Safe in their bunker deep in the bowels of Gareth’s Taj Mahal, Crikey’s special correspondents, Defence and Foreign Affairs watchers Bertie Bunker-Buster and colleague Cecil Seagoon give their spin on the latest crisis of truth facing John Howard on the eve of the election.

Admiral, Take A Bow

Bertie dips ‘is lid to that real hero of the moment and a hero in every sense of the word Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral David Shackleton. He’s the only one with the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the prevaricating politicians and reveal the truth to the Australian people. Now this act of moral courage may cost you your job, Admiral, because the Coalition Government won’t tolerate being exposed like that and Howard is known as a great hater. But let me reassure you that you have our vote of confidence. You have spoken the truth at this important stage of a nasty Federal election campaign, where truth was ever the first casualty. You have cemented in the minds of all the Department, both uniformed and civilian staff, that there is hope for us all yet; that we in the Department aren’t the mute slaves of ambitious, scrabbling politicians who manipulate the facts to suit their own agendas. We salute you, Admiral, and in the words of your own Service: Bravo Zulu which translates into ‘well done’ in civvie-speak.

Ongoing Fear And Loathing

A brave step for a senior Serviceman to speak out against his political masters, but not before time. The other truth is that there has been much fear and loathing between the Department of Defence and those who have occupied the ministerial office over in the big house during the time of the Coalition government. The cheering from Russell Offices when Reith announced he was pulling the pin could be heard across the lake in Kingston. As well as fear and loathing, perhaps the word “interference” springs to mind. Unfortunately for the overall defence aspects of this country, we have been ill-served by Howard and his cronies despite their supposed leanings towards security. ADF numbers have been cut severely, Defence budgets slashed and resources stretched to the limit on ill-conceived overseas deployments.

It is appropriate to have a quick recap on some of the incandescent personalities who have made their contribution to the recent fear and loathing environment. And you all wondered why Defence personnel are well known to be leery of politicians. Well, here’s why.

First there was Ian McLachlan, big mate of John Howard. McLachlan who dared criticise a warrant officer because he thought he looked ‘pudgy’ in public. McLachlan who sat on his fat arse in Parliament enjoying all the perks of the job like using the VIP jet fleet. McLachlan whose wife thought she was Dowager empress of the Fleet or somesuch, who was loathed so much because of her constant carping that she was dubbed “Whingeing Wendy” and that’s the most printable sobriquet she earned. McLachlan who ordered up a Blackhawk helicopter to rescue him out of heavy traffic at an air show. McLachlan, who finally jumped John Howard’s leaky boat by announcing he didn’t want to be in Parliament, didn’t want to be Defence Minister and just wanted to go back to his sheep.

Next there was John Moore, another big mate of John Howard. He of the huge intellect that couldn’t grasp anything more than the twin concepts of “slash and burn Defence” and “Hey, look at what I’ve done, Johnny.”

How could we forget Bronwyn Bishop, late Minister for Defence Science & Technology; most noted for her constant harping and carping against her departmental staff. Bronwyn who constantly, openly and deliberately humiliated her military ADCs. Bronwyn, she of the lacquered helmet hair-do, who was known in the corridors of Russell as “Dracula’s Bride”. The same Bronwyn who had Adrian D’hage MC terrified. Who needs political interference like this?

Now, we have Peter Reith, with less than 24 hours of his whole political career left, and after the debacle of the Telecard affair, there’s only one message for you, pal: good riddance! Reith clearly believes that telling the truth is optional in politics, yet he had the hide to head a ministry where its uniformed members hold truth, justice, honesty and loyalty to be self-evident truths.

There Is Some Hope On The Horizon!

But wait, there have been some good performers in the Defence portfolio (note I said ‘good’, not outstanding). Robert Ray and Kim Beazley were strong performers in both Cabinet and Caucus. But this should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of their party, as some will be quick to do; I am referring to their personal interest and dedication to the job and the personnel in their Department.

Another strong performer is the current Minister for Veterans Affairs, Bruce Scott. Beloved of his staff “Not a bad bloke for a bushie.” he has worked tirelessly to investigate and correct a number of outstanding issues with regard to veterans’ entitlements and recognition. The veterans love him. It would be a pity to see him go down the gurgler with the rest of that Coalition rabble.

Abandon the Sinking Ship

The Coalition ship has been found sadly wanting. It’s been struck by a torpedo of its own making. It’s going down by the stern and listing heavily to starboard. There’s no-one on board with sufficient leadership to put out the fires of discontent. Despite the scrabbling, back-pedalling and furious denials of Fearless Leader, I think that this one’s about to turn turtle and disappear, 05 And even if it is re-elected, who will be Defence Minister? Former Squadron Leader Jackie Kelly, a RAAF lawyer so competent that she was unaware of the provisions of Section 44 of the Constitution? Former Captain Mal Brough who left the army one step ahead of a court martial? Bronny? Hindenberg Hockey? Soapy Slipper? At least the Rodent will have this headache.

Perhaps, more importantly, we have seen a sea change, to borrow a current phrase, among our uniformed brethren over there in Russell; an acknowledgement perhaps that they are sick to death of being ill-used by their political ‘masters’ and are prepared to do something about it. The truth will out!

Yours from the bunker, Bertie

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