 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (concerning an opinion article by Nic Stuart)
    (published 19 June 2009) 

    Nic Stuart (“Faulkner faces a torrid battle”, Opinion, June 12) makes good sense about the high hopes for the new Faulkner-Combet combination overseeing the Department of Defence. 

    But Nic’s his remark that the military edifice is just too huge for any one person to make a difference again highlights that the department’s size (in all respects), complexity and importance has long needed three full-time ministers and at least one full-time parliamentary secretary. 

    If Treasury has 3½ ministers, and Health and Ageing has four (plus a parliamentary secretary), why does Defence only have 1½ ministers plus half a parliamentary secretary – especially given the longstanding and near-constant publicity about its governance difficulties?. 

    The Rudd Government started off well by allocating two full-time ministers and two full-time parliamentary secretaries to Defence but then blew it when the day-to-day politics of reinforcing Penny Wong with 1 ½ of the parliamentary secretaries won out over proper long-term governance. 

    Greg Combet’s new workload, for example, is obviously absurd. He inherits all Warren Snowdon’s ministerial responsibilities, plus his old parliamentary secretary responsibilities for defence equipment procurement, and is still stuck with an unrelated climate change rescue role. 

    Two junior ministers, one for science and procurement and one for the ADF as a whole (not just its personnel issues), respectively, are clearly required (as the UK British model shows). 

    Nic’s Stuart's throwaway term “military edifice” also highlights another part of the problem in that “Defence” is not, and should not be, a military organisation. 

    The bureaucratic edifice that is the Department of Defence is a deeply flawed hybrid structure stemming from decades of unsuccessfully trying to cope with a massive ministerial workload, and, at times, attempts to divert, disguise or excuse the constantly insufficient (and sometimes poor) ministerial supervision.

    Splitting the department and the strategic military headquarters, but under the one senior minister as the Kiwis do very successfully, would greatly improve ministerial supervision and governance generally, as well as allow deep cuts in both the civilian and military bureaucracies. 

    It might even reverse the near tripling of deputy secretary equivalents from 5 to 13 over the last decade.  

    11 June 2009
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review (concerning an opinion article by Mark Latham)
    (published 12 June 2009) 

    Mark Latham (“Better off away from it all”, AFR, 11/6) describes those serving in our defence force as “meatheads” with “limited intelligence” and “primeval interests in life”. 

    As the ADA has pointed out before with similar rants in The Latham Diaries (p.193), this is simply abuse unsupported by facts, argument or coherent philosophy and surely well below intellectual and wider community standards for acceptable public debate. 

    Latham is also only free to make such comments because of the exertions in uniform, over generations, of better men and women than himself. 

    This irony is no doubt lost on him. 

    His parading of such nasty prejudices perhaps stems from some form of shame about his own contribution to Australian society in comparison - and of envy about the community respect in which our diggers and their antecedents are generally held. 

    His comments undoubtedly transgress AFR standards for opinion articles and surely should have earned an editorial kick, not tick, at the drafting stage. 

    Shame on you for publishing such a cowardly attack – and on a group not allowed to answer him back. 

    11 June 2009
    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald (concerning a very poorly argued and subjective editorial)
    (not published) 

    SMH editorials on defence issues (11/6) would have credibility if they avoided Vietnam-era undergraduate prejudices about supposed Department of Defence “fiefdoms” and did not include silly recommendations such as the army’s tanks being “mothballed” as they are “unlikely to be used except in all-out war”. 

    The definition of “all-out” is as unstated as it is irrelevant. Australian experience of the necessity of at least some tanks is derived from hard-won combat experience from all types of war in all types of conditions – both in our region (Malaya, PNG, Bougainville, Borneo, Vietnam) as well as further afield (Libya, Greece, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan). 

    The obvious question of how and who might be able to maintain complex defence capabilities when “mothballed” and then operate them effectively when they become needed, particularly at short notice, also hangs in the air - as does any apparent understanding that in the case of the Army’s few (59) tanks they are primarily intended for credible combined-arms contingencies by small sub-units in our immediate region, not major wars further afield (where we do not have enough tanks to contribute anyway). 

    No tanks mean dead infantry. This is why our highly comparable Canadian cousins currently use tanks as an integral component of their combined-arms battalion group-level operations in Afghanistan and have again rejected amateur or ivory-tower notions about tanks somehow not being necessary in modern warfare. 

    If you really think our army does not need at least some tanks, feel free to take the incoming enemy fire instead. 

    05 June 2009
    Letter to The Australian (following the resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon as Minister for Defence)
    (published 06 June 2009) 

    The resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon as defence minister [Minister for Defence] offers an excellent opportunity to reform, modernise and increase ministerial supervision of this large, complex and important portfolio ("Fitzgibbon blames 'Judases' for dramatic demise", 5/6). 

    In an act of bureaucratic triumphalism, when the defence group of five departments were merged in 1974 the responsibilities of their five ministers and four statutory management boards were invested in one minister, later assisted at times by half to one junior minister and more recently by half to one (and briefly two) parliamentary secretaries. 

    Despite at least some hardworking ministers (Robert Ray, Robert Hill, Brendan Nelson, Joel Fitzgibbon) this structure has become increasingly unworkable. Ministerial briefs, for example, have increased 11-fold over the last 12 or so years. 

    It has also caused a massive increase in the Defence bureaucracy in Canberra, in both size and seniority of positions, as the department has both tried and failed to cope with, or exploited, insufficient ministerial supervision. 

    This in turn has resulted in much professionally improper bureaucratic interference in military professional matters and in constitutionally proper civil control of the military by ministers and parliament on behalf of the electorate. 

    There has also been a stark increase in defence equipment procurement bungles since 1974, largely through the loss of the statutory boards chaired by ministers. 

    Even without our current combat operations overseas the size, scope and complexity of the workload is now beyond any one minister no matter how competent, motivated or hardworking they are. 

    As with the British model, effective ministerial supervision of such a large and complex portfolio has long needed a senior minister, two full-time junior ministers (not even half the Minister for Veterans Affairs tried under the Howard government) and two full-time parliamentary secretaries. One junior minister for technology (DSTO) and procurement (DMO) and one for the ADF (not just its “personnel” issues). 

    A proper structure of junior ministers with real responsibilities would free the senior minister from the minutiae, allow him or her to devote more effort to financial and corporate or military strategy issues, would better suit constitutional and professional structures in how defence is organised and needs to function nationally and internationally, and would also better prepare the talent pool for future senior ministers in the portfolio. 

    It would also help with downsizing the Defence bureaucracy – both civilian and military. 

    29 May 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (responding to a letter about the new headquarters building being constructed in central Canberra for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation)
    (published 02 June 2009)

    Andrew Schuller (letters, 28/5) may or may not be right about the feared aesthetics of the new ASIO building but his comparison of the building’s profile, and of ASIO’s role, with that of the secret police in totalitarian societies surely ignores the important distinction that ASIO is a security intelligence agency not any form of police force. 

    As with the other principal Westminster-system democracies ASIO rightly has no powers of arrest, although the recent institution of questioning warrants for terrorist offences (and their associated secrecy provisions) has unfortunately diluted this principle, if not ensuing practices to a significant degree, and resulted in increased community confusion about the distinction. 

    Andrew Schuller also seems to miss that the existing headquarters of all six of our intelligence and security agencies are already within the parliamentary triangle. 

    This should be welcomed not regretted. Surely it is better for any liberal democracy that such organisations have an open (but not overwhelming) national profile rather than being hidden away from even general public awareness. 

    Every longstanding, and more to the point successful, democracy has some form of security intelligence organisation because democracy is not immunity itself immune from threats of espionage, extra-legal foreign interference or terrorism. 

    Moreover the very freedoms democracy affords can be misused and undermined by some bent on subversion and terrorism unless a realistic balance between community security and civil liberties is maintained. 

    The answer, as always, is comprehensive checks and balances, including our understanding as a community of what ASIO really is, what it really does and must not do, and why we really need it. 

    07 May 2009
    Letter to The Australian (in answer to a disgraceful front-page article by Mark Dodd)
    (published in part on 12 May 2009) 

    Australian troops in Afghanistan are professional soldiers fighting in a UN-endorsed war and they comply fully with the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). 

    They are not “assassins” or “operatives” as wrongly described by Mark Dodd on your front page ('SAS "assassinate" Taliban leader', 7/5). 

    The term assassin untruthfully implies murder – and of unarmed people unawares in a civil law context. 

    Mullah Noorullah, on the other hand, was a willing and armed combatant member of a combatant organisation (which, incidentally, treats LOAC with contempt) in a war and was killed, in combat, by lawful and professional military operations. 

    Deliberately emotive and incorrect terminology such as "assassins" or “operatives” instead of soldiers, gratuitous and ahistoric reference to the Phoenix Program in the Vietnam War, and implying that the common organisational acronym SOTG (Special Operations Task Group) is somehow a sinister synonym for unlawful activities, are serious lapses in journalistic professionalism. 

    Such unprofessional reporting of such basic issues is unworthy of anyone who professes to know what they are talking about in defence force matters or who aspires to the title "defence correspondent". 

    Our diggers are professionals. At the very least they deserve that reporting on their activities be as professional, unbiased, factual and showing full awareness of the moral base, and the legal and operational contexts of their actions. 

    In a globalised information world, no Australian reporter or newspaper worthy of the name, or the nationality, should provide such baseless propaganda smears for misuse by the enemy or their apologists. 

    This is not just a matter of sloppy and unprofessional reporting and editing, or indeed just a question of balance or fairness.  

    It is a serious moral failure by The Australian and necessitates an immediate and public apology to our troops and censure of the journalist, sub-editors and editors involved. 

    26 April 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to a long letter from Paul Varsanyi about the right and perceived ability of the ADA to comment on defence issues)
    (not published) 

    The Australia Defence Association has no objection to former Defence officials or indeed anyone else trying to defend their policy legacies or ideological stances. 

    But, as the impending Defence White Paper will no doubt implicitly acknowledge, this surely needs to recognise the context that our actual strategic circumstances, and ADF operations since East Timor in 1999, have undoubtedly proven the many serious strategic policy failures and other problems that plagued Defence throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 

    Nor do we deny anyone’s right to argue about the increasingly necessary and major strategic-level reforms the ADA advocates regarding defence funding, ministerial oversight, the size, structure, processes and culture of the Department of Defence, and strategic policy outcomes generally. We do reject the opinions of those, such as Paul Varsanyi (Letters, April 24), who question whether these are strategic matters. 

    But surely we should have such debates without the pompous condescension, faux moral outrage and querulous claims that any criticism of former senior Defence officials, even as a class, is somehow impertinent, automatically invalid or even improper. 

    Both Paddy Gourley and more recently Paul Varsanyi have misrepresented ADA positions, accountability processes and comments, and largely resorted to straw man arguments, misquotation and personal attacks. 

    We did not, for example, accuse Paddy of being disloyal to the ADF, nor did we as Paul alleges, “publically critique individual past members of the defence organisation”. In fact the only persons named were acknowledged for their genuine achievements. 

    It is also surely a peculiar viewpoint when Paul feels qualified to opine, or that it is even relevant, that no ADA board member, including respected former VCDF Rob Walls, has had “senior-level exposure to strategic security issues”. 

    Or his equally arrogant fixation that the ADA Board of Directors is somehow deficient because it includes “not one Defence civilian”, when no public-interest guardian organisation board ever includes a complete cross-section of that body’s available expertise or diversity of opinion. 

    But to allay his fears, the predominantly civilian ADA membership includes former Secretaries and other retired senior Defence officials, as well as former ministers and politicians from both sides of politics, and many other retired scientists, diplomats and intelligence officers who believe in informed debate - and who all think that national defence is important beyond their own personal records and opinions. 

    We are happy to compare the diversity, and intellectual depth and ferment of our membership, against say, the staff of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU or any of the lesser cliques of former Defence officials. 

    19 April 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to a further letter from Paddy Gourley which again did not really answer the questions posed in the ADA letter of 07 April below)
    (published 21 April 2009) 

    Paddy Gourley finally lists his alternatives for the ministerial advisory panel on the Defence White Paper but again fails to argue why their currency, expertise or alleged independence from current government service are supposedly better than the incumbents. 

