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 It records what we actually noted at the time, even if the letter was unpublished or our views were unduly summarised, misquoted or misrepresented in the media or elsewhere.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.

If you wish to provide feedback to the ADA regarding our letters you can do so through our feedback link.

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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.

 

Letter to The Australian
Friday, 06 May 2016
(published Saturday, 07 May 2016)

The unlamented death of Neil Prakash and other Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria again highlights logical and ethical inconsistencies in those still quibbling about the necessary stripping of citizenship from traitors who go overseas and take up arms against Australia.

Particularly when they agree with the majority of Australians who note that such battlefield deaths are a direct, and indeed proper, consequence of the treachery involved.

Double standards about enforcing the reciprocal citizenship responsibilities every Australian shares are especially unfair to those fellow citizens in our defence force that we lawfully deploy to such conflicts on our behalf.

Why should our diggers and our allies ever have to fight such traitors with the traitor still wrongly able to claim the privileges of Australian citizenship after choosing to reject and betray them.

Strong and consistent measures are always necessary to mark both our national abhorrence of treachery and to deter and punish such a serious crime.

Especially when the traitor cannot be captured for trial in Australia - and no digger’s life should be unduly risked to do so when killing them still delivers the appropriate deterrence and punishment.

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.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
(published Wednesday, 27 April 2016)

Before the 2014 budget inept timing and wording announcing the purchase of more joint-strike fighters caused many Australians to believe, incorrectly, that this future aircraft buy caused the large expenditure cuts in that budget.

Even leading economic commentators, who should have known better, reinforced this confusion by claiming that pension and health cuts were due to the new fighters.

We need to clearly avoid such confusion in announcements this week about new submarines

Politicians are naturally prone to quote large sums when announcing re-equipment of our defence force, but this is invariably spent over many future budgets and the larger the sum cited the longer the term involved.

Through-life operating costs over several decades are also often included in initial announcements, particularly when electoral advantage is sought in marginal electorates or beleaguered state economies.

But investment in new ADF equipment is already programmed into future defence portfolio allocations.

It is not funded by diverting expenditure from other portfolios — even though defence investment has often been diverted elsewhere for political expediency.

Kept in perspective, annual investment in re-equipping the ADF is around 4-6 weeks of social security spending alone. Annual equipment maintenance costs are very similar.

Finally, most economists and other commentators tend to ignore that defence is the only major area of government expenditure that is wholly funded federally, is the portfolio most often subject to arbitrary and substantial cuts budget by budget, and therefore prone to needing periodic catch-up investment to replace very old equipment.

Simplistic comparisons with federal expenditure on social security, health and education, for example, are always grossly inaccurate as total national spending on the latter compared to defence is around 7.5:1, 5.5:1 and 4:1 respectively and growing at much faster rates (when defence grows at all in real terms).   

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.

 

Letter to The Age 
Monday, 25 April 2016
(bits of it published on Sunday, 01 May 2016)

Richard Tanter (Letters, 24/4),

up to his usual ideological alarmism, decries that some aspects of our national defence infrastructure and operations are necessarily secret for the common good.

Whereas his desire for the public to know every detail would counter-productively

... if the public knew every detail of our defence operations, it would,

endanger our country, risk our diggers,

and

undermine deterrence of war

, and encourage potential enemies to further undermine a rules-based international system by military aggression.  

Richard also ignores that ...

our national defence is also duly overseen by Parliament generally, ministers in particular and a range of all-party parliamentary oversight committees on our behalf – as it should be in any democracy.

And that thankfully ... 

our defence force not only remains the most institutionally non-partisan part of our constitutional system, but also one run

very

professionally.

All leading ...

This all leads

to opinion polling regularly placing the ADF as one of Australia’s most trusted institutions.

Richard’s polemical belief that every citizen should somehow know every national secret, no matter their ideological obsession or lack of commonsense, surely proves the opposite.

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.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Monday, 06 April 2016
(published Thursday, 14 April 2016)

In an unfortunately common but significant comparative mistake, Peter Hill (Letters, April 6) ignores that defence is constitutionally the only major area of government that is wholly funded federally.

He further claims that we somehow have "billions of dollars for ... submarines, but no money for hospitals and schools".

Whereas overall national spending on social security, health and education already far exceeds total investment in defence capabilities at ratios around 7:1, 5:1 and 4:1 respectively.

Peter's concern about "armaments" spending is also wildly exaggerated as the annual amount invested in re-equipping the ADF comes in at around 4-6 weeks' worth of social security spending alone.

The worst inter-generational inequities facing our descendants are instead the eventual greater strategic risk — and commensurate large catch-up costs financially — we are inflicting on them by not paying our fair share now of the sustained investment our national defence infrastructure needs over a very long timescale.

Peter also oddly claims that Australia "spends more on armaments than any comparable country". 

As Australia is a large, sparsely-populated, island-continent with strategic, sovereignty, conservation and search & rescue responsibilities for some ten per cent of the Earth's surface, which countries are supposedly comparable and how?

And what robust contextual bases, per-capita figures and relative spending power criteria, if any, did he use?

Finally, why does he not factor in the obvious need for prudence when hedging against strategic risk over a likely quite uncertain next half-century? 

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.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Monday, 07 March 2016
(published Thursday, 10 March 2016)

Apparent complacency is no excuse to inflict even greater inter-generational inequity on our descendants by not shouldering our fair share now of the long-term investment required in our national defence.

Rod Price’s call (Letters, March 5) to divert even more defence investment elsewhere ignores or unduly discounts long-term risk management principles.

Long periods of relative peace are optimal in opportunity-cost terms for moderate but sustained investment in our national defence infrastructure, and our diplomatic capacities, to deter and manage a wide range of serious strategic risks to our national interests over many decades hence.

