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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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 an international system that works globally.
And where inter-generational equity also means we should not continue risking the strategic security of future Australians, 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2013.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2012.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2011.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2010.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2009.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2008.
This archive contains letters-to-the-editor submitted by the Australia Defence Association between 01 January and 31 December 2007.