In recent weeks we have witnessed the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, deliver sermons from the mount which have struck a chord with the defence community. Is the PM the long awaited Messiah, the Real McCoy?
First there was his government’s decision to award medals to the Long Tan heroes from the Vietnam War after a 42-year wait; then there was talk of changing the Nelson-Howard military doctrine on Afghanistan by allowing our infantry soldiers to take over the fighting from the Special Forces; and announcing that Australia had to strengthen its defence forces to counter an arms race in our Pacific-Asia region.
Whatever PM Rudd’s true motivation is, you have hand it to him he is a very clever strategic/foreign affairs operator that many pundits have not given him the credit. Let me explain by drawing a comparison with Bob Hawke, another ALP Prime Minister (1983-91), also with messianic tendencies.
Hawke was known as the great conciliator whose claim to fame was his ability to bring opposing groups to the negotiating tables and hammer out a deal. During his Prime Ministership he brought in British academic Professor Paul Dibb and ex-Fairfax journalist Hugh White. Their brief was to transform the defence department with a number or reports, Defence White Papers and so on. Instead we ended up with a mess that took over a decade to bring under some form of control.
Mr Bruce Haigh, a former diplomat revealed during an interview with SBS TV’s Dateline program on September 27, 2000 that:
Defence is the department that’s divided amongst itself, as far as I can gather, and there are certain people inside Defence who’ve taken a certain line for a long period of time - the Paul Dibb line, if you like, which is high-tech, US-alliance - and you’ve got others who are saying, "No. We’ve got the situation to the north- we need to have more people in uniform, we need to have them trained, we need to have night-vision equipment provided for them.” … the Australian Army can see what needs to be done, but many of the civilian Defence personnel, who’ve built their careers on playing up to this particular line, are arguing the other case, and feeling increasingly isolated, because they are not facing reality. That’s the problem.
Respected Brigadier Jim Wallace, former Special Forces Commander, wrote in 2003:
Unfortunately, Australian defence policy has been mainly wrong for the whole of this period. Even after we committed troops to East Timor, Professor Paul Dibb, the policy's chief architect, was standing in front of parliamentary committees vowing that Australia would not be conducting what he called "expeditionary" operations out of the region. This was despite a series of major UN deployments over many years to places as far a field as Rwanda and Somalia. Afghanistan and Iraq have hopefully now discredited this logic.
At the same time, Dr Hugh White was arguing in initial drafts for the 2000 white paper to reduce the size of our army to about 19,000, on the basis that, like Professor Dibb, he didn't see the Government needing options for deployment out of the region, particularly for sending the army. The result has been an incredible demand on the dedication and professionalism of our special forces as they have again been thrown into the breach that our supposedly expert defence planners couldn't predict.
Professor Dibb’s response was to make the snide remark on the ABC TV Lateline program on July 11, 2002 that Wallace was a “retired brigadier”.
In contrast to Dibb’s retired brigadier sentiment, current PM Rudd has taken on board his government “retired colonel” Iron Mike Kelly, as parliamentary undersecretary on defence.
Furthermore, the PM told a RSL National congress recently: “… the first responsibility of government is the security of the nation. And it follows therefore that government has a particular responsibility towards those who have worn the nation's uniform. Because there is in my view no higher calling than to wear the uniform of Australia.”
To counter the possible Asia-Pacific arms race and the emergence of China, he said: “Our armed forces must be equipped to deal with the emerging security environment That is why the Government has already committed to making sure we stay ahead of the game by extending the real growth of the defence budget by 3 per cent per annum to 2017-18.”
Taxpayers, veterans, and serving defence personnel have heard it all before from politicians promising heaven and earth. Time will tell if Rudd can deliver on his pledges. One thing is for sure, those who have served in uniform will never again be dismissed as taking no part in the defence debate.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
5 posts so far.