The potential cost of one day losing our strategic freedom of action as a nation, however unlikely this might seem to some at any one time now, far outweighs the relatively minimal national investment we make in our common defence.

At only 7.5 per cent of (only) the Commonwealth budget, Rod also ignores that this investment is already dwarfed by federal and state spending on each of social security, health and education.

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.

 

Letter to The Australian 
Friday, 26 February 2016
(not published)

In trying to comment on Defence White Paper 2016 your economics editor, David Uren, appears to confirm large gaps in his understanding of other disciplines (“Big spending means other portfolios hit”, 26/2, p6).

He incorrectly compares only federal, rather than national, spending when mistakenly claiming defence investment is the “third largest area of government spending”.

He ignores that defence is the only major area of government spending that is wholly funded federally.

And that national spending on social security, health and education in particular each continue to dwarf investment in our national defence infrastructure.

As federal and state debt repayments often do too.

Moreover, David claims that projected defence allocations over the next decade will mean other portfolios face cuts without the necessary qualification that, for once, this actually reverses what normally happens in Australian governance – and why this infrequent fiscal trend is now necessary.

Nor does he provide the necessary context that it is defence investment alone that has suffered the biggest proportionate and actual cuts in recent years and that much of the new program is catch-up financing to redress the damage inflicted by constant and generally arbitrary reductions.

The greatest single strategic security risk facing Australia continues to be vertical fiscal imbalance – largely driven by the selfish and short-sighted belief that the federal level of government should solve every problem regardless of the effect on those functions, such as defence, only the federal government can do.

The consequent inter-generational inequity we inflict on our children and grand-children is threefold.

  • Not paying our fair share now of the long-term and sustained investment needed in Australia’s strategic security means they will eventually have to pay much more in taxes to fix our neglect.
  • Unlike us though they may not have sufficient time to do it before a crisis hits them.
  • We are also needlessly exposing them to greater strategic risk, both in terms of weakened deterrence and significant consequences if our gambling with their future goes wrong.

 

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.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Friday, 15 January 2016
(published Monday, 18 January 2016)

Your January 15 editorial, "Turnbull right to resist US call for troops", unfortunately included two problems that so mar proper public debate on strategic policy issues.

First, the discussion largely used a party-political prism, and indeed an intra-party rivalry one, rather than objectively view the matter on its merits and via the national decision-making processes that need to be involved.

Second, it included the types of factual and conceptual error in historical knowledge that so often mar current informed debate.

The attempted British diversion of the returning 6th and 7th AIF divisions, was from Java to Rangoon, not to help defend Singapore, which had already fallen with the loss of the 8th Division.

Moreover, the consequent profound political and bureaucratic panic in early 1942 was a result of Australian governments of both political persuasions having so consistently ignored the military advice predicting such strategic risks, in detail, since 1920.

In terms of further contemporary relevance, the decision that the AIF convoys should return directly to Australia (and not Java or Burma) was almost entirely based on the professional advice of Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, the only Australian among the Chiefs of Staff and the quasi-CDF of the era.

Indeed Sturdee noted that if Cabinet declined to accept his professional advice he would have to resign as their principal military adviser.

The lesson — apart from throroughly undue historical credit often being given to Curtin alone — is that national strategic policy should be steered with the help of expert diplomatic and military advice, not by partisan or intra-partisan political considerations.

Just as the professional advice of the current ADF Chiefs is surely a major factor in whether we can or should increase our current commitment to the latest Middle-East war.

A complex civil war that, on the ground, can only be effectively resolved by concerted Iraqi and Syrian efforts for once — and with actual, not nominal or counter-productive, help by all their neigbouring states.  

Constantly being bailed out by the international community cannot replace local effort in the long term.

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.

 

Letter to The Australian 
Tuesday, 05 January 2016
(published Thursday, 07 January 2016)

Readers of Rosie Lewis’s and Cameron Stewart’s article (“Row over Navy’s Islamic account after Tony Abbott retweet”, 5/1) surely reflected on the long-accepted Westminster-system principle that our defence force must always be non-partisan institutionally and needs to be seen as such.

During the international community’s complex conflict with Islamist terrorism, but not Islam, three contextual points need particular emphasis.

First, it is the Australian Defence Force's chaplains, of all religions, who remain solely responsible for providing advice to ADF commanders on theological and associated pastoral matters, and spiritual support (where sought) to personnel generally.

For over a century the principles and procedures concerned have been well-tested in maintaining the necessary balance between ADF capability collectively and religious freedom individually.

Where personal religious beliefs are strongly held, or involve customs that affect daily schedules or diets, we have the successful example of Orthodox Jewish chaplains arranging individual and collective compromises between unavoidable military requirements and dietary or other observances.

Second, in appointing a Navy “Islamic culture” adviser, however, there appears to have been insufficient definition of where cultural advice stops and chaplaincy expertise and responsibilities apply.

Particularly as the ADF now has a reservist Islamic chaplain.

Some of this confusion may have inadvertently resulted from the role of indigenous cultural advisers where, in the absence of clergy in indigenous belief systems, they have occasionally also advised the ADF about respecting some spiritual practices during inter-actions with specific communities.

Finally, public concern naturally arises — as it does across our defence force — when statements attributed to ADF sources result in political or related controversy.

Considerable public confusion about the necessary distinction between Islamism as a bigoted politico-religious movement — and mainstream Islam as a religion — surely means that ADF comment on specifically religious complexities is best left to it’s chaplains, not to cultural advisers.

All ADF personnel may also need reminding that holding personal political or religious beliefs does not mean they can ever misuse the force’s reputation, their ADF status or it’s resources to pursue such individual quests.

