Australia’s defence: Who is driving the bus? And where are they going?

For those of us who have had military experience (and plenty of Australians have), there is an increasing degree of uneasiness about our defence system.

The defence of Australia is entirely in the hands of the Commonwealth Government; it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to keep the Nation safe, and it has no greater responsibility.

If we are not safe, then all the rest of the noisy circus in Canberra is irrelevant. Social programs, infrastructure programs, health programs, education programs, our legal and justice systems, our Federal system of State Governments and such; all are reduced to the thump of the sideshow drum and the ineffectual spruiking of sideshow clowns!

So why the uneasiness?

Australia has not been under severe military threat since the 1940s; very few Australians now living were alive then.

As a nation, we are allied with powerful governments, the ANZUS Pact being the most significant of these agreements. But, there are others: the Five Eyes Intelligence system is one of them. The recently created AUKUS, plus the Quad multilateral defence arrangements are both significant and timely; the latter two are the product of the Morrison Government with the bilateral support of the Australian Labor Party.

During the turbulent years of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Australian troops fought in combat against communist and autocratic expansion in South East Asia and Korea. Apart from Korea, the combat was the jungle; we were good at it, and in most cases we prevailed as a military force, except where we became the unwanted child of politics.

Korea was an open and brutal conflict; we were part of a United Nations Force, and this conflict was actually an extension of World War II for many Australian veterans. We had a Defence Force run by Generals who saw much active service in WWII as lower-ranking officers. They knew exactly what they were doing, and we had a civilian equivalent, the Department of Defence, run by hard-headed men who had taken Australia through perilous times.

Time rolls on, and fundamental changes occur; somewhere in the early 2000s, the Australian Defence Force began to experience significant change.

Political correctness, diversity, and some sexual scandals appeared to throw the Defence juggernaut in disarray. The Royal Australian Navy had a female officer carrying the rank of Captain, a very senior Navy rank, to advise the Navy on matters relating to Islam!

Federal Governments and Prime Ministers changed as regularly as socks on Sundays. Internecine struggles over influence and policy direction consumed the energies of the bureaucrats and the Generals.

It seems, from what can be gleaned from the media and various Parliamentary Reports, those difficult deadline decisions were kicked down the road. Regional politics intruded. In some cases, it appears as if competence was swapped for political expediency; hence we have battlefield helicopters that cannot fight, we have no submarines in the replacement pipeline, our new surface fighting ships appear to be suffering from a “Heath Robinson” mentality, in that defence bureaucrats want to turn a perfectly good Royal Navy frigate design into some odd version suitable for the Pacific.

For decades, it has been recognised that the fetch of the ocean in the North Sea and the Atlantic is quite different from the fetch of the ocean in the Pacific; a hull designed for Northern waters is not necessarily the best design for hulls to operate in the Pacific. I wonder why we order vessels like this?

Amongst all this bureaucratic nonsense is the continual beating of the Civilian versus Serving Personnel drum.

We now have more Generals than we had at the end of World War II. The General Officer nominated as Chief of the Defence Force has a take-home salary of over $1 million. This amount keeps him equal to his civilian counterpart in the civil mob on defence.

What bloody nonsense!

In the blink of an eye, our strategic national environment has moved from benign to threatening and will probably continue to deteriorate for some years to come.

The current Government has recognised the problem and has taken some impressive moves – one of which is to appoint a Defence Minister who seems quite capable of taking on the Defence monolith and remind them that their task is to provide professional advice on the weapons systems, air, sea and land, which are needed to ensure Australia remains safe and able to defend itself.

Any observer of the murderous events conducted by the Russians in Ukraine will notice that much of the indirect fire destroying cities, towns and villages comes from missiles, ground-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-ground.

Australia has, and can develop and build missiles; we have done so before, and very effectively at that!

Are we doing that now? Are we developing those systems that we need to protect our land? I suspect that before we can make serious headway in solving this obvious dysfunction of advice, is to have a long hard, tough look at our Department of Defence.

It is easy to level emotional criticism at Government Departments – they are usually sitting ducks. But what has the Department of Defence achieved in the last ten years? What do they do – each day? Each week? Each month? How is progress measured?

I suspect that if we could actually see what was happening, we would see gazillions of meetings about having meetings, paperwork generated in mind-boggling amounts, posturing, lunches, petty jealousies and so on….

I am quite convinced that in the Department of Defence there are many highly-skilled, dedicated professionals whose sole purpose is to provide Australia with a credible and sustainable defence system. But it is hard to find them.

That makes me wonder if a wholesale change of thinking about our defence is necessary – a massive shift in thinking.

Is it time to introduce National Service into Australia again?

There are some excellent examples – Singapore is one of them. Singaporeans are required to serve twelve years National Service – two years full time and ten years part time. Conscripts can serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, the First Responder Services and also in civilian construction projects.

Obviously, we cannot uplift a system such as Singapore has and superimpose it upon Australia.

But we can design our own, and quickly; it will give impetus to our Defence thinking, demonstrate to our Allies and neighbours that we are serious about our defence and willing to change our thinking.

Clearly, we have become a soft country through the abundance of good times and economic wealth.

Everyone who reads this should know that, within the lifetime of many Australians living today, the enemy at our door was deadly bloody serious about taking us and was foiled by the commitment of our Allies and hundreds of thousands of Australian men and women who gave their lives, well-being and skills to defeat them.

In the early days of World War II we did not have enough rifles and machine guns to give our men the means to fight. The security of our sovereign Nation was paid for in blood and treasure – and that was in our lifetime!!

Do not kid yourself that it cannot happen again. It can.

So, we need to know who is driving the bus and where are they going. Ask your Federal Parliamentary representative about this.

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