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 It records what we actually noted at the time, even if the letter was unpublished or our views were unduly summarised, misquoted or misrepresented in the media or elsewhere.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

You can also follow us on twitter.


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 comprising 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.   

Man Haron Monis saga again highlights the need for further reform to our treachery laws

While the Burchett-Hicks loophole is finally closed, our modernised treachery laws need to proscribe reckless as well as intentional acts of treachery. There is no danger to free speech or legitimate dissent, not least because treachery involves acts of betrayal that go well beyond the exercise of democratic rights - and indeed involves acts that undermine those rights.


Letter to The Australian
Tuesday, 23 December 2014
(published Wednesday, 24 December 2014)

Graham Hyde (Letters, 23/12) rightly condemns Man Haron Monis’s despicable letters to the grieving families of troops soldiers killed in action.

But he is surely mistaken to couch Monis’s criminal prosecution as just a potential free-speech dilemma.

When our government commits our defence forces to war, every Australian has a reciprocal citizenship obligation to not join, or otherwise assist, the enemy our troops are fighting on behalf of us all.

Monis's letters, in both intent and effect, clearly went well beyond legitimate dissent from the national decision to resort to war.

His intentional, or at least reckless, assistance to the enemy constituted treachery and should have been prosecuted as such.

While the Burchett loophole in our treachery laws was finally closed (post Hicks) in 2002, they unfortunately still only outlaw intentional acts.

Further reform is now needed to proscribe reckless acts of treachery, not least to remind all Australians that their right to free speech is not so absolute it can over-ride all our mutual citizenship obligations.

Especially where so many factually or conceptually-flawed contributions to public debate recklessly cross over into undermining the community resolve, and national unity, we again need to face down extremist threats to our liberty domestically and internationally.

Criticism of CIA abuses is being incorrectly and unthinkingly extended to other US agencies

Debate on CIA abuses 2001-06 has become so polarised ideologically that key facts and legal principles are being ignored. In particular, other US agencies which did not torture prisoners, and which spoke out against such abuses, are being wrongly accused of torturing. The role of the US Supreme Court in restoring the rule-of-law is also being wrongly ignored.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 19 December 2014
(published Tuesday, 23 December 2014)

Objective readers must surely be puzzled how the words of my December 15 letter — such as “CIA’s undoubted breaches of international humanitarian law”, and “there is no doubt CIA torture seriously contravened IHL, and the ethical standards expected of any liberal-democracy” — could somehow be misconstrued by Geoff Barker (Letters, December 18) as “an attempt to justify the atrocities of the CIA”.

Geoff also ignores my two key points about needing to differentiate between the detention and interrogation records of different US agencies, and the ground-breaking effect of US Supreme Court rulings extending some Geneva Convention protections to those captured belligerents who do not qualify as prisoners-of-war (such as David Hicks).

None of these points excuse the CIA for anything.

Indeed they further highlight the culpability of the CIA and those meant to supervise them, and the restoration of the rule-of-law.

Finally, like many, Geoff also seems to misunderstand key facts and applicable international law.

  • The US military, and the FBI, have not allowed abusive CIA interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre — operated by the former under the Geneva Conventions and regularly inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross as the authorised inspecting power.
  • CIA torture occurred elsewhere at overseas “black sites” and, according to the US Senate Report, ceased in 2006.
  • While always inexcusable, IHL breaches by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been prevalent proportional to the numbers deployed or in comparison to most countries in the international coalition.
  • Abuses at Abu Ghraib were by a few ill-disciplined guards for a short time, not interrogators, and were reported and punished.
  • Hicks' detention and his later, separate and questionable, criminal trial are entirely discrete issues legally and ethically.
  • Hicks was never tortured by the CIA or, it seems, anyone else.


 [The "Geoff Barker" mentioned above is not Geoffrey Barker, the distinguished and longtime former defence correspondent for The Australian Financial Review]

Criticism of CIA abuses should not necessarily be extended to the US overall or indeed the US military

While CIA abuses are undoubted, the US military has a generally good IHL compliance record. Moreover, both US Supreme Court rulings over the last decade, and the recent Senate Committee Report into CIA abuses, demonstrate that the eventual self-correcting mechanisms of a liberal-democracy continue to advance international humanitarian law.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 11 December 2014
(published Monday, 15 December 2014)

Rex Williams (Letters, December 11) reverses both the law and key facts in so broadly condemning the US for the CIA’s undoubted breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL).

While there is no doubt that CIA torture seriously contravened IHL, and the ethical standards expected of any liberal-democracy, the US military actually has a very good IHL compliance record in its detention of both prisoners-of-war (PW) and of captured terrorists not qualifying for PW status under the Third Geneva Convention.

