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Klaxons blaring

Before the election Tony Abbott said “I have given a commitment that we won’t spend more than $100 million on any single infrastructure project without a published cost-benefit analysis.”

As with most of what Tony said, this promise was quickly abandoned.

But what if this admirable level of transparency and accountability was applied to defence spending?

How much benefit will the nation receive from investing over $12 billion on fighter jets and $20 billion on submarines?

I have often asked the question as to just what our submarines do and when I read what SA Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said the klaxons started blaring.

“It’s $250 billion on the table over the next 30 to 40 years on naval ships, including 120,000 man-years of work on the submarines alone,” he said. “We need to do that work here. It’s just gobsmacking to think that any government would not give that work to its own citizens.”

Whoa…..a quarter of a trillion dollars???? 120,000 man-YEARS?????? WTF????

Forget Ben Hur – this is bigger than the pyramids.

If we are going to invest that much one must ask….so what have our submarines ever done for us?

The Submarine Service has not seen combat since World War I.

Our first two submarines were built in Britain and arrived in Australia in 1914. They lasted less than a year.

The first was lost in September 1914, presumed wrecked on a reef during a practice dive in New Guinea. The second was ordered to the Mediterranean to support the British-led operations off the Galipoli peninsula in Turkey where it made four unsuccessful attacks on Turkish ships before being damaged by a Turkish gunboat and scuttled by her crew on 30 April.

These attacks are the only occasions an Australian submarine has fired in anger.

In 1919, the British government transferred six J Class submarines to Australia. The boats were in poor mechanical condition, however, and spent most of their service in refit. Due to Australia’s worsening economic situation, all of the boats were decommissioned in 1922, and were scuttled later in the decade.

In 1927, the British O Class submarines HMAS Oxley and HMAS Otway were commissioned. These submarines took over a year to sail from Portsmouth to Sydney due to numerous mechanical problems which delayed their delivery voyage.

Due to Australia’s poor economic situation, the O Class boats proved to be unaffordable and were placed in reserve in 1930, before transferring back to the Royal Navy in 1931. As a result, the Royal Australian Navy did not operate any submarines during World War II, though the obsolete Dutch submarine K.IX was commissioned as HMAS K9 on 22 June 1943 and was used for anti-submarine warfare training purposes. Due to the boat’s poor mechanical condition HMAS K9 saw little service with the RAN and spent most of her time in commission under repair, before being decommissioned on 31 March 1944 due to a lack of spare parts.

Following World War II the Royal Navy’s 4th Submarine Flotilla was based in Sydney from 1949 until 1969. The flotilla, which varied in size between two and three boats, was used to support the Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy in anti-submarine warfare training, with the operating cost split between the two nations. In the early 1960s, the British Government advised the Australian Government that reductions in the Royal Navy conventional submarine force meant that the 4th Flotilla was to return to the United Kingdom.

The impending withdrawal of the British submarine flotilla sparked the fourth attempt to establish an Australian submarine service. While the Department of Defence advised the government that three to six submarines should be purchased for training purposes, following the intervention of then-Senator John Gorton the Government instead approved the purchase of eight submarines to form a submarine strike force. Eight British Oberon class submarines were ordered in 1964, to be built in Scotland in two batches of four boats. Only six boats were delivered; the seventh and eighth were cancelled in 1971 to fund the acquisition of ten A-4 Skyhawk aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm.

The Oberons conducted surveillance missions against India and Communist nations in South East Asia during the Cold War. These missions were cancelled in 1992 when an Australian submarine became tangled in fishing nets and was forced to surface in the South China Sea.

The Oberon class boats were gradually decommissioned and replaced with new Collins class submarines during the 1990s. The six Collins class submarines were the first Australian-built submarines, and the most expensive ships to have been built in Australia.

Like the Oberon class, the Collins class submarines have conducted surveillance patrols. These patrols have included collecting intelligence on East Timor ahead of the Australian-led intervention into the then-Indonesian province in 1999.

While the Collins class submarines’ performance has improved over time, their maximum diving depth was permanently reduced following the near-loss of HMAS Dechaineux when a pipe burst during a practice dive in February 2003.