 

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

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Saturday, 02 January 2016
(not published)

Harry Davis (Letters, January 2) surely accords undue modern weight to Einstein's 1931 view that the lack of world peace is due to "the craving for power which characterises the governing class in every nation".

While the League of Nations failed utterly, and the UN's record remains chequered, their core principle of collective security remains valid.

It is only the effectiveness of the principle's exercise that remains hamstrung, chiefly due to how some states are still ill-governed and especially since true liberal-democracies ceased constituting a majority of UN members by the mid-1960s.

And while three of the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members have remained democracies, Russia and mainland China are still highly authoritarian states whose adherence to the UN Charter in particular — and support for a rules-based international system in general — remain ambivalent at best and often worse.

Finally, the UN's systemic failure to fully protect humankind from war and its repercussions is why Australia still needs to invest in our own defence, and to participate in collective defence arrangements with other UN members, as the Charter duly enables.

And, where imperfect UN mechanisms occasionally allow this to occur, why Australia has a notable record of consistently being one of the minority of states to meet its membership obligations in helping enforce the Charter.

Such as reversing North Korea's 1950 invasion of South Korea and Iraq's 1990 conquest of fellow UN member, Kuwait; with the latter being a totally unambiguous case of the collective security principle in action.

Noting the more numerous cases that the UN has been unable to resolve.

Such as Russia's invasions of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979, Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine from 2014; and China's support for North Korea, and conquest of Tibet, in 1950.

And perhaps China's current resort to military action over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

ASIO official history series stands tall

Subjective attacks surely reinforce the integrity and balance of ASIO's official history series. Particularly where the subjectivity is clearly demonstrated by factual errors and conceptual misunderstandings about the principles, conventions and practices underlying official histories that could be easily rectified by adequate and objective research.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
Wednesday, 23 December 2015
(not published)*

Brian Toohey (“ASIO’s official history has a $1.75m subplot”, AFR, December 23, p4) poses a polemical “apples and oranges” comparison between the writing of official history series and books on specific historical topics or people written by individuals.

Since World War I federal governments of all political persuasions have rightly funded official histories.

Chiefly because they are rarely viable commercially but remain important to Australia recording what actually happened, and why, concerning major events and institutions in our national history.

This national-interest expense is also justified because they involve many years of archival and other research by teams of highly-qualified historians working under particularly stringent academic, professional, independence and objectivity standards.

With the ASIO history the team’s winning competitive tender duly insisted on full research access and editorial freedom from that agency and indeed governments generally.

The two volumes published to date have won critical, academic and general acclaim for their balanced analysis and for their detailed refutation of certain politically-inspired conspiracy theory myths.

That Brian’s inaccurate and subjective reaction also fails to disclose his personal disputation with their efforts surely further reinforces the professional integrity of their work.

 

* On Monday 04 January 2016 The Australian Financial Review published a letter from the ANU's Professor David Horner, the editor of the three-volume official history and the author of Volume I, pointing out several factual errors in the Toohey article. In particular, Professor Horner noted that, contrary to claims in the Toohey article, his ANU-based team of historians were the winning competitive tender and that the selection of the publisher was also decided by competitive tender.

 

Discussing the legality of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars

Slogans claiming the supposed "illegality" of every phase of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a lack of even the most basic research and/or understanding of the applicable international law.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Wednesday, 09 December 2015
(published Monday, 14 December 2015)

Steve Ellis (Letters, December 9) not only evades every point in my letter of  December 4 but even begins by claiming that — at some time undefined and conveniently uncited — I somehow "labelled those who criticised the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] as traitors".

This never occurred.

Steve's extensive misquotations of what my letter actually noted when challenging blanket sloganeering about Afghanistan and Iraq being "illegal wars" further evades the issue.

As the vast majority of international law scholarship agrees, different  phases of both conflicts all had — or in only one case might not have had — the required legal bases.

Perhaps Steve could address facts, complexity and what is actually said in explanation, rather than resort to ad hominem attacks in particular and misrepresentation generally.

 

 

Darwin port lease: Addressing the real issues

Defenders of the 99-year Darwin port lease continue to evade detailed criticisms actually being made. Fortunately, they will not easily be able to repeat this political and intellectual cowardice at the forthcoming Senate Inquiry.

 

Letter to The Sunday Territorian (and The Northern Territory News) 
Sunday, 13 December 2015
(published, in The Northern Territory News, Monday, 18 January 2016)

Sam Bateman (“Darwin port lease fallout highlights how we’re being caught in the China-US crossfire”, Sunday Territorian, December 13, p15) merely echoes continued evasions by the NT Government concerning major criticisms of the flawed lease of Darwin’s port.

Rather than Darwin media regurgitate these well-discredited responses to arguments not actually being made, how about addressing the deeper and largely unaddressed objections that have now inevitably resulted in a Senate Inquiry widely supported within both the federal government (however quietly) and the opposition parties and independents (openly).

Both into the lease itself, and into closing the loopholes in our national decision-making machinery through which such a long-term, and wide-ranging, mistake was deliberately slipped by myopic local politicians apparently unaware at best of their national responsibilities to all Australians, including generations yet unborn

Moreover, key criticisms do not involve a “China-US Crossfire”, or even China as a country per se, so cannot be “overstated”, “amateur-hour”, “xenophobic” or “patronising”.

The key, and institutionalised, strategic risk of a 99-year lease to Chinese commercial interests instead stems only from China’s current, but seemingly entrenched, authoritarian political system.

Particularly the consequence that this largely unaccountable regime, with ultimate control over every Chinese company, even now often seeks to destabilise the overall rules-based international order under which Australia thrives.

