Frequently-asked-questions about the Australia Defence Association

Comprehensive answers to commonplace questions about the Australia Defence Association and its public-interest watchdog role, responsibilities and activities

ADA public-interest watchdog role

Who are we?

Since 1975 the ADA has been Australia’s only truly independent, actively non-partisan, community-based, public-interest watchdog organisation and ‘think-tank’ on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues.

The reasons we came together as an independent, community-based, public-interest watchdog (and our history since then) can be found here.

Our primary mission is to represent the long-term public interest in helping ensure Australia is strategically secure and adequately defended.

The objects of the ADA are explained and codified in articles 6-7 of our constitution.

The ADA's public-interest guardianship focus covers the responsibilities, capabilities, efficiency and accountability of the governmental organs and agencies responsible for Australia's strategic security, defence and wider national security.

In the broadest sense this means the Australian government as a whole. It particularly includes the Department of Defence, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Australia's six intelligence and security agencies.

Our public-interest guardianship role can best be compared to the independent, non-partisan, national community watchdogs monitoring other important areas of national governance and public administration.

The best comparisons are:

  • Taxpayers Australia (previously the Australian Taxpayers Association) in revenue effectiveness and taxation equity matters;
  • the Australian Consumers Association (Choice) in consumer protection matters;
  • the National Trust in heritage protection and preservation matters; and
  • the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) in environmental protection matters.

To fulfil our primary mission we seek to assist informed public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues.

This includes our efforts to balance and help counter the inevitable ideological, political or sectional biases often prominent in such debates. We also seek to help public debate strike an informed and practical balance between potentially competing public finance, community security and civil liberties requirements.

We are not the representative professional body for the defence force. Nor are we an ex-Service organisation representing former ADF members or war veterans. We are also not a defence industry body. This is explained further in the answers to several questions below.

We are entirely independent of the Australian Government, the defence force or indeed any other government or private body. This is also explained further below.

 

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What do we do?

Our primary mission is to represent the long-term public interest in helping ensure Australia is strategically secure and adequately defended.

Our secondary mission is to represent the long-term public interest by helping Australian governments to tackle their wider national security responsibilities holistically and adequately.

We believe that a vigorous, healthy and informed public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues is a vital component of Australian democratic society — including an informed, appropriate and practical balance between potentially competing public finance, community security and civil liberties requirements.

How we try to represent the long-term public interest is explained in the detailed answers in this section.

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What do we believe?

We believe in implementing three key principles concerning Australia's strategic and domestic security:

  • Our common defence and strategic security is the first responsibility of any Australian government.
  • Ensuring our common defence is also a universal civic responsibility of all Australians. Not just, for example, current or former members of our defence force. At the very least we all need to think about it seriously.
  • National unity, economic strength, free speech and robust public debate are essential components of Australia's national security.

As a community-based, non-partisan, national public-interest guardian organisation — with an independent and long-term perspective — we therefore seek the development and implementation of national security structures, processes and policies encompassing:

  • an accountable, integrated and flexible structure for making strategic security, defence and wider national security decisions over the long term;
  • a practical and effective balance between potentially competing needs for civil liberties and community security;
  • intellectually and professionally robust means of continually assessing Australia's external strategic and domestic security situations;
  • the sustained allocation of adequate national resources to all our strategic security, defence and wider national security needs according to such means (rather than tailoring supposed "assessments" to the funding levels, bureaucratic fashions and partisan policies thought to be acceptable politically);
  • integrated and deterrent defence and national security strategies based on the protection and support of our enduring national interests;
  • the development and maintenance of an adequate defence force capable of executing the defence aspects of such a national strategy; and
  • the development and maintenance of manufacturing and service industries capable of developing and sustaining defence force capabilities and operations.
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Why is the ADA needed as a public-interest watchdog?

National defence is the first responsibility of any government

National defence is one of the three key roles of government traditionally (along with ensuring a sound currency and public law and order).

It is commonly described as the first responsibility of government and is a matter requiring long-term planning and sustained national investment.

In Australia’s democratic pluralist society, however, defence and wider national security matters are too often ignored or subsumed by shorter-term and often much less important issues that many of our politicians believe to be of more immediate economic and social concern to voters.

No matter how transitory the voter interest or how politically expedient, at the cost of good governance, these other issues might be in contrast to the long-term importance of national defence matters.

Few Australians change their vote on a defence issue alone.

Rather than appropriately focus on our national defence as a long-term national governance responsibility, the usually minimal electoral benefits of taking defence issues seriously means political attention and consequently the funding allocated tends to chase votes elsewhere.

Recurring complacency and neglect

This recurring comparative neglect of national security and disregard for the ensuing long-term consequences is exacerbated by the short-term and/or party-political focus of too many Australian politicians, opinion makers and media commentators.

It is also a result of the trend for many, probably most, Australians to be inadequately aware of defence matters — and/or ignore them until it is too late to remedy the long-term complacency or neglect before a crisis occurs.

The history, underlying causes and long-term effects of this overall situation are discussed in more detail here.

Informed debate helps reverse neglect

As a public-interest watchdog organisation with a long-term focus we believe that effective public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues requires active input from more than the official and political sources involved in parliamentary, departmental and other governmental processes.

This is especially so where genuine public consultations are usually non-existent or peremptory, and knowledge of such discussions or wider consultations is often filtered through, misunderstood or poorly interpreted by the generalist mass media anyway.

Moreover, the conceptual and practical problems of defending our country and securing its national interests do not miraculously disappear if ignored; indeed the reverse generally happens.

Defence is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians

Nor are the problems of defending Australia and securing our national interests somehow someone else's responsibility.

How we should and can defend Australia and our interests is instead a matter for all Australians and a fundamental responsibility of Australian citizenship.

As well as governmental sources, proper public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues also needs informed and regular input from:

  • academia (including university-based and public think-tanks specialising in defence, strategic studies, foreign policy, industrial development, legal and related matters);
  • profession-based sources such as the Institute of Engineers and the Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers, and key specialist profession-based think-tanks such as the Navy's Sea Power Centre, the Army's Land Warfare Studies Centre and the Air Force's Air Power Development Centre; and
  • the Australian people as a whole, including (among many other inputs) our independent, non-partisan, contributions focused on presenting and protecting the long-term public interest from the often short-term views and perspectives, or the sectional biases or single-issue stances, of many, perhaps most, other contributors.

