Letters-to-the-editor from the Australia Defence Association

Letters-to-the-editor help the ADA to begin addressing new or developing issues swiftly as they occur.

  • Letters can be particularly useful where we seek to remind public discourse of the long-term or institutional causes of many recurring issues. This helps avoid debate being misled by short-term factors often incorrectly assumed to be the sole or chief causes of an issue of current or passing public attention.
  • Letters enable us to provide relevant context, detail and the long-term perspective often missed in general media news reporting. Or where ADA explanations, if reported, might have been unduly summarised, misrepresented using short and/or disjointed quotes, or been otherwise reported inaccurately.
  • This comprehensive letters page also enables us to help maintain the integrity of the overall public record. It records what we actually noted at the time, even if the letter was unpublished or our views were unduly summarised, misquoted or misrepresented in the media or elsewhere.
  • Finally, this letters page helps future public debate on recurring themes and issues to be informed rather than superficial. Not least by explanations of the actual history to relevant issues, our long-term future and specialist focus, and our independent and non-partisan public-interest watchdog perspective.

Australian newspapers and journals tend to give the ADA a fair go because professional journalists usually recognise the value of our independent, non-partisan and informed contributions to public debate.

The same unfortunately cannot be said, however, for ADA posts to some blogsites. Our posts are often not published or are heavily edited in an arbitrary and/or misrepresentational manner because of the blogger's biases or prejudices.

Not all our letters-to-the-editor can be or are published or published in full. Largely due to newspaper space considerations, the normal ebb and flow of public debate and practical editorial decisions.

In some cases however, particularly with our public-interest corrections of inaccurate, untrue or other unprofessional reporting, they are not published because of media glass-jaw syndrome where media organisations react unprofessionally to objective criticism.

Text that is underlined or marked in red below indicates wording omitted by the publisher. Text that is italicised or marked in green highlights wording that has been inserted or changed by the publisher.

In some cases, we have subsequently added small passages of text enclosed in square brackets to explain acronyms and terminology, or to provide context to a letter for later readers.

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Scrupulously accurate and consistent terminology is required to defeat Islamist terrorism

The international law enforcement campaign against Islamist terrorism is fought in complex politico-religous terrain intellectually. Scrupulously accurate and consistent terminology is necessary to win arguments in such emotive, ideological and theological contexts. Not least because of the importance of informed debate in properly targeting the extremist's centre-of-gravity, their ability to recruit terrorists, sympathisers and apologists.

 

Letter to The Australian
Tuesday, 07 April 2015
(not published)

Winning the struggle with Islamist terrorism means acknowledging its politico-religious setting and your laudable 07 April editorial generally reflected this.

However reference to the terrorist group “Islamic State” in English should always be only in inverted commas or, better still, prefixed with the terms “so-called” or “self-described”.

Even more importantly, some 17 years into this problem the editorial’s lazy reference to “Islamic [rather than Islamist]  fundamentalism” was counter-productive and surely avoidable.

Using “Islamic” and not “Islamist” means the terrorists and their apologists get to have their enemies — us, the rest of humanity — describe them using their own extremist terminology and thereby appear to endorse the bigoted interpretations of Islam underlying it.

Consequently, mainstream Muslims get pilloried because failing to observe the necessary distinction between “Islamic” and “Islamist” causes community confusion, suspicion and worse.

Those Muslims still in denial about the perverted religious basis for Islamist extremism get their denial reinforced rather than exposed by informed theological and wider public debate.

All Australians, of all religious faiths, are endangered because necessary counter-radicalisation efforts are undermined by appearing to reinforce the Islamist myth that community counter-terrorism measures are somehow aimed at “all” or “only” Muslims.

Thorough consistency in definition is vital to contests of will, especially between democratic societies and extremists attacking them from within.

