Richard Farmer writes:

Former minor level military
officers who leave the army with a huge chip on their shoulder
generally find it hard to have their views taken seriously in the
debate about Australia’s defence policy. Give that same officer a grand
title with an independent sounding organisation and those same views
come blasting out of radios and appear on televisions and in newspapers
all over the nation. And even, it seems, in the Crikey newsletter!

So it was this week when subscribers found that the Australian Defence
Association, “loves the Defence Minister.” Christian Kerr quoted from
the ADA’s Defence Brief the view that “Senator Hill has clearly been
the most effective Minister for Defence since the Howard Government
assumed office”. Now presumably the Bulletin reflects the view of Neil
James, the executive director of the Association, and that opinion
might well be absolutely correct but I doubt that Mr James’ expertise
in the subject was the reason his views are so often quoted. The Crikey
appearance, like countless others by the current executive director and
his predecessors, was purely and simply the result of the title.

brings me to the first rule for anyone wanting to take part in
political debate: start an organisation and give yourself a title. If
it sounds impressive you will be heard.

The Australian Defence
Association is a wonderful example. It started in Perth in 1975 when
Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, KBE, CB, DFC, who had been Chief of
the Air Staff from May 1961 to May 1965, Jim Harding, described on
their website as “a leading Western Australian trade unionist,” and
Peter Firkins, the director of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, decided
that Australia was at a strategic watershed following the fall of
Saigon to a major North Vietnamese attack. According to the website
“they had the vision to see that an independent and non-partisan
‘ginger group’ was required to stimulate, nurture and monitor effective
public debate on national security issues.”

The ADA has grown
from there to become a regular participant in the defence debate. But
what exactly is it? Well, its board of directors is these days a long
way short of Air Marshal Hancock’s status but you can judge that for
yourself from the following descriptions taken from the ADA website.

Dr Brian Ridge – Brian Ridge is National President of the
ADA. He teaches Linguistics and Asian Studies (including sections on
regional security and defence) at the University of Southern Queensland
in Toowoomba. He has taught previously at other Australian universities
and overseas in Singapore and China. Brian is linguistically curious
and his day is not complete without a new word from the “Worthless Word
For The Day” list (it is a real list!)

Neil James – A graduate
of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Neil James served for over 31
years in the Australian Army. His experiences spanned a wide range of
regimental, intelligence, liaison, teaching, operational planning and
research positions throughout Australia and overseas, including
Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Kashmir, Pakistan, India,
Canada, Iraq, the United States and New Zealand. Neil is the author of
four ADF and Army operational manuals, has written numerous articles
for professional and specialist journals, has contributed chapters to
several books on defence matters and has authored several entries in
the Australian Dictionary of Biography. He has served with the senior
teaching staff at the Army Command and Staff College and the Australian
and Canadian defence intelligence schools, and has taught on specialist
courses with various Australian and allied intelligence and security
agencies. After serving for nearly four years (1997-2000) as foundation
director of the Army’s ‘think-tank’, the Land Warfare Studies Centre at
Duntroon, his final posting was as head of the operational plans branch
at Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand near Wellington. In 2000 the
then Australian Defence Studies Centre at UNSW published his
comprehensive and critical study paper on reforming the strategic
management of Australia’s defence. The paper earnt him both his
trans-Tasman exile in 2001-02 and his current position as Executive
Director of the Association.

Alan Collier – Alan Collier is a
graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and served for five
years as a an officer in the signals corps. Since leaving the Army in
1982 he has pursued eclectic interests as an electrical engineer,
businessman, lawyer, company director and management consultant. He is
of the view that there is more importance in defence and national
security issues being vigorously debated than in any necessity that he
agrees with any particular point of view.

David Forbes – David
Forbes is barrister practising in commercial and insolvency law in
Melbourne. He is also a volunteer lawyer at the Darebin Community Legal
Centre. David joined the ADA in 1984 and has an on-going interest in
national security and foreign policy issues. David writes occasional
articles for Defender and academic legal journals. He regularly reads
The Economist for breakfast.

Dr Malcolm Kennedy – Malcolm
Kennedy spent 14 years in the regular and reserve components of the
Australian Army. He saw service in Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Laos,
and has travelled extensively in East and South-East Asia.
Subsequently, he taught at Melbourne and Monash Universities. Editor of
Defender, he now works as a freelance writer and editor.

Lovell, AM – Michael Lovell is a graduate of the Royal Military
College, Duntroon, and served for 29 years as an artillery officer.
Since retiring from the Army in early 2003 he has been employed as a
senior manager in a large Australian corporation. With a comprehensive
background in strategic policy and futures analysis, Mike believes
informed public debate on defence and wider national security issues
needs more than just sectional inputs from the usual political,
official and commercial sources or processes. He considers the
independent and informed perspectives of the ADA are of great benefit
to such debates, especially in helping to protect the longer-term
public interest.

Tom Magee – Tom Magee is a graduate of the
Royal Military College, Duntroon, and served as an infantry officer for
16 years. He counts his time with 3RAR establishing its parachute
capability and his three-year secondment to the PNG Defence Force as
the highlights of his time in the Service. Since leaving the Army in
1993 he has worked in a variety of executive roles in the resources
industry, predominantly in the metalliferous sector. A ‘specialist
generalist’, he sees the honest broker role of the ADA as bringing an
essential element to public debate of national security issues and to
the practical outcomes such debate generates.

director until earlier this year, Ian Bostock, deserves a special
mention. The ADA website used to describe him as “a professional
journalist and the editor of a national consumer magazine.” The biog
did not mention that the magazine in question is Australasian Sporting
and its companion title Bacon Busters.