Interviews: 2007

This archive records links to transcripts, audio archives or podcasts from media interviews, discussion programs and on-line opinion fora featuring input from the Australia Defence Association during 2007.

Afghanistan: What is its fate?

18 October 2007, ABC Radio National, "Australia Talks"

The Fate of Afghanistan


As Australia mourns Trooper David Pearce who died in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, we look at a dangerous war, and an Australian military contribution, that is supported by all Australia's major political parties.

What effect is the continued military presence in Afghanistan having on al-Qaeda and the resurgent Taliban?

Can the UN-endorsed international coalition win the war in Afghanistan?

Can the democratically elected, but struggling, government led by Hamid Karzai survive?

Can the international community afford to lose this war?

All wars are contests of will — is our will faltering, and if so, is it faltering for the wrong reasons?

Northern Territory intervention

02 October 2007, ABC News Online, "The Drum"

Keeping it civil in cases of controversy

Governments of all political persuasions need to take great care not to risk the acknowledged and respected apolitical status of our defence force in Australian society. This underlies the historic reluctance to use the ADF in controversial activities such as domestic law enforcement and strikebreaking.

The federal government’s extraordinary intervention in several Northern Territory Aboriginal communities has bipartisan support among the mainstream political parties but has attracted wider political and social controversy. The use of defence force elements in the intervention has involved the ADF in this disputation.

Because of the attendant and potential controversy about the federal intervention, and because it encompasses law enforcement functions by civil police, it would be better if this long-term operation — emergency or not — was now headed by a civilian official rather than a serving military officer.

This government has often relied on the professional ‘can do’ approach of the ADF to overcome bureaucratic and other obstacles, but leaving Major General Chalmers in the position much longer is inappropriate on a range of constitutional, professional and national-unity grounds. 

The ADF is providing only logistic and administrative support to what is a whole-of-government effort. 

Governments of all political persuasions need to take great care not to risk the acknowledged and respected apolitical status of our defence force in Australian society. This underlies the historic reluctance to use the ADF in controversial activities such as domestic law enforcement and strikebreaking.

Poor coverage

This history, and the well-established bodies of law and professional procedure applying, have not been reflected in media coverage and other commentary on the intervention. Most of this appears accidental ignorance but some seems deliberate polemics.

Some initial media reporting and public commentary referred to the intervention as an invasion and highlighted ADF involvement to emphasise this partisan viewpoint. In some cases this degenerated into outright scaremongering, which tragically caused some members of the communities concerned to believe, wrongly, that the Army was somehow coming to remove their children by force of arms.

Unfortunately, much of the commentary appears to have come from journalists and polemicists with little knowledge of our defence force, the Northern Territory, Aboriginal communities or the law. It missed the essential point that the ADF is providing only logistic and administrative support to what is a whole-of-government effort.

Furthermore, most of the commentary has ignored that the ADF, particularly the Army, has been working in outback Aboriginal communities since before World War II. Army surveyors mapped most of Northern Australia from the 1920s to the 1980s.

The Navy's coastwatcher networks have utilised Aboriginal members for nine decades. Various Army Reserve medical units have conducted their annual camps helping outback Aboriginal communities since the early 1950s.

The Army's various regional force surveillance and regional intelligence units across northern Australia have similarly had many Aboriginal diggers since the late 1970s.

Army engineers have been building houses and environmental health infrastructure in such communities, and running associated trade training schemes, for nearly a decade.

Since the early 1990s many members of the ADF have studied Aboriginal culture in detail while qualifying on Defence-sponsored cross-cultural awareness courses at Nungalinya College in Darwin.

Army officer

While the ADF assistance to the intervention in the Northern Territory is in a non-force role, the whole-of-government intervention overall necessarily includes a civil policing function. The difficulty here is that the whole operation is also currently headed by a serving senior Army officer, Major General David Chalmers.