The inability to recognise the direct long-term effects of this on Australia’s sovereign freedom-of-action — independently of our longstanding and perhaps not perpetual US alliance — again highlights the extent of the naïveté behind such a flawed local political decision.

 

[Detailed ADA comment on the Darwin port lease may be found here.]

 

Blanket claims of supposedly "illegal wars" ignore complexity and lead to false moral comparisons

International military efforts to assist Afghanistan and Iraq are legally uncontentious, except for one aspect of the latter. Blanket claims that all phases of such efforts were supposedly "illegal" is just sloganeering that ignores well-known facts and legal concepts in general, and continuing argument among international lawyers about that one aspect in particular.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Tuesday, 01 December 2015
(published, Thursday, 03 December 2015)

Contrary to Peter Marshall’s claim about supposedly “illegal wars” (Letters, November 25), the 2001 US-led intervention in Afghanistan was fully endorsed by the UN Security Council — following the Taliban regime’s refusal to co-operate with criminal trials for those responsible for the Twin Towers and Washington terrorist attacks.

Similarly, UNSC Resolutions (UNSCR) fully underwrote the subsequent decade-long NATO-led mission to enable free elections and rebuild Afghanistan.

A minority of international lawyers consider that the UNSCR implementing the 1991 ceasefire following the UN-endorsed operation to reverse Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait — and particularly those relating to consequent WMD disarmament — sufficiently covered efforts in 2003 to end Iraq’s sustained and confirmed 12-year violation of these resolutions.

An additional UNSCR would have prevented such argument but was improperly blocked by veto-wielding and opportunist powers unwilling to enforce the ceasefire a decade later.

But further UNSCR fully underwrote the subsequent US-led coalition that enabled free elections and assisted with the rebuilding of Iraqi civil society over 2003-11.

There is, however, no serious dispute among international lawyers about Da’esh’s IS’s flagrant and serious breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Syria, Iraq and now elsewhere.

Criticism of the possible technical illegality of the initial Iraq intervention would surely hold more water if critics were objective and consistent.

Particularly by admitting the more serious threat to IHL stemming from continual, far worse and indeed ideologically deliberate breaches by various Islamist terrorist groups.

 

Darwin port lease: Structural problem in national-interest protection decisionmaking

Those trying to defend the 99-year lease of Darwin's port might try addressing the detailed criticisms actually being made. Scattergun allegations of supposed "xenophobia" surely show a desperate attempt to evade discussing the real strategic security issues involved with such a long lease.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
Monday, 30 November 2015
(published, Wednesday, 02 December 2015)

Brian Toohey (“Security risks no judge of Chinese investment, AFR, November 30, p39) mostly repeats mundane defences against straw-man arguments that strategically-informed critics of the Darwin port lease are not making.

Such as the lease supposedly only involving foreign investment review, espionage, sabotage and port access questions.

Foremost among the real issues instead is how the Darwin decision, with its 99-year timeframe, could be made without consideration of the consequent grand-strategic context and without integrated and whole-of-government deliberations.

Particularly its deliberate use of loopholes in our national interest protection mechanisms that clearly indicate the need to thoroughly reform such machinery so such inadequate consideration does not re-occur.

The lease risks significant constraints on Australia exercising our sovereign freedom of action over a long, and probably not always strategically benign, period

Particularly in causing casus belli and escalatory risks during times of strategic tension that can be best avoided by not leasing such major geo-strategic infrastructure in the first place.

Finally, it is not a Chinese leasee per se that poses such risks and political accusations that critics somehow suffer “xenophobia” are as invalid as they are desperate.

It is the authoritarian nature of China’s system of government, and its ambivalence about supporting the rules-based international system under which Australia has thrived, that causes such a degree of strategic risk over such a long term.  

A stable and democratised China fully supporting a rules-based international system would pose few or no problems with such a lease, not least because no two democracies have waged war on each other since 1812.  

 

[Detailed ADA comment on the Darwin port lease may be found here.]

Darwin port lease: Complete failure of national-interest protection mechanisms

NT political commentary and media coverage continues to largely evade the real issues concerning the Darwin port lease

 

Letter to The Northern Territory News 
Monday, 23 November 2015
(published, Thursday, 26 November 2015)

Ben Smee’s “Butt out of our business Canberra” (Sunday Territorian, Nov 22, p14) falls into the very contextual trap he accuses others of committing — looking narrowly and backwards.

Countries have only permanent interests, not permanent friends or the opposite.

If China was an internally and externally accountable democracy and a co-operative member of the rules-based international system under which Australia thrives – rather than a powerful, authoritarian and regional country apparently seeking major changes to this system – such a lease would pose minimal risk.

In its necessary grand-strategic context, the lease is a mistaken and unnecessary hostage to fortune over a very, very, long timeframe in circumstances that are likely to be strategically fluid and perhaps turbulent..

Particularly concerning overall casus belli risk and creating a future situation where detrimental Chinese perceptions, real or contrived, about the lease (such as where a temporary resumption became necessary) would increase strategic tensions when we would most need to reduce them.

The best way to avoid such long-term risks is to avoid them in the first place by cancelling the lease.

Despite subsequent spin by the NT and federal governments, what has really occurred is a state/territory-level government narrowly focused on short-term political expediency taking a major decision — which affects the future strategic security of the whole country over the next century — without realising the full implications.

It’s not primarily a commercial, foreign investment review or other economic issue.

Nor does it ultimately concern potential barriers to defence force use of commercial facilities, an increased risk of foreign espionage or sabotage, or whether Landbridge has [Chinese] Communist Party or military connections or not.