 

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How does the ADA contribute to informed public debate?

Since our foundation in 1975 we have sought to fulfil our long-term public-interest guardianship role in informed public debate by:

  • undertaking research independently and with a long-term focus;
  • public-interest monitoring of Australian national security policy and its execution by our governments;
  • raising public awareness of strategic security, defence and wider national security matters so they are not forgotten, downgraded or misrepresented in the hurly burly of Australian politics and public debate;
  • conducting public seminars, meetings and other educational activities to publicise and discuss major issues (including those conducted locally by ADA Chapters around Australia);
  • publishing comprehensive discussion papers and commentary on national security issues, including an electronic bulletin, Defence Brief, and a national journal, Defender;
  • maintaining a comprehensive website and blog on the World-Wide-Web at www.ada.asn.au;
  • providing articles, interviews and other informed and independent comment on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues to mainstream and social media outlets, academia and the general public;
  • contributing to major public, academic and professional debates, conferences and seminars on such issues;
  • making submissions (often by invitation) to official and parliamentary inquiries, especially those conducted by (all-party) federal parliamentary oversight bodies such as the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS);
  • providing advice, proposals and submissions to the Government, Opposition parties, the defence force, the Department of Defence, other federal and state departments and agencies, and Australian industry and commerce; and
  • acting as a neutral broker for the conduct of policy development workshops by registered political parties reviewing their policies on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues.

 

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ADA membership

Who joins the ADA?

Defending Australia is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians. It is not, for example, just the responsibility of serving or former members of our defence force. All Australians need to think about how we can be best defended and how our government should organise, resource and sustain this fundamental national responsibility.

We are therefore a broadly community-based organisation. Most of our members have never served in our defence force (although many have).

Our members are spread across all states and mainland territories and come from a wide range of ages, occupations and backgrounds. The main thing that motivates Australians to join the ADA is a belief in the importance of Australia adequately providing for its external defence and internal security.

Another thing we share in common is recognition of the importance of an informed and vibrant public debate on defence and wider national security issues (including domestic security and associated civil liberties). Finally, ADA members do not believe that thinking about our common defence is somehow someone else's responsibility and they act on that belief.

As we are a community-based organisation most of our members have never served in the defence force, nor with one of our intelligence or security agencies or a police force (although many have). Our membership does include many war veterans of all ranks, but the incorrect and invalid assumption that national defence is, or should only be, of interest to such veterans alone (and therefore somehow not a universal civic responsibility of all Australians) is discussed below.

As well as Australians from all walks of life our members also include those with significant experience or a strong interest in defence and wider national security issues such as:

  • former ministers for defence, former attorneys-general and other ministers from both sides of politics;
  • serving and former senators and members of federal parliament from both sides of politics;
  • serving and former ministers and members of state and territory parliaments (again from both sides of politics);
  • retired Chiefs of the Defence Force, Navy, Army and Air Force; · serving and retired members of all ranks from all three Services and the various intelligence and security agencies;
  • former Secretaries of the Department of Defence and other departments;
  • former heads and senior members of Australian intelligence and security agencies; and
  • current and retired government officials, diplomats, academics and scientists with an interest in defence and wider national security matters.

The Australian Defence Force, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Public Service and all the Australian political parties represented in federal parliament place no restriction on ADA membership. The provisions of the Defence Act, the Intelligence Services Act or the Public Service Act also do not preclude ADA membership.

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Why should I join the ADA?

Defence is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians.

You should join the ADA in particular if you believe that our defences against external threats, or our vulnerability to internal ones, are not receiving enough attention or a balanced approach from our government, the parliamentary opposition and your fellow Australians generally.

You should also join the ADA if you believe that a vigorous, healthy and informed public debate on national security issues is a vital component of Australian democratic society. Including an informed, appropriate and practical balance between potentially competing community security, civil liberties and budgetary requirements.

The intellectual integrity of public debate on defence and wider national security issues greatly depends on real participation by as many conscientious, informed and civic-minded Australian citizens as possible.

 At times, some of our members may not always necessarily agree with our stance on every issue — as would be expected in any broadly constituted community organisation — but we do all agree on the importance of an informed and robust national security debate overall.

Our members are the type of public-spirited Australians who are not content to just sit back and let the common burden of defining, planning and supporting our defence and wider national security efforts be entrusted to governments alone or borne by only some of our fellow citizens (such as defence force members and their families).

Nor do we think such a situation is ideal in a democratic society. You should also join the ADA if you feel the need to increase your understanding and knowledge concerning defence and wider national security matters, or wish to assist in raising the awareness of such matters among your fellow Australians.

You should join the ADA in particular because it is the only truly independent and non-partisan community watchdog devoted to defence and wider national security issues in the broadest sense.

The ADA is also the only public-interest group that approaches national security matters from a broad, national and objective perspective.

Our national security partly depends on the ADA being an effective and non-partisan advocate and guardian of the long-term public interest and the Association depends primarily on the participation and financial support of its members to sustain its operations.

Finally, you may at first feel no apparent need to join the ADA because you already belong to an organisation with some actual, nominal or purported interest in national security, defence or related issues and think this might be enough of a personal commitment to furthering informed discussion of defence issues in public debate.

If this is the case, please read the FAQ what makes the ADA different from other public organisations with some interest in defence, wider national security and related issues, as the ADA's role and reputation are clearly unique in this regard.

 

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How do I join the ADA?

The electronic application form to join the ADA may be found here.

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How does my organisation join the ADA?

The electronic application form for ADA corporate membership may be found here.

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How does my organisation subscribe to ADA publications?

The electronic subscription form for corporate, library, club, mess or other institutional subscription to ADA publications may be found here

This type of subscription is not available to individuals as both Defender and Defence Brief are provided instead as part of each ADA Fellowship.

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ADA structure, processes and governance

How is the ADA structured as a public-interest watchdog?