    The ADA acknowledges the previous governmental service of those Paddy lists and indeed the intellectuals among them are, as you would expect, Association members. 

    But, with the exception of Ric Smith, none have anywhere near current experience and the government could hardly appoint Mr Smith given he was the immediate-previous departmental Secretary and had been already commissioned to make a separate major study of national security structures and processes. 

    A number Some of those Paddy suggests were also intimately involved in the now proven failure of previous Defence White Papers, and broader defence policies,. These failed to prepare the ADF and our national strategic thinking adequately for the crises and operations Australia has actually had to face during and since the 1999 East Timor intervention. 

    Others, with the obvious exceptions of Peter Gration, Rob Walls, and perhaps Chris Barrie, may have been senior ADF commanders but are not known as great strategic thinkers or as persons with an active interest in current public debate on national security issues – a story in itself about the too frequent inadequacy of ADF higher promotion processes. 

    Finally, holding the appointment of having been deputy secretary strategy in Defence at some time is surely not reason alone to assume much related expertise. After all, virtually all the public servants appointed to this position Most of these in recent decades have lacked formal qualifications and previous experience in this regard and, even more importantly, actual hands-on experience in executing strategy in military or diplomatic operations overseas. 

    This bizarre belief that no qualifications or experience in strategy is necessary to steer development of our national defence strategies is without doubt the single greatest cause of the long-term and major failure of the 1987, 1994 and, to a lesser extent, 2000 defence white papers.

    The second greatest cause is the narrow and flawed methods of their development – although this is yet again really just one more result of the inadequate knowledge and experience of the officials concerned and that of others to recognise, acknowledge or fix it. 

    11 April 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (in reply to a letter from Paddy Gourley which still did not answer the questions posed in the ADA letter of 07 April below)
    (published 14 April 2009) 

    Although some explanatory detail and polite niceties were unfortunately edited out of my letter (09 Apr) on the ministerial advisory panel for the defence White Paper, this still does not excuse Paddy Gourley’s reply (Letters, 11 Apr) playing the man and not the issues. 

    Paddy needs to name the “six to eight” national security thinkers with “deeper relevant achievements at more senior levels in the Public Service and the ADF than those already on it” [the panel]. 

    And he needs to explain why each of his relatively large number of supposedly omitted experts would be more qualified, and why they are “completely independent of government service”, compared to the existing panellists? 

    Only then can his original claim, the strategic currency and overall merits of each thinker, and the advantages and disadvantages of their potential contribution, be assessed objectively. 

    If Paddy remains obdurate in his refusal to name the supposedly missing expertise, we can only assume he is referring to those responsible for the strategic dead-end thinking of the last three Defence White Papers. 

    07 April 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to completely unsubstantiated claims in an opinion article by Paddy Gourley in the Public Sector Informant liftout section)
    (published 09 April 2009) 

    Among other old-fashioned ramblings your sometime Public Service columnist, Paddy Gourley, (“Understand the limits of war, or our military will take us nowhere”, The Public Sector Informant, 07 April, pp12-13) oddly claimed that the ministerial advisory panel on the Defence White Paper included none of the “country’s best national security thinkers”. 

    The three-man panel is deliberately comprised of those independent of current government service and includes the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (a retired major general and former head of Defence’s strategic policy division during its most dynamic and relevant era), Australian academia’s best defence finance expert, and a former head of both the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre and the Kokoda Foundation (with broad Defence, academic and defence industry credentials). 

    Moreover, when the panel was announced, the Australia Defence Association noted that the really encouraging thing was who was not on it – and indeed how the Rudd Government finally appeared to be moving Labor on from the late-Cold War thinking of the Beazley era. 

    Perhaps Mr Gourley, a long-retired Defence bureaucrat of the discredited “divide-and-conquer the three Services” school, could suggest just who he thinks has been wrongly excluded and why. 

    I think we should be told. 

    04 April 2009
    Letter to Melbourne's The Age (replying to an opinion article by Russell Skelton)
    (not published) 

    Russell Skelton (“Chinese whispers”, The Age, 04 April) may know his ALP politics but commenting on defence and intelligence issues is obviously not his forte. 

    Unfortunately for informed public debate, he is not on his own. Most such comment by generalist journalists/commentators over recent weeks has been so inaccurate regarding facts, context and historical background as to be dangerous to the national interest. 

    Skelton, for example, ignores the external KPMG audit and just regurgitates the flawed assumption that Joel Fitzgibbon was responsible for the bungled implementation of the new pay structure for the Special Forces (not just the SASR by the way as the terms are not synonymous). 

    Anyone who knows how Defence works (and should work) realises the problems were largely structural, would have happened under any minister or government and will re-occur unless the department’s structure is thoroughly reformed. As indeed will the constant, institutionalised and unhelpful tensions between the Department of Defence and any Minister. 

    Skelton is also wrong about Nick Warner, being appointed Secretary by Fitzgibbon when this occurred during the Howard Government. 

    And rather than the appointment of a career diplomat as Secretary being “curious”, Warner replaced another able diplomat. Being outsiders, they have both done much to reform a poisonous departmental culture. 

    Moreover, throughout his diplomatic career Warner has worked extensively and successfully with the ADF on major overseas operations. He has a better understanding of the real work of the defence force than most career Defence bureaucrats. 

    This is one reason why there is no obvious internal candidate to replace Warner - even among Defence’s unprecedented (and ridiculously top heavy) baker’s dozen of deputy-secretary equivalents. 

    31 March 2009
    Letter to The Australian Financial Review (replying to an editorial on defence issues)
    (published 02 April 2009) 

    It is a sad irony that the AFR, which has one of the only four knowledgeable journalists dedicated to covering defence issues, should get an editorial on the topic (March 31) so thoroughly wrong. 

    Your criticism of Defence’s Secretary, Nick Warner, was particularly misplaced and you have fallen victim to rumour-mongering by those undermining him. 

    As with his predecessor (also from DFAT), Warner has done much to reform the previously poisonous institutional culture whereby ambitious civilian bureaucrats deliberately exacerbated inter-Service rivalries deliberately [sic] in the ADF for their own ends and contrary to the national interest. 

    Old guard bureaucrats hate Warner - and the successful, modern, integrated joint command structure of the defence force - because it means proper civil control of the military by ministers and parliament, not a reversion to the perverted civilian bureaucratic reign of the 1974-2002 period which so hollowed out our defence capabilities, weakened ministerial supervision and delayed or diluted effective joint command of the ADF. 

    Finally, much that still goes wrong in Defence is structural and goes wrong under all governments, all ministers, most CDFs or Secretaries, and despite the 14 failed reviews of the department since 1981. 

    Real reform means greater grunt in ministerial supervision with one senior and two junior ministers (one for the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the Defence Materiel Organisation and one for the ADF as for the UK model), abolishing Defence’s silly diarchical (two-boss) structure, and separating the department under the Secretary and the ADF under the CDF (as for the NZ model) so both can concentrate on their core business and better serve the Minister for Defence and the country. 

    31 March 2009
    Letter to The Australian (replying to articles by Cameron Stewart)
    (published 01 April 2009) 

    Cameron Stewart’s articles on ADF deficiencies ("Military not ready for war", "Our defenceless force", 31/1) strangely blame the victim, the ADF, and not the perpetrator - governments of both political persuasions ever keen to divert defence funding elsewhere to buy votes.  

    He also misses the context and sadly much of the detail involved when governments rob Peter to pay Paul, especially when both are ADF personnel. 

    In the absence of limitless funding, all defence capability development means striking a constant balance between being able to handle two types of contingency. 

    First, are defence force operations that can occur frequently, arise with little or no warning, often cannot be deterred, mean risk to ADF lives during the electoral life of the government involved - but are not major or existential treats to our national sovereignty or freedom of action. These normally also involve cheaper and less complex weapons and equipment. 

    Second are one-in-a-hundred-year flood-type future threats such as conquest which are catastrophic should they occur. At any one time these are usually unlikely but not so unlikely as to be impossible and even then might be deterred. They normally involve longer warning times. The risk to ADF lives through obsolete [sic] obsolescent or insufficient equipment (bombers, fighters, submarines, etc) is far in the future so it can be electorally ignored by the current government. 

    Because there are generally no votes in defence (until it is too late), all governments fail to invest in defence on an adequate and sustained basis unless they receive a shock such as the very near-run East Timor deployment in 1999. 

    This wake-up call improved things for a while. But now, ten years later, the lessons are again being forgotten or simply not understood by a country where so few citizens have ever served in the ADF or even know someone who does. 

    This allows the same myths to be peddled by political and academic barrow-pushers and simply regurgitated rather than challenged in the media. These include the fibs that adequate and sustained defence investment is not needed, that major cost financial “efficiencies” (where money might be saved but lives undoubtedly risked) are possible, and that ships, aircraft and armoured vehicles can once again be bought fitted-for-but-not-with the bits they need for actual fighting. 

    18 March 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to an opinion article by Nic Stuart)
    (not published) 

    On a day when another soldier was unfortunately killed in action protecting our wider national interests, Nic Stuart (“Rudd prepares blitzkrieg”, CT, March 17) eschews a practical or factual approach to discussing Australian defence strategy and instead regurgitates long discredited isolationist slogans. 

    In particular, his main but false assumption about the need to “introduce coherence to the ADF’s force structure” is simply bizarre in its ahistoric and ideological posturing. 

    The difficult process of rebuilding the ADF is exactly what has been occurring since the very close-run success of the 1999 East Timor deployment. 

    This indisputably proved how underfunded, unsuitable, unbalanced, “fitted-for-but-not-with”, hollow and narrowly focused the ADF had become, under neglectful governments of both persuasions, throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 

    Furthermore, while structural reform of the Department of Defence is certainly needed, it would not be in the national interest to return to the poisonous Public Service-ADF relations encouraged by some short-sighted politicians of both stripes, and wrongly exploited by a clique of ambitious and arrogant bureaucrats and ivory-tower academics, throughout the 1974-2002 era. 

    Indeed the current and immediate past Secretaries of the department, both reared outside Defence in DFAT and with practical experience of actually working with the ADF overseas, are to be congratulated for their personal, professional and intellectual efforts in restoring a proper relationship. 

    Finally, Nic’s comments about “reforming” Defence simply ignore the herd of elephants in the room – the inefficient "two-boss" diarchy, an unworkable burden of ministerial oversight and the bureaucracy that keeps expanding in attempts to cope. 

    Since 1981 there have been 14 reviews of departmental structure. Each promised nirvana. All have largely failed where it counts over the long term. 

    The so-called 1997 “Defence Efficiency Review”, for example, recommended Defence needed only two not three deputy secretaries and two more equivalents. Several "reviews" later, however, the current number of civilian deputy secretary equivalents is 14. 

    It is surely now time to stop perpetually reviewing, rearranging and increasingly “Chief Indianing” this ever-burgeoning civil and military bureaucracy unsuccessfully. 

    We should instead adopt and adapt the successful New Zealand model of a smaller, focused and separated department and strategic-level military headquarters - both with defined, measurable and accountable responsibilities to the same minister (supported by two full-time junior ministers, one for the DMO/DSTO and one for the ADF). 

    We should also immediately give the Minister for Defence back the one and a half of his two able parliamentary secretaries abruptly removed earlier this month to reinforce Penny Wong politically (but at serious cost to good governance). 

    06 March 2009
    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald
    (not published) 

    Cynthia Banham (SMH, “Strangled by chain of command”, 06 March) unfortunately misunderstands three important points about the constitutional principles and practices governing the organisation of our national defence. 

    First, civil control of the military is and must always be a political not a bureaucratic function. 

    As with our police and fire services, the defence force rightly has no “civilian head” other than the Minister for Defence and the Defence Act clearly states this. 

    The Secretary of the Department of Defence has an important role in supporting the ADF but is not, never has been and never should be some sort of “civilian head” of the defence force as Cynthia wrongly believes. 

    Second, without a disciplinary code and a chain of command you have a dangerous armed rabble not the apolitical, professional and constitutionally obedient defence force of a parliamentary democracy. 

    Cynthia’s idea that the military chain of command is somehow a serious problem, or could perhaps be abolished, is plain wrong. 