What the lease — achieved only by exploiting legal and procedural loopholes — really shows is a complete failure by both the NT and federal governments to think grand-strategically, plus major flaws in our national security decision-making machinery. 

 

[ Detailed ADA comment on this issue can be found here ]

What really caused the rise of the so-called "Islamic State"

Simplistically ascribing the subsequent rise of "Islamic State" to the international intervention in Iraq ignores the geo-political complexity of the region before, during and since 2003. Such claims also generally reflect an ideological and/or ahistoric belief rather than an informed viewpoint.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Thursday, 19 November 2015
(published, Monday, 23 November 2015)

Mike Reddy’s reply (Letters, November 19) to A. Pavelic (Letters, November 17) accuses him of something he did not say (closing borders) and, somewhat ironically, of “one-eyed” and “short-memory” barracking.

Followed by a syllogistic and largely linear claim of cause to effect  that Australia “played a major role in the rise of [the so-called] Islamic State” to 2014 by joining the 2003 intervention in Iraq.

In a complex geo-political situation other factors surely played predominant roles over this decade.

First, the Shiite sectarianism and general corruption and incompetence of Iraq’s Maliki Government once free elections had been enabled, international forces had left over 2009-11 and there were few external or internal restraints on Nouri al-Maliki’s counter-productive actions.

Second, the Arab Spring and particularly its resonance in authoritarian Syria, where the supposedly malign “Western” influences to which Mike attributes continual blame have been almost totally absent, and no actual military interventions have occurred, since the final French withdrawal in 1946.

Finally, the ideological or other simplistic belief that countries contributing to multinational stability and peacekeeping operations in overseas trouble spots incur some kind of additional responsibility for refugees fleeing such locations surely turns morality, logic and the UN Charter on their heads.

Instead it is the countries that avoid helping UN and other multinational efforts to ameliorate or resolve crises at source so refugees can safely return home that are usually the same humanitarian bludgers who refuse to sign the Refugee Convention, or only pay lip service to its obligations, even for crises in contiguous countries.

For all our occasional faults in execution — and especially in contrast to virtually all our neighbours — Australia rightly takes both types of international obligation seriously.

 

Defence Housing Australia: A defence capability enabler, not an administrative or market function

DHA must be preserved as a Government Business Enterprise. The Government needs to unequivocally confirm to all those still bent on asset-stripping DHA that such a move is clearly not in the national interest and will not be sanctioned.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
Tuesday, 03 November 2015
(published Thursday, 05 November 2015)

At the Customer Service Institute of Australia awards last Wednesday night the managing director of Defence Housing Australia was named “CEO of the Year” and DHA was also runner-up in the national organisations category.

On the following day Peter Howman was pushed out of his job, ostensibly by the DHA Board, and a former Department of Finance official later appointed acting CEO.

DHA is one of the best performing Government Business Enterprises in the country, paying some $55m in dividends, $50m in tax and with return-on-equity the envy of most commercial enterprises.

The authority is also widely respected across the defence force, by both its customers and those employing them, and across the housing industry generally.

Howman’s successful arguments against privatisation or asset-stripping of DHA have long attracted the ire of ideologues bent on privatisation of GBEs at all costs.

The timing of this move, and its lack of transparency and reasoning, naturally raises suspicions of hidden bureaucratic agendas being pursued — contrary to the whole-of-government and wider national interest in maintaining an effective defence force.

Only two weeks ago DHA was examined uncritically in Senate Estimates. The move also popped up during the changeover of ministers in the defence portfolio when ministerial charters (including responsibility for DHA) had yet to be fully promulgated.

Under governments of both persuasions, recent defence ministers, Defence officials and ADF commanders have successfully argued against any change to DHA’s structure as a GBE.

Not least because the provision of community-standard housing to defence force families is a major defence capability enabler, not an administrative or market function.

As ADF personnel often have little or no choice where they are sent to live, such community-standard housing also involves a social equity responsibility for a workforce not allowed the collective representation other Australians take for granted

Until DHA was established [as the Defence Housing Authority] in 1988, the ADF had a structural and escalating personnel retention problem because of poor and distant housing provided through ad hoc arrangements with State housing commissions.

DHA must be fully retained as the efficient, innovative, responsive and purpose-designed GBE it is.

The DHA Board also requires more directors with housing industry experience.

 

Defence equipment advertising is both lawful and morally legitimate in a democracy

How banning defence equipment advertising in Australia would prevent overseas wars remains unexplained by its proponents. As does how such advertisers are also somehow responsible for atrocities overseas by those not using their products. Or why it is somehow no longer morally legitimate for liberal democracies such as Australia to lawfully use such defence equipment in, say, UN-endorsed operations to end or ameliorate overseas atrocities.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Thursday, 03 September 2015
(published Thursday, 10 September 2015)

In answer to Martyn Hearie, Harry Davis and Peter Marshall (Letters, September 3), defence equipment advertisers surely retain the right to advertise their products lawfully.

Especially to the tax-payers of a country needing to modernise it’s defence force and which uses them only as per international law.

In answer to Peter’s queries, most of those advertising at Canberra airport are not ADA corporate members.

Indeed one of them has long reacted to the criticism that our independence enables and our public-interest watchdog role requires.

As the ADA website explains, to preserve this independence:

No ADA advocacy is or can be directed by any corporate member.

Our income has always mainly been from individual and institutional members with no commercial relationships with the Department of Defence.

Total contributions from the few institutional members with such relationships are capped at $5000 annually.

Finally, Peter should check with those of his party with national security portfolio responsibilities.

These Greens senators have always acknowledged the ADA’s independence and our institutional integrity as a public-policy contributor.

