Defence dilemmas

One of the posts I did on Anzac Day has hit 100 comments, with discussion diverting onto wider defence matters. This seems like a reasonable indication that I should do a post specifically on defence matters.

There are plenty of defence related issues high up on the political agenda at the moment, including the death of Private Kovco in Iraq, regular stories of massive overspends and failings in expenditure on defence equipment, problems with the military justice system, the (not unrelated) issue of inadequate recruitment and retention, and the wisdom of the deployment of our forces in such a range of places around the globe – added to with the news that Australian troops are on their way back to East Timor.

Many of these will be examined during Estimates Committee hearings into the Department of Defence next week.

There’s too many different aspects there to cover in this post. One that I try to give some attention to is the poor treatment provided to many service personnel who are injured or harmed during their service – not just in war zones but at any time. This is linked to but wider than the issues of military justice and veterans’ entitlements. Apart from basic notions of justice and fairness, I also think these failings significantly hamper recruitment and retention.

In regard to some of the wider management problems with the Australian Defence Force, there is a very good piece in today’s Age by Hugh White whose views I have a lot of time for.

DEFENCE is by far the most complex organisation in the country. It doesn’t just provide armed force. It does everything from social work and brass-band music to rocket science and signals intelligence. To do all this, Defence employs more people than any other organisation in the country except Coles Myer. But unlike Coles Myer, many of Defence’s people are doing the most dangerous and stressful jobs in Australia.
No wonder things are always going wrong.

But there is a difference between these routine, if painful, administrative bungles and much bigger systemic problems. Defence does face deep systemic problems that put at risk Australia’s future defence by allowing bad decisions about the kinds of capabilities we build and the way we build them. The question for Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is on which he focuses: the distressing bungles or the deep systemic problems.

Last week Nelson announced a new management review to tell him what they are. I can tell him right now.
No one is in charge.

Defence ministers have repeatedly thought it was more important to shift the blame for some minor but newsworthy problem onto someone else’s shoulders than to build a strong, productive and trusting relationship with the people they have to rely on to make Defence work. That is not what leaders do.

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67 Comments

  1. Graham Bell – thanks for your recent posts. Your comments on the non-weaponry side of things were particularly interested me. I’ve heard the odd murmurs about inadequate footwear from time to time, but I would never have appreciated the importance of pouch closures – no velcro I assume.

    Aside from worrying about their taxes being well spent, I suppose the other big civilian concern is that defence personnel are looked after properly if they suffer injury or trauma during service.

    I’m thinking here of a friend’s father, who had psychological problems following postings in SE Asia. In his case, his commanding officer found him a low-stress job that let him provide a useful service to the Army that he could take pride in, and he was allowed to work in that position until he could be pensioned off. But I had the impression that it was organised at the local level, and that it only happened because the CO cared for his men and had the insight to find a sensible solution.

    On the other hand, there is the matter of compensating the Voyager survivors. I don’t understand why it has dragged out for such an unspeakably long time; I’m simply horrified that it hasn’t been settled. Andrew mentioned the treatment of injured personnel in his piece, but it hasn’t really been covered in the comments so far. So I’d be interested to hear any comments you might have, and I’d invite anyone else who wishes to comment on this as well.

  2. MarkL,

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/nelson-angers-troops/2006/06/07/1149359818698.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

    “The soldiers did not hold back, firing questions at the minister until they were ordered to stop. They were not satisfied with the explanation that there had been no declaration of war in East Timor.

    “The classification ‘warlike’ — would that change with the death of one of us?” a soldier asked.

    At that point Dr Nelson deferred to the Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who blamed the situation on a 1993 cabinet decision”

    – It wasn’t just the Opposition, the soldiers themselves were questioning the Minister. If you weren’t so quick to criticise, put down and devalue any comments you don’t like, you might have observed that too.

    How do you know the issue is false? Just because it’s raised by the Opposition doesn’t mean it’s false, and your inflated opinion doesn’t make it false.

    -You could do with viewing a very considerate reply from Graham in #13, and reply to Ken in #48 too, but then, you’re so vain, you probably think it’s not about you!

  3. Feral Abacus:
    You might be horrified that the Voyager issue hasn’t been settled ….. but intelligence and psychological warfare officers of potential enemy forces would be thrilled to bits. It would have been far cheaper and far less damaging to Australia simply to have given a chest full of money to every Voyager survivor and to each family who lost a loved one on the Voyager.

    Basic pouches – velcro is great but let’s find something more suitable. Footwear is vital and it should not be a problem; so why is it?

    A commander who found suitable useful duties for an injured member? Now that’s real leadership (wouldn’t be allowed to do that these days).