In early 2007, it was reported that Submarine Service was experiencing severe shortfalls in personnel and had only 70% of its authorised strength of 500 sailors. These shortfalls were reported to have reduced the service’s operational readiness and forced HMAS Collins to be temporarily withdrawn from service.

The Collins class submarines will begin to reach the end of their useful life from 2026.

So….it appears that our submarines are only used for training which we wouldn’t need if we didn’t have submarines, and surveillance which would surely be better carried out by satellites, electronic intercepts and drones than by submarines.

How likely are we to ever need a submarine “strike force”? Would we actually launch missiles or torpedoes against anyone considering our submarines haven’t seen action since 1915?

If we can’t fill the 500 positions we currently have for submariners, where will we find the personnel for 6 extra vessels?

If we aren’t building them here then an awful lot of money is going out of our economy for no employment benefit beyond a few maintenance crew.

My verdict: This is a ridiculous waste of a huge amount of money for no discernible benefit on something that most likely will never be needed and may well be obsolete before it is built.


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  1. jagman48

    And a darned good question younask.

  2. donwreford

    Boys will be boys, the boat saga is as expensive and as expansive as Tony Abbotts ego, what he knows is by the time we know the submarines and planes are all for the scrap heap, he will be enjoying his big buck pension, he does not care, he is all part of a expensive illusion that none of us can afford. He is all part of a terrorist to the peoples taxation costs.

  3. Terry2

    The US Navy are currently developing unmanned robotic submarines that will ultimately replace the far more cumbersome manned submarines.

    As the principal work of submarines is intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance and with the level of technology now available (see aerial drones) the conventional submarine will soon be superceded.

    In the past, submarines have had to be big to carry a large crew and all that that entails. The next generation of unmanned subs will be a fraction of the size, will have a greater range and will be able to stay underwater for much longer periods.

    They will also have an enhanced strike power should they be engaged in combat. When fully developed they will come in at a fraction of the price of the 20th century models we are looking at.

    We should probably be waiting for a few years before we commit to this massive expenditure : that’s why Labor had deferred on a decision – whatever happens SA misses out and in all probability we will end up with last century hardware but at least the Japanese will be happy and Kevin Andrews can retire at the next election.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Very interesting and relevant comment Terry.

  5. paul walter

    “Cost-benefit” ?

    What a joke!

    The Abbott process as revealed in his illogical bias toward road over rail and other forms of public transport demonstrate above else not only his illogic, but offers an insight into his mulishness and even malice: Road relates to fossil fuels, self will run riot and individualism degenerated to self- preoccupation and selfishness- exactly the inflamed Zeitgeitst required for him to exploit conflict in the advancement of his own misconceived sense of self interest.

    People must understand, it is all about Abbott, the narcissist or psychotic, for who others are mere step ladders on his flight from his own undefined inner fears and nurturing of the sense of grandiosity.

    No kids, with Abbott we have the masculine emanation of Nurse Ratched and the inevitable catastrophic results will follow, as day, night.

    How can individual so far from reality, self reflexivity and consciousness be so in charge of an entire nation?

  6. diannaart

    Excellent choice of topic, Kaye Lee.

    Tony and the Boyz (including 2 token girlies) need to be pushed for the economic value of the Defence Budget. What does it achieve for Australians? Be very nice to see a cost/benefit analysis on this.

    Then maybe we could move onto a cost/benefit analysis of the maintaining and repairing the environment.

    That we don’t get any transparency on either, is more than a little suspicious. Just sayin’..

  7. Steve Laing

    A very fair question that I have asked myself. We still appear to hold this Cold War mentality when it comes to our armed forces, but the world, and our possible enemies strategies for war, have moved on. Who might we fight with our submarines? The Chinese? Sheer weight of numbers would overrun any navy/army/air force combo that we could hope to muster. ISIS? Somehow not seeing much use for subs in that scenario. So who and why? As has been said, I think it comes down to Abbott having a Churchill complex. He sees himself in that mould, stuck in the rhetoric and world views of the middle of last century.

