“Robert Hill leaves politics highly
regarded as John Howard’s best minister for defence, the man who finally
managed to point Australia’s armed forces in the right direction,” The Sydney
Morning Herald‘s Damien Murphy wrote on the weekend.
Yet there were some important qualifications:
Like all his
predecessors, Senator Hill was unable to shatter the congealed bureaucracy that
bedevils the defence of Australia. It remains too big a job for one person.
Defence Association’s Neil James believes three ministers are needed to run the
business of war and peace. “Hill did it brilliantly, the best since Robert
Ray,” James said yesterday. “But he was a workaholic and you can’t
guarantee his successors will be, so better to appoint three people to do the
a much more detailed critique of Hill’s tenure – and what needs to be done in
Defence – in the latest edition Defence Brief,
up on the ADA’s website.
worthwhile, however, grabbing a few key thoughts from the Association:
Senator Hill’s capable record as Minister
for Defence, especially his capacity for focused hard work, has greatly
disguised the growing problem that the portfolio is now simply too big for any
one Minister. The department’s broad structural deficiencies and extensive
financial management problems are both a cause and a symptom of this excessive
Given the importance of defence in national
terms, the size of the department and its budget, the Portfolio Minister should
be assisted by a full-time junior Minister overseeing defence science,
technology and procurement matters. A second full-time junior Minister should
oversee the day-to-day operational and administrative activities of the defence
force, including all the associated personnel aspects. This would not only
increase ministerial grip on the department to the extent required, it would
also mean there was a career structure to help groom junior and senior defence
The high throughput and often indifferent
quality of junior Ministers and Ministers Assisting in the Defence portfolio
over recent decades has not given the ADF the ministerial oversight its
consistent loyalty and professionalism has deserved.
another argument from defence observers – different but complementary.
acknowledges that Hill’s tenure as defence minister was largely scandal free –
but says existing and developing problems worsened through ministerial inaction
during his time in the portfolio.
of this case say that Hill became a public mouthpiece for the Defence
bureaucracy – that there is little evidence he contributed anything of
substance to the development of policy or to management but instead presided
over an unprecedented growth in bureaucratic power over domain expert opinion.
sets a significant challenge for the incoming minister. Ministers? If they
stay, of course.
defence portfolio has also been a departure lounge during the time of the
Howard Government. The record isn’t all that encouraging:
McLachlan – 11.3.1996-21.10.1998
Moore – 21.10.1998-30.1.2001
Reith – 30.1.2001-26.11.2001
Hill – 26.11.2001-20.1.2006