Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 23:42 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 23:42 | SYDNEY

Issues to watch in Defence in 2011


James Brown


18 January 2011 17:34


After a lackluster parliamentary debate in October last year, Australian troops will remain committed in Afghanistan through 2011. The Afghan fighting season starts in May and it is an unfortunate near-certainty that Australia will sustain more casualties this year — two soldiers have been wounded already in the first fortnight. We lost ten soldiers last year and 21 in total since the ADF went back into southern Afghanistan in 2005. 

The Prime Minister has committed to an annual parliamentary statement on Afghanistan and will be under pressure this year (like all political leaders in ISAF) to demonstrate tangible improvement in both the training of Afghan National Security Forces as well as the war overall. She nominated 'persevering in our mission in Afghanistan' as one of her policy priorities for the year ahead.

The budgetary battle

Even without accounting for the probable 1% decrease in GDP after the Queensland floods, this year's federal budget in May will be tight for all departments. For the Defence Department it will be a particularly difficult budget, with some commentators already foreshadowing that Defence will get raided to balance the books.

The Strategic Reform Program has committed Defence to $20.6 billion in savings over 10 years to pay for the capabilities outlined in the 2009 Defence White Paper. Somewhat predictably, there has been some friction in implementing the program. ASPI has described some of the SRP efficiency measures are mere 'fanciful accounting tricks' and warned that 'moral hazards abound'.

The deployment to Afghanistan, forecast to cost $1.6 billion in 2010-11, is also becoming a material constraint on the Government's promise to return to surplus in 2013.

The Court Martial

Two soldiers and one officer from the Army's Special Operations Command were charged last year with a range of offences relating to an incident in Afghanistan in February 2009 that resulted in civilian casualties. The trial process will begin during 2011 with the convening of a Court Martial.

Public commentary on this issue has verged on the hysterical and the recent dismantling of the Australian Military Court has undermined public confidence in the military judicial system.

In theory, there's no reason why the trial should be a major issue – inquiries are held into fatal police shootings all the time, the ADF has always stressed that its soldiers are accountable under military law, and the Chief of Defence and Minister have been quick to establish that all resources will be made available to the charged soldiers.

Despite all that, Australia doesn't have the depth of experience of the US and UK in military Courts Martial, and the ADF isn't known for handling sensitive issues in the public domain well. This trial will fascinate both the media and the public.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Defence.