  8. mars08


    …the boat saga is as expensive and as expansive as Tony Abbotts ego, what he knows is by the time we know the submarines and planes are all for the scrap heap, he will be enjoying his big buck pension, he does not care, he is all part of a expensive illusion that none of us can afford….

    What an amazing coincidence! That’s almost exactly what Bill Shorten said… loudy and clearly. Oh wait…. um… no… no it isn’t!!!!!

  9. Andreas

    Great comedy, Kaye.
    Can you please follow up with something similar on the other parts of the Navy?

  10. proudlyprogressive

    Terry might also have added it’s also now being reported that drone technology will make conventional submarines obsolete before our next batch can be built.

    A military advisor from the US was on the ABC recently offering a little gratuitous advice to the Australian govt – that cheap, offensive, ocean going drones able to detect and destroy conventional submarines with ease are only a few years away, and that we would be wasting our money to invest in conventional subs now.

    There was also a doco on the ABC around the same time on the development of drone weaponry, both air and sea borne. It makes sense – it’s cheap, effective and no ‘home’ lives are lost. From the program, the technology seems pretty advanced, and it’s where the USA, China, Britain and many other countries are putting their military budgets and developing strategy around.

    It beggars belief that even or backward thinking govt could be unaware of these developments, which means the subs are a very expensive PR exercise or very expensive trade deal exchange, or both.

  11. Kaye Lee

    The estimated cost of constructing the preferred High Speed Rail alignment in its entirety (four capital city stations, four city-peripheral stations, and stations at the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton) would be around $114 billion (in 2012 dollars).

    Once fully operational (from 2065), HSR could carry approximately 84 million passengers each year, with express journey times of less than three hours between Melbourne-Sydney and Sydney-Brisbane.

    Construction of an HSR system would deliver positive net economic benefits. The cost-benefit analysis estimates a real economic internal rate of return (EIRR) of 7.6 per cent on investment in the HSR program as a whole.

    We could have HSR and FTTP NBN, both of which would provide ongoing employment and positive returns and productivity improvements, and still have about $50 billion left over for the NDIS and Gonski reforms….or we can get 12 subs.

  12. Andreas

    Too right, Kaye.
    And this would eliminate the need for a second Sydney airport, and its associated costs…

  13. Frances

    I believe a short time ago, the US told Australia to spend more on defence; just taking orders. Who’s in charge here?

  14. Kaye Lee

    Could I also emphasise that our previous “strike force” sub got caught in a FISHING NET. They had to surface and were busted spying where they shouldn’t be. We don’t have a good track record with this stuff.

  15. corvus boreus

    Short answer is the industrial-military complex.
    Australia(amongst others) raising it’s military technology to a near par with US hardware is often used as justification for the US Dept of Defense pitching for more war toys, which results in hugely lucrative R&D and procurement contracts for military manufacturers.
    An example was where the US/Aust Joint Strike Fighter project was cited by the US DoD as creating a potential regional rival/threat to US military superiority, in their pitch for a strictly domestic next-gen fighter for the USAF.

  16. Kaye Lee

    Andreas, good point. It would also alleviate housing affordability by allowing decentralisation and stimulate regional areas which might help with unemployment and suicide of young country people. It would free up the rail line for freight. It would get commuters and tourists off the highways – who wants to joust with trucks for hours when you can get there by train in about a quarter the time. That would improve productivity for freight having less congestion on plane routes, rail lines and highways. The benefits are endless.

  17. Owen

    I am assuming that we have deployed our armed services to engage training overseas to make us a token Target to help justify the big spend on huge toys.. I too believe if the same money was invested in infrastructure projects or even giving every household some free solar power so we can delete the grid..(poles and wires)……economically,environmentally, we would be heading in a much better direction

  18. Wally

    @Owen “giving every household some free solar power so we can delete the grid..(poles and wires)” would be a great idea but physically impossible unless we were to live powerless from when the sun sets until it rises again the next day.

    @Kaye Lee another great article and there are 3 very valid points.

    1 – Does Australia really need a fleet of submarines?
    2 – Are the submarines we buy going to be of any benefit considering emerging technologies?
    3 – Should we spend so much money without any direct benefit to the local economy?

