Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:42 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:42 | SYDNEY

Australia election: The defence debate


Sam Roggeveen


16 November 2007 11:34

As Hugh White pointed out in his analysis of yesterday's foreign policy debate, when it comes to national security issues, a draw is as good as a win for Labor. And that is certainly the tactic Opposition defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon pursued this morning in the debate against Defence Minister Brendan Nelson. By continually emphasising points of agreement and a general spirit of bipartisanship on defence he took much of the sting out of the debate, and probably ensured that defence won't get many column inches in what remains of the campaign.

I had never previously seen Fitzgibbon in action, but talk among the national security cognescenti has been negative, so I had got used to thinking of him as both unknowledgeable and uninterested in defence. But although he probably doesn't sleep with a copy of Jane's Defence Weekly under his pillow and he lacks Brendan Nelson's astonishing ability to recollect facts and figures, Fitzgibbon today did a more than passable impression of someone who knew his stuff.

Nelson's obvious command of the portfolio went from being impressive to distracting. The audience got a blizzard of statistics but not much strategic context. Although both men committed to a future Defence White Paper, neither discussed in detail the kinds of strategic issues that such a paper will have to grapple with. It was refreshing, though, to see real debate between the speakers. Debate rules were put aside temporarily to allow some excellent back-and-forth on recruitment, NATO troop commitments to Afghanistan, defence industry and, inevitably, Iraq.