What's happening at the
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 16:24 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 16:24 | SYDNEY

The ADF in public debate

16 Aug 2012 13:39

The views expressed here, based on this working paper, are the author's and do not reflect those of the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

Periodically the US military is host to a robust, heated, and sometimes painful debate on the future character of war. These debates are conducted in the open, using both internal and external forums, and involve serving and retired personnel interacting with outside experts. Existing orthodoxies are not beyond challenge. Recently the focus of discussion was on whether the US Army should be orientated to wage counterinsurgency or conventional campaigns. Lately the US military has begun to consider the Air-Sea Battle concept.


27 Aug 2012 10:12

Lieutenant General David Morrison (pictured) is Chief of the Australian Army.

I am a strong supporter of discussion and debate on a wide range of issues, including the future nature of warfare; however I disagree with the thesis put forward by Dr Albert Palazzo in the latest Land Warfare Studies Centre Working Paper (ed. note: Dr Palazzo blogged about his paper on The Interpreter). There has been no stifling of debate on issues by any member in Defence or Government.  The very production of such a paper affirms that contentions can be openly aired and debated within our Army and our Defence Force.

I have made a number of public speeches since becoming Chief of Army and there has been no 'clearance' process that I have used in framing my comments, nor any direction provided to me. In fact, the amount of freedom available to me, and Army, has been heartening.


13 Sep 2012 11:02

Josh Farquhar writes:

The Chief of Army's response to Dr Palazzo's insightful and constructive comments on the lack of ADF involvement in public debate does not address Dr Palazzo's most critical point: why have senior ADF officers been so notably absent in the public debate?

Of the three factors proposed by Dr Palazzo ('bureaucratic, cultural and operational') as limiting ADF involvement, Lieutenant General Morrison effectively comments only on the first, and he merely states that Dr Palazzo is wrong without providing any substantial counter-argument. Dr Palazzo mostly points to internal disincentives and restrictions on public comment from within the ADF. He makes only limited suggestion of fault lying with government, but instead refers specifically to the 'Defence hierarchy'. It is somewhat redundant for Lieutenant General Morrison to offer that his own public comments have not been subject to clearance processes, when he is one of a handful of people at the very top of this hierarchy that Dr Palazzo suggests is at fault. 


17 Sep 2012 12:20

To consider whether Josh Farquhar is right when he says it is difficult for serving military officers to enter into professional military debate, it is worth analysing the ADF's rules on writing and speaking publicly. This is covered in the Defence Instruction (General) Admin 08-1, Public comment and dissemination of official information by Defence personnel. This 5 year-old document (positively ancient in this information age) notes that although Defence encourages public engagement, 'all public engagement is to be carefully managed'.

There are three reasons current policy is stifling professional debate. Firstly, the process by which Defence 'carefully manages' public comment involves overly centralised clearance of speeches, books, and essays written by Defence personnel.


19 Sep 2012 09:25

Hugh Smith, a former lecturer at RMC Duntroon and ADFA, writes:

Al Palazzo's article on why ADF voices are largely absent from strategic debate in this country is important. It draws attention to a major weakness in the public discussion of Australian defence and security and indicates a marked contrast with the freedom of expression enjoyed by military personnel in the US and to some extent the UK. The Chief of Army's response is also important for what it reveals about certain ingrained attitudes toward open debate of controversial issues.

My one criticism of the Palazzo paper is that – perhaps unavoidably – it ignores the elephant in the room, namely the political factor. Thanks to the adversarial nature of Australian politics, defence ministers are reluctant to see serving officers express any views that are even slightly critical of or divergent from prevailing policy. They will be seized upon by the Opposition – and probably the media – as evidence of the 'failure' of government policy or of 'discontent' in the ranks. Senior members of the ADF understand this; and they understand that ministers will not be happy if they express controversial views in public or permit subordinates to express such opinions.


26 Feb 2013 11:51

Wing Commander Brian Dirou, DFC (Retired) responds to a debate we hosted in August of last year:

Post-ADF formation in 1974, there was a mass exodus of personnel with embedded traditional military ethos and combat experience. Very counter-productive age/rank related mandatory retirement also fostered a detrimental loss of operating level experience, from Lieutenant Colonel equivalent downwards. Combat experience from WW2 onwards now rests principally within the retired military community and only Iraq and Afghanistan involvements since could reasonably be considered significant operational experience for some segments of the ADF.

It is not uncommon for those who had credible combat experience to say they disagreed with reports compiled by their commanders regarding operational activities. Unfortunately, much official military history is predicated on such reporting with a dearth of first-hand accounts from the operating level. It is fair to say that not all those who have climbed to the top ranks would have their views supported by the retired military community at large.