The ADA is a nationally-focused, community-based, independent, public-interest watchdog organisation and 'think-tank'.

 

Membership

Membership is open to all Australians concerned about our defence and wider national security — and especially with an effective and informed public debate on such matters.

 Most of our members, however, have never served with our defence force or one of our intelligence or security agencies (although many have).

As a community-based national organisation there are two categories of individual membership: ADA Fellows and Associate Members.

Applicants choose their level of membership commitment and agree to the associated responsibilities when joining or subsequently upgrading their participation.

 

Organisational structure

As with all truly independent 'think-tanks' and most national-level public-interest watchdog organisations, for transparency and accountability purposes our corporate administrative structure is formally organised as a not-for-profit public company limited by guarantee under the Corporations Act, 2001.

Our constitution may be found here.

The Association's guarantors are all leading ADA members and include:

  • balanced numbers of former senators and former members of parliament from both sides of politics (including former Ministers for Defence and attorneys-general from both sides);
  • balanced numbers of senior figures from the commercial world and leading trade unionists;
  • respected academics in international relations, strategic studies, defence studies, international law, history and related disciplines; and
  • former defence force members, public servants, diplomats, intelligence officers and scientists with a continuing professional or intellectual interest in their respective areas of expertise.

The guarantors also include a cross-section of Australians from all walks of life to preserve a broad national balance and appropriate geographic representation across Australia.

As with many public bodies in Australia we were originally established and organised as a federation of state and territory branches but all members now belong to the national body directly.

In most major cities and some larger towns the ADA has chartered local chapters so members (if they wish to do so) can gather together for information meetings and similar activities.

Chapters also assist the Association to co-ordinate volunteers and action for the ADA's research, public advocacy, public education and other public-interest guardianship efforts.

Chapter meetings are generally held quarterly, and are invariably open to the public, although a nominal fee may be levied to defray venue rental, catering or other costs.

 

Policy-making and implementation

The broad policies and strategies of the Association are set by the membership. The programs to implement them are supervised by a board of directors elected at our annual general meeting as specified in our constitution.

Day-to-day activities to fulfil these programs are the responsibility of the executive director appointed by, and responsible to, our board of directors.

The board also appoints the editor and editorial board of our respected national journal, Defender, and approves all our submissions to parliamentary and official inquiries.

To ensure consistency, transparency and accountability, only the executive director of the ADA is authorised to speak (on or off the record) on behalf of the Association (with another director authorised to do so by the board of directors if the executive director is unavailable).

 

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Who are the ADA board of directors?

The Board of Directors page of the ADA website introduces our directors.

As per our constitution the members of the board are elected at our annual general meeting for a three-year term, with two or three retiring each year in rotation, and serve in an honorary capacity.

As per the constitution the executive drector is appointed by and responsible to the board. He or she is an ex-officio member of the board but may also be an elected director.

Great effort is taken to prevent political bias or sectional influence on the ADA Board — and even a perception of such bias or influence.

Wherever possible, directors are not normally members of a political party or an organisation affiliated to a political party. Where a member of a political party is elected to the ADA Board, a balance with the other side of politics is maintained as much as is possible (candidate availability permitting).

Of the current elected directors, one is a former senior official of the ALP. One recent director was the Chief-of-Staff to a former state premier from the Liberal Party. Another recent director was a former senator for the Australian Democrats.

As the ADA is legally structured as a public company, all directors represent all members equally. While it is desirable that the Board have a broad geographic representation across Australia, the ADA is a unitary national organisation (not a federation of state branches or functional interests). Directors do not represent the states or localities they reside in. Board representation is not connected to the organisation of ADA Chapters in cities and towns across Australia.

By longstanding convention:

  • no-one holding political office at federal or state level can be a director (none of the current directors holds political office at any level, including local government);
  • the executive director cannot be a member of a political party or an organisation affiliated with a political party;
  • no-one currently serving in the regular defence force, the federal Public Service, the Australian Federal Police or with an intelligence or security agency can be a director;
  • a majority of the elected directors must not have been through-career members of the defence force or career-public servants in the Department of Defence, nor be currently employed by companies selling equipment or services to that department; and
  • directors should not be recently-retired senior officers from the defence force (one-star rank up), recently-retired senior officials from the Department of Defence (assistant secretary up), or even long-retired senior officers or officials unless there are clearly no conflicts of interest involved with their previous decisions and the current public-interest watchdog work of the Association.

How the board supervises the public-interest guardianship work of the ADA is detailed in the answers to other questions.

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How is ADA policy derived and implemented?

The effectiveness of our public comment and broader activities is enhanced by the ADA's well-refined and speedy decision-making and consultative mechanisms. These are actively supervised by the board of directors on behalf of our membership. 

More generally, it is also assisted by the long-term perspectives, balance, historical knowledge and professional interpretation we bring to discussions on issues of current (but often transient) public and media interest. The breadth, depth and motivation of our membership are key strengths in both regards.

In terms of the broad guidelines needed, ADA policy is formally determined by our members at general meetings or by referenda. More detailed policy deliberations are generally delegated to the board of directors elected by the wider membership.

A culture of informal consultations with ADA Chapters and individual members are also a valuable mechanism for researching and formulating policy.

We also use expert advisory panels of volunteers among our membership to:

  • help derive policy and formulate comment;
  • research the technical, historical, financial or other specialist aspects of specific issues; and
  • assist with our submissions to parliamentary and official inquiries.

The day-to-day public comment sought from the ADA's official spokesman by the media is greatly assisted by his support from our expert panels.

Our submissions to official and parliamentary inquiries are prepared by specially constituted expert working groups. All submissions involve wide consultation and are approved by the ADA board of directors before submission.

In terms of helping keep the wider political process honest we also conduct workshops for political parties reviewing their policies on defence and wider national security issues. These have been undertaken, for example, at Liberal Party triennial national conventions and  ALP biennial national conferences.

They have also been offered to all the other parties currently represented in federal parliament (Nationals, Greens and the DLP).

Under our constitution (Articles 19-20) and executive processes, the federal executive director of the ADA is our only representative authorised to speak on behalf of the Association (with another spokesperson appointed by the board of directors if the executive director is unavailable). This provision was instituted from the ADA's earliest days to reinforce the integrity, accuracy, consistency, speed and currency of our contributions to informed public debate.

