The major fluctuations in defence investment over the years can only be discussed effectively by using a timescale long enough to measure them in perspective

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.