It was also the notable international precedent established by a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling (in the Hamdan case) that has effectively modernised and extended a key aspect of IHL by noting that such captured terrorists are still protected by Common Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions.

Moreover, contrary to Rex’s claim, David Hicks’ undoubtedly lawful detention as a belligerent captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan — and Mamdouh Habib’s necessary release from US custody after being originally arrested in Pakistan (ie. not captured as a belligerent) — were both assured by the US’s overall commitment to IHL, not the opposite.

Finally, Islamist terrorists continue to abuse, torture and murder captives in flagrant violation of IHL without even a skerrick of criticism from those prone to condemning the US for everything.

IHL is universal and criticism of IHL breaches should be too.


Fixing the structural inequities wrongly governing defence force pay and conditions of service

Reversing the abolition of several longstanding conditions of service is welcome but wider reforms are needed to stop such arbitrary mistakes re-occurring. And to stop the ADF as a necessarily apolitical institution being misused, or perceived to be misused, for partisan purposes.


Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Monday, 01 December 2014
(published Wednesday, 03 December 2014)

The decision to reverse reductions to defence force allowances and leave entitlements is welcome but several structural inequities remain unresolved.

Our defence force is, and needs to be, a thoroughly apolitical institution.

All governments have a reciprocal obligation to avoid politicising the ADF in any way — or even being perceived to do so.

Moreover, the ADF is now the only major part of the national workforce that is still wholly subject to centralised wage-fixing but not permitted, by law, to negotiate outcomes or take other industrial action collectively.

Using the ADF wage case as a bargaining strategy in negotiations with public sector unions may have seemed clever politics to some at the time, but this ignores longstanding imperatives against politicising the ADF and picking on those forbidden to defend the rights all other Australians enjoy.

Finally, no matter whether the remaining below-inflation wage deal is unfair or fiscally necessary or not, four fundamental problems remain.

First, no No Chief of the Defence Force can properly represent both the employer and those employed.

Nor is it either ethical or good leadership in such a two-way-loyalty-based force, subject to statutory discipline, to put them in this situation.

Second, Also the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal needs to be resourced and made independent enough to reject or amend inadequate or otherwise unfair government pay offers.

Third, members of our defence force should not be continually expected to subsidise under-investment by the whole national community in overall defence capabilities, particularly by sacrificing the income their families depend on.

Fourth, we We need to revise the flawed methods of identifying and reaping so-called “productivity savings” in a defence force, especially where this results in proven compensatory entitlements being abolished arbitrarily.

For example, punishing the busiest and most productive parts of the ADF by axing their extra leave — in lieu of overtime for very long hours worked daily — was particularly inept as this is actually a very low-cost productivity-enhancement measure that instead saves the taxpayer money.

Even any notional “costs” reaped would have been cancelled out by the resultant decreases in equity, morale and eventually personnel retention because recruiting and training their replacements would cost much more.


Determining ADF pay fairly means independent representation and a truly independent tribunal

If ADF personnel want to stop further unfair pay determinations they need to join the Defence Force Welfare Association and help the DFWA to represent them independently at the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. The DFRT also needs to be made truly independent.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 06 November 2014
(published Tuesday, 11 November 2014)

John Passant (Letters, November 6) suggests ADF personnel unionise themselves. If only it was so easy.

The last time our defence force was truly unionised was The English army was unionised in 1647 after parliament refused to pay its soldiers for winning the first civil war for them. It did not end well all around.

Since then various Mutiny Acts, and in Australia’s case the 1903 Defence Act, proscribe union-style, but not necessarily other, collective representation in our defence force.

After the Fraser government’s nationwide pay freeze was unfairly extended to only the ADF by the Hawke government for a further two years, the Armed Forces Federation of Australia (ArFFA) was created in 1984 as a “non-strike” professional representative association modelled on the former state police associations that predated modern police unionism.

While ArFFA’s membership crossed all ranks most came from the “coal-face” leadership of sergeant to lieutenant colonel equivalents.

However, the federation collapsed in December 2006, despite 22 years of independently and effectively representing the ADF in pay negotiations, when its membership declined through complacency.

Moreover, while ArFFA’s first president was a brigadier, its last was a flight sergeant, and ArFFA’s demise also represented collective and individual leadership failures by the ADF’s officer corps.

When fielding numerous (misdirected) emails and calls over the last few weeks bewailing the unfairness of the latest ADF pay case, the ADA has asked each interlocutor whether they were once ArFFA members, or now regretted not having supported the federation when they had the chance. Many sheepish admissions have resulted.

If you are a serving or former ADF member learn two lessons.