Our members are, of course, strongly encouraged to participate in public debate as individual citizens but cannot claim to act for, speak on behalf of, or otherwise represent the Association in doing so.

Our members are also free, and encouraged, to declare their ADA membership should they so desire.

In keeping with the principles and requirements of the Commonwealth Privacy Act, 1988, however, the ADA does not publicise, confirm or otherwise provide individual membership details without the permission of the member concerned.

 

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How is the ADA financed?

General

To preserve our independence, non-partisan integrity and institutional transparency, the public-interest watchdog work of the Australia Defence Association is financed entirely by:

  • membership subscriptions;
  • institutional, library and corporate subscriptions to our publications;
  • limited advertising in our journal and bulletin (to help defray the costs of their production and distribution);
  • advertising on the ADA website;
  • reproduction fees and copyright royalties from our publications and research reports;
  • research, consultancy or teaching tasks undertaken by members voluntarily on the Association's behalf (and in keeping with our strict disclosure and transparency rules);
  • sponsorships, donations and bequests from civic-minded and concerned Australians and Australian institutions who believe that public education, and vibrant and informed public debate, on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues is important.

 

Independence, accountability and transparency

To reinforce our independence, accountability and transparency we do not accept other than standard membership fees and nominal donations (capped at $A5000 annually in total) from commercial entities seeking to sell weapons, equipment or services to the defence force or the Department of Defence.

Our research and advocacy efforts are also not directed or otherwise influenced by our corporate members or donors.

Our publications do not seek, accept or publish advertorial-type articles.

Our public stances and lobbying on defence matters are undertaken on the objective merits of the issue concerned. They are not influenced by the receipt or non-receipt of donations from any source.

 

No grant, donor or consultancy funding from government

We do not seek or accept any grant or donor funding from the Australian Government, any political party or any type of overseas source.

To further reinforce our independent integrity, we do not bid for, accept or otherwise undertake any paid consultancy work for the Australian Government.

We are the only public think-tank in the defence and wider national security field in Australia that is sustained by our public membership and our public activities.

We are also the only one not essentially reliant on direct or indirect federal government funding and/or on commercially-directed financing.

We regard this strict degree of independence as essential to the integrity and transparency of our public-interest guardianship activities.

The funding we receive from Australian Government sources is quite limited, of the standard categories to be expected, and much less than that received by many other public organisations in Australian society. Such indirect funding comprises:

  • standard institutional subscriptions for our publications by some government departments, agencies, libraries and educational institutions;
  • standard visiting lecturer fees when our staff undertake occasional teaching at tertiary education institutions or other courses;
  • the occasional reimbursement of minor administrative and travel expenses when the ADA is invited (along with other organisations) to participate in consultative fora and similar activities convened by government departments or agencies.

 

No party-political or overseas funding

We do not make donations to any Australian or foreign political party, solicit such donations or accept donations from political parties.

We do not pay affiliation fees to any Australian (or foreign) political party or political organisation.

 

Transparent fundraising and recruiting

As a fully public organisation we recruit our members openly and directly and not through intermediaries.

We reserve the right to refuse membership fees or donations if we consider this involves a conflict of interest with the impartial objectives and public education work of the Association as an independent, non-partisan, community-based, public-interest guardian organisation.

We do not employ the services of professional fundraisers or agents.

All donations to fund our activities are sought by the ADA directly and used to finance our independent research or public-interest advocacy except where a donor specifies it be invested in our endowment accounts as capital.

The capital in our endowment accounts is preserved and invested only in long-term deposits with our bank. The interest earned on such sums is either reinvested as capital or used to fund our operations (depending on our cash flows at the time).

 

Taxation

We are not a charity, overseas aid fund, educational institution, environmental protection group or registered political party so donations to the ADA do not currently have deductible gift recipient status under the Taxation Act.

However, because of our established status as an informed contributor to public debate on defence and wider national security affairs, ADA membership fees are recognised by the Australian Taxation Office as a legitimate professional or business expense for individuals or tax-paying entities who are academically, professionally or commercially involved in such matters.

Public sponsorship of designated ADA programs and activities can also be deductible for the sponsor as a business expense.

Such sponsorships must still fit under our overall $5000 cap for financing from companies commercially involved with the Department of Defence and must comply with our general rules preventing conflicts of interest.

 

Not-for-profit status

As a registered not-for-profit entity under the Corporations Act and the Taxation Act the Association does not pay dividends or distributions of any kind. This is enshrined in our Constitution (Articles 13-14).

The bulk of our annual expenditure (just over nine dollars in every ten) is devoted to our ongoing public-interest guardianship activities, chiefly research, public education, public-oversight monitoring of relevant policies and activities by the Australian government and public-interest advocacy.

Administrative and corporate expenses comprise the remainder and are traditionally under eight per cent of our expenditure.

Members of our board of directors serve in an honorary capacity and receive no remuneration for their contributions of time, effort and expertise.

The interstate travel and accommodation costs involved with their attendance at board meetings are met by the Association.

As a registered not-for-profit public company limited by guarantee under the Corporations Act, our accounts are fully audited, submitted annually to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and are publicly available.

 

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Why does the ADA place so much emphasis on being independent?

As a national public-interest guardian body our independence — including our strict apoliticism in motivation, structure and activities — is essential to our role and operations.

Our governance and financing arrangements (discussed in detail in several questions in this section) are designed to preserve our independence and the consequent integrity and transparency of our public-interest guardianship efforts.

The ADA is an entirely independent and publicly transparent community organisation.

We seek to represent the long-term public interest. We therefore take great care to avoid the potential for, or appearance of, conflicts of interest with the positions espoused by political, commercial, industrial, bureaucratic, institutional or other real and perceived vested interests.

 

No affiliations

We are not part of, or affiliated with, any government department or agency (including the defence force).

We are not subordinate to or otherwise affiliated with any other public organisation, political party or commercial grouping.

