Renewed concern about the severe neglect of our defence is not a party-political issue

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.

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