Brendan Nelson is shameless – even for a frontbencher – but he’s got egg on his face as defence forces chief Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston directly contradicts his statement to police about the death of Private Jake Kovco death, saying the Defence Minister ignored repeated warnings not to speculate about the shooting.

Is it the ADF’s revenge? Relations between the forces and the Government have been strained since the 1999 Timor deployment. Defence sources warn about being overstretched, under-resourced – and feeling as if they’re just stage sets for political photo-ops. But there’s more to this than that.

Defence has a different structure to other departments. It effectively has two bosses – Houston and Secretary Rick Smith.

In the old days departmental bosses used to speak out. Remember John Stone’s time at Treasury – or Charles Perkins’s tenure at Aboriginal Affairs?

The Howard Government has sought to silence any dissenting voices – making it much more damaging on the rare occasions that they’re heard.

Houston, one needs to remember, was also a dissenter in kids overboard. And here we come to a very specific defence fact.

ADF officers are impressive figures. You can trust them. You can trust with your life as that’s exactly what they’ve been trained to do – to protect the lives of the personnel under their command.

Trust is essential to military discipline. In contrast, all too often governments are only bound together by mutual complicity in lies.

Peter Fray

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