Letters: 2016

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2016

Governance and business continuity means three full-time ministers are needed to supervise the Defence portfolio

Civil-control-of-the-military by ministers (alone) on behalf of Parliament is a constitutional principle needing consistent and adequate attention. The above-politics national role, size and complexity of the Defence portfolio require a team of three full-time ministers, not the one, two or mix of 2-3 part-timers over recent decades. None of them should have responsibilities in other portfolios (including the quite separate portfolio of Veterans Affairs). Only the team-leader should be in Cabinet. The number of ministers allocated to the Defence portfolio, and their roles and titles, should be based only on national governance and business continuity requirements, not on perceived political expediency at any one time. For continuity, the roles and commensurate titles of the junior ministers should be stable, refer only to their main Defence functions and not be changed by prime-ministerial or other politically expedient whim in each ministerial reshuffle. Given the success of such a team based approach in comparative Westminster-system democracies, and Australian experience with our more successful Ministers for Defence over recent decades, a team-based structure of one senior and two junior ministers should also be instituted permanently in order to groom potential Ministers for Defence.

Strategic principles underly Commonwealth resumption of land for military purposes

Compulsory resumption of farmland can be heartbreaking for owners or leaseholders and naturally controversial. Such measures stem, however, from any Government's reluctant but necessary application of key principles to the long-term strategic security benefit of every Australian. While resulting controversies are often inevitable, they need to be discussed and justly resolved based on facts, the principles involved and patient listening to all concerned. Claims by any side based instead on emotion, simplistic pseudo-solutions or other subjective views simply exacerbate and needlessly prolong the controversy without actually helping anyone.

Its the nature of China's government, not China the country, that is the problem

If China was democratically governed, and truly accountable internationally, it would present little or no risk to international stability, peace and security. But while China remains under authoritarian rule it remains primarily focused on regime survival, prone to challenging a rules-based system for resolving international disputes, and too unpredictable to sustain longer-term international confidence in its reliability as a member of such a system. This is exacerbated by the current Chinese government encouraging hyper-nationalism, and increasingly military solutions to disputes, in order to distact the Chinese people from the regime's lack of democratic legitimacy and accountability to those it rules. This situation institutionalises strategic security risks for China's immediate neighbours, the wider regional neighbourhood and international peace and stability generally.

Every Australian needs to stop using Islamist terminology to describe Islamist terrorism

Instead of mindlessly regurgitating Islamist propaganda, every Australian and particularly the media need to think carefully about the terminology they use. Otherwise Islamist scaremongering among Australia's Muslim community is needlessly bolstered and Australians of all faiths suffer. Unfortunately, sufficient depth of thought is not occurring over much of the media, with time-tested counter-terrorism principles being forgotten or ignored. In some cases, continued use of Islamist terminology also seems to be due to unprofessional reactions when journalists are reminded of this problem. Particularly where the journalist is oddly convinced that their individual opinion on such matters somehow invalidates lessons hard-won over many years by our intelligence and security agencies and our defence force.

Preserving the non-partisanship convention concerning our defence force and police services

Cavalier dismissal of the need for political neutrality in our military and police forces needs fixing by the next government. Too many Australians have grown complacent about the institutional and professional need for our defence force, and our police services, to be politically neutral in both fact and perception. This is demonstrated by how many of our politicians, and others who should know better, who now seek to politicise the ADF or a police service for electoral expediency - thereby ignoring that the obligation to observe the non-partisanship convention is also reciprocal across civil society. Australian democracy faces potential risks when the convention is not consistently respected by every Australian, not just serving or former members of the ADF or a police service. Changes to the Electoral Act are now necessary to reinforce the non-partisanship convention.

Billboards & posters of candidates in military uniform are not just misleading advertising

Candidates wearing ADF uniform in advertising devoid of context breaches the non-partisanship convention. Billboard and poster advertising in particular is liable to be misinterpreted as the ADF supporting that candidate. However, similar pictures in leaflets and social media telling the candidate's life story are not a breach if part of that wider context. Our defence force must always be neutral politically in both fact and perception. The obligation to support this non-partisanship convention is also reciprocal across civil society. Australian democracy faces potential risks when the convention is not consistently respected by every Australian - whether in the ADF or not.