  4. ((just lost everything I typed))
    Deborah and Mark L:

    Ongoing attacks on the pay, conditions and productive resettlement back into civilian life of ADF personnel definitely do overall harm to Australia …. but they may benefit certain other interests. Associating these attacks with the government’s current I.R. cult is not as absurd as it would first seem.

    Automatic cannon have a hell of a lot more thump than a heavy machine gun so they can do the job faster, more effectively and at a far lower overall cost. They can be mounted on a reinforced truck/tractor chassis (or even towed) so they can get into places where you couldn’t take an armoured vehicle.

    Self Propelled Guns don’t have to be big, slow and clumsy; they can be taken into places you wouldn’t dream of taking a 45-60 tonne Main Battle Tank. The Czech “Dana” and “Zuzana” come in at 30 tonnes (with nuclear/chemical warfare protection for the crew); same weight for the Chinese Type 83 and the Mitsubishi type 75. An Australian-designed and built 155mm Self Propelled Gun with a 39km range might even come in close to 22 tonnes …. if you can keep the stick-in-the-mud wallahs from fiddling with it.

    Appreciate your remarks on ships.

  5. Graham

    Comments as usual

    ((just lost everything I typed))

    COMMENT: Like you I really hate it when that happens. It seems to happen a lot on this blog for some reason. I tend to type thing up in Word first now.

    Ongoing attacks on the pay, conditions and productive resettlement back into civilian life of ADF personnel definitely do overall harm to Australia …. but they may benefit certain other interests. Associating these attacks with the government’s current I.R. cult is not as absurd as it would first seem.

    COMMENT: Agreed, if they are actually occurring and not being made up. In this case, there was (and remains) no linkage between these issues.

    Automatic cannon have a hell of a lot more thump than a heavy machine gun so they can do the job faster, more effectively and at a far lower overall cost. They can be mounted on a reinforced truck/tractor chassis (or even towed) so they can get into places where you couldn’t take an armoured vehicle.

    COMMENT: The logistics footprint of these systems is quite heavy. Now, something like the Barrett XM109 25mm as an optional section weapon, maybe.

    Self Propelled Guns don’t have to be big, slow and clumsy; they can be taken into places you wouldn’t dream of taking a 45-60 tonne Main Battle Tank. The Czech “Dana” and “Zuzana” come in at 30 tonnes (with nuclear/chemical warfare protection for the crew); same weight for the Chinese Type 83 and the Mitsubishi type 75. An Australian-designed and built 155mm Self Propelled Gun with a 39km range might even come in close to 22 tonnes …. if you can keep the stick-in-the-mud wallahs from fiddling with it.

    COMMENT: fair enough, as neither a tankie or infanteer, I won’t go beyond what they (and the historical record) say.

    POUCHES: The new webbing pouches are lousy. The first thing most people do is remove the internal cloth divisions and most of the velcro. Velcro is awful stuff on ammo pouches. It slows down access to ammo. That is a bad thing.

    Deborah noted

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/nelson-angers-troops/2006/06/07/1149359818698.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

    “The soldiers did not hold back, firing questions at the minister until they were ordered to stop.” [COMMENT: Factually correct] “They were not satisfied with the explanation that there had been no declaration of war in East Timor. [COMMENT: Opinion by a journalist and not borne out by people I know who were there]”

    “The classification ‘warlike’ — would that change with the death of one of us?” a soldier asked.

    At that point Dr Nelson deferred to the Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who blamed the situation on a 1993 cabinet decision”
    COMMENT: The word ‘blamed’ is used. This is emotive claptrap. Houston STATED that the decision made had been IAW the 1993 decisions and that the situation would be continuously monitored (which the personnel division is doing literally daily – I asked)

    It wasn’t just the Opposition, the soldiers themselves were questioning the Minister. If you weren’t so quick to criticise, put down and devalue any comments you don’t like, you might have observed that too.

    COMMENT: Oh, I observed, all right. And the troops are like that, they do NOT hold back when given the chance. SO if you go and read the following (all dates 8/6/06) as I did, you’ll notice something odd.
    Canberra Times p.3
    Daily Telegraph p.17
    Age p.1
    Adelaide Advertiser p.15
    SMH p.1
    Australian p.6
    Press Release of Robert McClelland (ALP Barton Shadow MinDef) dated 7 June (see Media Releases p.105)

    You see, the funny thing, the ONLY one which says that “…what do you think of the recent story about Australian troops asking for more money to go to East Timor?” is YOU. And you even misquote McClelland!