We do not pay affiliation fees or make donations to any Australian (or foreign) political party or political organisation. Nor do we seek or accept donations or direction from such politically-partisan sources. Our only donations are to registered charities such as Legacy or Soldier-On.

As would be expected, in order to keep up with informed public debate on defence and wider national security issues a wide range of other 'think-tanks' and general Australian organisations consult with the ADA from time to time and/or subscribe to our publications and research reports. This is their free choice and part and parcel of informed public and scholarly debate.

 

Foreign liaison

Similarly, to further our research efforts we also maintain informal liaison links and reciprocal information exchanges with counterpart public-interest guardianship organisations, and academic or profession-based research institutes, in several Asia-Pacific countries.

We also keep in touch with our counterpart public-interest watchdog bodies in Canada and the UK.

 

Controls on political liaison

Our apoliticism and independence does not preclude us from assisting mainstream political parties with improving their policies on defence and wider national security matters. In fact it requires it as long as we assist both sides of mainstream politics and offer to do so to the minor parties.

 From time to time, and at the request of an Australian political party or other group, we provide our services as a neutral broker for the conduct of independently refereed national security workshops at party conferences, policy development fora or similar events.

The administrative and travel costs of such workshops may be reimbursed by the grouping concerned. The ADA contributes its time, staff and expertise at no charge.

We have, for example, undertaken such workshops for both the Labor and Liberal Parties on numerous occasions, including at their national conferences or councils.

We also have a standing offer to do so for all other parties represented in federal parliament.

 

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ADA history

Why was the ADA founded?

Founding of the Association

The ADA was founded in Perth in mid 1975 by three war veterans determined to prevent further wars, or minimise their effects on Australia if they were unavoidable, by improving public debate on strategic security and defence issues:

  • Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, KBE, CB, DFC, a World War II veteran and professional air force officer who had ended his Service career commanding the RAAF from May 1961 to May 1965;
  • Jim Harding, a leading Western Australian trade unionist, civil libertarian and Army veteran from World War II; and
  • Peter Firkins, the director of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, a well-known military historian and a RAAF veteran from World War II.

Colonel Lawrie Clark, MC, a former commanding officer of the Special Air Service Regiment and a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, joined soon afterwards and was the foundation president in both Western Australia and subsequently the national body. The distinguished defence and foreign correspondent (and World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran), Denis Warner, CMG, OBE, and World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran (and noted artist), Commodore Dacre Smyth, AO, RAN, became patrons soon after.

Our founders were from otherwise disparate backgrounds, interests and political inclinations, and had met through their common membership of the Royal United Service Institute.

They were men well versed in Australian history. Even more importantly most came from backgrounds of active involvement in apolitical community service organisations and/or local government councils at the grass-roots.

 Although they may have approached it to some extent from different political, professional and social perspectives, they were all individuals very experienced in defence issues in particular, and the problems of Australian society and politics generally — and of the benefit at times to the public interest of separating discussion of important issues from party politics.

 

The ten principles of Australian national security

Their forming of the Australia Defence Association in mid 1975 resulted from the founders coming to ten fundamental conclusions and consequent principles about defence and wider national security issues in Australia, public debate about them, and the need for fresh thinking without abandoning hard-won historical and enduring lessons:

  • Australia's national wealth, standard of living and whole way of life generally have always depended heavily on our ability to import and export goods and commodities respectively via seaborne international trade over secure lines of communication in a stable strategic environment regionally and globally. Australia has therefore long had enduring national interests beyond our shores and indeed the "bush-focused", continentally-minded cultural perspectives of many Australians traditionally. We rely fundamentally on an international system that allows such trade and associated intercourse to occur securely, efficiently, freely and according to the rule-of-law internationally. Over 99 per cent of our exports by volume, and over 75 per cent by value, travel in ships. Without the ability to sustain maritime trade Australia would be a very different country.The fall of Saigon in May 1975 to a major North Vietnamese conventional invasion was a strategic watershed for Australia. This development followed the strategic withdrawal of the US from the South East Asian mainland over the 1972-75 period, the earlier British strategic withdrawal from 'east of Suez' by 1971 and, in 1969, the USA's declaration of the Guam Doctrine concerning allied responsibilities for defence self-reliance in intra-State (and to some extent inter-State) conflicts. New and integrated thinking on how to defend and otherwise protect Australia's sovereignty and strategic freedom of action was needed.
  • Australia's conceptualisation and practice of national security therefore need to encompass the protection and advancement of our national sovereignty and strategic freedom of action in the fullest sense. This means protecting and furthering our national interests as well as just defending our physical territory, territorial seas, territorial airspace, extended economic zones and offshore resources. Our national interests are primarily of an economic and strategic nature, but traditionally Australia has also had other national interests concerning the moral and legal basis, and effective operation, of the international system. These latter interests include our collective security responsibilities as a (founding) United Nations member under the UN Charter, our collective defence responsibilities under several mutual defence treaties and guarantees in our region, and Australia's longstanding membership of — and political and cultural affinity with — the informal coalition of older and newer liberal democracies generally known as the Western Alliance.
  • Public argument over Australian participation in the Vietnam War during the 1962-1975 period had become very politically polarised, often simplistic and frequently subjective (either way). Objective and informed debate for or against the commitment had tended to be increasingly swamped by extreme, violently expressed and often highly emotional and uninformed opinion. These high degrees of polarisation and subjectivity had crossed over to wider debate on strategic security, defence and broader national security issues. This trend continued after Australia's active participation in the Vietnam War had ended in late 1972. It has unfortunately lingered to the present day among many Australians, particularly those whose thinking remains trapped in the outmoded cultural and ideological paradigms of the 1960s and 1970s rather than acknowledging or understanding Australia's current and future strategic challenges.
  • Public interest in strategic security, defence and wider national security issues in Australia is also often marred by widespread lack of interest, limited knowledge and even outright ignorance. It tends to cycle between apathy (the opinion that Australia cannot be defended so why try) on the one extreme, through isolationist myths that ignore the pervasive inter-connectiveness of the modern world, to irrational fears or ideological fixations on the other extreme. Such fears include phenomena such as 'Yellow peril' invasion scares and irrational suspicions and misunderstandings about our near neighbour, Indonesia. The ideological fixations have included the belief during the Cold War that there was absolutely not any threat from communism or that some form of strategic or moral neutrality was and remains a serious or even viable option for Australia's modern strategic posture.
  • Even among those Australians who take some interest in strategic security, defence and wider national security matters, there is often a pervasive but unrealistic belief that our defence planning in particular should be based solely on the perceived absence or presence of threats that might be readily identified and agreed upon at any one time. This belief runs counter to historical experience and commonsense because it disregards:
    • the intrinsic unpredictability of the future, especially in detail;

    • the speed at which unforseen or new strategic challenges tend to emerge;

    • the difficulty in actually identifying threats early enough to respond to them effectively anyway;

    • the perpetual difficulty of securing agreement by our government (and the wider Australian community) that a threat or risk now exists; and

    • constant and usually irreconcilable background arguments about what is, and is not, a potential threat and what its perceived likelihood or seriousness might be.