A precedent cited for a senior Army officer heading an emergency task force is Major General Alan Stretton's appointment following Darwin's devastation by Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

But this was a conventional natural disaster, Stretton was the head of the National Disasters Organisation (NDO), he was only so appointed for a period of weeks while the emergency was at its height, and he handed over to the civil authorities as soon as he could.

It is worth noting that the NDO evolved into Emergency Management Australia in 1993, was taken out of the Department of Defence in 2001, and has long been headed by a public servant rather than a military engineer.

Because of the attendant and growing controversy about the federal intervention in Aboriginal communities, and because it encompasses law enforcement, it would be better if this long-term operation, emergency or not, was now headed by a civilian official (say a senior physician) rather than a military officer.

This Government has often relied on the professional 'can do' approach of the ADF to overcome bureaucratic and other obstacles, but leaving Major General Chalmers in the position much longer is inappropriate on a range of constitutional, professional and national-unity grounds.

FOI and can the media be trusted?

25 September 2007, SBS Television, "Insight"

Strictly Confidential

In Australia it is often claimed that it is harder to get information from government departments than in most other western countries- whether personal records or documents of public interest. News Ltd Chairman,  John Hartigan, is leading the charge and demanding reforms to FOI and whistleblower laws as well as laws to protect journalist sources. Hartigan tells Insight that recent criminal convictions of journalists and whistleblowers are proof that the pendulum has swung too far. Insight also examines the cases of a number of citizens whose efforts to obtain documents and personal records have been thwarted by state and federal governments.

Insight looks at the other side of the coin as well, when the media invades privacy and potentially destroys lives. Does the media deserve more freedoms? Can they be trusted with even more power?

The ADA believes that releases of information need to be considered on a case-by-case basis but that journalists are not equipped to make decisions on what should be published or not when national security matters are involved. This is because they generally lack a conceptual and practical understanding of the matters and risks involved, and they have conflicts of interest with their commercial desires for sales, circulation and ratings, and with their individual desires for publicity and promotion.

The civil-military divide

19 September 2007, ABC Radio National, "Late Night Live"

The Civil-Military Divide

As a result of the drop in American public support for the war in Iraq, members of the military and their families are feeling increasingly isolated and misunderstood as they bear the brunt for simply carrying out orders. However, this also highlights a divide which has existed between members of America's civil and military establishments since Vietnam. In fact surveys in the USA reveal that elite members of civil and military institutions remain suspicious of one another, and continue to harbour strong negative stereotypes about the other. It turns out this has wide-reaching implications for US government policy, particularly on the way wars are waged. Late Night Live tries to explore the history of this divide and look at how a more co-ordinated approach to Iraq - one which included greater civilian and even humanitarian input - might have turned out.

ADF: Gap-year program

10 August 2007, ABC News Online, "The Drum"

Gap-year program aimed at the future

Gap-year program aimed at the future

The ADF gap-year program launched on Thursday 09 August 2007 is an imaginative step to help solve defence force recruiting shortfalls. But just as importantly the program also has important implications for the integrated relationship between the defence force's full-time and reservist components, and for the future relationship between the ADF and Australian society generally.

Moreover, the additional costs of the program are only marginal to normal recruiting and training expenditure and no additional facilities are needed. Even if the experiment fails it will have been well worth trying.

The program is likely to attract at least some of those who seek a contrasting lifestyle experience to secondary school. Others will be attracted by the generous pay and conditions and the opportunity to save considerable sums before starting tertiary studies.

Other likely motivating factors include opportunities for community service, adventure, outdoors-centred activities, travel within Australia and the simple physical, intellectual and personal development challenges of defence force service. The opportunity to leave home, at least for a while, but with families reassured that this will occur in a structured environment with an emphasis on self-discipline, may also play a part.

The best way to consider the gap year program is as a marketing exercise. The aim is to attract people who might not otherwise consider joining the regular defence force or even the ADF reserves.

In the first instance the one-year commitment, including earlier "escape clauses" at various stages, offers a try-before-you-buy opportunity for those who might be deterred by the standard three-year initial service period, or who are doubtful about committing themselves to a longer-term career in the defence force.