First, get off your backside and join the (non-union) Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA).

Second, if the ADF is to be the last significant part of the Australian workforce subject to centralised wage fixing — and there is no real alternative — parliament must make the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal truly independent and fair rather than perpetuate the 1647 situation.


Insufficient increase in ADF pay is result of flawed wage determination system for a defence force

Determining ADF pay using commercial or public service productivity measures is as silly as it is unfair. How productive our defence force is, or needs to be, may be difficult to work out at times, but it certainly cannot be measured by inappropriately applying most commercial and public service administrative standards.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 16 October 2014
(published Monday, 20 October 2014)

Rather than relying on sentiment about “shedding blood” as your October 16 editorial alleged ("ADF coffers full, but lower ranks lose"), organisational and community criticism of the well-below inflation pay rise offered to the ADF has instead overwhelmingly focused on the structural faults and inequities of the wage determination process involved.

And of the fundamental unsuitability of trying to apply commercial and APS administrative productivity measures to the training, readiness, warfighting and deterrent activities of a defence force.

Especially one that governments of both political persuasions have committed to four conflicts and numerous other operations since 1999.

Furthermore, while the editorial rightly noted that “Defence had become more complex and top-heavy”, it then wrongly conflated departmental and ADF roles, costs and staffing figures.

Compounded by blindly citing Commission of Audit figures wrongly base-lined as at 2000, rather than 1998, after the 1997 Defence Efficiency Review resulted in a 30 per cent cut to colonel-equivalents and above.

Comparisons made even worse by not noting It was noted that the DER’s commensurate recommendation to cut Defence’s senior civilian staff (EL2 up) by the same percentage has never occurred

Also not acknowledged is that most of the one and two-star ADF increases since 2000 are temporary liaison and co-ordination positions stemming from participation in coalition wars since 2001, are winding back with the various commitments and will never be permanent.

Whereas the much larger real and proportional increases in senior public service positions, including the quadrupling of deputy and associate secretary-equivalents from 4 to 16 have been, with one possible exception, permanent.

An accurate comparison is that the increase in three-star ADF jobs from four to seven includes one temporary position (Operation Sovereign Borders) and the successive splitting of the VCDF’s roles into three jobs resulting from independent reviews of the unsustainable workload of that position.

Finally, the editorial was misleading. It ignored the sustained and savage cuts to largely Defence alone over 2009-13, and wrongly compared the department's 2014 catch-up allocation to cuts in other departments that have largely occurred this year only.



Correct terminology is vital when discussing defence and domestic security issues

Islamist terrorism, for example, must be countered intellectually and correct terminology is part of this effort. Correct terminology prevents confusion by disproving Islamist propaganda that counter-terrorism measures applying to all Australians - and aimed only at the terrorist minority and their sympathisers - are somehow directed instead against only or all Muslims. Using correct terminology also helps counter false claims of legitimacy for any extremist cause generally.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 10 October 2014
(published Tuesday, 14 October 2014) 

The pervasive incorrect nomenclature highlighted by messrs Callaghan and Lee (letters, 8/9 October) is indicative of a much wider problem hampering informed public debate.

When the ADA recently raised the jarring inaccuracy of “fighter jets” with relevant ABC staff we were told the public understood this term and would not understand “jet-fighters” or “strike aircraft”.

My observation that, given its Charter, surely the ABC should instead help educate the public in this regard was met with indifference.

Part of the problem is sloppy (or biased) media use of “fighters” and “militants” to describe militiamen/troops and terrorists respectively.

The basis of the problem is that most reporting of defence, security and intelligence matters is now by generalist journalists and columnists, rather than by specialists — as usually occurs with business, science, economics, etc, topics.

Together with the incessant demands of the 24-hour media cycle, incorrect fads easily become prevailing terminology.

A prevalent example where this is actually dangerous, as well as dumb, is where ASIO is wrongly described as a “spy” agency.

This particular habitual and thoughtless usage causes unnecessary unease, and often worse, about the security-intelligence function necessary in any liberal democracy and the public co-operation with ASIO needed to protect the community generally.   



Islamic community leaders must stop denying the basis for Islamist terrorism and stop blaming the victim

Blaming the victim - the Australian community generally - by scattergun allegations of supposed "Islamophobia" is surely the last refuge of scoundrels. Leaders of Australia's Islamic community, and many Australian Muslims generally, need to stop blaming their fellow Australians under actual attack from Islamist terrorism. They need to focus instead on the denial and equivocation prevalent among so many Muslims as to why Islamist terrorism is occurring and the basis the Islamists claim for their terrorism in Islamic theology (no matter how incorrect or bigoted such interpretations are).


Letter to The Canberra Times
Monday, 25 August 2014
(published Wednesday, 27 August 2014) 

Several claims made in the article “Muslims feel pain of association with horrors abroad”, August 23, p.4, seem to reverse objective reality. 

Since the early 2000s, for example, no respected Islamic theologian has ever queried the Australia Defence Association's use of “Islamist” to preserve the necessary distinction between mainstream Islamic practice, and propaganda or worse by Islamist terrorists and their apologists. 

To the contrary, our consistent usage of “Islamist” has invariably been well received by mainstream and informed Australian Muslims. 

As has our longstanding criticism of those who sloppily refer to Islamic or jihadi terrorism, or those referring to the terrorist organisation “Islamic State” without using the prefixes “so-called” or “self-described”. 

(Jihadi should not be used to describe terrorism undertaken because of religious bigotry rather than theologically sound beliefs about purely spiritual renewal). 

But it did take a very long time for many Islamic community leaders, and indeed the community as a whole, to always condemn terrorism carried out by professed Muslims supposedly in Islam’s name. 

Moreover, recent mutations of such denial continue to smack of blaming the victim — and even then only for their alleged words — rather than the terrorist perpetrators for their actions. 

Over the last decade and a half over 100 Australians of several religions have been murdered by Islamist terrorists. 

Yet not a single Australian Muslim has been murdered by religious or other bigotry except when killed by Islamists. 

The resilience and tolerance of the Australian community is to be admired, not misrepresented. 

Indeed, to paraphrase Dr Johnson, scattergun allegations of Islamophobia seem to have become the last refuge of scoundrels.


Defence investment should not and does not divert funding from other high-priority national needs

Informed public debate on defence issues is again being side-tracked by polemics based only on ideology and emotion. Once again, extreme Left-wing micro-groups, such as the so-called "Medical Association for Prevention of War", refuse to debate the actual issues, conceptual frameworks or arguments raised, and resort instead to just red-herring and straw-man arguments.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 08 May 2014
(published Monday, 10 May 2014) 

By ignoring that Paul Ronald’s claim that F-35 funding supposedly outweighs foreign aid is actually the exact opposite of the annual budgeting really involved, Sue Wareham (Letters, May 8) seems to prove my point about ideological myopia’s ability to mar informed public debate.

Moreover, using Sue’s odd reasoning, any budget funds spent on higher priorities than foreign aid — such as the 60 per cent share expended in social security, health and education or the six per cent on defence — wrongly detract from such aid.

Finally, when trying to answer my point about synergies between Australia’s military and development aid efforts in helping establish the overall conditions necessary for socio-economic progress, Sue may have been confused by the Canberra Times unfortunately editing out the full list of: “South Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Somalia, Cambodia, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga and Afghanistan, and in a long-term context, even less successful attempts to help in South Vietnam and perhaps Iraq.”

And despite their many continuing problems, and mistakes undoubtedly made during the UN-endorsed multinational military efforts to help them, even in Iraq and Afghanistan independent opinion-polling regularly confirms that, on balance, substantial majorities remain thankful for such assistance.


Defence investment is also foreign aid

A foreign aid charity has absurdly reversed the annual comparative costs of foreign aid and the F-35 fighter. Such apples and oranges polemics do not contribute to informed public debate. Moreover, there is no contradiction or zero-sum game anyway between national investment in both defence capabilities and development assistance to other countries. Both contribute to Australia's strategic security, regional strategic stability and the implementation of our moral ideals and practical help.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Monday, 05 May 2014
(published Wednesday, 07 May 2014) 

Paul Ronalds (“Boost aid not defence - and we all reap the rewards”, Times2, May 5, p4) offers an invalid and unnecessary apples and oranges polemic in trying to compare the 30-year lifecycle investment for the F-35 fighter with our annual foreign aid allocation.

The annual cost of the fighters over three decades will be under $1 billion (in today’s dollars), not the supposed five times the yearly aid budget Paul wrongly claims.

Indeed our annual aid budget of $5 billion or so is instead five times the yearly cost of the fighters’ long-term contribution to Australian and regional strategic security.

Moreover, military assistance to help liberate or protect vulnerable peoples and societies remains one of Australia’s most noble and practical foreign aid contributions over the long term anyway.

And as Anzac Day again reminds us, such help cannot and should not be measured in just monetary, bureaucratic or other short-timescale terms.

Just ask, for example, people from South Korea, Malaysia, Namibia, Somalia, Cambodia, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga and Afghanistan.

And in a long-term context, even about less successful attempts to help in South Vietnam and perhaps Iraq.

Our defence budget also covers Australia’s proud record of international aid through military contributions to multinational peacekeeping globally and to regional disaster relief specifically.