    You could debate/argue about points 1 and 2 forever and still not find a resolution or any common ground but point 3 is a no brainer. For a government that wants to reduce unemployment and prove that it is better at running the country (financially) there is only 1 logical decision, build the subs locally. I guess this is just another load of LNP crap.

  19. mark

    Is the author a chinese agent?
    The Oberons and the Collins class submarines have been effective and feared offensive weapons. An Oberon class submarine took out a US carrier in exercises conducted in the Pacific much to.the absolute horror of the US fleet commanders – this has never been publicly disclosed!
    Sure submarines are now becoming less effective because of advances in surveillance technology however the chinese author doesn’t mention this.
    The F35 purchase is a complete dog but the author doesn’t mention this either – Russian.planes are half the price and twice as good. It seems the author wants us dud American planes and discard quasi effective submarines – this will make the chinese govt very happy lol

  20. strobedriver

    This is a very succinct piece, and it raises questions about Australia’s expenditure on arms-for-protection. Abe won his election on the mantle of Nationalism and ‘improving Japan ins the Asia-Pacific sphere’and America and Australia have jumped on the bandwagon due to the rise of China. No doubt our PM thinks that having a submarine fleet will extend the long-strong arm of Australia–regardless of where they are built–nevertheless PM Abbot will not renege on his promise to Abe as he reserves this only for the Australian public. I would be very surprised if the subs are built in Australia. I actually expect them to be off-the-shelf from Japan, and this will be used as a tool to crack the unions in SA. Abbot is a Reaganite when dealing with unions, and his priority as a neo-liberal is to break them and have a working-poor, as this is the only way the elitist-driven capitalism that he and Brandis, Hockey and numerous other front-benchers’ support. And more to the point it stays in line with the ‘Captain’s call’ of Howard in choosing the Joint Strike Fighter, a woefully inadequate piece of junk that will not support Australia’s defence needs or capability.

  21. Steve Laing

    I agree Stobedriver. The hatred of the unions and anything associated is almost pathological. They must be defeated at all costs. Yep the golden age of prosperity in the U.S. was the fifties when union membership was at its highest. As you say, the deal is done. Now it’s just about trying to dress it up to not look like the treasonous act that it is. It is akin to Thatcher having to rent support ships for the Falklands having flogged off the Merchant Navy.

  22. stephentardrew

    Tis a fowl abomination this urge to war.

    The US is superior in all aspects militarily yet a bunch of ideologues fighting a gorilla war can bring down the greatest (puke) nation on earth.

    Not just once but time and time again.

    Am I missing something here.

    I would imagine a home based deterrent of sophisticated defenses supported by an efficient high speed rail network and drone technology would be worth more than all the submarines and you beaut jets we could buy.

    If the US cannot successfully invade another country then how the hell can China or Russia.

    ISIS is walking all over the Middle East laughing at the meager deterrent power of the US air force.

    Even little Timor eventually overcame Indonesia and the brutality of Kopassus.

    We are being sold nothing other than military industrial complex balderdash and lies because as soon as delivery of our magical weapons systems occur they are already redundant. I wonder why we have to wait so long for delivery if the need is urgent just to see the latest model sophisticated drones rolling down the production line at the same time.

    A highly sophisticated system of automated drones and a comprehensive ground plan for invasion based upon secret gorilla facilities rather than obvious location of large scale offensive weapons would be much more reliable. But oh no we don’t get to spend our billions on rubbish just to eventually write it off the balance sheet for our greed infested neighbours.

    Oh dear I forgot we need it to help the US invade even more nations than any country on earth as they hurtle towards endless failure and defeat.

    Technology does not win wars peoples anger and hatred win wars because you cannot enslave a population without horrendous consequences.

    Just ask Little Georgy Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard and the bunch of fools that voted for the Iraq war how that went.

    You see the dumb public never learn they just fall for more of the same time and time again.

    In my long lifetime all we get is more of the same old economic and military tripe that leads to endless failure in the vain hope that one day it’s got to work if we maintain course and hold our mouths just right.

    I must say these damnable humans are a primitive lot.

    Maybe the Vogons had it right.

  23. mars08


    Is the author a chinese agent?


