Vale W.D. Pritchett, 1921-2014

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.


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