Informed debate recognises preserving long-term strategic security at home and regionally, and offering development aid to other countries, are the opposite of mutually exclusive responsibilities or ideals.

Informed debate also uses facts and objective contexts, not emotion or ideology.


Cognitive dissonance or worse?

Only cognitive dissonance, ignorance or polemics can explain invalid claims that defence investment somehow threatens people's pensions, healthcare or education. The accompanying false assumption that necessarily long-term focused defence investment can or should be substantially turned on and off, year by year, depending on the temporary economic circumstances (and subjective short-term wants) of individual voters, is just as dangerous. Both inter-generational equity (financially and with strategic security) and ADF operational efficiency are instead maximised by sustaining defence investment each year, even at a lower level over the long term, to insure Australia properly against general strategic security risk over the next half-century.


Letter to The Age
Wednesday, 30 April 2014
(not published) 

The cognitive dissonance encapsulated in Petty’s cartoon about the F-35 fighter project (April 28) unfortunately exemplifies a widespread and serious public policy development problem.

Defence, a wholly federal responsibility, comprises just over six per cent of the Commonwealth budget and has already been savagely and continually slashed over recent years. Hence its quarantining from further cuts.

But health, education and social security spending comprises over 60 per cent of the federal budget and has kept growing, well ahead of the inflation rate, for generations.

Moreover, overall spending nationally in these three areas is further boosted significantly by the states and territories

Another perspective is that, using 2014 dollars, long-term investment in purchasing and operating our updated fighter force will amortise out at around one billion a year over their 3-4 decade lifecycle.

Whereas national spending on social security alone will be at least one billion dollars every week of every year over the same period.

Finally, while no-one’s healthcare, pension or education is affected by the necessary maintenance of national defence infrastructure – except in the sense that it helps preserve them – adequate strategic security for our children and grandchildren is being risked, and inter-generational equity comprised, by the obvious budgetary imbalances being caused by ever-increasing spending elsewhere.

Particularly by us not investing our fair share, now, in Australia’s defence infrastructure for the next half-century.


Moaning about the likely personal effect of this year's budget whilst not hesitating to inflict inter-generational inequity on our descendants

The odd view that defence investment can or should be substantially turned on and off, year by year, depending on the temporary economic circumstances (and subjective wants) of individual voters, is skewing objective consideration and debate concerning current budgetary priorities. Surely it is better for the nation as a whole to instead maximise both inter-generational equity (financially and with strategic risk) and ADF operational efficiency. Especially by sustaining such investment each year, even at a lower level over the long term, to insure Australia properly against general strategic security risk over the next half-century.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Monday, 28 April 2014
(not published) 

Our national defence capabilities help insure us all against general strategic risks over the next half-century. Not just for this budget cycle or the next few.

Concern about the impending budget, however, tends to ignore that adequate and sustained investment in our defence is not somehow discretionary.

As it isn’t discretionary for sustaining other national infrastructure essential to our whole way of life.

Moreover, updating ADF kit as it wears out also helps deter strategic risks as well as handle them directly.

And for those with memory failure of our strategic history so soon after Anzac Day, ensuring the ADF has modern kit helps minimise danger to the men and women who have to use it the next time we deploy them to buy time while the rest of us get organised again from “peacetime”.

Yet Debbie Cameron, Letters April 28, oddly cites even “our ABC” as somehow a higher national priority than adequate defence investment.

While John Davenport, same day, appeals to the ballot box on behalf of the vulnerability of older Australians, but ironically misses the far greater inter-generational inequity and overall community vulnerability his viewpoint risks.

The main reason defence investment, alone, has already been so savagely and selfishly cut in recent years is because those Australians most risked by it over the next four or so decades — our children and grandchildren — don’t get to vote now to stop our short-sighted “me-centric” complacency.

And particularly to make us contribute our fair share now of the sustained investment needed, not inflict even greater costs on them.




Flawed debate on joint strike fighter

Given government warnings of a tough budget, the timing of the decision to purchase more JSFs has sparked much uninformed criticism. Especially from those who ignore that defence investment is essential, not discretionary, and is anyway dwarfed by the eight-fold higher national spending on social security, health and education. Critics are also ignoring that defence is the only major area of government spending that is wholly funded federally, making such huge differences in national funding even starker.


Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Friday, 25 April 2014 (Anzac Day)
(published Tuesday, 29 April 2014)

Despite historical lessons that Anzac Day of all days emphasises about inadequate air combat capabilities, many still apparently misunderstand the plan to update Australia’s future capacity.

While the Australia Defence Association has long noted concerns about the F-35 joint strike fighter, the way it has been developed and the cost, it is now — however unfortunately — the only available option strategically, tactically, technologically and commercially.