The non-partisanship convention concerning our defence force is always a reciprocal one

Preserving the ADF's political neutrality means never dragging it into politics for partisan advantage. Particular care needs to be exercised by all candidates and parties during election campaigns.

Isolationist pseudo-solutions ignore ethical, legal and practical considerations

"Letting" Australians embracing Islamist terrorism go overseas is the type of impulsive reaction that results when ethics, practicalities and the relevant international law are ignored. Such isolationist impulses and lack of understanding occur when ideological fervour, complacency and the invalid belief that foreign lives somehow do not matter over-ride commonsense, respect for the universality of international humanitarian law and Australia's obligations under the UN Charter.

Deterring & punishing traitors must acknowledge their rejection of citizenship by stripping it

Traitors fighting overseas cannot usually be captured for trial in Australia and no diggers should be risked to do so. If such traitors choose to serve with an Islamist terrorist group and are killed on the battlefield as a result, justice is just as well served. As well as our laws deterring and punishing treachery as a crime, all Australians need to acknowledge their abhorrence of treachery because it involves a fundamental rejection of the reciprocal citizenship obligations we all share - including to fellow citizens serving in our defence force and deployed to fight such traitors. We owe similar legal and ethical obligations to all our allies in these UN-endorsed operations, and to all the victims of the Islamist terrorism some Australians support in clear breach of their citizenship responsibilities and international humanitarian law generally.

New submarines also protect our future national welfare and do not affect spending on pensions, hospitals & schools

Announcements about the new submarines, just before a budget, need to be very carefully worded to avoid misunderstandings and to make it harder for those keen on deliberate misinterpretation or polemical misrepresentation.

More ideological polemic rather than academic-grade discourse - and from a professor

Nonsensical claims that a public-right-to-know applies to every national secret surely prove the opposite. Every democracy necessarily protects itself, and the common good, by delegating key national security decisions to those elected to govern - and the accountable institutions Parliament supervises - rather than every detail of every defence capability or operation somehow having to be detailed to every citizen (and therefore invariably known by every potential enemy eventually) every time.

Absurd claims about supposed levels of defence investment compared to other national spending

Yet more polemical claims that investment in our defence infrastructure is somehow much greater than national spending on social security, health and education when the actual figures completely reverse such comparisons, in each case, by huge margins.

Misapplying the opportunity-cost principle

Calls to divert defence investment elsewhere citing the opportunity-cost principle generally ignore the risk management principle that provides the necessary context for any prudent opportunity-cost decisionmaking.

Defence White Paper 2016: Yet another invalid comment by yet another prominent economist

Why is so much economist commentary on national defence investment so wrong so often? Surely practioners of the dismal art should know something about our constitution and Australia's history. Even if so many of them apparently understand little or nothing about how our long-term strategic security infrastructure needs adequate and sustained resourcing (not the opposite) so it can best deter or manage strategic risks over many decades hence.

Discussing calls for "more troops" in the Middle East

Whether Australia should increase its military commitment in Iraq and Syria must be based on expert advice and facts, not on perceived party-political expediency or incorrect memories of supposed historical lessons.

Preserving the essential non-partisanship of our defence force

Public concern over controversial political statements by serving ADF personnel is best resolved by reinforcing universal adherence to the longstanding principle of defence force non-partisanship. And in emphasing the criticality of personnel avoiding public, and generally private, participation in political or associated controversies. With Australia involved in a UN-endorsed international campaign against terrorism by Islamist extremists - but not of course against Islam as a religion - clearly distinguishing between the responsibilities of the ADF's chaplains and it's "cultural advisers" would be a good first step towards restoring public confidence. A good second step would be to crack down consistently on all sides of politically controversial public exchanges on social-media, and elsewhere, between squabbling defence force personnel. Especially where particularly extreme political views, or religious bigotry, are aired by such personnel and this exacerbates the deterioration of both wider public debate and community confidence in the ADF.

Fixing the UN's main problem begins with acknowledging it

Achieving lasting world peace means facing up to why the UN often fails as a collective-security mechanism

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