Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:32 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 21:32 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Defence dollars


Sam Roggeveen


27 April 2010 13:59

Former senior defence and intelligence official Alan Wrigley writes:

In his 'riposte' to Graeme Dobell's typically thoughtful commentary on the Minister's finger-wagging approach to its Defence managers, John Hannoush asks whether implied threats to withhold money from the military if it doesn't become more efficient in its spending doesn't risk Australia not being 'as well defended as the government intended?'

Graeme is right in portraying the Government's presentational approach as something of a schoolyard 'sweets or the strap' one, but in fact no government has any power to make promises stretching beyond its own elected term, let alone twenty years ahead. Already, since last year's Defence White Paper, we have seen a change of Defence Minister, a change of Departmental Secretary and inevitably soon a change of Defence Force Chief. A change of Prime Minister and/or a change of government is highly probable well before Force 2030 could come to its fruition.

Our national strategic environment is at least as likely to change from its current quite benign state in significant ways — for better or for worse. Indeed, the government has declared its intention to prepare a new Defence White Paper at intervals of no greater than five years — a demonstration at least of its political optimism.

Soon after I joined the Defence Department, Jim Killen, its minister under the Fraser Government, insisted that we add, at the end of his Defence White Paper of November 1976, a table of the Defence Program for the coming five years, with real expenditure growth averaging about 6.5% per year. Not one of those five years reached the projected figure.

That is the way governments work, and who is to question their right to adjust their priorities as times change? After all, in the well-used words of J.M. Keynes: 'When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?'