That Australia and our allies should not let this situation happen ever again is irrelevant to managing the risks and costs now involved.

As is the invalid assumption that maintaining adequate defence capabilities for the long-term is somehow a discretionary choice.

Either generally or when fiscal conditions are temporarily tough.

Such capabilities instead remain essential national infrastructure to insure against general strategic risk well into our future.

Even more mistaken, intellectually and practically, is the flawed assumption that such long-term de-risking can and should instead be based only on supposed specific “threats”, or their absence, as some perceive them now.

And the even sillier notion that a large island-continent country in a strategically uncertain, and perhaps volatile, region over the next half-century can somehow forego having an effective air force.     

There is also a failure to acknowledge that our strategic environment geographically, demographically and economically means we have to continue cancelling out such enduring disadvantages partly by maintaining capability edges regionally.  

Clearly, no-one’s pension, health care or education is affected by the JSF decision. Except, of course, that it will help preserve continued provision of them.

The costs of the JSF have already been factored into long-term investment programming, will be amortised over three or so decades anyway, and the aircraft’s lifecycle is likely to be three decades or more.

Just as the F111 served for 42 years and the outgoing FA-18 will last around 40 years.

Finally, more F-18F Super-Hornets are not a viable alternative over the long-run operationally, technologically or financially.


Our Army must be equipped for modern warfare against other armies, not just guerillas

The notion that our Army somehow does not need modern equipment is being dishonestly and immorally regurgitated by those who ignore recent and other operational lessons. It particularly avoids objective analysis of the ADF's hard-won recent experiences in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also ignores commensurate objective analysis of Australia's future strategic risks and responsibilities over a largely unpredictable future. It is also worth noting that the principal proponents of the light-scales army notion are retired Department of Defence officials whose flawed theorising and policymaking throughout the 1980s and 1990s resulted in the ADF eventually having to deploy to East Timor so unprepared in 1999.


Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Thursday, 06 March 2014
(published Monday, 10 March 2014)

The AFR defence supplement brought yet another fact and context-free ahistoric rant from Geoff Barker.

In reference to the article in the defence supplement by Geoffrey Barker ("Army leaders crusade for $10bn-plus vehicle upgrade", AFR March 6). 

Our Army’s two armoured fighting vehicles that carry and protect troops were introduced in the mid 1960s (M113) and early 1990s (ASLAV).

The project to replace the M113 was cancelled in 1987.

– and via the very long-retired Defence bureaucrats Geoff credulously lauds.

Even with an eventual compromise upgrade to only half of them, none could be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years because they are no longer capable of modern battle, especially against a real opposing army.

Yet Geoff oddly demands to know just what specific enemy the Army would have to fight in the future before he can entertain replacing such obsolete vehicles.

His straw-man is also disproved by applying it, just as wrongly, to naval and air capability requirements.

Moreover, in Iraq and Afghanistan we lost many of our ASLAVs, and (newer) Bushmaster armoured trucks, even when fighting a low-intensity war against guerrillas.

Australia faces an unpredictable long-term future strategically.

Not re-equipping our diggers with medium-scale modern weapons, so they could fight another army if needed, is stupid, callous and immoral.

We do not need the straw-man heavy armoured force that Geoff incorrectly ascribes to ADF planners, but neither can we go back to the failed light-scales “field gendarmerie” model — of Geoff’s “advisers” —  that made East Timor such a close-run thing and risked lives unnecessarily.

Geoff is merely regurgitating the type of armchair prejudices that claimed, throughout the 1930s, that the Japanese were somehow incapable of operating modern equipment.

And which resulted in so many of our under-equipped diggers being killed because they had no armoured vehicles at all when the Japanese ably employed hundreds of them in conquering Malaya.


Cuts to US defence spending puts greater onus on allies

Projected cuts to US defence spending puts an even greater onus on allied burdensharing. As we are in a healthier economic and fiscal position than the US, we should help pick up the strategic security slack.


Letter to The Age
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
(not published)

Your February 26 editorial rightly noted the impact of projected US defence cuts on the responsibility of other countries to help maintain global strategic stability and the influence of the rule-of-law in international relations.

Moreover, the time to help mates is when they most need it. Especially when your economic and fiscal situations are healthier.

This was particularly ignored by the previous defence minister, Stephen Smith, who oddly cited US and European cuts as somehow an excuse to slash Australia’s defence investment to pre-WWII levels.

A policy adopted solely for political expedience, contrary to the national interest, during bitter leadership rivalry within the ALP.