    The chain is by no means perfect but most recent foul-ups (“Children Overboard”, Abu Ghraib, Kovco, etc) have been caused by the military chain of command being ignored, bypassed, hijacked or muzzled by bureaucrats and ministerial staff wrongly interfering in it, or in other military professional matters which are and must be by nature apolitical. 

    Third, careless use of the ambiguous and slippery term “defence chiefs” instead of the proper term “Service Chiefs” unnecessarily confuses and conflates separate departmental and defence force functions and responsibilities. 

    Much that goes wrong in the Department of Defence occurs in the bureaucracy but it always seems to be a senior ADF officer who has to front the cameras and take the heat not a "departmental chief". 

    Finally, the current Secretary, Nick Warner, and his predecessor, Ric Smith, have done much to eradicate the poisonous and unprofessional Public Service-ADF relationship of the 1974-2002 period. 

    That both have been undermined and slandered by former and serving bureaucrats immersed in the failed, destructive and often politicised institutional culture of the past can be expected, but should not be encouraged by the media or politicians for commercial or party-political expediency. 

    26 February 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published 02 March 2009) 

    The Department of Defence (including the ADF) is the biggest portfolio in government in terms of employees and departmental assets such as land, plant and equipment. It is also one of the biggest spenders of revenue (although by no means the biggest) and certainly one of the two or three most complex portfolios in terms of the governmental responsibilities concerned and their long-term national importance. 

    The size and complexity (and an unwieldy and inappropriate departmental structure) of this bureaucracy has produced persistent problems in administration, policy implementation and indeed clear thinking for decades. Fixing this needs to start somewhere and the logical place to start has always been with its ministerial supervision – in both quality, numbers and longevity of portfolio office. 

    A major and long overdue reform the Rudd Government introduced on winning office was to finally increase the amount of ministerial supervision in the Defence portfolio. 

    Under the Howard Government there was only one full-time minister, half a junior minister and one parliamentary secretary (who was often a lightweight given the job to boost their profile in a marginal seat). Furthermore, four of the five senior ministers who held the Defence portfolio were on their terminal tour in parliament and with three of them this really showed. 

    Rudd realistically put in two full-time ministers and two full-time parliamentary secretaries (the ADA has always argued for one senior and two junior ministers plus two parliamentary secretaries). The results to date of this increased supervision have generally reflected and rewarded this increased ministerial effort – especially in the area of defence procurement. 

    The recent reshuffle of parliamentary secretaries has unfortunately resulted, hopefully by prime-ministerial inattention or political accident and not design, in Defence now having only half a parliamentary secretary. 

    Surely after two days of parliamentary squabbling over administrative stuff-ups in the Department of Defence, and the perceived role or otherwise of the portfolio minister concerned, the irony of the Prime Minister drastically culling the amount of ministerial supervision in that portfolio by removing one and a half of its two parliamentary secretaries should not be lost on anyone. 

    Why should the men and women of the ADF have to suffer so governmental effort elsewhere can be reinforced? 

    Surely further reform of the Department of Defence for the long term should not be sacrificed for short-term party-political expediency? 

    Hopefully the next reshuffle is not far off and will boost rather than further dilute ministerial supervision of the Department of Defence. 

    16 January 2009
    Letter to Sydney's Daily Telegraph (about an opinion article by Holly Byrnes)
    (not published) 

    Holly Byrnes (Daily Telegraph, opinion, January 16) backtracks a bit on her sensationalist coverage of Commander Tom Phillips’ interview for Ralph magazine but still seems to miss the big picture.

    Some of the commander’s words, if reported accurately, were not well-chosen and perhaps an interview in Ralph as a recruitment measure not fully thought through by the Navy. 

    But, as the Ralph journalist has explained, the exchanges were banter in the context and jocular style beloved of such magazines. 

    Surely no Australian with their feet firmly on the ground - or indeed at sea in this case - seriously believes that our Navy is somehow full of sexist troglodytes as Ms Byrnes would have us believe. 

    ADF recruiting measures obviously need to use new media to reach modern young Australians and this is why most such ads are now on the Internet not TV - and in magazines read by young Aussies not, for example, older-style media such as the Daily Telegraph. 

    Moreover, to put this supposed furore in context, both the Sunday and Daily Telegraphs often publish far more offensive and/or erroneous remarks about the defence force, merely it seems, to sell newspapers. This ingrained behaviour is undoubtedly much worse than the remarks you attribute to Commander Phillips. 

    The Sunday Telegraph in particular has a long addiction to silly beat-ups about sex, drugs and rock‘n roll in the ADF. Today’s Daily Telegraph was again quite offensive in its defence coverage by wrongly claiming the SASR’s Warrant Officer David Nary “died in a vehicle training accident in the Middle East” when he was actually killed in an operational rehearsal (in a theatre of war). 

    If a man lays his life down for his country the least we should all expect is that his death is always accurately remembered and reported. 

    Similarly, wounded soldiers are frequently, incorrectly and offensively described as merely “injured” in your paper – almost the military and wider historical equivalent of wrongly saying a rape victim somehow “asked for it”. 

    The ADA has complained about such insults and inaccuracies many times but such letters are invariably censored because of your newspaper stable’s famous glass jaw about criticism of unprofessional journalism. 

    Finally, the irony of Holly’s original story being run on the same day that genuine news broke about $3bn being possibly cut from Australia’s stretched defence budget – a surely much more important matter for Australia’s future – would not be lost on anyone who genuinely cares about our real defence challenges. 

    15 January 2009
    Letter to The Canberra Times (replying to several mistaken, and in some cases almost hysterical, letters to the editor about an ADA opinion article)
    (not published) 

    Various comments on a recent ADA opinion article, which noted the legal and moral inconsistency of rejecting asylum for Guantanamo detainees while still demanding their immediate release from detention, ignore the ADA’s consistent stances against “extraordinary rendition”, imprisonment without trial and torture - and for the Geneva Conventions to apply to all belligerents detained after capture in war. 

    Complex problems, especially with emerging international law trying to catch up with international practice, need a first-principles approach. 

    Humanity long ago decided that wars must be regulated by specialist international law rather than each country’s civil law. The Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) based on the Geneva and Hague Conventions rightly resulted. This is why writs of habeas corpus, for example, do not apply to prisoners-of-war (and other LOAC detainees).  

    International humanitarian law, including its LOAC component, is universal and applies even if you disagree individually. 

    International law moves forward when those who obey it are rewarded and those who contravene it suffer disadvantage or punishment. 

    Criticising Guantanamo without offering an alternative consistent with the Geneva Conventions, or denying the conventions do or even should apply, is neither moral nor practical. 

    No serious international lawyer denies that the Geneva Conventions do and must apply to belligerents captured in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as they do in all wars. 

    Expert opinion is divided whether the conventions also apply, and how they apply, to the wider UN-endorsed international campaign against Islamist terrorism. Not least because of doubt whether this is an international armed conflict (Al Qa’eda not being a nation state), doubt as to whether terrorists can be belligerents as well as criminals and, in the case of at least some improperly detained at Guantanamo, doubt about whether they were or still are belligerents or criminals at all. 

    Early on elements of the Bush administration wrongly claimed that captured “terrorists” were not covered by the Geneva Conventions at all. The ADA has always criticised this claim. 

    Beginning with the June 2006 Hamdan ruling, however, the US Supreme Court ruled that while terrorists do not qualify as conventional prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention, all belligerents captured in a war are protected by at least Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions. No serious international lawyer disagrees and neither does the ADA. 

    A great irony is that many knee-jerk critics of Guantanamo now find themselves inconsistently, immorally and often hypocritically trumpeting the discredited Bush-Cheney line that the Geneva Conventions do not apply at all. 

    10 January 2009
    Letter to Melbourne's The Age (in answer to an opinion article by Monash University academic Waleed Aly)
    (not published) 

    Waleed Aly (“Age”, Opinion, January 10) correctly notes that the closing of Guantanamo highlights its flawed conception but it has also highlighted a great irony, and greater danger, concerning future compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL). 

    Despite several US Supreme Court rulings that the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and specifically the Geneva Conventions apply to those detained by the USA, many Guantanamo critics have ended up agreeing, often perhaps inadvertently, with those American neocons who initially claimed that LOAC somehow does not apply. 

    Too many also ignore that Guantanamo has always been an interim, and imperfect, solution to a vexed series of IHL problems that will not go away with its closure.

     What to do with belligerents captured in a war who do not qualify to be prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention but who are covered by Common Article 3 of all four Conventions? How should they be detained, what protections do they have and what are the rights and responsibilities of the detaining power?

    •       How do you lawfully fight a war against those resorting to terrorist methods that deliberately contravene IHL and who regard your adherence to such law as a vulnerability to be ruthlessly exploited rather than respected or reciprocated?

    •       How can the international community encourage and enforce compliance with IHL (including LOAC) in such circumstances?

    The terrorist alternative to treating prisoners in accordance with IHL is to torture, murder and mutilate those captured. This is surely much worse in intent, scale, degree and detrimental humanitarian ramifications than anything perpetrated, however wrongly, at Guantanamo. 

    IHL in general, and LOAC in particular, only move forward when those who comply with them (even at some military cost) are rewarded and those who disregard or reject them are punished.  

    The reverse is happening at present as international attention is not concentrating on the transgressors in proportion to the intent, extent or contempt of their transgression. 

Letters: 2008

  • Letters archive 2008

    This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2008.



    29 December 2008
    Letter to Sydney's Sunday Telegraph (in answer to yet another sensationalist beat-up by Sharri Markson – see also the letter of 01 March 2008 below)
    (not published) 

    Once again the “Sunday Telegraph” (December 28) has published a sensationalist, context-free, error-riddled and insensitive story on our defence force by Sharri Markson. 

    Why, and what lies behind Ms Markson’s regularly demonstrated contempt for our military? Was she once stood up for a date by a sailor? Or do her quests for a splashy headline and a beat-up at all costs about the ADF just occur in a moral and professional vacuum generally? 

    Previously we had her highly inaccurate and unprofessional beat-up on supposed abuses of female breast surgery in the ADF – when the five cases over three years were actually justified in every case by qualified medical opinion and available to any Australian woman through Medicare anyway. 

    Then there was her silly and sloppy article on ADF women somehow not serving in combat when many have long done so in all three Services, do so as you read this and are justifiably offended by amateurish and ignorant slurs that they do not. 

    Now we have Sharri’s latest wild claim that unacceptable, but still very minor, instances where Department of Defence credit cards have been misused allegedly indicate widespread drug and alcohol abuse and gambling problems in the ADF. 

    Could we please be advised, for comparison and context, how much credit card abuse and expenses fraud at the “Sunday Telegraph” is greater or lesser than the 0.12 per cent cited in her article? 

    Finally, could Ms Markson also please try some research before rushing to her keyboard and at least try to grasp that the ADF and the Department of Defence are not the same. 

    22 December 2008
    Letter to the Australian
    (not published) 

    Your Monday (December 22) editorial on David Hicks made several worthwhile points, especially about him still having a life whereas many members of our defence force have been killed or seriously wounded in action in Afghanistan. 

    Three further points are also worth making as public debate concerning Hicks is too often ahistoric, uninformed, ideological or emotional. 

    First, although many mistakenly believe it, Hicks was never “imprisoned without trial”. In legal, moral and practical terms he was detained as a captured belligerent under the laws of armed conflict (LOAC) after serving under arms with the Taliban (at least) in the Afghanistan War. 

    Second, Hicks’ subsequent plea-bargained sentence, and the conditions of his release from that sentence, were only in relation to his separate US criminal trial for terrorist offences. 

    His continued release on parole from the original detention as a captured belligerent under LOAC surely depends on him not violating such parole until the applicable war in Afghanistan ends – by, say, rejoining the hostilities in any way, including any withdrawal of his ostensible renunciation of his terrorist and Taliban affiliations. 

    Third, for over five decades following allegations of treachery made against the communist "journalist" Wilfred Burchett in the Korean War, we failed our defence force by not closing the legal loopholes that allowed Burchett to escape prosecution on charges of aiding an enemy we had sent the ADF to fight on our behalf. Hicks consequently fell into the an even worse legal limbo as his release from detention under LOAC was delayed because no separate criminal trial was then possible in Australia. 