    Yes… well with a name like Kaye LEE, I think the answer is obvious.

  24. Kaye Lee

    Was it my accent that gave me away?

    “The Oberons and the Collins class submarines have been effective and feared offensive weapons.”

    They have NEVER been used as offensive weapons in anything other than war games. Do we really need to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars and 120,000 man-years so we can, once a century, say ner ner we beat you to the yanks?

    “Sure submarines are now becoming less effective because of advances in surveillance technology however the chinese author doesn’t mention this.”

    Thanks to our well-informed readers that point has been discussed.

    “The F35 purchase is a complete dog but the author doesn’t mention this either”

    I totally agree. Aside from it being a dog, what the hell do we need 72 fighter jets for? Currently China has over 400 combat aircraft, most of which they bought from the US. Indonesia has 110 combat aircraft.

    We would be far better served investing in equipment to help us in the role that we actually play in the region – disaster relief, emergency response, humanitarian aid, search and rescue, rebuilding, peace keeping, evacuation. We are not on high military alert or under any threat of invasion regardless of Tony’s self-serving fear-mongering.

    “It seems the author wants us to buy dud American planes and discard quasi effective submarines”

    The author wants men to stop wasting trillions on war toys that serve no useful purpose.

  25. Anomander

    Imagine what useful things $250 billion would buy for us? We could have a fully functional FTP broadband that would boost productivity massively. The very best public transport and infrastructure network anywhere in the world. The finest health care system, free public education, we could boost our investments into science and technology and deliver innovative development that will lead us into the future. We could divest ourselves off coal and have the most advanced renewable industry in the world, which we could be selling to other nations in the form of knowledge, services and IP.

    Instead we are blowing vast sums of money so a few politicians can play with expensive toys, beat their chests and substitute for their tiny penises.

  26. Keitha Granville

    I love the article – I am always horrified at the massive amount of money committed to “defence” which actually appears to be “attack”. Certainly we need to be ready to defend our country and its citizens against invasion, but I seriously doubt that fleet of submarines would have any meaningful effect. As has been said, IS doesn’t seem to be having any trouble running all over Syria and Iraq and I don’t think they’ve got much in the way of huge ships and planes – just a hell of lot of people, guns, ammunition and hate fuelled ideology.
    Surveillance technology and surface patrol vessels would be more logical would they not as we are an island nation. And how about a bit more time spent making friends in the neighbourhood so we don’t have to be afraid they’ll invade ?

  27. DanDark

  28. Marcus Gibson

    It’s utter madness. Under what possible military scenario will we ever need subs this badly? Our coastline is too vast to stop a land invasion. China has us in drone and bomber range anyway. (The whole world is switching to targetted drone strikes.) The only possible use for subs is convoy security and: (a) it’s an insanely over-expensive way to do it, and (b) what possible naval convoy will we ever have that is this valuable? In or out? Unless someone attacks Tasmania? It just makes no sense. It’s like buying a squillion horse shoes. It has to be some kind of backroom contra deal with manufacturers? Or an epic case of dotty old men doing what they’ve always done?

  29. Graham Houghton

    Right on the button again. And that’s a guerilla war, Stephen. Gorillas are large primates.

  30. corvus boreus

    A digression on Guerillas and primate conflicts.

    ‘Guerilla’ (from Spanish, meaning ‘little war’), originated as a term during Napolean’s era. It means (usually) low-level conflict carried out by irregular forces.
    Napolean’s most famous quote is “an army marches on it’s stomach”.
    Ironically, Napolean eschewed large scale baggage trains and other organised logistics for feeding his troops, and instead had a policy of relying upon ‘foraging’.
    In practice this meant soldiers raiding crops and kicking in doors, stealing off the locals and generally behaving like total pricks.
    This made the French extremely unpopular as ‘guests’, and meant many civilians under occupation became ‘guerilla’ fighters.

    Gorillas (the primate kind), our 3rd closest relatives, have never been observed killing each others
    Neither have Bonabos (Pygmie chmps), our second closest relative. They prefer rooting to killing.
    Common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), our closest relatives, have been repeatedly observed conducting ‘intertribal warfare’; raiding other ‘rival’ colonies, killing males and kidnapping young females.
    This tends to occur mostly when groups of chimps are under periods of high environmental stress, like overpopulation, habitat fragmentation/degradation, and surrounding human conflict, and is conducted mainly by groups of adolescent males.