    How do you know the issue is false? Just because it’s raised by the Opposition doesn’t mean it’s false, and your inflated opinion doesn’t make it false.
    COMMENT: Because I read the available media to winnow out the biases and cross-check the facts, then went and asked someone who was there. This is how one conducts very basic research. I suspect that your comment about “…your inflated opinion…” is a case of projection. My contact informs me that NOT ONE soldier at the briefing “asked for more money to go to East Timor”. They did seek clarification about why service in East Timor was non-warlike, and therefore was ASM and not AASM. The driving issue was not money, it was the decoration. They matter more to most than money does.

    -You could do with viewing a very considerate reply from Graham in #13, and reply to Ken in #48 too, but then, you’re so vain, you probably think it’s not about you!
    COMMENT: Hmm. Nice ad hominems (they remain the last refuge of he who has no argument to offer), please notice that I remain civil towards you, merely pointing out that you have made stuff up and are now trying to shift your ground. What you posted simply did not occur. YOU MADE THAT UP.

    How do I know? I checked available data as described above, then contacted someone who was there and had a chat. The ‘spikiest’ question asked was by a soldier who was cheesed off that he had not received his long service medal 4 years after he should have. A boot was promptly applied to his CO, who is fixing that matter.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  6. MarkL:
    The logistics of getting big, bulky, heavy 155mm artillery ammunition and any automatic cannon ammunition (20mm, 23mm, 25mm, 30mm) are awful; I have to agree with you there.

    However, if you have to use fewer rounds to achieve Victory (to or bring the Baddies to the negotiating table) then the effort and cost are well worth it. Perhaps even the knowledge that Australians are there with “instant open-cut mines” may be sufficient to induce a more reasonable attitude …. and if not, we can open discussions with some very strong words that are instantly understood in every language.

    [b.t.w. I lost what was typed before because I carelessly dropped a book onto the keyboard, not because of any problem with this blog; surprised half the alphabet didn’t appear on the page as a result. :-) ]

    Soldiers’ opinions. Sorry but all occasions such as the one to which you referred are very heavily stage-managed; the term “Dorothy Dixish” comes immediately to mind. Whatever the case, handing a potential enemy propaganda victories on a golden plate is not a very good idea. Why wasn’t the whole matter of pay and conditions worked out well in advance and made crystal-clear to everyone, civilian or serving?

    Andrew Bartlett ….

    ANOTHER GENERALITY
    Sometimes you do have to spend huge amounts of money on specific defence equipment and weapons (Kevlar helmets or the Herucles aircraft for example) but on the rest you have to be tighter than a proverbial fish’s ****. Whatever you look at, get the opinions not only the higher ranking experts but also, surreptitiously, from ordinary diggers, sailors and airmen whom YOU yourselves have personally selected; their opinions could be just grumbling or they could save millions.

    Cheeky saying that? Of course!! But I would prefer to be thought of as cheeky and a trouble-maker if it meant members of ADF got what they actually needed and what worked and at a reasonable price rather than what someone just wanted, for whatever reason.

  7. Graham,a couple of comments (it is late)

    “Soldiers’ opinions. Sorry but all occasions such as the one to which you referred are very heavily stage-managed; the term “Dorothy Dixish” comes immediately to mind.”
    COMMENT: Graham, there is literally no way on earth you are going to get a bunch of our soldiers to DO that. If you try, they’ll sit there and say absolutely bugger-all, no questions, not one. They’ll ‘jack up’. No bloody respecters of that sort of BS, our blokes! An example, there is deep institutional memory of Blamey’s infamously craven ‘run like rabbits’ address to the Mud’n’Bloods after Imita Ridge in ’42 – and of his next few visits to the wounded in hospitals, where he was met with stoical wounded diggers who totally ignored his presence, but EVERY ONE was slowly munching on a lettuce leaf, or a carrot. You just won’t get a stage managed show out of our blokes. Can’t be done, I reckon, because at the end of the day, they are volunteers and every one of ’em KNOWS that Jack is at least as good as his master.

    “Whatever the case, handing a potential enemy propaganda victories on a golden plate is not a very good idea. Why wasn’t the whole matter of pay and conditions worked out well in advance and made crystal-clear to everyone, civilian or serving?”
    COMMENT: It was. The questions asked were WHY this decision had been made.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  8. MarkL:
    It is indeed late ….. but not so late as to mention the single swearword, the one which must never be uttered in the presence of any over-promoted, squandering, woman-hating, stick-in-the-mud, bullying show-pony and professional exam-passer who tries to pass himself off as a real officer and commander ….. MORALE. ((good night All )).

  9. Then MarkL, you’ll have no problem with naming your source and their relevant position in the ADF to substantiate your claims.

    My following post gave the link to the actual Age article and claims.

    Once again it is just your aggressively held opinion vs mine, until you substantiate with actual fact and evidence, not propaganda disguised as fact.

