What makes the Australia Defence Association different to other public organisations with some real, nominal or purported interest in national security issues?

In longevity, independence, structure, reputation and role the Australia Defence Association has a unique responsibility and role in Australian society where public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security matters is concerned.

Key differences

There are several important differences between the ADA and other public organisations with some real, nominal or purported interest in strategic security, defence, wider national security and related issues.

In summary, these key differences primarily stem from or include our:

  • true institutional and practical independence;
  • robust non-partisan structure and institutionally apolitical stance;
  • measured advocacy of the long-term public interest;
  • broad community base (rather than being an organisation based on ex-Service representation or other sectional interests);
  • detailed and deep corporate knowledge of strategic security, defence and domestic security issues (including their inter-relationships);
  • integrated and holistic approach to strategic security, defence and domestic national security issues;
  • broad perspective that balances defence priorities and needs in particular with potentially competing imperatives — such as the need to preserve civil liberties, limit budgets or maintain strategic but perhaps otherwise uneconomic defence industries — rather than consider any one aspect of our strategic security, defence and domestic security in isolation;
  • integrated joint-Service focus rather than just an old-fashioned Navy, Army or Air Force approach when addressing defence capability issues;
  • neutral role and impartial work as a public-interest 'think-tank' and advocate; and
  • fundamental operating principle that defence and national security are universal civic responsibilities of all Australians, not just matters involving serving or former members of our defence force.

Diversity and community representation

Our members reside all around Australia, come from a wide range of occupations, backgrounds and ages. Most of us have never served in our defence force, a police force or with one of our intelligence or security agencies (although many have).

All other organisations with some real, nominal or purported interest in strategic security and defence issues in particular are primarily comprised of serving or former defence force members.

We are instead firmly community-based to help reflect and adequately represent the public interest nationally.


Non-partisanship and impartiality

The ADA’s national community watchdog role is also greatly enhanced by our determinedly non-partisan structure and impartial approach to strategic security, defence and wider national security issues.

We adopt a long-term public-interest view. This in turn means we take great care to preserve our party-political neutrality, overall objectivity and practical commitment to preserving a balance between civil liberties and national security considerations.

While some members or supporters of particular political parties, single-issue activist groups or other partisan bodies may disagree with the ADA from time to time, the ADA is widely respected overall for our consistently non-partisan, informed, impartial and measured comment — and the long-term focus and objectivity of our motivation and approach.


Long-term vision and holistic focus

Another key difference between the ADA and other interested public organisations is in our vision and focus.

We approach national security issues in the broadest sense of that term rather than adopting a narrower focus on purely defence, strategic policy, domestic security or civil liberties matters.

The ADA considers strategic security, defence and internal security issues from a truly holistic and national perspective, rather than any form of partisan, sectional, institutional or functional interest.

In terms of defence issues, we take an integrated joint-Service (tri-Service) perspective, rather than one based on individual navy, army, air force, bureaucratic, commercial or other interests.

With regard to domestic security matters we employ a balanced and practical approach encompassing deep respect for both civil liberties and community security considerations.


Trusted public-interest monitor

Our independent, long-term, public-interest monitoring of the execution of national security policy by those responsible for it is not undertaken holistically, or much at all, by any other community or indeed governmental, body.

The ADA acts on the principle that our national security is a major civic responsibility for all Australians.

  • Such matters should not be regarded as being of sectional interest only or somehow solely the interest or responsibility of war veterans.
  • Nor should national security issues be regarded as professional matters affecting only those Australians who serve as full-time or reservist members of our defence force, or who work in one of our intelligence or security agencies.

Finally, from time to time we also provide a trusted, reliable and discreet means for staff within Australia’s security and intelligence agencies to air national-interest matters of professional (rather than industrial-relations or personal) concern in an appropriate and responsible manner, and in ways that cannot always be achieved by the relevant internal process, agency staff association, servicing trade union or other such conduit.


Specific differences between the ADA and other organisations with some interest in national security issues

Based on this principle — and as the ADA is a broadly community-based body — we offer the following comparisons with other organisations that have some interest in national security and related issues from time to time:

  • While it is community-based like the ADA, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is broadly focused on international relations matters, and rarely addresses Australian strategic or national security issues holistically or in detail.
  • The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has a predominantly military professional focus. Using dedicated volunteers, RUSI state branches have long maintained excellent reference libraries in the state capital cities. The RUSI does good work in airing some defence issues within its own internal fora but rarely attracts membership, support and public interest outside the Australian Defence Force (ADF), former ADF members and academics interested in such matters. Moreover, institutional culture inhibitions, the RUSI constitution, and its acceptance of substantial financial and other support from the Department of Defence, also mean the RUSI undertakes virtually no public discussion or advocacy concerning strategic security, defence or wider national security issues.
  • The Returned and Services League (RSL) is mainly concerned with the rights, interests and welfare of war and other operational service veterans – especially given the health and ageing challenges affecting most World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans. Although the league retains some broader interest in national security matters, it now provides little sustained input to public debate on such topics at a national or branch (state) level. Comment from sub-branch (local) level is also uncommon and where it does occur the quality can be quite uneven and is not always as up-to-date, informed or relevant.
  • The Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA) is the representative group primarily concerned with the welfare, individual rights and  financial interests of former members of the defence force (in both peace and war). Since the demise of ArFFA in late 2006 (see below) it also tackles conditions-of-service issues on behalf of serving ADF personnel. The DFWA undertakes no public discussion or advocacy concerning current operational or defence force capability development matters, or on wider national security issues. The Association dropped the word regular (as in RDFWA) from its title in early 2007. The ADA is, however, a strong supporter of the DFWA's measured approach to defence force welfare issues.
  • The Armed Forces Federation of Australia (ArFFA) was the professional representative group for serving members of the defence force concerning their conditions of employment and service. After 21 years of loyal and dedicated service to ADF personnel ArFFA ceased operations on 28 December 2006 due to declining membership and ever-growing complacency by many of those it had represented so effectively.
  • The Defence Reserves Association (DRA) is the representative professional group concerned with the rights and interests of serving and former defence force reservists. It rarely comments on wider defence matters. The ADA strongly supports the efforts of the DRA in its area of expertise.
  • The Navy LeagueAustralian Naval Institute and the Royal Australian Air Force Association and their offshoots are mainly comprised of ex-members of those Services respectively. They are primarily concerned with the interests, in relative isolation, of the RAN or RAAF. The Naval Association is mainly concerned with the social interests of ex-RAN members. Various corps, regimental and unit associations are concerned with the interests of ex-Army members but usually only on a heritage, social or individual welfare basis. Only the Naval Institute offers consistent intellectual input to public debate on current defence issues but even then primarily from only a naval or maritime perspective.
  • The Police Federation of Australia (PFA), and its constituent federal, state and territory police associations, are primarily concerned with the professional interests and conditions of employment of police personnel.
  • The Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers (AIPIO) is the professional body for intelligence officers working in the public and private sectors. AIPIO is primarily concerned with the interests of the intelligence profession. As a naturally discreet body it rarely enters public debate on national security issues.

Some of our members also belong to one or more of the above organisations but most would not (because the ADA is predominantly community-based not ex-Service or profession-based).

We do, however, work with each of the above organisations from time to time depending on the particular defence or wider national security issue involved. Our holistic focus and synergistic, public-interest guardianship role in national debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues is widely acknowledged by the above organisations.


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