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Forget sports rorts and car park malarkey – misuse of public money in Defence is staggering

Labor’s fear of getting wedged on national security has allowed Defence spending to skyrocket with little scrutiny and no opposition.

Currently, the budget is planned to grow by a remarkable 87.4% over the coming decade – well above the election promise of 2% of GDP. With $575 billion to spend over ten years, someone should really be paying attention to what these guys are doing.

When the Auditor-General recently had the temerity to suggest that “Defence has not clearly demonstrated that the acquisition provides value for money, as it did not undertake robust benchmarking in the context of a sole source procurement”, he was promptly gagged.

We don’t know how many billion cancelling the French sub contract will eventually cost us, but it isn’t the only such debacle as pointed out by ASPI in their commentary on the defence budget brief 2021–2022.

“Earlier this year, Defence cancelled its project to deliver the Submarine Escape Rescue and Abandonment System. After getting into contract and spending what could be close to $100 million, Defence decided that it had irreconcilable differences with its industry partner.

The Army’s highest priority program, the digitisation of the Army under LAND 200, also has been put on hold after nearly 15 years of work and almost $2 billion spent. Even if it continues, it could take another 10 years to complete—in total, that’s longer than the F-35A. Can Defence keep running projects that take a quarter of a century to deliver?”

Peter Dutton is addressing the Lowy Institute today about the threats we face and how we will maintain peace and prosperity in the region by spending kazillions on weapons of war.

“We are facing challenges including rapid military modernisation, tension over territorial claims, heightened economic coercion, undermining of international law, including the law of the sea, through to enhanced disinformation, foreign interference and cyber threats, enabled by new and emerging technologies.”

Dutton says Australia is maintaining investment in its core military capabilities and continuing to develop new ones “to hold a potential adversary’s forces and infrastructure at risk from a greater distance, capabilities which send a clear deterrent message to any adversary that the cost they would incur in threatening our interests outweighs the benefits of so doing.”

This sounds very much like an admission that we can’t match major-power adversaries and need to develop capabilities to deter them rather than engage them.

Which begs the question of why we are spending hundreds of billions on traditional, conventional capabilities such as expensive, multi-role, manned platforms and an increasingly heavy conventional land force.

Having too much money to spend leads to ridiculous situations like the one where we are deliberately paying more to slow down delivery so our shipbuilders have something to do.

The Force Structure Plan says the cost increase for the Future Frigate Program was caused by the government allocating ‘additional funding to enable construction of ships at a deliberate drumbeat over a longer period of time than originally planned to achieve a continuous shipbuilding program’.

Over the decade, the government is providing $575 billion in funding to Defence, but in that time it won’t deliver a single new combat vessel.

As Defence workforce numbers are capped, one wonders who is going to crew and maintain this vast collection of new equipment. It is already estimated that over 10% of Defence’s acquisition budget is going to contractors helping to run projects, costing way more than if we used experienced public servants.

While there are significant questions about how efficiently Defence is spending, there are even bigger questions about whether it’s spending it on the right things in the first place. Us spending up to $40 billion on heavy armoured vehicles isn’t much of a deterrent to China.

Instead of investing in extremely expensive crewed platforms that take decades to design and manufacture and are potentially too valuable to lose, we should be making greater use of uncrewed and autonomous systems.

Investing in cybersecurity and countering misinformation are far more relevant national security issues than buying bigger guns.

Some say that having a few targeted long-range missiles would be a sufficient deterrent against aggression. It would certainly be cheaper than wasting money on submarines.

Personally, I think respect given and earned, co-operation for mutual gain, and help in times of need or crisis, are far better defences than any weapon. The Coalition picked a bad time to cut Foreign Aid, ignore pleas to reduce emissions, and then act all offended when other suitors come calling.

We need détente, not Dutton – a man who speaks very loudly and carries a tiny widdle stick.

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12 comments

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  1. Mason

    Combative idiots are trying to fight today-tomorrow wars with yesterday weapons. Small drones/loitering munitions are unstoppable, and cheap but inhumane. Being human would best but is beyond the glean of many. The big swinging dick mentality that worked in the 20th C is washed up – sorry dinosaurs, olde hats on olde heads. Grow up, open your eyes and enter the 21st C. To prefer living life in a rear view mirror – how good are face plants in the mud of stupid?