    Fortunately, under the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act, 2002, an Australian citizen anywhere in the world again commits treason if he or she (among other things):

    •  intentionally assists, by any means whatsoever, an enemy, at war with the Commonwealth;

    •  intentionally assists, by ‘any means whatsoever’, another country or organisation that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force (ADF); or

    •  forms an intention to do any of the above acts and manifests that intention by an overt act.

     This is as it should be. 

    22 December 2008
    Letter to the Canberra Times
    (published 27 December 2008) 

    Your Monday 22 December editorial on the moral and legal hazards of detaining asylum seekers and illegal immigrants followed a familiar but somewhat narrow path by concentrating on the issue of detention but not convention. 

    As the international law scholar, Bernard Roling, once noted, the road to international hell is paved with good conventions. The 1951 Refugee Convention has now institutionalised three root-cause problems and at least two long-term unhelpful effects. 

    First, a founding principle of the Convention is that refugees should be sheltered, and if necessary resettled as a last resort, in their own regions and as close to their homes as possible so they can eventually return. The incentive instituted here is for neighbouring countries to quickly settle the disputes that cause the refugees in the first place – and on a regional basis. (Chapter 8 of the UN Charter was similarly motivated). This principle is now tragically forgotten by many. The price is perpetuating international disputes and refugee situations interminably. 

    Second, Australia and New Zealand are two of the very few signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention in the whole Asia-Pacific region. More to the point they are the only ones that have longstanding, mass immigration and refugee resettlement programs - and a culture of permanently and totally assimilating settlers in large numbers. They are also highly attractive countries for resettlement on economic, social, political and environmental grounds. Moreover, Australia is between NZ and the source of the major population flows and is more attractive than NZ (even for many Kiwis). 

    Third, only six countries between the Agean and the Arafura seas are signatories to the Refugee Convention. Three of them, Iran, Afghanistan and East Timor are more often sources of refugees rather than respecters of the Convention and a fourth, Cambodia, was so in the past. (The other two are Israel and Yemen). 

    Is it any surprise then that the remaining 25 or so countries of the Middle East, West Asia, South Asia and South-East Asia have no moral, political or legal incentive to solve refugee flows or people smuggling – or address their humanitarian and legal responsibilities under customary international law. To them, Australia is the apparent permanent solution to all their problems. 

    Then there is the international moral hazard of refugee flows disproportionately bleeding troubled countries of the very professional and educated people most needed to solve disputes and rebuild such countries in the short and long terms respectively. That we might partially solve our shortage of doctors by this effect, for example, hardly obviates the overall moral dilemmas and practical problems involved. 

    Our difficulties with how to process genuine asylum seekers humanely, but still deter and combat people smuggling resolutely, have had some tragic consequences. But these are symptoms rather than causes of, or cures for, the overall problem. 

    More countries, especially in the area between the Agean and Arafura Seas,  need to sign and respect the 1951 Refugee Convention (and its 1967 Protocol). At the moment the refugee problem is not widely shared at all regionally. There is no genuine “Pacific solution” or “Asian solution” because it is just too easy to keep passing the moral buck to Australia. 

    Currently, the numbers of refugees involved are not large, at least in absolute terms. But if they were ever to become so, and the underlying problems are not solved, one unpalatable consequence might be Australia having to withdraw from the Convention too. This would clearly be undesirable but the status quo of [For] our neighbours [to] just expecting Australia to provide the whole region’s solution for ever is environmentally and strategically unsustainable in the long run. 

    15 December 2008
    Letter to the Australian Financial Review (following an opinion column by Sam Roggeveen)
    (published 17 December 2008) 

    Your opinion column by blogger Sam Roggeveen (Best defence will be non-provocative, AFR, 15 December) typifies Australia’s growing problem of those who try to discuss strategic principles, or how they can be applied operationally, without any apparent detailed knowledge or practical experience in either regard. 

    Mr Roggeveen particularly misunderstands the necessary purpose and nature of our defence force possessing capability edges. 

    Wars are deterred or if needed won by maintaining (legal and even “unfair” if necessary) advantages over potential and actual adversaries. We should never shrink from giving our forces a capability edge if it stops or wins wars - and lessens our casualties and national damage. 

    But the enduring reason our defence force needs to be equipped with leading-edge weapons and manouvre systems, for example, is not to achieve “superiority” for its own sake as he claims, but to cancel out our usual inferiority in numbers and our strategic disadvantages in having to cover Australia’s vast distances, huge territories/seas/airspaces and globalised national interests. 

    Moreover his belief that the 'real purpose' behind procurement of the two new medium-sized helicopter carriers (LHDs) is 'to storm enemy beaches' is simply bizarre. 

    The claim demonstrates a complete failure to grasp the differences between amphibious manoeuvre, amphibious attack and amphibious assault – with the LHDs clearly intended and equipped for manoeuvre and, depending on the tactical circumstances, limited attack only. 

    The ADF has no serious capability for amphibious assaults (requiring a range of ships, aircraft and troops we simply do not have) nor is one intended. 

    Finally, the LHDs are purpose-designed to include the very types of capabilities he claims they should somehow be 'adapted to' (disaster relief, reconstruction, peacekeeping, etc) as well as other key components of strategic manoeuvre. 

    His particularly misinformed comment on the LHDs is like claiming the real purpose for buying a Tarago people-carrier is ram-raids on banks surrounded by police roadblocks, rather than to give any large family useful transport for a variety of routine, occasional and emergency tasks around their neighbourhood. 

    12 November 2008
    Letter to the Canberra Times (following a Remembrance Day column by Nick Stuart)
    (published 14 November 2008)

    While we thank Nick Stuart for the quotation (CT, "Focus thoughts and reflections on the appalling cost of war", 11 November) the actual point the ADA makes is both more nuanced and more enduring in its effect.

    Trafalgar (October 1805) was the most important strategic battle in Australia’s history until Midway (June 1942). For over a century afterwards British seapower was effectively unchallenged - and on a global basis.

    The settlement of Australia on a continental scale, and its intensive and peaceful development throughout the whole 19th Century, was able to occur without hindrance by foreign powers. Unlike British-French confrontations over North America throughout the 18th Century and Japanese aggression across Asia in the early to mid 20th.

    With or without modern globalisation, as an island continent the oceans around Australia are not a moat that we can somehow retreat behind – as some armchair strategic theorists and ideologues posit – but a highway for both trade and strategic mobility.

    In the 21st Century our ability to control these oceans (in conjunction with allies), not just “deny” them to potential aggressors, will continue to be just as important as it was before and after the allied victories at Trafalgar and Midway. And for the peace and prosperity (of us and our region) that degree of sea control enabled, nurtured and protected.

    Kevin Rudd appears to grasp this (Keating, Beazley, Dibb et al did not), so hopefully those writing the new defence white paper are listening and duly focused.

    05 November 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com (in answer to an ahistoric rant in Crikey about our letter of 03 November 2008 below)
    (not published)

    Perhaps Harold Thornton (comments, 05 November) could read the official history series from World War II, or any number of other reputable historical accounts of that war, instead of succumbing to ideological and ahistoric sloganeering.

    Australian history has surely long taught us that poor strategic decision-making, insufficient investment in our defence and isolationist wishful thinking all end up endangering Australia’s strategic security and liberty (and killing diggers).

    Historical ignorance or misrepresentation magnifies these risks. If Mr Thornton oddly thinks that the RAAF had fighters and other resources “aplenty” to defend Australia against the Japanese (or anyone else) in 1941-42 he needs to explain why this fanciful belief is not supported by any survivor, historian or objective student of the period.

    Moreover his beliefs about these alleged plentiful RAAF resources being squandered bombing Germany instead, and this being unnecessary in any event, are even more absurd.

    The numerous battles our Army and Navy fought and lost with insufficient air cover in Greece and Crete (March-May 1941), Malaya-Singapore-Sunda Strait-Darwin (December 1941 – February 1942) and elsewhere across Australia’s near approaches, all occurred before the combined strategic bombing campaign against Germany (including significant Australian participation) had even started.

    Furthermore, Germany winning either World War (or Japan winning the second one) was strategically untenable for Australia and it was this, not “slavish” imperial sentiment, that primarily drove our objective decision-making during both wars - but not, unfortunately, sufficient of our inter-war strategic preparations and defence investment.

    Finally, the ADA is the national public-interest guardian body for defence and wider national security issues not the representative body for the ADF as Mr Thornton wrongly thinks. However, one of our roles is to counter ahistoric and illogical tripe, such as his claims, not least because such ill-informed opinions often end up killing those ADF personnel who protect his democratic right to be so ignorant of Australian history.

    03 November 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com
    (Published on 04 November 2008) 

    Eric Palmer, “Defence is hush-hush about future fighter jet noise” (Crikey 03 November, item 17), raises many of the valid concerns that informed critics of the proposed F-35 joint strike fighter purchase have been making for some years. The overall problem is more complex and nuanced than he suggests but he is roughly correct in much of his outline. 

    But Eric’s initial throw-away comment that the Taliban do not have an air force, with the inference that any fighter is therefore not required, is plain silly on three counts. Moreover, this type of naïve or callous thinking has caused much of the inadequate defence investment of the last 40 years – and has resulted in many unnecessary casualties in our previous wars. 

    First, our defence force’s weapon systems and equipment generally have an operational life of around 20-25 years, with 30-40 also being common (F-111 bombers, some ships, etc) and even longer than that is not uncommon (the Navy’s heavy landing craft, the Army’s M113 armoured vehicles and the Air Force’s Caribou transport aircraft are all 1960s vintage). 

    Second, you try not to fight the last war.

    Prudent planning requires that most of the equipment we order or buy now and over the next decade is therefore intended to deter, fight or otherwise cope with future strategic challenges, not for current operations.

    This is also why we always need to go for flexibility and versatility – not try and foolishly "pick winners" in detail now for likely types of crisis and war in the 2030s, 2040s and beyond which cannot be predicted in such detail.

    It is also why we need measured and sustained investment in our defence over time not the stop-start and overall insufficient funding since the early 1970s which has actually cost us more financially in the long run and also meant increased strategic and tactical risks. 

    Third, Eric’s (mainly justified) belief that the JSF is primarily a tactical bomber contradicts his assertion about the Taliban anyway.

    A capability to strike from the air against enemy forces on the ground is required in most types of war, even counter-insurgency ones where the insurgents do not have a conventional air force.

    This is particularly so because we rarely have enough troops and ships for them to fight without air support, and it is plain immoral for us to ever put them in such situations as we did, for example, in Greece, Crete, Tobruk, Malaya, Singapore, Java Sea, Ambon, Timor, Rabaul, Arafura Sea, Darwin, etc. 

    26 October 2008
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    Colin Mitchell (letters, Weekend Australian, 25-26 October), mistakes acquittal by an Australian court (however justified under the law) with fact, and then uses a syllogistic argument to claim our counter-terrorism laws are somehow too tough. 

    But the major problem with the prosecution of Jack Thomas was the inadmissibility of evidence in a court not the existence and veracity of the facts involved. Somewhat ironically, Mamdouh Habib’s book “My Story” now also shows that the seriously conflicting stories by David Hicks, Thomas and Habib as to why they were all in Afghanistan cannot all be true. At least one of their accounts does not hold up. 

    Furthermore, Habib, Hicks and Thomas may also all be dills rather than serious threats, at least now their activities in Afghanistan are known. But it does seem an incredible coincidence that all three travelled to Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, and had so much contact with Al Qa’eda, if they did not then share at least some of that latter organisation’s views. 

    Moreover, the Victorian Court of Criminal Appeal decision overturning the first Thomas conviction now risks giving a “get out of gaol free” card to any Australian terrorist who is not initially apprehended and questioned in a first-world liberal democracy – and such countries are not likely sanctuaries for extensive Al Qa’eda training facilities and operational networks. 

    The real issue with both the Hicks and Thomas cases is not that our counter-terrorist and associated laws are now too tough but that they were so inadequate at the time both men trained with Al Qa’eda in Afghanistan. 

    Our laws now finally and rightly outlaw any Australian who undertakes military or other training with Al Qa’eda or similar terrorist groups, or indeed who joins any organisation fighting our defence force. This is as it should be. Through ineptitude, and a lack of reciprocal responsibility to the ADF that it sent to fight the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Menzies Government let Wilfred Burchett escape prosecution for assisting the enemies our diggers were then fighting on our behalf and at our government’s order. 