Entirely threat-based paradigms are therefore an ineffective means on which to base Australian strategic policy and defence capability development (not least because of the very long time scales and considered efforts involved with the latter). It would be better instead to cater for general strategic risks. Particularly by developing and maintaining a balanced and versatile defence force, that can be reasonably capable of coping with or adapting to the types of future strategic challenge that usually cannot be predicted with much accuracy – if indeed all or even any of them can be forecast or assessed in detail effectively at all.

  • Often allied to narrow or inappropriate dependence on threat-based, rather than risk-based, paradigms is a politically convenient but historically disproven belief. This is that Australian strategic policy, and consequently prudent levels of investment in our defence, should be based on the funding thought to be available politically at any one time, rather than what is actually needed by strategic reality or proper risk management in the short term and over the long run. Again it would be better instead to base Australian strategic policy on intellectually objective and robust assessments of future risks and, only then, decide the level of investment that can be afforded accordingly – and the risk management strategies that would need to be implemented where levels of possible investment alone are or might become insufficient. The strategies and defence capabilities we need should drive national investment in our defence and foreign policy. Not, as usually happens in Australia under governments of both political persuasions, the dollars thought to be available politically driving politically convenient but inadequate strategic policy and defence capability development.
  • Effective defence capability development programs require decades to implement. They need to be sustained by a robust and consistent approach to strategic policy development and force structuring, and by consistent and adequate funding over lengthy periods. This is also far more economic and efficient over the long run than the fluctuating levels of investment that Australian governments  have tended to allocate to national defence responsibilities. Proper consideration of defence and wider national security matters in Australia has instead tended to bog down continually in a mix of party-political rivalries, ideological constructs, bureaucratic processes, insufficient investment, narrowly-defined academic theories and fads concerning potential threats and their perceived likelihood or absence, and the endemic short-term perspectives engendered by Australia’s three-year federal electoral cycle and its attendant party-political, media and public debate cultures.
  • Australia therefore needs an independent public ‘ginger group’ in a permanent public-interest watchdog role to:
    • help stimulate, nurture, inform and monitor effective public debate on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues;
    • provide an independent, long-term and authorative perspective to such debate;
    • help keep the national political process honest in regard to defence and wider national security issues;
    • help keep public debate genuinely informed rather than subject to political, ideological or academic fads and biases; and
    • help educate the Australian public in such matters.
    • To enable the informed, balanced and longer-term perspectives required such a public-interest watchdog organisation must:
      • incorporate both public-interest guardianship and 'think-tank' functions in order to provide reasoned advocacy based on sound and objective research, a long-term view and long-term corporate knowledge;
      • be credible by being truly independent, scrupulously non-partisan and determinedly apolitical;
      • be particularly independent from sectional interests and biases such as political parties, the various bureaucratic elements involved with defence or national security policy, defence industry and other commercial interests, and the defence force or the intelligence services as both institutions and professions; and
      • embody the principle that defence is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians by being broadly community-based, rather than Association membership and support relying on participation by only those Australians with, say, defence force, intelligence agency or similar service at some time in their lives.

Development of the Association

From its founding in June 1975 the Association spread progressively to all states and mainland territories over the next few years and a full federal structure was adopted at the first national council meeting in Melbourne on 04 March 1981.

On 16 June 1998 the state branches were integrated into a unified national body. Our corporate administrative structure was re-organised as a not-for-profit public company limited by guarantee (as are most other national public-interest watchdog organisations).

This reorganisation resulted from the continued growth, organisational maturity and growing public profile of the ADA, the increasing operational and transparency demands on us as an independent 'think-tank', and the effects of new federal and state legislation governing not-for-profit public organisations. We remain, however, a broadly-based national organisation comprising, and run by, our broad community-based membership. Our constitution was updated on 22 November 2009 to further reinforce our independence and non-partisanship.

Our first major public activity was co-hosting a conference in co-operation with the 48th Annual Summer School conducted by the Extension Service of the University of Western Australia in January 1976. Chaired by ADA co-founder, Peter Firkins, the speakers included Sir Arthur Tange (Secretary of the Department of Defence), Rear Admiral Anthony Synnot (Director Joint Staff and later CDF), Dr Robert O'Neill (then Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC) at ANU) , Dr Max Teichmann, Dr Kevin Foley, Mr Geoffrey Jukes and Brigadier Ted Serong (Retd). The proceedings were published by the University as Australia's Defence in August 1976.

As we developed outside our original Western Australia base further conferences, seminars and publications followed. In late June 1978 we conducted a major academic seminar in Melbourne on the topic Is Australia Defensible? The speakers included Dr Robert O'Neill (Head of the SDSC 1971-82), a retired senior diplomat, Malcolm Booker, and Bomber Command veteran and Chairman of Hawker de Havilland, Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smyth (Retd). The proceedings of the seminar were published under the same title as the first of the ADA's Melbourne Paper series. Further early papers in this series were ANZUS in the 'Eighties (1979) and Resources for Australia's Defence (1980) which resulted from ADA public seminars conducted throughout 1978-1980.

