What are the institutionalised causes of defence procurement 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.

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