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 It records what we actually noted at the time, even if the letter was unpublished or our views were unduly summarised, misquoted or misrepresented in the media or elsewhere.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

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