 

The irrefutable legality of UN-endorsed international military assistance in Afghanistan

Some ideologues are prone to polemics about Australia's modern wars and those we send to fight them. Dissent from such government decisions is legitimate, but only when based on facts and reasoned argument. Particular care is necessary where dissent is not objective or reasonable in the circumstances. This is especially the case if the security, safety and welfare of the fellow Australians we deploy to war on our national behalf is endangered, however unintentionally, by recklessly providing opportunities that can be exploited in enemy propaganda. In a society based on mutual citizenship obligations, and where key responsibilities are rightly enshrined in legislation, disregard for such risks is surely as unacceptable as the intentional acts of treachery directly prohibited by our laws.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Saturday, 04 April 2015
(not published)

Adam Rustowski (Letters, 30 March) claims that the multinational campaign in Afghanistan is “futile”, “shameful” and “illegal”.

Together with Graeme Dunstan (Letters, 26 March) he implies that ADF personnel deployed there are “criminal mercenaries” motivated by  pecuniary or careerist personal interests.

Both surely ignore five contexts for informed debate:

  • Numerous UN Security Council Resolutions mean that this is probably the most uncontentious military endeavour in international law since the collective security responsibilities of the UN Charter came into force universally in 1945.
  • This international assistance effort has also been broadly endorsed in two consequent elections by the Afghan people; elections that would not have occurred under Taliban rule.
  • Australia’s involvement  remains entirely in accordance with our constitutional and statutory processes - and with our responsibilities as a founder-member of the UN.
  • ADF personnel necessarily obey the lawful orders of our elected government.
  • The ADF has undertaken its operations in a professional and moral manner against an enemy who not only does not do so, but who regards our difficult adherence to general moral norms and international humanitarian law as a vulnerability to be shamefully and illegally exploited.

Whether this international effort has been futile or not, to whatever degree, is a judgement not fully possible for many years although the steep rises (from an exceptionally low base) in, say, literacy, female emancipation and general standards of living cannot be denied even now.

Nor that the need for, or success of, such an international effort can only be judged by considering the probable alternatives, morally and practically, had the international community ignored the plight of the Afghan people and the sanctuary provided to Islamist terrorism internationally under the Taliban dictatorship.

Finally, as the relevant independent and apolitical public-interest watchdog, the ADA has long been the most consistent and comprehensive critic of attempts by all sides and extremes of politics to politicise our defence force, its operations and the casualties and family grief inevitably incurred.

 

Blind obedience rightly plays no part in our defence force

Arguments about politics that inappropriately use analogies to supposed "blind obedience" in the ADF are more than just disappointing. Such examples again point to the profound and continually damaging dearth of real knowledge and understanding about our defence force, and national defence issues generally, across the community; even among those, such as journalists and academics, commonly expected to research such topics before commenting. Just as importantly, ill-researched commentary is not just a national security issue as such uninformed and invalid analogies also hinder effective debate on the wider public-policy issues in which they are misused.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Tuesday, 17 March 2015
(published Friday, 20 March 2015)

Jenna Price (“Government whip Andrew Nikolic lashes out at academic freedom”, March 17) criticises the new Liberal Party Whip, and approvingly quotes her university’s definition of academic responsibility as making a “… significant contribution to society by drawing on their considerable knowledge and discipline expertise to support public discussion based on evidence, and on reasoned arguments”.

Jenna Price, however, oddly ascribes Nikolic’s approach to party discipline as being the result of his military training “… where its blind obedience. So you can imagine, can’t you, the kind of behaviour he [Nikolic] thinks is appropriate”.   

Now anyone, academic or not, with due considerable knowledge of military training would surely know that ADF personnel instead obey orders because — having been required to think about it considerably throughout their training — they realise that the complex, high-stress and often lethal activities we ask of our defence force rely utterly on combining mutual trust and individual initiative to achieve the necessary coherent teamwork.  

Whatever Nikolic may or may not believe, Jenna Price has clearly used only imagination and certainly no evidence, reasoned argument, knowledge or academic expertise to draw her subjective conclusions.

These cascading failures to live up to her own professed academic standards surely also constitute an even more inappropriate example of partisan polemic in public discussion than the one she alleges in another.   

