Crikey personally believes Labor is a better defence option because they have former Defence Ministers Beazley and Ray in their ranks whilst the Coalition’s defence ministers – Reith, McLachlan and Moore – have all retired. But we’re a broad church and publish this piece from a defence insider.

Mr Beazley is asking electors to rely on his national security experience based on his time as Minister of Defence. However his record in the portfolio is not something about which he should be proud. While the Dibb Review, commissioned by Mr Beazley, clearly articulated the need for defence self reliance, its concepts of warning time and a minimal force (to be expanded in times of need) were a political fillip to enable the defence budget to be cut from 9 to 7% of government outlays. This occurred at the same time as operational demands on the ADF escalated which according to Dibb’s plan should have necessitated an expansion not a contraction of the force.

By the time the East Timor dilemma became untenable, the Howard government looked to defence for a response and discovered to its dismay that the ADF was a hollow force. In the face of pressing domestic issues, the government rapidly moved to ameliorate the serious gaps in operational readiness and military capabilities left by Minister Beazley. It is however true that when it first entered office the Howard government continued the ALP policy of cutting defence personnel numbers but that policy was quickly abandoned in the face of the East Timor crisis.

Instead of purchasing existing and very credible submarine capabilities on the international market at the time, Kim Beazley decided that not only should he modify an existing Swedish submarine design increasing its size by around 1/3rd – but that it should be built, from scratch, in a greenfields site in a marginal labour electorate in South Australia. The trouble plagued Collins class submarine program was a failed industry decision not a balanced national security consideration. After fantastic amounts of tax-payer money have been thrown at the problem, the new submarines will become a valuable military asset in the future. But it should not have happened.

The ANZAC ship project another Beazley decision based on Professor Dibb’s report has delivered a maritime patrol capability on time and on budget. However the problem with that program was that the wrong ship was selected. The ANZAC’s are too big for patrol and too small for naval warfare. Again political and industry considerations outweighed operational demands. Given that the hopelessly under-armed HMAS ANZAC is currently in the Gulf and not on patrol in the Australian littoral as per its design criteria Alternative Prime Minister Beazley is no doubt preying that it is not attacked.

Feedback to [email protected]

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW