Opinion articles by the Australia Defence Association

The promotion of informed public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues through public commentary, such as opinion articles, is a core activity of the Australia Defence Association's public-interest watchdog role.

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  • Australia's primary focus needs to be on preventing future war crimes

    Australia's (not just the ADF's) focus must be on preventing future war crimes by ADF personnel. Not debating if war crimes in Afghanistan actually occurred. The reforms require structural and cultural change in some Special Forces units. Including the dismissal of personnel still in-denial about the severity of the problem after the Brereton Inquiry has reported in such detail. Some reforms cannot await the completion of any criminal and disciplinary proceedings. Emotive, partisan and other subjective calls for Ministers to intervene and veto command decisions instituting reform also risk proper civil-control-of-the-military as established by the Constitution, the Defence Act and tested Westminster-system conventions.

  • Special Forces issues have deep historical roots

    Allegations of misconduct and worse by ADF Special Forces personnel have resulted in an independent (inquisitorial) inquiry by the Inspector-General ADF (under administrative law) and investigations by the AFP (under criminal law). The aim of the IGADF Inquiry is to scope the extent, nature and severity of the allegations, determine the causes of the problem, and recommend on how to prevent such problems in future. It will also determine if adversely-named individuals should face separate investigation under Australian criminal law and, for military offences, charges under the Defence Force Discipline Act (DFDA). Media and public interest in the IGADF Inquiry has tended to focus, often sensationally, on personalities alleged to be involved, rather than discuss the allegations in their full contexts. Thereby tending to overlook the wider aims of the inquiry, and confusing it with ongoing and future criminal investigations of individuals by the AFP.

  • Patrol boat procurement lessons

    Each class of RAN patrol boat has needed to be bigger and more capable than its predecessor. There are clear capability development, operational and financial lessons from this progression.


  • Getting the priorities right

    Our war veterans need practical help, not just "thanks". Especially when such gestures risk becoming swiftly tokenistic, risk embarrassing the recipient or could harm the health of those suffering psychological wounds.

  • More troops in West is not the best strategy

    Claims that WA somehow does not have its "fair share" of our defence force are invalid.

  • Conscientious objection to war as a model for resolving other contentious moral dilemmas

    The long-established principle of conscientious objection to participation in war surely provides an excellent model for reconciling the exercise of individual conscience with proposed laws allowing assisted dying, voluntary suicide and same-sex marriage.

  • Properly ministering to our defence force

    Appropriate ministerial supervision of the Defence portfolio has long faced significant structural barriers to good governance, including an insufficient number of ministers, diluting the focus and workload of junior ministers by double-hatting them in other portfolios, and constant arbitrary changes to the functional responsibilities and even titles of junior ministers. These and other structural problems generally occur because party and factional politics, and short-term political expediency, are prioritised over good governance and the long-term business continuity needed for national defence as a major responsibility of any government. Particularly when this responsibility needs an above-politics and indisputably national-interest focus over a very long term. Governments of all political persuasions need to put much more thought and action into the needs of adequate portfolio governance, particularly how they allocate ministers to the Defence portfolio and how they structure such ministerial supervision in terms of both numbers and responsibilities. Rather than as usually occurs - and based solely or chiefly on political convenience - focusing just on who they can appoint and how few they can get away with appointing without it looking too embarrassing.

  • Staffing our defence force requires a balanced approach to demographic and societal complexities

    As a people-based force, and as the defence force of a liberal democracy, the ADF optimally needs to represent the diversity of the society it comes from and protects. Australian society also needs to understand the ADF and be willing to support it - including by serving in the force. When citizens of any democracy are unwilling to understand the defence needs of their country, or are reluctant to help defend their society by military service or other support, the country (not just its defence force) has a serious problem. Some of the more intractable of these problems cannot be solved by the ADF no matter how much goodwill, innovation and additional resourcing is applied. Australian society as a whole must solve them.


  • Appointment of Senator Marise Payne as the new Minister for Defence

    The ADA notes Senator Payne's longstanding and genuine interest in defence issues and welcomes her to the Defence portfolio.

  • Rebalancing national security and public scrutiny

    Upated laws protecting a specific type of ASIO undercover operation do not "threaten free speech". Indeed they help preserve it. Particularly by strengthening ASIO's ability to mount the type of security-intelligence operation - within and against extremist groups - that is occasionally necessary to preserve the constitutionalism and liberty of any liberal-democracy. Incorrect, sensationalist and biased media claims about the legal reforms reflect serious failings in the objectivity of modern journalism, and the commercial practices driving this decline in professionalism, institutional integrity and objectivity.

  • Don't underestimate Aussie strategic thinking in 1914 ("The Drum", 04 August 2014)

    Much discussion of why Australia was in World War I falls into historiographical and conceptual traps. Not least of these is where our subsequent knowledge, now, of the war's eventual tragic human costs distorts or obscures the grand-strategic logic of why the Australian government and people made the strategic decisions they did at the war's beginning in 1914. This also includes the strategic decisions made throughout the decades beforehand leading up to and after Federation in 1901, and why Australians persevered after 1915 even when the subsequent costs of the war in human terms became so severe. Finally, we always need to distinguish between the professed, perceived or actual reasons for individuals enlisting in the 1st AIF and the underlying reasoning why the Australian government in particular, and the Australian people collectively in general, understood why defeating Imperial Germany in World War I was not a "foreign war" somehow divorced from Australia's long-term strategic interests.

  • Grand strategy, strategy and Australia (ASPI "Strategic Insights", No. 73, pp.12-13, 17 July 2014)

    Strategic-security debate often seems bogged down at the strategic level, rather than thinking grand-strategically.

  • Sinking feelings all round: Flawed debate on asylum-seeking ("Quarterly Essay", Issue 54, June 2014, pp.84-88)

    An answering essay to "That Sinking Feeling: Asylum-seekers and the Search for the Indonesian Solution". Few public policy issues in Australia have been so side-tracked by contextual errors, over-simplifications, partisan politicking and emotive stances as that of asylum-seeking.


  • Establishing the truth either way will end the controversy about alleged abuses in the ADF

    Informed debate about the incidence of bullying, harassment and sexual abuse in our defence force is hampered by many Australians seeming to be in denial about three key aspects:

  • Developing national security policy

    Difficulties with developing national security policy, and the defence strategies needed to help implement it, cannot be solved without recognising and resolving deep-seated problems in our civil-military interface at the strategic level.

  • Stephen Smith and the ADF

    Since June 2011 ["Defence Brief" 144 refers] the Australia Defence Association - as the relevant independent, non-partisan, public-interest watchdog - has been warning of a burgeoning problem with Stephen Smith’s approach to his responsibilities as Minister for Defence.

  • Defence force behaviour

    Media coverage of bad and criminal behaviour in our defence force has led many Australians to assume, incorrectly, that problems such as alcohol abuse, sexual harassment and youth suicide are prevalent in our defence force and occur at rates far higher than community norms or in other professions and industries.

  • Strategic basics of asylum policy

    By fixating on the recurrent symptoms, not the causes and cures, most public argument on asylum seeking continues ineffectively. Politicians are addicted to electoral point-scoring. Refugee advocates are prone to discuss factors selectively.


  • Fixing defence once and for all

    Reforming the Department of Defence needs to start with a genuine first-principles review of its constitutionality, purpose and structure.

  • David Hicks

    Most public debate concerning David Hicks has always floundered in subjectivity and confusion: outwardly because of emotive criticisms or defences of his actions; more deeply, through commonplace misunderstandings about the facts and law actually applying to his original and current legal predicaments. Objective discussion needs to distinguish carefully between Hicks’ internment and his later, separate, trial — and their consequences.

  • Debating our wars responsibily

    As actual first or second-hand experience of war has declined, several generations of TV watching since the mid 1950s has conversely resulted in many Australians wrongly believing they know war. Including the pervasive incorrect belief that wars can be easily avoided, easily fought or ended quickly, and with few or no casualties or strategic implications.

  • Serious holes in the latest navy blame game

    Recent controversy about the poor state of the Royal Australian Navy’s amphibious fleet has again demonstrated three great truths about much public debate in Australia on defence issues.


  • Rethinking Afghanistan

    Commonplace arguments against Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan tend to suffer from a factual deficit. Arguments for the commitment tend to suffer from a conceptual one. This is not much different from wider public argument about how Australia is best defended now and in the future — and for much the same reasons.

  • Afghanistan: February 2009 incident (2)

    Monday's [27 September 2010] announcement of manslaughter and lesser charges against three Afghanistan veterans has jolted many Australians out of their customary lethargy about defence and strategic issues. But much of the ensuing public concern has been emotive and not well informed. The Australia Defence Association has been warning the Minister for Defence and senior Australian Defence Force commanders of such a likely public reaction since mid-2009. We have also regularly protested that the time being taken to decide whether charges were warranted or not was increasingly unfair to the diggers concerned.

  • Separating party politics and war

    Whether politicians should attend the funerals of our casualties from the Afghanistan War is a complex, sensitive and nuanced issue.

  • Deciding causes worth winning and dying for?

    Reactions to the recent combat deaths of two Australian Diggers in Afghanistan again demonstrate serious problems in how we decide to initiate, fight and end our wars.

  • Solving refugee issues by taking a strategic approach

    Our national dilemma with asylum-seeking and illegal immigration strategically, and our public debate domestically, are much affected by factors which Australia shares with very few countries. This is why our public debate on refugee policy tends to dwell emotionally on the symptoms of the dilemma rather than its actual strategic, legal and moral causes.

  • Afghanistan: February 2009 incident (1)

    In mid February 2009 a night raid in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of six Afghan civilians, four of them small children, at the hands of the ADF. Two more children and two adults from this family group were wounded.

  • The need to close small ADF bases

    As in other locations around Australia, local discussions about the future of Borneo Barracks at Cabarlah seem to be caught in a recurring time warp where nothing must ever change. National strategic and administrative efficiency requirements mean this and other small bases must be closed. The only question to be discussed is how soon.

  • Yet More Diversion of Greg Combet's Capacity for Ministerial Supervision

    The Prime Minister’s announcement that Greg Combet is to take over many of Peter Garrett’s ministerial responsibilities in the environment portfolio has more than a party-political or issue-of-the-day dimension. Once again, the necessary ministerial supervision of the ADF, and government capacity for appropriate attention to its responsibilities to the men and women the defence force comprises (and which it often sends into combat), have been sacrificed in the interests of political expediency and the short-term electoral and media cycles.

  • Gender reassignment: Informed and calm discussion needed

    Media coverage concerning ADF personnel undergoing gender reassignment treatment unfortunately tends to adopt emotive, sensationalist and sometimes prurient themes. Only by noting the facts applying can we have commonsense discussion of the implications for the operational effectiveness of our defence force and the individuals concerned.

  • Wikileaks and international law

    The vast bulk of material recently released by WikiLeaks would not be new in nature to those who keep up with the Afghanistan War or the difficulties and perennial moral quandaries of fighting wars generally. However, this latest material goes well beyond justifiable whistleblowing, such as the earlier helicopter gun-camera film showing probable breaches of the laws of armed conflict by US forces in Iraq.


  • Solving Afghanistan

    The strength of opinion on the current war in Afghanistan is often inversely proportional to actual knowledge of the country and its recent history.

  • Northern Territory intervention

    Defence force logistic support to the Commonwealth government's emergency intervention in Northern Territory aboriginal communities has been deliberately misrepresented in an inflammatory and sensationalist fashion by some opponents of the intervention. Such misrepresentation and scaremongering is disgraceful.

  • ADF gap-year program

    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.

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