In 1980 we began publishing our policy and discussion booklet, The Defence of Australia, with updated editions being published as Defending Australia in 1985, 1990, 1995 and 2000. Since 2000 our primary policy and discussion documents and commentary have been published on the ADA website instead. In 1985 Melbourne University Press published then ADA Executive Director Michael O'Connor's well-received and detailed study of Australian defence issues To Live in Peace: Australia's Defence Policy.

Our first quarterly publication was the ADA Quarterly Journal which was first published in Autumn 1979 with eighteen issues in five volumes appearing until Winter 1983. From the Spring 1983 issue the quarterly became Defender: National Journal of the Australia Defence Association, with issues continuing to be published quarterly until mid 2012. 

Beginning in 1990, the ADA's widely read electronic bulletin, Defence Brief, is published to cover major public issues arise. Originally between issues of the journal and subsequently more frequently.

Following consolidation of the ADA as a national body, from 1983 the Association also became the organiser of Australia's participation in the biennial Pacific Rim Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) Conferences co-ordinated by various Australian, US, Singaporean, Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese think-tanks. In 1988 the ADA hosted the 6th conference in the series in Melbourne with the proceedings published as Safely by Sea (Dr M.J. Kennedy and M.J. O'Connor, University Press of America, 1990). The RAN took over responsibility for Australian participation in the conferences in the early 1990s.

In the 2002/03 New Year Honours list our retiring executive director, Michael O'Connor, was invested as a Member of the Order of Australia for his long-standing services to Australia's defence, informed public debate and the development and operations of the Australia Defence Association. In his letter of congratulation then prime-minister, John Howard, noted "I know you value your independence and I respect the fact that from time to time you disagree with the policies of my Government. That is as it should be when serious issues are being debated". In a letter of congratulation the then Chief of Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, noted "on behalf of the Australian Defence Force, thank you for your service to the community through raising public awareness of defence, security and strategic issues".

 

National Office

The national office of the Association was located in Perth until March 1981 when it moved to Melbourne. The subsequent move of the office to Canberra in April 2003 was chiefly a result of four interdependent factors:

  • the Navy, Army and Air Force think-tanks, both university-based academic think-tanks then covering national security issues and the sole government-sponsored strategic policy research institute are all based in Canberra;
  • the Association’s general growth and substantial national profile, and the increasing requests for consultation or co-operative research, required a permanent presence and profile in the nation’s capital;
  • media reporting on defence and national security issues is now increasingly carried out centrally by generalist political correspondents in the Parliamentary Press Gallery rather than by dedicated and specialist defence correspondents dispersed in the state capital cities; and
  • a Canberra base strengthens the ADA's ability for liaison with the Service and academic ‘think-tanks’ interested in strategic security, defence and wider national security issues, the research elements of the main political parties, senior ADF members and government officials, and ministers and parliamentarians in general.

The Australia Defence Association is conscious, however, of the importance of retaining its broad community base and geographic spread throughout Australia and of avoiding capture by institutional and 'Canberra' perspectives.

The move of our national office to Canberra was carefully considered by the ADA’s Board of Directors (who are themselves located across Australia). The decision was made only because the Board considered it in the best interests of the Association and its work.

The ADA's hard-won reputation for informed commentary, and independence of thought and action, remains under continual observation by the Board and our membership.

 

Officebearers

The national presidents of the Australia Defence Association have been:

March 1981 - June 1989 – Colonel Lawrie Clark, MC, (Retd)

June 1989 - June 2001 – Commodore John Robertson, RAN (Retd)

July 2001 - August 2008 – Dr Brian Ridge

August 2008 - March 2013 – Dr Alan Collier

March 2013 - Present — Dr Michael Easson, AM

The national executive directors of the ADA have been:

04 March 1981 - 30 April 2003 (full-time from 1989) – Michael O'Connor, AM

01 May 2003 - Present – Neil James

The current members of the Association's board of directors may be found here

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Who have been the ADA's principal officebearers?

The national presidents of the Australia Defence Association have been:

March 1981 - June 1989 – Colonel Lawrie Clark, MC (Retd)

June 1989 - June 2001 – Commodore John Robertson, RAN (Retd)

July 2001 - August 2008 – Dr Brian Ridge

August 2008 - March 2013 – Dr Alan Collier

March 2013 - Present — Dr Michael Easson, AM

The national executive directors of the ADA have been:

04 March 1981 - 30 April 2003 (full-time from 1989) – Michael O'Connor, AM

01 May 2003 - Present – Neil James

The current members of the Association's board of directors may be found here.

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What the ADA is not

Does the ADA represent the defence force?

No — we are not the ADF's representative professional body (see below). Nor do we purport to be.

First, because ensuring Australia is adequately defended and strategically secure is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians, not just serving (or former) members of our defence force.

This is why the ADA is necessarily community-based as an independent public-interest watchdog organisation, rather than being comprised solely of serving or former members of our defence force (or of our intelligence and security agencies).

Second, because our role as an independent national public-interest watchdog organisation means we cannot represent any sectional interest.

Including the profession of arms or the Australian Defence Force as an institution.

 

Public-interest safeguard

Our role does, however, involve public-interest monitoring and public advocacy concerning strategic security, defence and wider national security issues.

This includes public education and public debate activities about Australia needing to maintain adequate levels of budgetary resources and public support to sustain defence force capabilities, efficiency and professionalism.

During public and political debates on defence matters in particular, our advocacy of an effective defence strategy for Australia, and appropriate equipment and operational employment for the ADF, also acts as a disinterested public safeguard for the efforts of defence force personnel to some extent but that is not our prime role.

 

ADA membership and defence force service

As a necessarily community-based body ADA members are Australians from all walks of life who think our common defence is important.

A majority of ADA members have never served in our defence force (although many have).

The vast majority of the ADA Board of Directors have had long and predominantly civil careers. Even where they have served in the ADF at some stage this was usually a decade or more ago. In some cases it is over three decades ago. This enables a good balance of civil and military perspectives.

While many former and serving defence force personnel are members of the ADA generally this tends to reflect two factors:

  • the length and nature of their service (they tend to be of sergeant-equivalent rank and upwards and the majority would have experience of operational service overseas); and
  • they have an intellectual or professional interest in defence and related issues beyond their own professional careers.

