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Reader riposte: A serious approach to defence

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COMMENTS

17 June 2011 13:33

Peter Layton writes:

Jim Molan has refined his argument on the ADF's troubles and now suggests this is 'all' due to successive governments' budgetary failings going back some 40 years. Importantly, this is not an argument for more money to cut losses in current combat operations but instead for more money long-term for Defence as a department of state. I am sure that Jim is not quite as much of a Marxian economic determinist as this all sounds, albeit Marxists found money underlay 'all' as well. Jim, though, hits a really key point: how much is enough?

Looking back over the last 40 years, some will say that in the main Governments may have got it pretty much right. Nothing all that bad happened, although others will rightly argue that some of our 'interventions of choice' could have been done better. The Treasury rejoinder will be that from a value-for-money viewpoint good outcomes were none the less achieved from a national perspective.

And that's were the rubber hits the road: those governments of the last 40 years were elected (and paid) to take a national perspective and in so doing balance the competing demands from the various Government departments in particular and all Australians in general. Jim thinks they got the balance wrong then and now - and sometimes in the past the voters agreed!

Those who wish for more money, though, rarely suggest increasing taxes to pay for more expenditure, or even where to cut current costs to balance the budget. Prudence dictates high-spending enthusiasts avoid such fiscal minefields but national governments cannot.

This is a really hard area in a time when governments are expected to place priority on safeguarding the lives of all Australians. Some say that sustaining Defence should be the first priority of government at the expense of all else, but balanced against other needs this is more problematic. To take a simple example, there is ample evidence to suggest that building better roads would lower the numbers of deaths and injuries Australians suffer each year due to road accidents. Should the Federal government spend more money on roads and thereby save several hundred Australians each year from death and maiming, or would the nation as a whole be better off with say a hundred more M-1 main battle tanks? I am sure most would say in such hard situations that a balance is needed and this balance would vary based on the arguments made, the pros and the cons.

Following Jim's line of argument that it is 'all' due to insufficient money, Defence for the last 40 years has been demonstrably unable — or did not feel the need to — present governments with a persuasive and compelling case for sustained increased spending relative to the other needs of all Australians. Has the ADF been let down in this regard? Jim's 'Constructive Subversion' may be one thing but a compelling argument is a much more difficult and onerous task. Maybe Defence thinks so too!

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