 

The David Hicks saga can only be analysed objectively using all the relevant law and facts applying

Whether David Hicks is "innocent" or not, and of what, depends on much more than his much later US criminal conviction being eventually struck down technically, on filing date and retrospectivity grounds. His actual activities in Afghanistan in 2001 also involved the international law applying; particularly to his entirely lawful internment as a captured belligerent in a war. In terms of Australian law, at least morally, it surely includes him escaping criminal prosecution here only through the 1945-2001 Burchett loophole in Australia's then treachery laws. A loophole rightly closed by reformed legislation in 2002 - as a direct result of the Hicks case - but which (rightly) could not be applied to him retrospectively.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Monday, 23 February 2015
(published Tuesday, 03 March 2015)

Several recent correspondents have objected to the Australia Defence Association highlighting that international humanitarian law is necessarily universal and that Australians, such as David Hicks, are not somehow immune.

Moreover, Hicks’ own US military lawyer has acknowledged that the ADA’s objective analysis since 2002, and our public and private efforts calling for Hicks' release from internment (on his parole not to resume belligerence), helped resolve the complex legal limbo in which Hicks had placed himself.

A downloadable article in the Summer 2006/07 edition of our national journal subsequently summarised the politico-strategic, legal and moral complexity applying.

In short, as IHL has long required with prisoners-of-war in armed conflicts,* Hicks' entirely lawful internment — not “jailing without trial” — was solely due to him being a captured belligerent.

Hicks’ much later, and completely separate, criminal trial and imprisonment — now overturned on retrospectivity grounds (as the ADA has long predicted) — was under US domestic law.

The Burchett loophole in our 1945-2001 treachery laws prevented trial in Australia and ended up prolonging his internment, but resulted in 2002 reforms meaning Australians rightly now face prosecution for doing what Hicks then did.

Matters concerning Hicks’ motivation, activities, weight of responsibility for consequences, and the relevance of guilt, innocence or repentance, can surely only be adequately discussed across this whole context.

 

[* In its definitive, and widely accepted internationally, 2006 Hamdan ruling the US Supreme Court noted that terrorists captured in Afghanistan could be lawfully interned under the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). Just as importantly the Supreme Court also ruled that while they did not qualify for full prisoner-of-war status under the Third Geneva Convention, because their methods of belligerence (terrorism) contravened LOAC and wider international humanitarian law, they were protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions].  

 

 

Accurate terminology is needed to counter extremism and maintain public confidence effectively

ASIO has the difficult job of countering undemocratic and other extremism. Incorrect descriptions of ASIO's function, activities and staff - regardless of whether this stems from thoughtlessness, ignorance or bias - unnecessarily undermines public confidence and hinders the community co-operation needed to protect the constitutional and practical liberty of all Australians.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 13 February 2015
(published Wednesday, 18 February 2015)

Architectural aesthetic and construction mishap grounds surely mean the Ben Chifley Building, where ASIO is to be headquartered, should be appositely nicknamed the “Aquarium”, rather than "Lubyanka on the lake" ("Lubyanka on the lake looks as if it's about to be occupied", February 12, p5).

This would also apply a more accurate-for-once Russian analogy for conspiracy theorists (with the nickname of GRU headquarters in Khodynka).

But jokes, however ironic, comparing ASIO’s new headquarters to a “Lubyanka” exemplify a broader inability to debate national security issues intelligently.

This is particularly puzzling when 2014 saw publication of the first volume of ASIO’s official history to wide acclaim.

Whilst rightly not uncritical, Professor David Horner carefully explained the actual history involved, methodically deconstructed cherished myths among some, and explained the principles and practices involved with how a security-intelligence function is necessary to protect the constitutionalism of any functioning liberal democracy.

ASIO headquarters can never be a “Lubyanka”, literally or even figuratively, because in our tried and tested Westminster-system model this function is vested in a research and advisory agency, not a police force of any description.

ASIO intelligence officers (not “spies”) rightly cannot arrest or incarcerate anyone, and several layers of statutorily independent, ministerial and parliamentary oversight apply to their professional advice to government.