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of individual cases, our new counter-terrorism laws finally close most of the disgraceful loopholes that so betrayed our national responsibility to support the men and women of our defence force in the past. 

    21 October 2008
    Letter to Adelaide's  The Advertiser in answer to an article by Ian McPhedran)
    (not published)

    Your “defence writer”, Ian McPhedran, “Why can’t these planes go to war”, The Advertiser, October 21, should stop listening to or inventing “well-placed sources” and do some real research instead.

    In wrongly blaming the ADF for the obsolescence of its equipment he is further punishing the victim not exposing the perpetrator.

    Much defence force equipment is not capable of modern battle because governments of both political persuasions so under-invested in defence throughout the 1980s and 1990s (until severely embarrassed by how close we came to failing in East Timor in 1999).

    If ADF kit had been replaced or upgraded on schedule when the defence force first noted the necessity for this, we would not now have the situation where, for example, the Army’s M113 armoured vehicles (purchased 1963) are now older than the parents of their crews and even the (finally) upgraded ones incapable of modern combat – although they might still scare rioters.

    All through the 1980s and 1990s plans to upgrade and then replace these Vietnam-era vehicles were continually vetoed by both Labor and Coalition governments ever keen to spend defence investment funds elsewhere to buy votes.

    The same parent-crew and neglect comparisons apply to the RAAF’s Caribou transport aircraft (1964) and the Navy’s heavy landing craft (1967). Our F-111 bombers (1973) and FA-18 Hornet fighters (1985) are not far behind.

    Ships, tanks and planes have lives of 25-40 years ideally. Keeping them longer generally risks lives (and defeat) if they then have to be used in combat.

    Defence force capability development is necessarily a 15-25 year cycle and needs consistent and adequate funding over these periods – not on the basis of the 3-year federal electoral cycle and political fads at any one time.

    If any Australian government is apparently wondering why the ADF is not properly equipped they should look in the mirror and across at the Opposition benches.

    12 October 2008
    Letter to The Gold Coast Bulletin (in answer to an opinion column from Peter Cameron)
    (Published 13 October 2008)

    The ostensible military or strategic policy expertise of Peter Cameron, “Its time to cut and run, Kev” (Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin, 11 Oct 08), is unknown, but his factual mistakes, misunderstandings, false assumptions and ahistoric assertions certainly give no cause for confidence in his opinions.

    First, we are currently rotating, not increasing, our commitment to the UN-endorsed international force in Afghanistan. We may (as in most wars) have to increase it one day but we are not doing so now.

    Second, artillery units are organised in troops and batteries not platoons. Getting such minor detail wrong is inexcusable in a column professing to advocate significant changes to Australian strategic policy.

    Third, counter-insurgency wars are never won by military means alone but by inter-linked military, political and nation-building efforts. The military bits are only to provide, protect and enable wider economic, social and political change among the communities concerned.

    Fourth, the nature of war is dynamic and the tactical and strategic situations change constantly. It is rare for one “side” to “win” continually in every battle at every level everywhere all the time. Moreover, most serious counter-insurgencies take a decade or more to achieve success, with many ups and downs, as failures in political, economic and social reform often hinder related military efforts (and vice versa).

    Fifth, his term “autumn offensive” is incorrect and meaningless anyway in terrain where the intensity of fighting closely follows the climate cycle. Even the normal increase in fighting each Spring and Summer is only an upsurge not an offensive (where one side has such complete strategic initiative they are able to mount and sustain large-scale co-ordinated action over a wide area).

    Sixth, although the Afghan government and its UN-endorsed international allies may not be currently “winning” (for varied and often arguable reasons), this does not automatically mean the other side is either.

    Nor that we should just give up on Afghanistan and its people as a developing democracy, and condemn them again to totalitarian rule by a feudal theocracy that harbours terrorists and continues to threaten regional and wider international stability.

    After all, when the Axis powers swept all before them from 1939 to 1942 we did not quit just because the Nazis and Japanese were then winning.

    Finally, the moral bankruptcy of public defeatism is never pretty because it unnecessarily bolsters the morale of the enemy our troops are fighting on all our behalf.

    [Mr Cameron failed] But Mr Cameron’s behaviour is even more despicable because his failure to establish any intellectual case to quit Afghanistan can only mean either questionable motives or a sloppy combination of ignorance and thoughtlessness.

    At the very least, Peter Cameron needs to do some serious reading and study before again venturing an opinion on strategic policy or military matters.

    14 September 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com (lamenting several straw-man attacks over the last week)
    (Published on 16 September 2008)

    Surely among fair-minded people it is time to call a halt to a disturbing trend among people submitting comments to Crikey. Too many resort to ad hominem attacks, and even then often against straw men they invent, rather than intellectually engage the subject or interlocutor concerned in the manner expected in informed public debate.

    Criticism should employ facts and reasoned argument politely expressed. Instead there is often resort to emotional diatribes and false accusations based entirely on straw men, red herrings and the prejudices or biases of the attempted “critic”. Such “critics” need to remember that just because you might disagree with someone it does not make them somehow evil or their arguments automatically wrong in either sense.

    Criticism in a forum such as Crikey should also surely concentrate on what others actually said in Crikey, not on what the “critic” pretends or misrepresents what they said. Or on what the “critic” might believe their motivation to be - or in the case of spokespersons for apolitical public-interest guardian organisations such as the ADA what the “critic” might misunderstand about who they represent and why.

    Robin Wingrove (Comments 12 September) and Humphrey Hollins (Comments 11 September) are good recent examples. Wingrove accused me of somehow “justifying the slaughter of millions”. Hollins accused me of somehow being someone who “defends any war”, who “spruiks for war” and who “conveniently ignores collateral damage to the innocents”. None of this is true (and this is easily checked), none of this was fair comment, none of this was justifiable or reasonable behaviour in informed public debate.

    Both simply chose to spray abuse and red herrings rather than make an effort to disprove my arguments with facts (relevant or even otherwise) and logic as perhaps wrong, irrelevant, incomplete, exaggerated or mistaken.

    It is particularly hypocritical, and can be only the arrogance of extremists or moral cowardice (or both), to ignore facts, logic and decent standards of debate and instead deliberately choose to put words in the mouths of others and direct vituperation at them for something they have not said, do not believe and clearly would never say.

    11 September 2008
    Letter to The Australian
    (not published) 

    In the absence of Patrick Walters, much of the Australian’s reporting this week of Kevin Rudd’s speech on defence has disappointingly missed the main points, subtleties and nuances involved. This is exemplified by attempts to describe defence capability and strategy matters in outmoded and isolated navy, army and air force terms rather than demonstrate modern, integrated, joint-force understandings. 

    Moreover, if the PM’s speech accurately reflected mature Government thinking during the development of the Defence White Paper, by far the most interesting observation was his statement about needing a balanced defence force - including an army capable of some high-end fighting and a navy and an air force capable of deploying and supporting land force deployments in the near and wider region. 

    Such realism would represent a sea change and a final rejection of Kim Beazley’s controversial influence on Labor defence policy. It would consign to the dustbin of history the failed defence-of-Australia ideology that so backed the wrong horse in the 1980s and 1990s in trying to predict the future and rigidly gut the ADF accordingly. 

    Gutting, in fact, most of the capabilities that we have needed in and since East Timor in 1999 - and which have had to be rebuilt under the later Howard and new Rudd governments. 

    But even straight reporting has missed the mark. Mark Dodd’s concentration on whether we need more submarines or not, for example, ignored that Rudd’s speech actually discussed the need for sea control not just sea denial capabilities. Perhaps the substantial difference was simply not understood. 

    Furthermore, if Mark had spoken to real experts such as the Submarine Institute of Australia, or even to critics of too much reliance being placed on submarines – rather than just quote a couple of armchair academic zealots pushing particular barrows – he would not have missed the boat so much. 

    11 September 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com (in answer to some red herrings chasing straw men)
    (Published on 12 September 2008)

    Ignoring the childish insults and misrepresentations, Humphrey Hollins and Mark Schneider (comments, 11 September) attack the straw man they erect rather than what was actually said concerning H.K. Colebatch’s errors of historical fact about the progress and eventual failure of communism in SE Asia.

    But the essential point I made, and which remains unrefuted, was that the Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia) of 1975 constituted a very different Indochina to that of the 1950s and 1960s.

    Humphrey also conveniently ignores that the communist threat to Thailand during the 1960s and 1970s came from its own communist party (the CPT), not from the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Furthermore, the CPT would undoubtedly have greatly benefited from NVA logistic support, and might even have triumphed, if neighbouring Laos and Cambodia had been dominated by communist regimes in the early 1960s rather than the mid 1970s.

    The potential domino effect in the early 1960s came from neighbouring example and the regional support this offered not just the threat (exaggerated or not) of invasion by foreign communist armies.

    Humphrey also wrongly assumes I have no longstanding personal knowledge of Thailand and Cambodia (and of Malaysia) when the opposite is the case.

    Finally, Messrs Colebatch, Hollins and Schneider appear to suffer from the “Vietnam prism” - the tendency for those who were at university during the Vietnam War (or younger people now aping them) to look at Australia’s current strategic circumstances, and regional history, through the passions and idealised memories of their youth rather than the facts that have subsequently emerged and the strategic realities Australia now faces.

    10 September 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com (in answer to an attempted defence by Mr Colebatch)
    (Published on 11 September 2008)

    H.K. Colebatch, (comments, 10 September) again misses the central flaw in his theory and ignores the thrust of my criticism.

    He bases his attempted defence only on what eventuated in 1975 not on all the possibilities that might have occurred if South Vietnam had been overrun a decade or more earlier when most other SE Asian states were suffering considerable political instability internally and in their (pre-ASEAN) mutual relations.

    He also ignores that the vulnerability of many SE Asian states to communist rule in that era was largely internal. It did not necessarily require the imposition of communism by external invasion (by Vietnam or anyone else), merely the considerable advantages offered to insurgents by the sympathy of contiguous states (or communist-controlled zones) with porous borders.

    The communist sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia, for example, greatly assisted the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War but one of the main causes of the failure of the communist insurgency in peninsula Malaya was the inability of sympathetic regimes to provide much support because they were not controlling contiguous states.

    Finally, naively calling public-interest guardian organisations such as the ADA an “industry lobby” simply shows inadequate research unworthy of the title “social scientist”.

    Perhaps he also wrongly thinks that the Conservation Foundation somehow represents Gunns or that the Consumers Association lobbies for Woolworths?

    08 September 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com
    (Published in part on 09 September 2008)

    H.K. Colebatch (Comments, 08 September) makes the simplistic error of comparing apples and pears – and then in isolation from their strategic context.

    The wider strategic consequences of the Vietnam War, both eventual and potential at any given time, are not as clear cut as he wrongly posits and depend in large part on when the consequences occurred or when they were effectively understood. As former Singapore Prime-Minister Lee Kuan Yew noted many years ago, the allied effort in Vietnam, although unsuccessful there, did buy ten years for the rest of South-East Asia.

    In this period the non-communist states were able to develop their economies and broaden their political participation enough to offer a viable alternative to authoritarian Maoist societies. In turn, the burgeoning middle classes demanded greater accountability from their governments and democracy started to grow firmer roots, especially in Thailand (the really vulnerable state if South Vietnam had fallen in 1965 not 1975) and Malaysia.

    Australia’s world might look quite different if communism had triumphed throughout SE Asia in the late 1950s or early 1960s, especially before the 1965 civil conflict in Indonesia.

    He is also wrong about the Viet Cong becoming the government of a unified Vietnam. In fact the so-called “National Liberation Front” and “Provisional Revolutionary Government” (of the VC and token non-communist nationalists), both much lauded by the “Moratorium movement” in Australia, were both quickly disbanded by the North Vietnamese. Many ended up in re-education camps and worse when they asked why.

    A longstanding serious problem in Australia is the “Vietnam prism”, the tendency for those who were at university during the Vietnam War to look at Australia’s current strategic circumstances through the passions of their youth rather than contemporary realities.

    This is often reinforced by idealised memories of the Vietnam War period rather than what really happened – and a lack of critical judgement or unwillingness to face unpleasant facts that have since emerged. For example, the “Congress (later “Campaign”) for International Co-operation and Disarmament” so prominent in the organisation of the Vietnam moratoriums has subsequently been thoroughly exposed as a Soviet front group.

