Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:20 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 01:20 | SYDNEY

Defence and DFAT funding compared


Rory Medcalf


21 January 2008 13:10

My recent post criticising cuts to the DFAT budget has drawn fire. This reader agrees with my comments about the negative impact of reducing Australia’s diplomatic resources, but strongly objects to my asides that this is happening at a time when ‘Defence is being looked after nicely’ and that ‘John Howard would approve’ of the ranking of defence ahead of foreign affairs in Rudd Government spending priorities:

As well as being erroneous (witness the number of previously approved DCP items that last weekend's press reported were currently under critical review — incidentally, a quantum of funds that makes the announced DFAT cuts seem trivial by comparison) you imply that largesse on the defence budget is an (undesirable) policy position unique to John Howard. History records that the largest, most costly defence project delivered to date (the Collins class Submarines) was conceived and planned under the then Hawke Labor Government by Beazley.

The comment that defence is 'nicely looked after' neglects the salient fact that much of the 'nice' funding relates to Defence's involvement in several ongoing 'live' shooting matches as a result of the international policy positions of both the current and former governments.

Perhaps you are right and ADF members executing the Australian Government's international policy positions whilst in harms way in the Middle East, Timor Leste and Melanesia are less deserving of funding in their missions than those DFAT employees executing the same government's policies in the vital international powerhouses of Latin America, Pretoria and Vienna. But I doubt it. I also doubt that you could sell that as a policy to either the Australian polity or society.

Clearly my stray remarks have struck a nerve, so let me clarify.

I was referring to the new Government’s quarantining of the Defence budget from across-the-board cuts. The Rudd Government is committed to at least the continuing three percent increase in Defence spending in real terms, devised as default policy under Howard. My comment was underpinned by an understanding that Australia’s Defence and other security bureaucracies have tended in recent years to receive the funding they need (and sometimes more), whereas DFAT has been somewhat starved (and admittedly at times self-starving, given apparent Ministerial and Departmental reluctance to press for greater funding, even when a post-9/11 governmental spending spree provided opportunity to do so).

As for the relative merits of operations or diplomatic activities in particular locations, that’s a whole other debate which I won’t try exhaustively dissecting here — though, to be fair, Australia’s main diplomatic activity in Vienna is to pursue nuclear non-proliferation and the proper safeguarding of uranium exports at the International Atomic Energy Agency, hardly a trivial activity.