 

Using military force is not somehow universally "wrong"

The numerous ethical and legal distinctions governing use of military force are being ignored by opponents of defence equipment advertising. Whether deliberate polemic, or just caused by conceptual or factual misunderstandings, claims that such advertising in Australia results in "untold human suffering" are simplistic, invalid and unethical. Moreover, Australia still needs a defence force and we owe it to the men and women who serve us in it that they are adequately equipped.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Monday, 31 August 2015
(not published)

David Stephens’ confusion (Letters, August 31) over making necessary distinctions in the morality and utility of military force might be resolved by asking himself ten questions.

Could Australia guarantee its current and future way-of-life without maintaining a defence force?

Is our defence force an illegal body under international and Australian law?

Does David universally, primarily or even partly equate the ADF and it’s operations to uphold international humanitarian law (IHL) with those purposefully breaking it?

Does he believe the ADF inflicts “untold human suffering” on anyone, even when fighting those committing such atrocities?

Given what we ask of them, is it fair, ethical or practical to not equip our defence force to do its job?

What is wrong with companies from countries ruled by law legally providing their products to those who only use them responsibly and lawfully?

Why shouldn’t such providers advertise this accordingly — including to inform and educate the taxpayers of the democracy concerned?

Does David believe those lawfully providing equipment to the ADF, for use on lawful operations, are really equal or even analogous to those committing the gross breaches of IHL we all deplore and surely wish to stop?

How would preventing such advertising hamper or stop atrocities by those who are not, and cannot be, their customers anyway?

Has he considered that it might actually risk the opposite, not least by ignoring the necessary distinction generally between a force for good and amoral or evil force?

 

Steel is cheap and air is free so build warships for our environmental & operational conditions

Long experience shows that Australian warships need to be big enough to meet our real strategic, operational and environmental needs. Not be ships built down to a budget (usually based only in short-term political expediency) and not up to a capability realistically derived from Australia's long-term strategic circumstances. Pursuing a cheaper build option (about 15 per cent of lifecycle costs) also generally means greater overall expenditure due to the higher costs of through-life maintenance and the upgrades eventually needed. Nor should our warships ever again be "fitted-for-but-not-with" the weapons and other equipment required, thus incurring further costs and operational downtime when the ship needs to be fitted with them (often swiftly when a crisis hits). Finally, our warships should also not be kept unrealistically small to satisfy temporary policy fads, such as the odd desire for our warships to appear less "confronting" regionally. The bottom line in all respects is that bigger vessels generally mean greater survivability in combat and, over their several decades-long operational lives, reduced costs, greatly increased operational flexibility and much greater adaptability for modernisation and strategic change.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Thursday, 27 August 2015
(not published)

B.L. West (letters, August 27) somewhat generously described the Anzac ship project as successful but omitted that flawed strategic policy guidance meant the ADF ended up with under-sized and initially under-gunned frigates with quite limited operational utility.

And, even more importantly,  with very limited through-life adaptability due to the inadequate hull size greatly constraining the significant modernisation works needed soon afterwards and subsequently.

The clear lesson with both the FFG and Anzac frigates is that under-sizing limits strategic and operational flexibility over their working lives.

Under-sizing also limits survivability in combat and, due to greater hull stresses in regional sea-states, reduces platform life and increases through-life maintenance costs.

Such small thinking further complicates, and with the FFG prevented, economic and operationally-optimal mid-life upgrades.

Steel is cheap and air is free. Resulting from continuous-build programs or not, Australia is generally best served by big enough warships — commonly known as destroyers — operationally suited for our oceanic, wider environmental and varying tactical conditions.

Not warships primarily specified as needing to appear “non-confrontational”, as various types of navel-gazing landsmen dogmatically demanded in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Finally, is Admiral West being ironic when noting Hugh White’s contribution to the Anzac ship project?

 

 

Responsible "weapons" advertising is legitimate

Australia maintains a defence force for national defence and to meet our collective-security responsibilities under the UN Charter. Both purposes are legally and morally legitimate and the ADF needs to be adequately equipped on both practical and moral grounds. Companies have a legitimate right to advertise their equipment where it is relevant to the effective and economic modernisation of our defence force. Pacifism is a legitmate belief, as is the just-war moral and legal tradition, but it is intellectually invalid and morally bankrupt to simplistically equate equipment needed for ADF modernisation with the misuse of weapons in the atrocities committed by some other countries and all terrorist groups.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Tuesday, 25 August 2015
(published Friday, 28 August 2015)

Calls to remove supposedly offensive defence equipment advertisements from Canberra airport (“Ads of weapons at airport anger city group”, Ross Peake, August 25, p3) again exemplify the emotively expressed, ahistoric and one-sided views that replace actual reasoning among the unduly ideological.

Entirely missing from the claims and their false moral equivalences is acknowledgement that military force can also prevent “untold human suffering” — and is often essential to re-establish peace, the rule-of-law and the overall conditions needed to effectively negotiate an enduring end to violent disputes.

After all, we only have a UN Charter and all its subsidiary law because the principal liberal democracies led the fight to defeat ideologically-based military aggression, and indeed genocide, by the Axis powers.

Finally, it's noteworthy that the airport-ad campaign’s cited leading figures are not well known for consistent criticism of the frequent, deliberate and gross violations of international humanitarian law by, say, Islamist terrorists, North Korea or Hamas.

 

The facts about defence investment levels

Many Australians misunderstand how little we actually spend on our defence, especially compared to other spending. Many also misunderstand that the very long timescales over which capital investment in modernising our defence force occurs needs to be consistent and sustained, rather than funded spasmodically. Finally, many ignore that the strategic security of generations of future Australians means us paying our fair share of this investment now.

