Opinions from common go-to quotables such as Neil James, of the Australian Defence Association, and a few “defence” writers in some of the press paint a bleak picture of risky cuts to our soldiers, sailors and airmen as the result of last night’s budget announcement. Yet, when examining the lack of efficiency of our entrenched defence bureaucracy, the only risk should be towards the dead wood in the portfolio.

Wayne Swan’s announcement shows the defence cuts as follows:

  • -$965.7 million for 2012-13
  • -$1625.9 million for 2013-14
  • -$1137.5 million for 2014-15
  • -$1703.5 million for 2015-16.

When one looks at the Defence Project of Concern List, the waste of several hundred million to upgrade 12 of the new F/A-18F “Super-Hornet” strike-fighters with electronic jamming gear that the US Navy has deemed obsolete to modern threats, and the impulse buys at the end of the year for C-17 aircraft not mentioned on the oh-so-important defective Defence white paper, it is hard to believe that Defence will suffer under this budget if any sane person with the taxpayers mind at heart is at the helm.

And that is just the start. Defence is in trouble but not because of Julia Gillard and Swan.

That string of numbers mentioned above IS your new Defence white paper. The defective document known as the 2009 Defence white paper, which amounted to a shopping list of unaffordable and defective defence toys, makes one wonder on the value of wanting another joke in 2013. Why bother? The message should be in what I will label the “Gillard 2012 Defence white paper” is that the entrenched defence bureaucracy has to live within its means.

Since I can’t put it in this space, search YouTube for “Mr Creosote Monty Python” to get an idea of today’s waste in Defence. A thousand pardons, Monsieur. It is sick, but illustrates the point  of defence waste.

Because of the unwise decision for procurement of three air warfare destroyers and wtwo amphibious flat-tops that are larger than Australia’s last aircraft carrier, Defence is flying around with a lot of dead budget weight on its back. How they will find crew for these large ships is also puzzle.

The entrenched Defence bureaucracy wants 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. This program is a failure in every sense of the word. It is not affordable. Because of serious design flaws, it will not be combat effective.  Note; a Defence briefing from 2004 states that if the program fails, we start over with a clean sheet of paper for a fighter aircraft replacement plan.

When will that be?

The submarine program is a disaster. Because of numerous problems, it is a luxury to consider using it against a potential enemy. The white paper joke and rent-seekers want 12 new subs at $36 billion. It is a made-up number. My number is realistic. When there is solid proof that we have the crew to make six go to sea, we can have more, but not until then. Whatever the number, there has to be a valid strategic analysis. I haven’t seen any. Just a number of 12.

One metric not seen in the recent budget is that you employ 178 star-ranked officers (generals and admirals) and 134 civilian executives with all the perks. For a very small defence force.

Defence has many problems. The Gillard budget is not one of them.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey