The real reasons behind the latest ructions in the Department of Defence

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.

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