    Forget questioning the patriotism of anti-Vietnam war protesters as H.K. Colebatch protests, just concentrate on their flawed critical judgement and intellectual inconsistency. This was perhaps explicable in the 1960s and early 1970s when many facts were unclear and passions ran high on all sides, but not now when so many "Moratorium movement" beliefs and claims have since been proved incorrect or mistaken.

    The Vietnam prism has also helped feed the tendency for many to now reflexively and rashly claim “quagmire” for any Western military effort overseas. In recent years, for example, we have seen many who should know better pose false, mistaken or highly arguable analogies between Iraq and Vietnam. Plain wrong or grossly exaggerated analogies between Vietnam and Afghanistan seem to be following the same trend.

    02 September 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com (in answer to exceptionally subjective criticism of ADF efforts in Afghanistan)
    (not published) 

    In answering Keysar Trad (Crikey, 02 Sep 08) and others two points need to be made. 

    First, the world’s problems with Islamist terrorism would not be as serious now if moderate Muslims, and those who profess to be such, had condemned such bigoted extremism and perversion of Islam when it first festered rather than ignoring or denying it until it developed into a real threat to civilised life of any religious or secular outlook.

    Similarly, constantly offering apologia for Islamist terrorism or hinting at some bizarre form of moral equivalence between it and liberal democracy is as morally bankrupt as it is illogical. Not to mention mindlessly spreading Islamist propaganda such as the silly claims that proportionate and carefully targeted counter-terrorist measures are somehow aimed at all Muslims rather than at a tiny unrepresentative minority of violent extremists seeking to hide within the broader Islamic community. 

    Second, a sense of perspective needs to be maintained about Australia’s role in the counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan, the moral causes involved and the cross-cultural complexities of such operations.

    Recent strident calls for Australian diggers to apologise or be disciplined, because four Afghans captured during recent fighting were detained overnight for security purposes in a compound that might previously have been used by the Afghan Army to house dogs – with this being unknown to the Australians involved at that time and since found not to be the case – reflect naïveté, ignorance or malice. 

    The enemy we are fighting continually contravenes the Geneva Conventions on a large scale and regards our adherence to them as a vulnerability to be ruthlessly exploited rather than respected or emulated.

    Moreover, criticism of our diggers for what, at worst, may be a very minor, technical and accidental breach of the Geneva Conventions, which actually harmed no-one (and probably was not a breach anyway due to the exigencies of the tactical situation), might carry some weight if those making it had ever condemned Al Qa’eda and the Taliban for their frequent, deliberate and calculated atrocities such as torturing and beheading prisoners and targeting marketplaces and schools with bombs. 

    We detain prisoners captured on the battlefield until the mechanisms required by the Geneva Conventions can evaluate whether they are combatants or not. If not, they are released. If they are combatants they become Prisoners-of-War with all the international oversight procedures and protections this entails.

    In stark contrast, the Taliban and Al Qa’eda generally murder their prisoners. 

     If our diggers inadvertently and occasionally offend local sensibilities they make amends. If it is thought they have contravened the Laws of Armed Conflict this is investigated and, if true, it is punished.

    When the Taliban and Al Qa’eda commit their regular and deliberate atrocities they boast about it. There are no investigations and rewards instead of punishments for the perpetrators. 

     Let’s not forget the moral big picture here - even if some are so prone to ignoring that international humanitarian law is universal and our enemies are required to abide by it too. 

    19 June 2008
    Letter to Crikey.Com
    (Published on 20 June 2008) 

    It surely undermines the objectivity and professionalism of your coverage of the NT intervention when your June 19 editorial perpetuates sloppy and biased terms such as “military intervention”. 

    It was this type of alarmist terminology in a complex situation that initially caused unnecessary fear in some indigenous communities that the Army was somehow coming to take their kids away. 

    The intervention has always been a civil government activity. Any law enforcement aspects have rightly always been the responsibility of the NT or federal police. The background military assistance has always been only logistic and administrative and has never involved any soldier carrying a weapon or enforcing any law or policy. 

    It also needs to be remembered that the ADF, and the Army in particular, have been operating in remote indigenous communities for decades.

    As one of many examples, since ten years before the intervention Army engineers have been building houses and environmental health infrastructure in outback indigenous communities – and training community members in construction and maintenance skills – under the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (AACAP). 

    Finally, the operational head of the intervention, Major General David Chalmers, has done a sterling job in difficult and delicate circumstances. However, as per longstanding constitutional conventions, the ADA continues to believe that such a potentially controversial position should not be occupied by a serving Army officer, especially once the initial emergency phase had passed. 

    7 June 2008
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (not published) 

    Adam Bonner (letters, June 5) was rightly admonished by Commodore Norman Lee (letters, June 6) for his inference that defence force members should mutiny if disagreeing with lawful directions from our elected Government. 

    But it is even more complicated than that. 

    Under Australian law, future citizens conscripted into the ADF (but not volunteers) now have the right to claim conscientious objection to specific wars not just war in general.  

    Moreover, both Australian and international law specify that unlawful orders, even from a legitimate authority, must not be obeyed. 

    This is why, for example, the British Service Chiefs requested a specific legal opinion from the UK Attorney-General that the 2003 collective intervention in Iraq was legal (under the UN Security Council resolutions specifying the disarmament of Iraq following the reversal of its 1990-91 conquest of Kuwait). 

    But the principal contradiction in Mr Bonner’s “illegal war” claims is that the legality or otherwise of the original intervention in Iraq is not clear cut and international lawyers remain divided on the issue.  

    And such claims tend to ignore or gloss over that the subsequent military occupation and rebuilding of Iraq has been entirely legal and fully endorsed by the UN Security Council. 

    Most importantly, however, Iraq continually defied international law for decades and particularly over the 1990-2003 period. 

    Controversy over the legality of the 2003 intervention in Iraq is as much political as it is legal. This in turn results from the UN becoming so politically incapable in practice of enforcing the general legal principles, and particular punitive measures, specified in 12 years of Security Council resolutions requiring Iraqi WMD and ballistic missile disarmament. 

    07 June 2008
    Letter to The Canberra Times (in answer to two letters misquoting the letter below)
    (Published on 11 June 2008) 

    Kenneth Griffiths and Dennis Hale (letters, June 7) both again raise the case of David Hicks while confusing two quite different legal and moral issues: his legitimate detention as a belligerent captured in a war and the understandable controversy surrounding his separate criminal trial and conviction by a US military Commission. 

    Mr Griffiths also strangely disputes that a war was and is occurring in Afghanistan – and ignores that the protections of the Geneva Conventions consequently apply to those detained after capture when fighting in that war (as the US Supreme Court reaffirmed in its June 2006 Hamdan ruling).  

    He also ignores the relevant UN resolutions authorising the US-led intervention (well before Hicks’ capture) and appears to believe, again incorrectly, that national declarations of war are still valid – when no country has been able to declare war legally since the UN Charter was signed over 60 years ago.

     In international law war essentially exists as a material fact alone. This is so the humanitarian limitations and protections of the Hague and Geneva Conventions respectively apply to the conflict automatically. It therefore does not matter if any country, or even George Bush or Kenneth Griffiths, claims a war does or does not exist. 

    Moreover, international law is universal and the laws of armed conflict apply to Australians on both sides of a war – not just the members of our defence force fighting on our side. 

    The bottom line, both morally and legally, is that detention of captured belligerents to prevent them rejoining the fight is firmly based in international law – not least because the historical alternative, killing them, is now rightly a war crime. 

    Argue about the propriety or not of Hicks’ trial, conviction and sentence all you like. But his detention as a captured belligerent was fully legal, not connected with his subsequent criminal trial and sentence of imprisonment, and not a human rights or habeas corpus matter under civil law. 

    31 May 2008
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (Published on 02 June 2008) 

    Dennis Hale (Letters, May 31) calls for an inquiry into the case of David Hicks. An inquiry is certainly warranted even if only to end the confusion of people such as Mr Hale as to the Australian and international law applying. 

    While Hicks' separate criminal trial and sentence by a US military commission were and remain controversial, his detention as a belligerent captured by the other side in an armed conflict was firmly based in the relevant international law – and effectively no different in principle to the situation in numerous wars for over a century. 

    This was again emphasised in the US Supreme Court's June 2006 ruling in the Hamdan case covering the right of the US to detain captured belligerents in an armed conflict and, just as importantly, the consequent protections those detained belligerents have under common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. 

    Put simply, the detention of David Hicks was never a case of habeas corpus under national or international civil law despite the valid debate about the legality of his separate criminal trial. 

    It is also worth noting that the legal loopholes that allowed Wilfred Burchett and David Hicks to escape prosecution under Australian law for their activities overseas have finally been firmly closed. 

    22 May 2008
    Letter to Crikey.com (concerning Crikey's criticism of Sydney's Daily Telegraph for its beat-up about a recent tour by entertainers to the ADF contingent in Afghanistan)
    (Published on 23 May 2008) 

    Jane Nethercote (Crikey, Thursday, 22 May 2008, Item 18) rightly decries the prurient media pillorying of Tania Zaetta but, even ignoring the contrived squaring off between Channels Seven and Nine, there are even wider issues involved. 

    First, Tania has strongly denied the allegation and her denials have been backed by other artists on the tour.  

    Second, the hectic scheduling of the tour program, the operational and living conditions at Tarin Kowt and the OH&S (and insurance) aspects of closely protecting the entertainers, would tend to preclude unprogrammed and necessarily private social activities however brief. 

    Third, in any event, Tania’s privacy and dignity have been violated to no public benefit. 

    Fourth, irrespective of contractual obligations supposedly forbidding close personal “fraternisation” (a loaded term) by touring entertainers, anyone possibly involved in such socialising would be an adult Australian citizen and it is none of our business anyway.  

    Fifth, those peddling the allegation are likely to have been the victim of (inappropriate) digger humour but deserved mickey-taking. 

    Sixth, I suspect the diggers appreciated Tania singing for them more than they did Angry Anderson, even if their parents had advised them who he was. 

    Finally, it is hard enough to get modern “rock artists” to tour our Middle East contingents anyway, although C&W musicians, comedians and dancers seem to be much braver and more committed to their citizenship. It would be unfortunate if Tania’s disgraceful treatment discouraged other real entertainers from touring – although the routines of future comedians who do are sure to suggest even more unlikely scenarios.

    18 May 2008
    Letter to the Brisbane Sunday Mail (in answer to an opinion article by Terry Sweetman)
    (Not published) 

    Terry Sweetman (”Let sleeping sea dogs lie in peace”, Sunday Mail, May 18) may or may not be right about how we should honour our war dead. 

    But he sadly glosses over the dishonourable manner in which those aboard the Centaur were killed and, even more importantly, he ignores the modern strategic risks still caused by such wartime Japanese atrocities. 

    The deliberate sinking of this unarmed, well-lit, uncamouflaged, red-cross-marked hospital ship by a Japanese submarine was a serious but typical Japanese breach of international law – and of long-accepted practice among civilised nations. 

    Furthermore, hospital ships like the Centaur were not full of naval “seadogs” as Sweetman sloppily implies, but with non-combatants clearly exempted from attack by several treaties which Japan had signed. 

    But we especially need to remember the Centaur because the new generation of Japanese politicians, including the previous foreign minister and potential future prime-minister, Taro Aso, strongly deny that widespread Japanese war crimes occurred in World War II and that these crimes were sanctioned at the highest levels of the Japanese government. 

    By not remembering, in context, the 268 Australians murdered (not killed under the laws of war) when the Centaur was sunk, we tacitly condone such high-level historical revisionism in contemporary Japan – and the whitewashed and mythical versions of Japanese history still peddled in modern Japanese schools. 

    This is not an issue of letting time heal old wounds as Sweetman mistakenly claims because it is current Japanese actions that continually reopen and inflame them. 

    Such behaviour threatens regional strategic stability because it feeds the continuing mistrust of Japan by her many Asian victims between 1910 and 1945. It remains a particularly serious impediment to long-term China-Japan stability. 

    After all, if modern Germany can admit and genuinely repent Nazi war crimes, and now be accepted by its neighbours, why can’t Japan do so? Would we allow a modern German leader to deny the Holocaust and threaten the peace of modern Europe? 