 

Letter to The Australian 
Thursday, 20 August 2015
(not published)

Bernie McComb (Letters, August 19), commenting on other issues, oddly claims that defence expenditure is somehow “unlimited …. while everything else is cut”.

And that the “threat” does not justify defence investment anyway.

But, defence capabilities are essential national infrastructure to forestall or mitigate general strategic risk over many future decades — not what some might believe, or not, to be specific “threats” just now.

While defence investment did finally rise in the last budget it had been the only government responsibility viciously hammered in the preceding four. And the latter situation is common under most governments.

Contrary to Bernie’s claims, the $3-6bn annual investment in re-equipping the ADF has instead long been quite limited — and is around 4-6 weeks of national social security spending alone.

Moreover, at around 7-8% of (only) the federal budget, defence investment continues to be dwarfed by both the totals, and the rates of increase, in national spending on each of social security, health and education.

Withdrawing Australian citizenship from traitors

Treachery is no ordinary crime and should be deterred, countered and severely punished accordingly.

 

Letter to The Australian 
Wednesday, 27 May 2015
(published Thursday, 28 May 2015)

Community confusion about withdrawing Australian citizenship from those serving with the so-called “Islamic State” is surely best fixed by explaining its correct counter-treachery context.

Australians fighting for, or otherwise assisting, an enemy at war with Australia are clearly guilty of treachery.

Not just some ordinary type of crime or democratic dissent with few or no implications nationally or individually.

A core reciprocal obligation of Australian citizenship is not to betray fellow Australians generally, or members of our the Australian Defence Force specifically, by fighting with or otherwise assisting an enemy in armed conflict with Australia.

The 2002 reform finally closing the Wilfred Burchett loophole in our treachery laws (about wars needing to be “declared” when the UN Charter had prohibited such declarations in 1945) provides the obvious precedent.

First, not reciprocating our citizenship responsibilities to fellow Australians deployed with our defence force during 1946-2001 was too long delayed and we should not let them down again.

Second, the reform also proscribed acts assisting any armed group fighting the ADF, not just an enemy nation-state.

Third, this is especially relevant when an enemy deliberately contravenes international humanitarian law across the board and contemptuously regards our adherence as a vulnerability to be exploited, not emulated.

Unless they can be prosecuted for treachery in Australia all such traitors, even those with no other citizenship, need to have it withdrawn to properly reflect the serious nature of treachery as a crime.

The UN convention on preventing statelessness does not absolutely prohibit this in such cases and the traitors have freely chosen to switch allegiance to their supposed new “state” anyway.  

 

Reintroducing compulsory national service is not the assumed panacea for society's problems

Citizenship equity, strategic utility, and economic and social philosophy issues must be part of any serious discussion about reintroducing compulsory national service.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Tuesday, 26 May 2015
(not published)

John Perkins (letters, May 26) advocates reintroducing universal national service but, as with many, his nostalgic enthusiasm overlooks several key points (discussed in detail on the ADA website).

Civil conscription for medical services is expressly prohibited by Section 51 XXXiiiA of the Constitution.

The universal civic responsibility to render some form of military service is only necessary when expanding our defence force needs to be done substantially, swiftly and equitably (the Defence Act reserves conscription for times of apprehended or actual war).

Modern workplace health and safety requirements would probably require a service period over 18 months and conscripting, say, all the 250,000 males and females turning twenty each year would cause major labour market shortages and serious inflationary pressures across the economy.

Neither the ADF nor civil agencies could usefully employ such numbers anyway.

Conscripting only some of them, such as only males or those unemployed, would rightly be unlawfully discriminatory.

As the last universal* military conscription scheme throughout 1950s proved, the funds needed to modernise the ADF — and much of the force itself — were diverted to training very short-term conscripts, this provided a political cop-out for insufficient defence investment overall, and the ADF’s ability to deploy in the national interest actually declined.

Finally, it is all society’s job to fix society’s perceived problems.

 

[*The 1965-72 conscription scheme was a selective, not a universal, one.]

 

Measuring the adequacy of defence investment over the very long timescales needed

Comparing expenditures on all the major governmental responsibilities remains the best way to measure their respective adequacies over time. Defence, however, is the only major national responsibility wholly funded federally. Accurate comparisons therefore rely on measuring both Commonwealth and State-Territory expenditures (and rates of increase) in the other major areas. Defence investment also generally requires the longest timescales. Sustaining the necessary investment over such long periods means continually having to face competing short-term budgetary trends driven by societal complacency or apathy at any one time, and politically expedient electoral desires most of the time.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times 
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
(published Monday, 25 May 2015)

Rather than address the serious inter-generational inequity issue raised by the Australia Defence Association, Bronis Dudek (Letters, May 20) offers a straw-man diversion about GDP percentages

Anyone who keeps up with defence debate would surely know that the ADA has long criticised the bipartisan consensus on defence eventually “getting” two per cent of GDP.

Or that we continually point out that GDP percentage is really only good for trendline comparisons between countries.

The ADA has instead always argued that the ongoing adequacy of any national investment is best measured by comparing budget allocations and their rates of increase over time.

But in the case of defence — as the only major governmental responsibility wholly funded federally — such comparisons must also account for national expenditures by both the Commonwealth and the States on debt interest, social security, health and education.

Finally, adequate and sustained investment in national defence infrastructure is essential to mitigate general strategic risk over rolling three to five decade periods, not just to counter overly-specific “threats” as they are perceived or not by some now — usually mistakenly or complacently.

Just as other infrastructure investment is needed in dams, roads, ports and communications to also enhance future community safety and prosperity.

Understanding and actually debating the issues would help attempted critics of the ADA’s independent, non-partisan, public-interest watchdog advocacy to lift their game.