Sticking up for ADF personnel — but only where necessary and justified

Other ADF personnel who take some interest in public debate on defence issues also often contact us to thank the ADA for our stance on a particular current issue. Or our efforts to explain the historical or professional context to contemporary discussions (often otherwise lacking them). Or our public-interest guardianship efforts concerning national security issues generally.

In particular, we frequently receive favourable feedback from defence force personnel expressing their appreciation where we have countered or refuted uninformed, untrue, exaggerated, insensitive or sensationalist comments by the media, single-issue activists or party-political sources.

Longer-serving ADF personnel also tend to remember and appreciate where we have criticised defence force practices in the national interest. Even if they disagree with our criticism in part they usually concede it is balanced and well motivated.

Finally, our executive director is invariably welcomed by personnel of all ranks when visiting defence force units in Australia and overseas or when meeting ADF personnel generally.

Our public-interest guardianship responsibilities and efforts concerning defence issues mean that defence force personnel are generally not backward about directing our attention to matters of professional concern.

They do this because they respect the ADA's record in speaking truth to power and our forceful advocacy for an adequately resourced, equipped and carefully deployed defence force.

 

ADF representative bodies

Our particular area of expertise and responsibility is defence capability and strategy matters.

Unless a major issue of public importance is involved, we generally leave comment on defence force personnel matters, such as employee relations, industrial relations, personnel management and conditions-of-service, to defence force representative bodies. The two principal ones are:

  • Defence Force Welfare Association  (DFWA);
  • Defence Reserves Association (DRA).

We are also a committed supporter of Defence Families of Australia (DFA), the Department of Defence consultative body set up to liaise with the families of defence force personnel.

 

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Is the ADA just an organisation of former defence force, police or intelligence and security agency personnel?

No — as a national public-interest watchdog organisation we are necessarily broadly based in the Australian community.

Ensuring Australia is adequately defended and internally secure is a universal civic responsibility of all Australians (like jury duty).

It is not a responsibility solely or largely confined to former (or indeed serving) members of our defence force, one of our police forces or one of our intelligence and security agencies.

Our members are Australians from all walks of life who are concerned about our defence and wider national security.

Fewer than one third of our members, for example, have ever served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), a state or territory police force, or one of Australia’s security or intelligence agencies.

 Even with this ratio, of course, we still have many members with such experience.

Our broad community membership — rather than an ex-Service, current-Service or profession-focused membership base — is one of the key differences between the ADA and other groups with an actual, nominal or purported interest in defence or wider national security matters.

Our independence and strictly non-partisan basis are other key differences.

 

Our defence is everyone's responsibility — not just a matter for defence force personnel or war veterans

It is also worth noting that the commonplace assumption that all or most war veterans are (or should be) actively interested in how Australia is currently defended is not a valid assumption or a fair expectation.

Similarly, the assumptions that only war veterans (or serving defence force personnel) need to be interested, or only they are responsible, are equally invalid and unfair.

Relatively few war veterans take such an active interest and there are many and varied reasons for this.

Significant ones include:

  • the age and/or health problems of many veterans;
  • other focuses in their post-war lives; and, to some extent,
  • a belief that 'they have done their bit' and it is now someone else's turn to worry about it.

In general, the percentage of war veterans who are actively interested in current defence issues is not markedly larger than that of the population at large. Nor should this be expected of them — although most veterans do tend to have a much better general understanding of many defence issues when they arise in public debate.

Our common defence remains a universal civic responsibility of all Australians, not just war veterans or current members of our defence force.

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Does the ADA represent the interests of war veterans, ADF retirees or their dependants?

No — this is not part of our public-interest watchdog role for national security issues although we help where we can. 

We are not an ex-Service organisation (ESO).

Nor are we charged, resourced or staffed to assist with individual claims by war veterans or former ADF members.

We therefore leave such representational and welfare matters up to the appropriate specialist organisation.

Such as the Returned and Services League (RSL), the Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA), the Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Servicemen and Women (TPI), the various Vietnam veterans organisations or Legacy.

However where we can, especially if it concerns a general veterans welfare issue that has has recruiting or retention ramifications for the current and future defence force, we try to assist relevant ESO in their public advocacy efforts.

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Is the ADA an ex-Service organisation (ESO)?

No — See in particular the answers to the above three questions.

As noted in the answers to related questions, the ADA is instead the national public-interest watchdog organisation for current and future strategic security, defence and wider national security matters.

As a broadly drawn and community-based body the majority of our members have never served in the defence force (although many have).

We therefore generally leave comment on veterans and related issues up to the relevant specialist organisations, although we publicly support them from time to time when needed and where we can.

 

Our responsibility is defence capability matters

Where we do occasionally offer comment on veterans issues this is only in a general way, and only where they are also major matters of public importance affecting the efficiency or sustainability of our current or future national defence efforts.

As an example, fair and adequate treatment of war veterans is not just a moral responsibility and social equity issue for all Australians.

It is also a defence capability development and sustainment issue. Treating veterans properly is essential to effective recruitment, morale and personnel retention in our current and future defence force.

 

Defence is everyone's civic responsibility, not just a matter for "veterans"

Furthermore, as discussed in the answers to previous questions, the commonplace assumption that all or most war veterans are actively interested in how Australia is currently defended is not a valid assumption or a fair expectation.

Neither is the unfounded, and indeed irrational, belief that only war veterans are or need to be concerned with how Australia is defended now or in the future.

Our common defence remains a universal civic responsibility of all Australians — not just war veterans or current members of our defence force.

 

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Do I have to have served in our defence force to join the ADA?

 

No — as would  be expected in a community-based national body, most ADA members have never served in our defence force (although many have).

Our national security always involves all Australians, not just current or former defence force personnel.

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ADA stances

How can I find ADA commentary on a current issue?

 

Try typing relevant terms in the search box at the top right-hand corner of each page.

The more specific you are the more effective your search.

Otherwise, check our commentary on current issues through the following pages:

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How can I find ADA commentary on longer-term, recurring or substantial issues?

 

Try typing relevant terms in the search box at the top right-hand corner of each page.

The more specific you are the more effective your search.

Our commentary on longer-term, recurring or more substantial issues can also be found through the following pages:

 

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