A second likely advantage of the program is a consequential flow-on, in numbers and quality, to the ADF reserves where participants are motivated to continue on as reservists when undertaking tertiary studies after their gap year.

After 12 months full-time service they will be trained to operational standards that would otherwise take around three to four years to attain part-time (with many existing reservists quitting before doing so). Furthermore, such gap-year participants will greatly assist with the rejuvenation and renewal of the ADF reserves generally. In particular they will provide the young, qualified and motivated junior leaders in the numbers and breadth of skills sorely needed.

A third likely benefit of the program, even among participants who undertake only their gap year with the ADF, is what it offers civil-military relationships in the long term. As Australia's population increases and defence force numbers continue to shrink as a proportion of the wider community, any measures that keep the ADF connected to the rest of Australian society are beneficial to both.

With a defence force composed of small numbers of professionals who volunteer their services, rather than a force sustained by mass participation or selective or universal conscription, the ADF and the wider Australian community need to understand and appreciate each other.

Previous successes

Two examples indicate the program's likely success.

The 1992-96 Ready-Reserve scheme involved ready-reservists undertaking one year's full-time service followed by 50 days of reserve service over each of the following four years. The scheme was very popular, especially with tertiary students, and attracted far more applicants than the positions available (which eventually totalled 3,200 in the Army and 450 each in the Navy and Air Force).

To the considerable regret of the ADF, the Ready-Reserve was unfortunately abolished by the Howard Government on first winning office (largely because of jealousy from old-guard but politically influential Army reservists). The Gap-Year Program, together with the previously announced introduction of the high-readiness reservist category, will go a long way to restoring the operational capabilities and flexibility lost with the ill-thought through abolition of the Ready-Reserve.

The other encouraging example for the gap-year program is the ADF Cadet Scheme. Despite being under one per cent of Australian secondary school students (and only three quarters of a per cent of their age cohort overall), ex-Cadets comprise around 10-12 per cent of regular ADF general enlistments and 30-40 per cent of officer cadets at the Defence Force Academy. The clear lesson is that formal exposure to the ADF greatly increases the interest in, and indeed commitment to, subsequently joining the defence force for either a short or longer-term career.

Finally, the program is clearly not a harbinger for the reintroduction of conscription. Neither our strategic situation nor the small numbers needed (and targeted by the gap-year program) justify such a fear.

Any concern about participants becoming somehow liable for overseas combat service during their gap year is also easily assuaged. Even ignoring the fact that this is specifically excluded, the timings clearly rule it out. The periods needed for recruit, and then more specialised training, mean there would be insufficient time left in the gap-year for pre-deployment training, followed by a six-month tour to Iraq, Afghanistan or East Timor and then post-operational recuperation.

Private contractors in war

16 July 2007, ABC Radio National, "Counterpoint"

Privatising defence

Some estimates place the number of private contractors in Iraq at around one hundred thousand. What do they do and what is their legal status? Neil James from the Australia Defence Association has recently returned from Afghanistan and the Middle East and gives his thoughts on contractors as well as an evaluation of the morale of Australian troops

Banning cluster munitions

15 July 2007, ABC Radio National, "Australia Talks"

Cluster Munitions

Should cluster munitions be banned or would an indiscriminate ban actually be counter-productive. Might it not simply reward those who violate international humanitarian law (IHL) in their misuse of such weapons but punish those who comply with IHL when using them?

The ADA's executive director was one of the four-person panel for the discussion.

Combatting torture

26 March 2007, ABC Radio National, "Counterpoint"



Torture is condemned by just about everyone, yet it's frequently portrayed as a tactic of last resort on popular TV shows as a way to get vital information. But according to Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association, torture doesn't work. Apart from it being an unreliable source of information, it's unnecessary because a skilled interrogator can almost invariably elicit the information needed through questioning based solely on psychological techniques.

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