Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 07:27 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 07:27 | SYDNEY

How China is viewed in the bureaucracy


Sam Roggeveen


13 April 2009 05:53

The Weekend Australian's scoop about bureaucratic disagreements over defence policy is a good one. I had certainly heard rumours of resentment within the intelligence community that their assessments about China's long-term strategic trajectory were being disputed by the Defence White Paper drafting team. But I had no idea such debates had reached the head of Australia's peak intelligence agency, ONA, who was apparently moved to write to the Prime Minister about it.

The Weekend Australian paints this episode as a defeat for the intelligence agencies and victory for the head of the White Paper team, Mike Pezzullo. I'm sure those involved in the skirmish see it that way too, but as described by The Australian, this seems like exactly the way the system should work. It is not the job of Government or other parts of the bureaucracy to blindly accept intelligence assessments; these are just one (important) input into the policy-making process, and deserve to be thoroughly contested.

More troubling is the claim in the story that 'Senior government sources said (the Defence Intelligence Organisation) had come under strong pressure to alter its China assessment to accommodate the contrasting views of Defence chiefs and the white paper team.' That should certainly be investigated.

As to the substance of the dispute, it is territory we covered here last week regarding Australia's response to the growth of China. Look out for further debate on this topic later in the week on The Interpreter, after Hugh White launches his new Lowy Institute publication, which comes to some pretty controversial conclusions about Australia's force structure.