    03 May 2008
    Letter to The Sydney Morning Herald (in answer to an opinion article by Asia-Pacific editor, Hamish McDonald)
    (not published) 

    Perhaps if Hamish McDonald ("Rudd seems to be shying away from necessary battles over defence", SMH, 03 May) had kept up with intellectual and professional debates on defence over the last two decades he would not have regurgitated such a narrow range of well-outmoded opinion from one fringe of the debate only. 

    He also makes the mistake of posing defence strategy debates within a solely party-political narrative rather than in the context of the enduring national interests actually involved. 

    Moreover, the thrust of his piece was based on several factual errors. Ross Babbage, for example, is not from ANU and is not on the White Paper Team, and our new medium-sized amphibious ships are primarily so we can better respond to regional contingencies. 

    McDonald is also profoundly misinformed. The major criticism of the failed Defence-of-Australia (DOA) policy of the 1980s and 1990s has come from a wide range of military professional, strategic, diplomatic and academic sources, and from both sides of politics, not “a claque of Howard devotees”.  

    The Howard government, in fact, foolishly continued with DOA for four years until mugged by strategic reality in the 1999 East Timor crisis – when our defence force (seriously gutted by 15 years of DOA-inspired decisions) only just managed to handle a near-region operation only 600 kilometres from Darwin. 

    Subsequent crises within the region and further afield have reinforced these lessons. 

    The main reason why there is broad bipartisan support for not returning to DOA (and not listening to yesterday’s men like Hugh White and Paul Dibb) is because its failures and consequent strategic risks are now well understood on both sides of politics. 

    Finally, McDonald oddly lauds Sir Arthur Tange who retired as Secretary of the Department of Defence in 1981 – 27 years ago. But even ignoring Tange’s many controversial legacies, the world and Australia’s strategic challenges have long ago moved on. 

    After all, in 2008 we do not still slavishly follow the economic strictures of Tange’s opposite number at the Treasury, Sir Frederick Wheeler, do we? 

    01 May 2008
    Letter to The Australian (in answer to an opinion article on counter-terrorism laws by its national affairs editor, Mike Steketee)
    (not published) 

    Few doubt that the Haneef case was bungled and our counter-terrorism laws may need some further modification but Mike Steketee (Opinion, 01 May) makes several wrong assumptions and conclusions regarding these laws and their application. 

    Steketee fails to make the necessary distinction that counter-terrorist laws are actively designed to deter and prevent terrorism not just govern how a crime is investigated, prosecuted and punished afterwards like much other criminal law. 

    Steketee then unfairly bases his criticism of the AFP on what is known now, not what was known then, straight after the terrorist attack at Glasgow airport. Especially when Haneef’s sudden intention to leave Australia appeared so suspicious in the initial circumstances. 

    Moreover, the problems with investigating Haneef at that time were greatly complicated by three competing imperatives: the need to gather evidence of his guilt or innocence, the unusual volume of evidence and intelligence needing to be examined, and the urgency caused by the very short periods of detention allowed. 

    Somewhat ironically, Haneef would probably have been better off if the AFP (and ASIO) did not have to rush the job because of continual court hearings to keep him detained. If the detention period allowed was 7 or 14 days, for example, it is likely he would have been cleared and released much sooner – as occurs in other democratic jurisdictions overseas. 

    Finally, Steketee peddles the hoary old myth that most or all Australian Muslims feel unduly frightened by such laws. Some may feel so but most do not because the vast majority are innocent of terrorist actions or indeed sympathies. 

    Such unduly alarmist reporting and opinionating in the press and elsewhere merely plays into the hands of Islamist propaganda, which falsely seeks to paint counter-terrorism laws as somehow aimed at all Muslims not just at violent actions motivated by minority Islamist extremism. 

    This alarmism also panders to, instead of confronts, the guilt of some self-styled Muslim community leaders and other apologists for not criticising Islamist extremism (and its propaganda) earlier, harder or thoroughly. 

    01 March 2008
    Letter to Sydney's Sunday Telegraph (in answer to a further inaccurate and sensationalist article on breast reconstruction surgery for female ADF personnel)
    (not published) 

    Sharri Markson ("Sunday Telegraph", 17/2) repeats her marked ignorance and marked insensitivity regarding breast reconstruction surgery for defence force women. 

    Most breast reconstructions in the ADF (about 15 in the last three years) occur as part of treatment for cancer, as a result of injury or are breast reductions for occupational health and safety reasons, such as to allow well-endowed female personnel wearing breathing apparatus and life vests to fit through escape hatches on ships and submarines. 

    Very few (five in the last three years) breast enhancements or reductions  are undertaken as part of the medical treatment for psychological conditions - and only on the professional recommendation of a doctor and psychiatrist or psychologist. 

    Furthermore, Markson's confected outrage at tax-payers footing the bill for such medical treatment ignores that 16 types of cosmetic surgery for the treatment of psychological conditions in civilians (including breast surgery) are covered by Medicare. Why should members of the ADF be treated any differently? 

    There is also a clear danger when some ambitious journalist after a splashy headline rants that psychological conditions are somehow not an illness and do not "deserve" treatment. 

    This attitude, for example, stopped Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD ) among war veterans being treated properly for years. 

    Finally, Ms Markson should consider two important points. First, how  her inaccurate  and insensitive media beat-ups are affecting the psychological and physical recovery of those female ADF personnel involved. 

    Second, all the real defence capability issues she could be discussing instead. 

    25 February 2008
    Letter to Crikey.com (in answer to an article about supposed major differences in Iraq policy between the Labor and Coalition parties)
    (not published) 

    Jeff Sparrow (“More Liberal shenanigans over Iraq withdrawal”, Item 11, 25/2) falls into a familiar trap in wrongly assuming that our overseas military deployments are driven solely by domestic political imperatives. Much media coverage of defence matters makes this mistake (albeit unconsciously) because it comes from generalist political journalists rather than specialist defence correspondents (in comparison, say, to serious analysis of economics, science and medical issues). 

    Over the last 15 months the ADA has frequently pointed out publicly that no matter which party won the 2007 federal election the Overwatch Battle Group (OBG) in southern Iraq would be probably be withdrawn in the second half of 2008. While no doubt politically convenient the withdrawal is primarily driven by other factors.

    • First is the tactical situation on the ground, including the assumption and consolidation of responsibility by the Iraqis over the last 18 months and the associated continued draw-down of accompanying British and Danish forces across Iraq’s four southern provinces.

    • Second is the simple organisational mechanics of the OBG rotation plan and the early lead-times and general effort needed for pre-deployment training and preparations in Australia.

    • Third, there is the ADF's overall operational tempo and the actual or potential need to reinforce efforts elsewhere and more flexibly reconstitute our reserve capacity at home.

    • Finally, exposing our troops to continued danger for no commensurate Australian strategic, or local operational, benefit risks the principled resignation of senior ADF commanders.

    Finally, the terms "OBG" and “combat troops in Iraq” are not synonymous. Other ADF forces remain engaged in combat in Iraq on a daily basis and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It frankly pisses them off, and demeans the risks and sacrifices of their contribution, when the OBG is continually mis-described as our only combat force in Iraq. 

    20 February 2008
    Letter to Crikey.com (in answer to comments on the Army's new Abrams tanks)
    (Edited version published on 21 February 2008) 

    Peter Lloyd (Crikey, Comments, 20 Feb 08) is correct about the through-life support of Australia's limited number of new Abrams tanks. The tanks were completely stripped down to bare hulls before being rebuilt to as-new condition and will be fully maintained in Australia. We also run ours on diesel. 

    Peter is, however, a bit off track with his other comments on the mobility of the Abrams. The combat weight of the M1A1 Abrams (with fuel, ammo, etc) is 63 tonnes compared to 40 for the Leopard I (1977-2006) and around 50 for the Centurion (1954-1977). In terms of their strategic mobility the Abrams can be readily deployed throughout most of Australia by standard-gauge railway, road transport (semi-trailers), ship or a combination. The only limitations they have are the same ones that applied to the Leopards and are easily surmounted with good route planning. 

    Tanks are normally deployed overseas by ship (merchant ship, HMAS Tobruk or our new LHDs). Although contingencies requiring deployment of tanks by air are quite rare, they can even be deployed (one at a time) on our C-17 heavy airlifters as the Americans and Canadians did recently when deploying tanks to landlocked Afghanistan. 

    In terms of tactical mobility, you can take a tank most places you can take a heavy bulldozer, big mining machinery or, on roads and bridges, a road train - disproving the urban myths that tanks are somehow too big or too heavy to use in our region. Within Australia and overseas you can often also operate a tank in places where lighter armoured vehicles (wheeled or, if tracked, with higher ground pressure ratios) will get bogged. 

    In our region, the Australian Army has successfully operated with our own or allied tanks in New Guinea, Bougainville, Borneo, Korea and Vietnam. A squadron of Leopards was also on standby in Darwin for East Timor in 1999 to reinforce our heavily outnumbered and only lightly-equipped infantry if serious fighting had broken out. 

    Not having tanks means many more dead infantry (and the people they are protecting) - as all the operational and scientific studies of the Vietnam campaign (and current Canadian experiences in Afghanistan) clearly prove. If you lazily think our Army somehow does not need tanks (and we actually have only a few of them), feel free to volunteer to assault strongpoints on your own or to stand between our diggers and the incoming fire. 

    15 February 2008
    Letter to the editor of Crikey.com (referring to an attempted opinion article by Alex Mitchell)
    (Edited version published on 18 February 2008) 

    Alex Mitchell's piece in today's Crikey (Friday 15 Feb 08) was so unbalanced and so far off the target it was frightening and does no credit to Crikey's credibility. The piece was littered with factual mistakes and permeated by an old-fashioned and simply wrong perspective to use when discussing defence matters objectively. It also reflected (albeit badly even within its own biases) one extreme of a broad and complex national debate. 

    Can we interest Crikey in an article on this issue that objectively discusses what is at stake? I thought of writing a comment in reply to Mitchell but the numerous factual mistakes and shallow interpretations of the Mitchell piece could not be explained within your word limit. 

    The major mistake of his piece (apart from not understanding the difference between defence policy and defence strategy or, indeed, between Defence White Papers which are declaratory policy and strategic basis papers which are much more thorough because they classified), was in his predicating the debate on defence policy solely in party-political terms. A related superficial approach was his old-fashioned inferences about supposedly out-of-control ADF officers and current Defence officials. 

    It is much more complex than this. This is exemplified by the fact that that the "Defence-of-Australia" policy instituted by the Hawke Government was adopted almost untouched by the Howard Government (from 1995 to 2000) until strategic developments in our region and further afield kept exposing serious flaws in its nostrums - beginning with the 1999 East Timor crisis. Put simply, when governments needed options to respond they have been severely constricted by a force structure that did not give them the options they needed. Hawke encountered this force structure - strategic policy mismatch too in 1991 (Kuwait) and 1991-93 (Cambodia). 

    Just to illustrate a few examples of the howlers in the Mitchell piece:

    • The defence budget is $22bn not $20bn. More importantly, however, Mitchell used emotive terminology (and contexts) and ignored that while it has increased considerably over the last 8 years, this is mainly to cancel out the effects of considerable and sustained under-investment in the preceding 25 years under governments of both political persuasions. Moreover it is still only around 8 per cent of the federal budget, well within the historical peacetime range, and spending in the areas of social welfare, heath and education all increased much more under the Howard government in both absolute and percentage terms. Indeed over the last generation spending in these areas has increased exponentially in comparison to defence funding.

    • He confuses through-life costs over many years, even a decade or more, with purchase costs.

    • The "$6 billion order" was for Super Hornets not JSFs and the latter are (somewhat controversially) meant to replace the F-111 bombers and F-18 Hornets.

    • The C-17 heavy airlifter procurement is in place of renewal of the whole C-130 fleet (there will now be a mix of both), not an entirely new capability. Moreover, the need for this strategic mobility capability is not disputed by any serious defence analyst across the spectrum of defence views.

    • The procurement of new tanks is similarly undisputed by most defence analysts. Those opposing the tanks tend to do so on ideological grounds and virtually all the supposed facts cited by opponents of the Army having tanks (indeed a very small number of tanks) are factually incorrect or historically inaccurate. No defence analyst with combat experience criticises the tank purchase.

