Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 13:56 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 13:56 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Fitzgibbon at Defence

19 July 2012 15:59

Graeme Dobell's column about former Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon's views of his old department brought a response from Soldier Z, a serving member of the ADF who previously wrote for The Interpreter in 2010:

Joel Fitzgibbon's op-ed last Friday was poorly masked attempt to leverage the current negative media about ADF culture to revise history and apportion blame on the generals for his failures as Minister.

Fitzgibbon claims there is no accountability in Defence. There is a very clear line of civilian control for Defence: it's from the CDF and Secretary direct to...wait for it, the Minister! Beyond the Minister, the ADF is subordinate to the National Security Committee of Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister. Constitutionally, the ADF is ultimately subordinate to the Governor-General in her role as the Commander-in-Chief. The diarchic arrangement is unique, but so is Defence. It is a separate armed force and public service department linked as one with soldiers and civilians whose roles are completely divergent. That demands an arrangement like the diarchy. 

If the Generals really covered up, mislead and ignored Fitzgibbon as he so loudly complains, what did he do about it? What did he think his job was as Minister? What did he tell his junior ministers and parliamentary secretaries to do? Did he not have his Prime Minister's backing?

Fitzgibbon presided over a White Paper that promised a vast expansion in capital, equipment and expenditure but contained no plan about how to pay for it. He regularly lambasted NATO countries for not fighting hard enough in Afghanistan, yet obfuscated when it came to Australia backing his words with more meaningful deployments beyond Uruzgan province to where the fight really was. Strong accountability is only as good as the leadership that demands it. If that was elusive, then only he is to blame for that.

Fitzgibbon attempts to paint the generals as the source of all Defence's ills, but he conveniently forgets one area where the most serious problem is: procurement. The Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) is responsible for procuring, introducing into service, maintaining and upgrading the ADF's major combat equipment. To most Australians, DMO seems to specialise in spending billions in taxpayers dollars to buy equipment that doesn't work, leaving our troops in danger and our nation weaker. DMO was supposed to be a single point of responsibility to stop procurement waste. If Fitzgibbon wants better accountability, then he should argue for a Royal Commission into DMO's disgusting waste. And what of Fitzgibbon's assertion? DMO is run by civilians, not generals, Mr Fitzgibbon.