And one duly opposed by his respected predecessor as Labor defence minister, John Faulkner, as indeed it was and is by MPs of all parties who understand strategic security issues.

Since 1788 our enduring geo-strategic reality is that a middling-power island-continent country totally dependent on uninhibited seaborne trade will always need to seek strategic security alliances with fellow maritime powers.

Particularly where there is a shared commitment to global stability and opposition to authoritarian regimes who do not respect the rule-of-law domestically or internationally.


"Anzac's long shadow" by James Brown

James Brown's new book has provoked knee-jerk reactions. It should be provoking considered thought. Every Australian shares a universal civic responsibility to concern themselves seriously with strategic security and defence issues. Instead, many only think about defence issues on Anzac Day and then only in an historical sense, and even then mostly via ahistoric misunderstandings and mythology.


Letter to The Australian
Friday, 14 February 2014
(not published)

Controversy thus far over the thrust of James Brown’s book, “Anzac’s Long Shadow”, has unfortunately been simplistic or sensationalised.

No-one is objecting to perpetual due commemoration of the substantial wartime sacrifices made to preserve our national sovereignty.

Nor to due acknowledgment of the 100th anniversary of “the landing” at Anzac Cove.

But, as James’ subtitle aptly notes, there have been great and enduring costs to our national obsession with the Anzacs.

Not least that the degree of attention given to “Anzac” is now surely diverting due national care for the long-term plight of ill and disabled war veterans of all ages.

Moreover, ahistoric cultural mythology about, say, “unnecessary", "avoidable" or "foreign" wars, or all Aussies somehow being “natural super-soldiers”, detrimentally affects how we really need to think about Australia’s actual and enduring geo-strategic situation.

Especially as — just as it did in 1914 — we still inhabit an island-continent where our whole-way-of-life and sovereign freedom of action is totally dependent on uninhibited seaborne trade via a rules-based international system that works globally.

And where inter-generational equity also means we should not continue risking the strategic security of future Australians, and dumping additional costs on them, by not providing our share now of the sustained investment in defence capabilities needed as essential (not discretionary) national infrastructure.

We need to think carefully about our strategic security every day. Not just in only historical terms and only on the famed “one day of the year”.

Particularly where that focus is actually often ahistoric. Especially about the true, and largely enduring, strategic context of our past wars.



Chinese naval exercises south of Indonesia

Recent Chinese naval exercises south of Indonesia need to be kept in perspective. It is peacetime, the exercise was in international waters, the number and type of ships involved indicated a limited capacity to operate in the area, and Australia was easily able to monitor such an exercise anyway. Such activities, at worst, demonstrate some potential, and increased, strategic risk over the long term, but one that can be deterred or countered if necessary. They do not constitute a specific "threat" to Australia's stategic security now.


Letter to The Australian
Thursday, 13 February 2014
(not published)

Robert Bond’s “desperately needed” response to Chinese naval exercises south of Indonesia (letters, 12/2) ignores existing ADF bases and dispositions — and the oceanographic constraints of northern Australia coasts and waters.

Even assuming we need to respond so strongly to such limited, and peacetime, exercises in international waters as supposedly “unannounced intrusions”.

Robert misses that the RAAF already has the bases at Weipa and Exmouth he oddly calls for. And one more suitably located near Derby, rather than his Broome.

Even ignoring the necessary civil engineering and logistic infrastructure, there are also no suitable deep-water harbours between Perth and Darwin (and then Sydney) in which to locate a major fleet base.

And few spots for even limited naval facilities capable of supporting more than peacetime patrolling.

There are certainly no harbours with the necessary immediate access to oceanic deep water for his suggested “nuclear-powered attack submarines” (or indeed other types).

Moreover, the very shallow Gulf of Carpentaria south of a line Gove-Weipa, for example, is quite unsuitable for any type of submarine operations, especially in daylight.

Most importantly, Robert misses the strategic and operational distinctions between basing, dispositions, mobility and the ADF’s capacity to monitor, operate in and defend any area without needing to live there 24/7.

Finally, glancing at a map (or weapons marketing brochures) surely provides no sound basis to study Australia’s unusual strategic security challenges.


Vale Bill Pritchett

As well as a noted former diplomat and respected Secretary of the Department of Defence (1979-84), Bill has been much valued member of the ADA for many years.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 07 February 2014
(not published)

Further to Bob Furlonger’s comprehensive obituary of Bill Pritchett (February 7).

Bill was that perhaps rare diplomat (or bureaucrat) who, to his bootstraps, thoroughly understood that strategic security entailed more than diplomacy or international relations theory.

Including the importance of demonstrating enduring national will by integrated moral, diplomatic and military means.