    • Neither the C-17s or the new tanks were purchased to supposedly buttress US policy in far-flung deployments. Both capability projects long pre-dated the election of the Howard Government, were spurred on by strategic lessons learnt in the East Timor crisis and since, and are primarily aimed at handling contingencies in our immediate region (same applies to the new amphibious ships and to a slightly lesser extent, the new destroyers). 

    • Virtually all of these procurements have had bipartisan support because of their strategic or operational logic. They are not somehow Howard-driven decisions taken in supposedly evil isolation. 

    Finally, it would be interesting to know who Mitchell considers to be the "serious professionals who can give an objective and dollar-sensitive critique". Surely not the former Defence bureaucrats who made so many wrong calls throughout the 1980s and 1990s under both Labor and Coalition governments and who were eased into retirement after East Timor? 

    12 February 2008
    Letter to The Australian (in answer to an opinion article by Professor Hugh White)
    (Edited version published on 13 February 2008) 

    For those who have followed defence issues over recent decades, Hugh White’s opinion article (“PM’s Defence dilemma”, 12/2) provided an irony-rich feast of confusion, artful dissembling and contradictions. 

    Yes, there are some remaining mismatches between our strategic policy and our defence force structure, but it is nowhere near as bad as it was, say, in the 1980s and 1990s under governments of both political persuasions. 

    Moreover, the severe mismatches of the 1974-1998 period largely resulted from the unduly powerful influence of a self-perpetuating clique of Defence civilian bureaucrats and academic theorists (none of whom has seen a shot fired in anger). 

    These armchair strategists, with no essential grounding in the mechanics of tactics, operations or technology, wrongly believed (and as Hugh White shows some still do) that they could predict the future with such complete accuracy that our defence force could be gutted and narrowly reconfigured accordingly. 

    But this has resulted in Australia being mugged by reality in every strategic crisis since the first East Timor intervention in 1999. All three Services have had to be reshaped and rebuilt significantly in order to cope with the tasks actually levied on them and those they logically now face. 

    Dr [sic] White Hughalso suggests that each dollar invested in our defence “can be spent once only” and that to "invest in one capability is a decision not to invest in many others". But this is only partly true when considering defence force capabilities. 

    Many capabilities needed for high-intensity warfare (strategic transport and maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters generally, amphibious task groups, mobile and well-protected ground forces, Special Forces, etc) can scale down to handle the more frequent low-intensity, or indeed peacekeeping, reconstruction or humanitarian assistance tasks, comparatively swiftly, easily and at little cost. 

    But the opposite is not true at all. Forces configured for only low-intensity and low-scale operations cannot be suddenly, easily or cheaply scaled up to handle bigger problems. 

    Another irony here is that the type of capabilities (submarines, fighters, etc) long favoured by Dr [sic] White Hugh, even at the expense of major deficiencies in the balanced and more flexible ones discussed above, are only useful in deterring or fighting major wars threatening Australia’s survival or independent sovereignty – not that this is not strategically vital no matter how infrequently such catastrophic threats occur. 

    In any event, "White Papers" (written or influenced by Hugh or not) are only declaratory policy. They cannot and should not guide our defence planning entirely because some of the contingencies we need to cater for cannot be admitted publicly or diplomatically. 

    Classified strategic basis documents, based on robust intelligence estimates and proper strategic appreciations, should form the core of our long-term defence planning. 

    11 February 2008
    Letter to The Australian (in answer to an opinion article by Professor Paul Dibb)
    (not published) 

    Paul Dibb ("Razor gang must establish harsh discipline", Opinion, 11/2) sings an old song in misrepresenting the reforms instituted to cure the mess in our defence force he and his bureaucratic coterie created throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 

    He also ignores that the main reason the defence budget is currently quarantined from drastic spending cuts is because it was so savagely cut, continually, for nearly 30 years while spending in most other major areas of government - especially social welfare, health and education - exploded exponentially. 

    The amount being invested in our defence now is indisputably needed to cancel out nearly three decades of neglect, complacency and wishful thinking. 

    Even then, defence spending is still only around 8-9% of the federal budget (well within long-term historical norms) and around only 12%, 20% and 25% of Commonwealth and state spending on social security, health and education respectively. 

    Professor Dibb also bewails the modernisation of the Army and increases in it’s size and capacity. 

    But again these are driven by the high operational tempo experienced since 1999. He also ignores that they merely reverse the ill-thought through personnel reductions of the early 1990s that have so hindered the ADF’s ability to meet  diverse strategic challenges over the last nine years. 

    Furthermore, his odd claim that the current high operational tempo involves only the 3500 personnel currently deployed overseas, and that this is only 6.5% of the ADF, is simply bizarre. 

    Anyone with a modicum of real defence experience understands the rule-of-three principle in defence capability development and sustainment. 

    To maintain operations continually, keeping 3500 overseas actually involves over 10,000 personnel directly (in three 6-month rotations) – plus the thousands involved indirectly with training and testing them and with providing their support.  Not to mention recruiting and developing them. 

    Finally, Paul Dibb again advances his old strategic dead-end argument that our strategic policy and defence capabilities should be driven entirely by the funds thought to be politically available. 

    Our defence must instead always be based on robustly assessing the strategic realities facing us now, and in the future, and only then deciding the level of resourcing needed to handle them. 

    28 January 2008
    Letter to the Sydney Morning Herald (in answer to an opinion article by Mark Davis)
    (Shortlisted but not published) 

    Mark Davis (Opinion, 28/1) demonstrates again the SMH's marked lack of corporate knowledge and understanding in its coverage of defence issues since Cynthia Banham was tragically injured last year. 

    Davis simply ignores the long history involved and bases his comments on two factual howlers. 

    The main reason that defence spending is largely quarantined from the current round of spending cuts is because it was so savagely slashed throughout the 1980s and 1990s under governments of both political persuasions. 

    Defence capability development is a 15-25 year cycle and current levels of defence spending are necessary to cancel out the decades of sustained under-investment that have so weakened our long-term defence. The Rudd government realises this (as did Howard, finally, after 1999). 

    Moreover, defence spending still remains comparatively static as a percentage of the federal budget (it has mostly declined or been static since the late 1960s) whereas spending on health, education and social security has more than quintupled over the same period and continues to rise. 

    For every dollar we spend on defence (wholly a federal responsibility) the Commonwealth and the States now spend around $8.50 on social security, over $4.50 on health and just on $4.00 on education.  

    To put this further in perspective, the amount invested annually in new defence equipment remains well under ten per cent of the social security budget.

    Finally, current and former defence force superannuation schemes have always included large member contributions. 

    They are also not overly generous given what we expect defence force personnel to do and risk on our behalf, nor given that the day-to-day salaries we pay them lag behind community norms. If you disagree then why not swap jobs.

Letters: 2007

  • Internment of David Hicks

    In discussing the international law applying to David Hicks, it is puzzling that Professor Tim McCormack does not point out that under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC), Hicks is actually being interned as a captured belligerent, not imprisoned for a crime or awaiting trial for one.

     29 December 2007
    Letter to Melbourne's The Age (in answer to an opinion article by Professor Tim McCormack)
    (not published) 

    Tim McCormack ("A shameful episode", December 28, p.19) rightly criticises the US military commissions used to try David Hicks for terrorism offences. 

    However, not once in his article does he discuss the specialist international humanitarian law covering Hicks' internment as a belligerent captured during a war.

    Circumstances Hicks has long freely admitted to, although many apologists have tried to obfuscate his armed service with the Taliban as merely "guarding a tank" one autumnal afternoon. 

    Professor McCormack is one of only two or three civilian lawyers in Australia with a good knowledge of the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) actually applying to Hicks' internment as a captured belligerent.

    His omission is disappointing at best, not least because it perpetuates the popular myth that Hicks' internment was somehow unlawful or even (wrongly) a habeas corpus matter under civil law. 

    Hicks was never "held without trial" or "held pending trial".

    Indeed under 15 or so of the 780 odd internees ever held at Guantanamo Bay face such separate criminal trials. 

    LOAC, and particularly the Geneva Conventions, clearly applied to Hicks and this is was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in the June 2006 Hamdan ruling.

    This struck down the original military commission process being used to try the handful of Guantanamo detainees for separate criminal offences because they contravened their Geneva Convention protections. 

    Many former and current members of our defence force are deeply puzzled why some fellow Australians wrongly think that David Hicks should somehow be treated differently to Australian military personnel and civilians captured in previous, current or future wars. 

    Fighting for the enemy makes Hicks different morally but LOAC still applies to him because international humanitarian law is universal. 

    There is not somehow a "get out of gaol free" card just because you are an Australian.

    The biggest benefit of the Hicks case, of course, is that subsequent Australian law now clearly outlaws fighting for, or assisting, the enemy we send our defence force to fight.

    So no future David Hicks or Wilfred Burchett can escape their treachery through legal loopholes, governmental inaction or popular confusion.

  • Defence policy and capability development

    Long-retired DFAT Secretary Michael Costello's opinion article on defence matters is factually incorrect, misinformed, out-of-date, hidebound in its argument and simply bizarre in places.

    28 December 2007
    Letter to The Australian (in answer to an opinion article by Michael Costello)
    (not published) 

    Michael Costello's opinion article on defence matters (December 28, p10) was riddled with factual errors, misconceptions, misunderstandings, plain irrelevant waffling and the outmoded and disproven strategic notions so beloved of 1990s-era civilian bureaucrats and armchair pseudo-strategists. 

    He based his opinions on the myth that our military have somehow come to control defence capability development and oddly cited the recent Super Hornet purchase as a prime example. 

    But it is well known that this decision by the Howard cabinet was taken against the professional advice of the ADF and the policy advice of the Department of Defence. 

    Furthermore he criticises the sensible decision to purchase two larger (replacement) amphibious ships as "entirely unnecessary in any sensible strategic scenario". 

    This frankly bizarre claim flies in the face of all naval (and indeed ADF) professional advice.

    It also contradicts the last 20 years of experiences in our near-region — from tourist evacuations through East Timor deployments to Tsunami relief assistance.

    It ignores the clear major cost savings over the life-cycle of these ships compared to the greater number of much smaller ones advocated by armchair DOA theorists with no relevant professional, technical or maritime knowledge. 

    Mr Costello also clearly misunderstands the Westminster principle of civil-control-of-the-military by ministers and the parliament, and not by civilian bureaucrats.  

    An incorrect claim of "civilian control" was often spouted by many of the unelected, unaccountable and strategically myopic civilian bureaucrats of his era and used to interfere, improperly and usually disastrously, in military professional matters.

    Such as expert ADF professional advice to Ministers, when they are deciding which weapons, weapons platforms and other equipment to procure, on their actual operational suitability for use by our defence force.

    Surely not an unreasonable matter, on moral, strategic, operational and OH&S grounds, for the ADF to have a prime responsibility to advise on. 

    Finally Mr Costello champions the failed and exclusivist defence-of-Australia dogma that resulted in our defence force having to be significantly re-equipped and rebuilt over the last decade.

    Rebuilt so the ADF could cope with the strategic challenges Australia has actually had to face since the 1999 East Timor crisis — the first of a long series of events such DOA theorists said could and would not happen. 

    Worst of all is Mr Costello's confused cry for a return to the failed policies, disastrous policy development processes and bureaucratic managerialism of the past.

    Not least because his claims simply ignore, or are unaware of, all the professional, academic and policy debates and reforms concerning defence and strategic policy matters that have occurred since he retired well over a decade ago.

Letters: 2006

  • Mick not Nic: Trust our commanders to command

    Journalistic, academic and other armchair second-guessing of ADF commanders about their decisions in complex situations overseas is plain silly.

    13 June 2006
    Letter to The Canberra Times
    (published Friday, 16 June 2006) 

    With reference to Nic Stuart's opinion piece ("Troops go missing in action", June 13, p11), Nic was a junior Army reservist many years ago and is sitting in a Canberra-based armchair.

    Mick Slater [the commander of the Army's 3rd Brigade] is an experienced senior infantryman trying to cope with a complex and nuanced tactical, political, social and public-health situation in Dili.

    The gut instinct, personal experience and balance-of-probabilities tests all make me put my money on Mick, not Nic.

    We may not do it much in Canberra, or indeed in Australia generally, but in overseas operations at least, let's let our commanders command.



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