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 It records what we actually noted at the time, even if the letter was unpublished or our views were unduly summarised, misquoted or misrepresented in the media or elsewhere.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

 

 

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.

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