Throughout 1975, as the relevant first-assistant secretary in the Department of Defence, Bill — almost alone among senior officials — argued logically against Australia acquiescing to Indonesia’s forcible incorporation of East Timor.

And against the prevalent appeasement mythology in diplomatic and (prime) ministerial circles underlying the push for it.

He accurately foresaw that such an Indonesian conquest would greatly worsen Australia-Indonesia relations for a generation or more and that it would eventually need reversing anyway.

Acknowledging the high risk that this would probably require Australian-led military action of some sort, he further advised that the sooner this occurred the better for both countries over the long run.

As Defence’s Secretary for 4½  years from 1979, Bill also did much to ameliorate the poisonous departmental culture in Public Service – military relations propagated during his predecessor’s reign of terror.

On a personal note, for over a decade the ADA has greatly valued Bill’s counsel as the doyen of the retired Secretaries among our membership.

When he rang to renew this year’s subscription Bill remarked that the August expiry date of his credit card would probably outlast him. Sadly, at 93, it has.


Defence investment: No further room to cut, let alone slash

The Grattan Institute needs to do its homework. Suggesting defence investment could somehow be slashed by 12 per cent is economically invalid and strategically irresponsible. Not least because our defence capabilities are the only major area of government to already have been slashed.


Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Thursday, 16 January 2014
(not published)

Cassie McGannon (“the $40bn question: where will the money come from", January 16) exemplifies the flawed assumptions and conclusions that bedevil supposed analysis of Australia’s structural budget deficit by Left and Right-wing pseudo-“thinktanks”.

Defence investment has already been cut by more than her suggested 12 per cent over recent years.

Even more importantly, defence is the only major area of national expenditure to already be substantially slashed.

Moreover, unlike social security, health and education, defence is the only major government responsibility where total national funding is purely federal so the effect of Commonwealth cuts is absolute.

Cutting defence by even a further few per cent is not possible without inflicting serious damage now and much greater economic costs and strategic risk for future Australians in repairing the damage over the long term.

Defence capabilities are essential national infrastructure underlying Australia’s future prosperity and strategic freedom of action in all aspects.

Not somehow a magic pudding for plunder when ideological biases and political expediency make cutting discretionary spending on middle-class and corporate welfare too hard to even contemplate, let alone pursue.


ASIO: Documentary and commentary lacks balance

The documentary selectively showing ASIO surveillance footage from the 1960s and 1970s has excited much commentary. Much of this, however, has ignored the film's historiographical flaws, flawed assumptions and unbalanced analysis.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Monday, 06 January 2014
(published Wednesday, 08 January 2014)

Even excluding apparent ideological biases, Rick Fenely (“ASIO’s all-seeing eye”, January 4) and several subsequent letters have fallen into common historiographical traps.

Depicting all security-intelligence monitoring of foreign spies and domestic political extremists as somehow unwarranted ignores the context of the times — and current reality.

And the enduring constitutional legitimacy of liberal-democracies monitoring domestic extremism, especially where it includes co-operation with foreign dictatorships posing strategic security threats.

Such depictions also suffer from the “condescension of posterity” by ignoring that only now can we confirm that the then monitoring of some individuals may have been unnecessary — as the unavoidable but passing byproduct of monitoring inter-actions with foreign diplomatic missions actively running major espionage and subversion operations in Australia.

Another flaw is “presentism”, the projecting of current values and beliefs into the past when trying to explore motivations and contexts that bear little or no correlation with them.

It seems the documentary on ASIO and much commentary have concentrated on only a few celebrities rather than the range of people, extremist activities and foreign contacts involved.

Moreover, most security-intelligence “files” actually act to clear people through prophylactic recording, or legitimate checking, of potential vulnerabilities or false allegations.

Finally, there are the purported trends in ASIO funding and staffing that dishonestly quote figures from only 2001 onwards.

These ignore the substantial base-line cuts to both throughout the 1990s as a supposed post-Cold War “peace dividend” was mistakenly extracted — as post-Bali experience now proves.

Such biases are exemplified by the fashionable but surely invalid belief that an active engagement with far-Left and often violent ideologies at some stage in your life can be airily dismissed as having no personal consequences or intellectual meaning, then or now.

But even “youthful” involvement with far-Right ones should somehow still earn perpetual condemnation and retain meaning.

Despite the far-Left’s much wider incidence of extremist political violence, intimidation and subversive or worse co-operation with hostile foreign dictatorships throughout the 1925-1991 period.


Letters: 2013

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2013.

Letters: 2012

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2012.

Letters: 2011

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2011.

Letters: 2010

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2010.

Letters: 2009

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2009.

Letters: 2008

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2008.

Letters: 2007

This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2007.

Back to Commentary