  2. Douglas Pritchard

    I’ve heard it said that we have a “special” relationship with Uncle Sam.
    This means that we may be able to buy some of their redundant weapons of mass destruction, at a price that they noninate.
    It also helps our friendship thing because it will mean more jobs for American workers.
    Isn’t that what mateship is all about?

  3. New England Cocky

    Aw shucks Michael Taylor …. I read that comment as ”The LNP are good at finding money when it is needed for water …. particularly empty glasses of MDB water ….

  4. margcal

    I’ve long thought privatisation and outsourcing means we pay far more than we should for just about everything.
    But there is a hugely expensive issue with using the public service that needs to be fixed.

    I’m assuming it’s the same with the Commonwealth public service as it is in the state where my daughter is employed in the public service – on contract.
    She has been employed on a number of contracts in a number of departments in the five or six years since she moved from private enterprise. She’s highly competent – her CVs always bring a number of interview offers and also, to a slightly lesser extent, job offers. Because of all this chopping and changing, she can never “progress up the ladder”.

    The real point of my comment is that there is a huge number of people on contracts in all the departments my daughter has worked in. I think she said 40% in one case. And there is also turnover of people lucky enough to be “permanent.

    So, in a year long contract multiplied by a helluva lot of people – 3 months learning the job, 6 months doing the job, 3 months looking for a new job.
    For contracts less than a year, it’s the 6 months doing the job that shrinks, not the 3 months either side.
    How much waste is in all of that???

  5. Jack sprat

    The cheapest deterrent to future wars is to make sure that all the war mongering politicans and their children are the first ones to go to fight them .

  6. Michael Taylor

    LNP governments have a horrible track record when it comes to spending money on defence.

    Howard ordered 59 second-hand Abrams tanks which were later found to be too heavy for Australian bridges and roads, and were too heavy to be lifted by the ADF’s transport planes.

    The mismanagement of Seasprite helicopters (which basically belonged in a museum) in 2013 cost us $1 billion.

    In about 2000/2001 the HMAS Tobruk was going to be retired until they found out they had nothing to replace it with. It was finally scuttled in 2018, by which time sailors were jokingly calling it the HMAS Toobroke.

  7. GL

    The LNP are guppies with delusions of being sharks.

  8. totaram

    No, no GL. Let me correct you. The voting people of Australia are guppies and the coalition give them delusions of being sharks, while they and their mates laugh all the way to the bank.

  9. A Kenos

    IF we were at war again, would Dutton, Morrison, Frydenburg etc send THEIR kids?

  10. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, Kaye.

    What a sorry tale you tell!

    I need to confess that I’m (usually) dissatisfied with writers who point out all the stuff that’s dangerous or stupid or just plain wrong with our government, without offering any alternatives. (Although I do make exceptions for the humourists/satirists.)

    You, on the other hand, always seem to have sensible ideas about what the alternatives might be.

    I especially liked this: ‘Personally, I think respect given and earned, co-operation for mutual gain, and help in times of need or crisis, are far better defences than any weapon. The Coalition picked a bad time to cut Foreign Aid, ignore pleas to reduce emissions, and then act all offended when other suitors come calling.’

  11. wam

    No votes in armed service reality, kaye, manned or not, but plenty of votes in expensive hardware whether it works or not. There are millions of ex-service men and women (+families) trained to kill not to question and then inadequately debriefed. Trace vicious FB comments and you will probably find a service background and/or a harley. Personally, I have only had contact with a very few Afghanistan veterans. The feeling, from seeing the standard of their top of the range equipment and listening to their investments, was that, as dangerous as war was, the profit made overseas, a sought after appointment ps The kiwis have a cheaper alternative and the loonies gain a few quid copying the policy, but labor knows there is a loss of seats if they follow suit.
    Hopefully the lack of a foreign war may produce a reduction in personnel and weaponry.

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