  10. Debs, your one attribution was matched by the following from 8 June:
    Canberra Times p.3
    Daily Telegraph p.17
    Age p.1
    Adelaide Advertiser p.15
    SMH p.1
    Australian p.6
    Press Release of Robert McClelland (ALP Barton Shadow MinDef) dated 7 June (see Media Releases p.105)

    You misquoted McClelland. You simply made up your claims from whole cloth. Now you focus on one small point and extrapolate specious claims even from that. I see why you do it. You have no knowledge, no facts, no ability to function outside your own delusions, and no leg to stand on. You have no answer when challenged about the stuff you made up.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  11. MarkL

    What r u on about?

    I did not make anything up, I’m allowed to propose a link on anything that I like – it is called opinion and #46 was a question of Graham asking for his opinion on the polital and ideoligical argy bargy going on at present. I think that the soldiers questions re pay are relevant in the political and IR climate of today – and soldiers are employees you know.

    You are simply unable to think outside of your own rigidly conservative, black and white viewpoint and you distort the facts to support your own bias. I was asking for an opinion and hypothesising to Graham – that is not criticism of the soldiers or the Govt. as you incorrectly stated in #50

    re #55 – you claimed contacts to back up your propaganda, who are your sources that you say were there and what are the positions that they hold in the ADF? – Don’t claim something as a fact unless you are prepared to back it up with evidence.

  12. Debs, in all the discussions above, you have observed nothing and learned nothing. Your first recourse to emotion and ad hominem simply disqualifies you as someone intellectually able to say anything worthwhile.

    Your very brief attention span is noted. See #55.

    As for sources, you ask that I place on public record a private conversation with someone I know. I do not have that person’s permission for that.

    I love the way you regard what I say as ‘propaganda’, dear Debs, and project your own dogmatic/theocratic thought processes on to others. I have been sharing your posts around the community, some are appalled at how straitjacketed your ‘thinking’ is, but most are merely amused.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  13. MarkL,
    Funny how whenever you are challenged on your sweeping propaganda statements, which you like to portray as fact (if MarkL says it, well it just has to be right!) you become very patronising and go for the put-down.
    Doesn’t bother me at all, but you can hardly lay claim to intelligent participation. Just another bully boy whose ego is in his hand!

  14. …”As for sources, you ask that I place on public record a private conversation with someone I know. I do not have that person’s permission for that”

    Yeah sure MarkyMark, like they really exist outside of your mind – I’m the one laughing, love the way you substantiate your “proof”! *heehee*

  15. At least I had the courtesy to ask the person involved.

    I only patronise those who have proven themselves completely incapable of rationally processing facts, those who are unable to conduct coherent discourse, and those who operate on BS and ad hominem.

    You DO fit all three criteria rather swimmingly, a record which would alarm anyone possessed of rational intelligence.

    Oh, BTW. Making a single fact-check is not a ‘sweeping propaganda statements’. Nice touch on the unnecessary plural, though. English not your strong point?

    Oh, don’t bother with yet another foaming reply, it will not be read. You and your ilk bore me, and are not worth wasting time on attempting to engage the wilfully deluded in substantive discussion, as your jejeune repartee proves. I have used you to improve the model I am working on on ‘leftard BDS/HDS sufferers’, and you have no further value to me (or anyone, I suspect). Go back to your dolls, child, for they will never challenge your ‘intellect’.

    TTFN

    MarkL
    Canberra

  16. Over the past 10 years there have been 6 inquiries at some level. Generally complaints have focused on poor investigations, closing of ranks, the protection of careers above all else, bastardisdation
    and bullying, all occurring within a closed and self referential system (ie the way that the
    ombudsman, IG ADF and CDF work means that soldiers have no independent means of redress. There
    is a list of public cases – Robyn Fahey, Jeremy Williams, Nicholas Shiels, Peter Criss,
    Allen Warren, Satatas, Amos, Appleby, Wiggins, Hayward, Palmer… the list goes on.

    This stuff is backed up by consistent (but not universal) cases of soldiers behaving badly,
    incidents which concern the community. Duntroon and RMC are key sites – rape and gang bangs,
    sexual assault, initiations and hazing, drug abuse or in arms corps such as 3 RAR (the rough justice report) or townsville, the KKK photo, the horse shootings or the kitten torturers.

    How do we make sense of it?

    Its important to note, that this context concerns the community. It creates distrust of the military. We can say its all bad press and who gives a toss about those who dont understand or someone can respond. It can be argued that recruitment is suffering because of these issues, let alone the reputation of the ADF. Im arguing for a
    more just, accountable ADF thats closer to the broader public – from the private soldier to
    the CDF.

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