Sunday 14 Aug 2022 | 16:01 | SYDNEY
Sunday 14 Aug 2022 | 16:01 | SYDNEY

Morrison stands up for Army


James Brown


26 October 2012 12:29

The Australian labels it an 'extraordinary public intervention by a serving senior ADF officer', but the national newspaper is only partly right. Today's public comments by Chief of Army (and Interpreter contributor) Lieutenant General David Morrison are unprecedented, but they should not be extraordinary. 

Still, General Morrison has taken a strong stand against the hollowing of Defence and should be congratulated. If anyone was wondering what moral courage in Canberra looks like, this is it.

In a speech today the Chief of Army has warned against the follies of expecting to do more soldiering with less funding. He cautions against the strategic myopia of repeating lessons learnt after the Vietnam drawdown, echoing concerns expressed by Lowy fellow Alan Dupont. And Morrison explicitly links his comments to the Government's dominant political interest of achieving a budget surplus.

The Chief of Army is treading a careful line in championing the interests of current and future soldiers to a Government that cares little about either. His comments are bold, but not reckless. When a shredded defence budget was announced last May, Morrison reported the impact on Army programs in a matter-of-fact budget message to his people. The message subsequently became public, outlining clearly the impact of slashed funding on future Army operations.

Morrison notes today that in the Australian military, 'civil authority is supreme'. Civilian control of the military is entirely entrenched in Australia, and the military's role in politics is as far from the Pakistani model as possible. Politicians can even attack our generals in national newspapers, safe in the knowledge that they won't hear a public peep back from Russell headquarters.

But we could afford to hear more from the military leadership on what kind of force structure and funding they need. There is a need for a modicum of public contestability between Defence and the Minister on the important challenges facing Australia's defence organisation. The complete lack of it to date has been unhealthy.

Just maybe, Morrison has taken the lead from his own minister. On two occasions now Stephen Smith has quietly stated that he would prefer defence spending to be 2% of GDP, rather than the reduction to 1.56% he has overseen. Cracks are appearing in the policy fallacy that all is OK in Defence, and that's a very good thing.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.