 

 

Asylum-seeking remains a primarily strategic policy problem and can only be resolved in that context

The Refugee Convention is intended to encourage neighbouring countries to resolve refugee flows at source and permanently. Extra-regional permanent resettlement is also often not the panacea assumed by some. First, few countries provide it and even fewer in large numbers (such as the USA, Canada and Australia). Second, contrary to a key intention of the Refugee Convention, it removes strategic and moral pressure on neighbouring countries (to the source of the refugees) to get actively involved so persecution ends permanently and the refugees can return home swiftly, safely and with the best chance to rebuild their civil society. Third, the willingness by some signatories to permanently resettle refugees now often tends to discourage countries from even signing the Convention, temporarily hosting refugees (as the Convention principally intends) or respecting even customary international law regarding them. Finally, rescuing some refugees through extra-regional resettlement often now perpetuates greater misery and danger for most refugees over the long run. Not least because it takes pressure off the perpetrators of persecution, and off the complacency or apathy of the neighbouring countries usually best placed to end it.

 

Letter to The Australian 
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
(published Wednesday, 20 May 2015)

By confusing actual resettlement by Refugee Convention signatories with the temporary hosting of refugees by neighbouring countries intended by the convention, James Sharp (letters, 18/5) repeats the confusion besetting most asylum-seeking debate.

A confusion long propagated, often deliberately, in much refugee advocacy.

Australia continues to have has a longstanding, notable and rare record for refugee resettlement and we also remain the only genuine convention signatory among the 40-odd countries between here and Europe.

Our situation in particular, and the now widespread break-down of the 1949 UN Convention generally, remains primarily a strategic policy issue with domestic ramifications, not vice versa, and can only be tackled effectively using this context.

As the convention breaks down — mainly due to its modern gaming by economic migrants,  people smugglers and corrupt officials and bludging governments in non-signatory countries — its principal aim of tackling refugee flows at source by concerted regional action becomes even more important.

In the case of Rohingya asylum-seekers and Bangladeshi economic migrants, only other ASEAN members and Bangladesh can pressure Myanmar to stop creating them in the first place.

Australia and other convention signatories bailing them out, yet again, will mean future and growing regional and wider refugee flows are certain because the perpetual misery involved is never permanently resolved.

 

Budget 2015 starts to restore inter-generational equity regarding future strategic risk

Finally we are starting to pay our fair share of the long-term and sustained defence investment needed over coming decades. Perhaps now more Australians will understand the inter-generational inequity caused when defence investment is wrongly regarded by the current generation of citizens as somehow a discretionary choice rather than, as with investment in all essential national infrastructure, actually our generation's rightful contribution to the long term preparations needed for Australia's very long term strategic security.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Tuesday, 12 May 2015
(published Thursday, 14 May 2015)

At around 1.93 per cent of GDP, investment in national defence infrastructure is finally beginning to restore inter-generational equity.

For too long middle-class welfare and complacency about future strategic risk has meant us not paying our fair share of the sustained defence investment needed over coming decades.

We have been selfishly inflicting both greater strategic risk and inevitably high catch-up costs on our children and grandchildren.

Even now, though, defence investment still lags well behind national spending on each of debt interest, social security, health and education in both absolute terms and rate of increase.

 

Dwelling on Anzac mythology hampers modern thinking about our future strategic security risks

Both ideological extremes are guilty of conceptually simplistic and generally ahistoric mythology about the Gallipoli campaign. Made worse because so many of those involved are unable to recognise that their opinions are extreme and/or uninformed historically. Such mistaken opinions about the past are harmful because they often result in Australians ignoring or making mistaken judgements about Australia's future strategic security risks.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
(published Saturday, 03 May 2015)

D.J. Fraser (letters, April 29) seems to have oddly reversed the very point being made by the Australia Defence Association [in our letter of 22 April below].

Anzac mythology on all sides hampers due consideration of Australia’s future strategic security risks.

Ideological mythology about World War I being a “foreign war” somehow divorced from Australia’s then strategic interests is just as conceptually simplistic as traditional jingoist myths about the “nation being born at Gallipoli”.

 

Current bout of "Anzackery" diverting attention from real problems in defence investment

Gallipoli 100th anniversary fervour is distracting us even more than usual from due attention to Australia's future strategic security risks. Australians need to think about our common defence and future strategic security on other days as well — and in the long-term and modern contexts reflecting the strategic security risks we actually face over the next half-century or more.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
(published Monday, 27 April 2015)

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings is important.

But the problem further highlighted this year is that most Australians only think about defence issues — if at all — on Anzac Day, and then only from a historical, mythological or sentimental perspective.

Paying due attention to Australia’s future strategic security means sustained defence investment is needed over the long term and this is not somehow discretionary.

Moreover, our perennial under-investment in national defence infrastructure is causing serious inter-generational inequity.

Not paying our fair share now means inevitable high catch-up costs for future taxpayers to repair our neglect.

We are also selfishly inflicting greater strategic risk on our children and grandchildren.

Defence issues don’t sway votes now only because those most affected by our current complacency and neglect can’t vote to stop it as most of them are not born yet.

 

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, this 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 2006 Hamdan ruling the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the longstanding international law that belligerents captured in a war, in this case the Afghanistan War, 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 still protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions. Both rulings have been widely accepted internationally as definitive precedents in clarifying and bolstering customary international law concerning the internment of captured belligerents, even when the belligerents do not satisfy recognition as prisoners-of-war under the Third Geneva Convention.]

 

 

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

Letters: 2006

Letters-to-the-editor by the Australia Defence Association 01 January - 31 December 2006

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