Finally, copy-editors using “spy” for a shorter headline is perhaps explicable at times, but thoughtless media and wider reference to ASIO as a spy-agency — rather than a counter-spy and counter-terrorism one — generates public confusion, assists extremist and emotive scare-mongering, and hampers the citizenship co-operation with ASIO necessary to combat national security crime fairly and effectively.

 

 

International and Australian law applying to David Hicks

Many discussions of David Hicks continue to ignore the international law actually applying. And subsequent Australian law applying to someone who did now what he did in 2001. In particular, Hicks was controversially subject to criminal trial and conviction under US law, chiefly because Australia's pre-2002 treachery laws then had a loophole meaning he could not be tried here. But this criminal trial is an entirely separate legal issue to his prior lawful detention as a captured belligerent - under that part of international humanitarian law known as the Laws of Armed Conflict. At least until his criminal trial and sentence, Hicks was not detained "illegally" or "without trial" for a single minute as incorrect, polemical or emotive slogans often claim.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 09 January 2015
(published Monday, 12 January 2015)

In explanation for Richard Ryan (Letters, January 9), if another Australian did now what David Hicks did in 2001 they could be convicted of an Australian crime under 2002 reforms to our treachery laws.

Moreover, while Hicks’s US criminal conviction and sentence are rightly controversial, his prior and entirely separate detention as a belligerent captured in the Afghanistan War remains entirely legitimate under international humanitarian law (IHL).

This is why there are PW camps under the Third Geneva Convention and why even belligerents not qualifying for full PW status, such as Hicks, are still protected by IHL.

Finally, those who continue to deny or obfuscate Hicks’s belligerency, for at least the Taliban, simply ignore Hicks’s own claims to this effect before and after his capture.

 

 

Governance needs, not political expediency, should drive the selection of Defence Ministers

The public interest is rarely served by the appointment of Defence Ministers in the twilight of their ministerial or parliamentary careers. Serial short-term appointments, generally the result of prioritising temporary political expediency over the needs of long-term portfolio governance, have occurred far too frequently and unthinkingly. This causes recurring problems with effective ministerial supervision of what is necessarily a particularly complex and long-term focused portfolio responsible for an essentially supra-partisan national function.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Saturday, 03 January 2015
(published Tuesday, 06 January 2015)

Your January 3 editorial (“Who will be calling the shots”) rightly emphasises the importance and complexity of national defence as a key, collective and indeed holistic responsibility under any government.

But, while correctly lamenting the propensity for both sides of politics to misuse defence acquisition projects for electoral pork-barrelling, essential points about reinforcing ministerial governance were surely missed.

Ensuring proper ministerial supervision of this particularly complex and long-term-focused portfolio should always win out over party-political or factional expediency.

Not compromising the supra-partisan nature of national defence overall — and of a Westminster-system military in daily practice — also means not appointing ministers unable to quit the daily political fray or subdue their personal national leadership ambitions to the public interest, such as occurred with Peter Reith and Stephen Smith.

There is also the problem of high ministerial turnover unduly delaying policy development, adequate and well-steered investment, and project implementation.

And to simplistic claims that “Defence devours its ministers” whereas this instead primarily stems from being allocated ones near the end of their ministerial careers anyway.

Where capable ministers still well on top of their parliamentary game are appointed many years of efficient portfolio service results, such as Labor’s Robert Ray (6 years) and the Coalition’s Robert Hill (5¼ years).

Finally, giving the job to those uninterested in strategic security matters, or in meeting the intellectual and moral demands of the Defence portfolio, always ends badly whereas the alternative does not.

This is especially the case where ministers such as Kim Beazley, Brendan Nelson and John Faulkner had previous served in the portfolio as junior ministers or parliamentary secretaries.

This career-progression governance model — as it does in the UK — is another reason why Defence needs two full-time junior ministers to test and ready future senior ministers, and hopefully limit prime-ministerial tendencies to appoint the unprepared, uninterested or politically expedient to this nationally crucial portfolio.   

Letters: 2014

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2014

Letters: 2013

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2013

Letters: 2012

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2012

Letters: 2011

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2011

Letters: 2010

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2010

Letters: 2009

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2009

Letters: 2008

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2008

Letters: 2007

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2007

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