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Learning from the past

By Bruce Haigh - posted Wednesday, 19 March 2008

It is to be expected that a new government coming into office will take time to settle in, read the files and gradually get used to the idea of being in power.

In doing that the Rudd Government is no different to the Howard government which took the best part of 18 months to settle into harness.

However the Howard government was not bequeathed the administrative mess of a politicised public service and the moral and ethical conundrum which that created and which now constitutes Rudd’s inheritance.


With some aplomb Rudd has calmly and methodically put his hands on the levers as if he were taking over a well run and well oiled machine of state.

Nothing could be further from reality.

As a result of Howard’s wilfully selfish desire to use the instruments of state to maintain his hold on power, what was once a reasonably functional Commonwealth Public Service is now in need of an overhaul starting at the top.

Rudd through the Special Minister of State, Senator Faulkner, needs to look at a range of misadventures that occurred under Howard and ascertain the processes involved so that they do not happen again.

These investigations should be undertaken without apportioning blame so that they can be as wide ranging and thorough as is necessary to get to the bottom of what went wrong.

The loss of $1.3 billion on the ill fated Department of Defence, Seasprite project might be a starting point. How can Australian tax payers be asked to foot that bill at a time of tightening economic circumstances when they are being asked to tighten their belts?


What was done or not done that led to the outcome on Seasprite? What processes led to the ordering of the Super Hornet? On what strategic basis was the Abrams Tank purchased? And what has been the rational for purchasing the F35 off the plans with all the delays and cost blowouts that can be expected? Wasn’t the experience of the F1-11 enough? And what is the thinking behind the construction of the airwarfare destroyers and where are they likely to be effectively deployed? Why are submarines unmanned?

Why is Australia purchasing such expensive military hardware? Putting aside the political need to rush to the side of the US in it’s military adventures as the apparent cost of our insurance, where are we planning to use this hardware and for what purpose?

Inquiries instituted by the previous government into the AWB and Private Kovco provided more questions than answers and the AQIS inquiry has poor terms of reference.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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