    Probably nothing to be learned from all this.

  31. Steve Laing

    Which probably says more about what happens when you incarcerate primates than it does about natural gorilla behaviour…

    But to your point Corvus, it also helps explain how the Russians defeated Napoleon through the use of a scorched earth policy, by destroying any foodstuffs before the French army arrived at Moscow (which they repeated for Hitler). It is, as you note, that supplies often determine the long term success in wars rather than armaments. Starving ISIS of ammunition would probably be more successful that bombing the shit out of them IF they could be contained.

    Given that Australia is never going to be strategic geographically to anyone other than to the US in its desire to have a friendly toe-hold in SE Asia, it does beg the question whether a defence based on a scorched earth type policy would be a more logical defence against potential Chinese aggression, as lets face it, they would probably only want Australia for its agricultural capability.

  32. corvus boreus

    Möbius Ecko,
    Thanks (I think), that’s new info to me.
    It could be that lethal agression amongst Gorillas just hasn’t ever been observed in the wild, or it could be a case of animal captivity psychosis.

  33. Wally

    It is ironic that PM Tony the Monkey is spending mega bucks on military machines but it was his hero Johnny Rotten who took all of our guns away. Maybe we should have kept our personal weapons so we could defend ourselves on our own soil if there was an invasion instead of spending money on machines that are primarily designed to attack other countries. And I do not advocate us all running around with pistols on our belts and rifles in our cars like they do in America. It is purely a comment about more LNP hypocrosy.

  34. Kaye Lee

    Tony Abbott gets paid over $200,000 more a year than Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Shinzo Abe or Francois Hollande. He gets well over $300,000 a year more than Vladimir Putin or the Italian President.

    Which just goes to show…if paying peanuts attracts monkeys, pay more and you get gorillas…or is that guerrillas?

  35. corvus boreus

    Kaye Lee,
    Not much like a gorilla, nor any other form of ‘higher’ primate
    More like a rabid baboon who took lessons in elocution from a stuttering howler monkey.
    Pay peanuts and you will attract monkeys. Pay caviar and you will attract monkeys with expensive tastes.

  36. stephentardrew

    Come on strive lower like virus, amoeba or flat worm.

  37. corvus boreus

    I am merely dealing with the immediate surface impression.
    It may be that the actions of A Abbott are directed by an internal parasitic invertebrate, such as a cerebral neuro-pathological infection by some form dictatorial trematode or cestoid, but I am way too squeamish to peer inside him to find out.

  38. stephentardrew

    Sounds good to me Corvus. 🙂

  39. Wally

    @corvus boreus I agree Abbott is more like a Baboon, definitely much lower in the pecking order than a gorilla.

    @stephentardrew to quote my wife “Tony Abbott is lower than a pregnant ant”.

  40. stephentardrew

    Graham got me words muddled and me spelling wobgoggoly .

    Mind you sometimes I think gorillas could teach us a thing or two.

  41. Steeleye

    Hi Kaye (at 5.52pm on the 6th). You said: “Could I also emphasise that our previous “strike force” sub got caught in a FISHING NET. They had to surface and were busted spying where they shouldn’t be. We don’t have a good track record with this stuff.”

    A bit harsh on our defence forces, aren’t you? Have you considered that they could have been caught by very talented high-tech fishers?


    PS: Good article by the way.

  42. Kaye Lee

    I would never criticise our defence personnel – they risk their lives to do a job I could never do. I am, however, critical of the greed of their bosses and the timidity of politicians in standing up to their empire building.

    Last year ASPI calculated the cost of defence to be $80,281,391.78 per day.

    On current estimates, each of Australia’s roughly 10 million workers will be contributing around $5,000 a year each to sustain the promised defence budget in 2023-24.

    There’ll be around $112 billion available over the next decade for capital equipment. In comparison, we’ve spent just $66 billion over the decade just past (both figures expressed in today’s dollars taking account of inflation). On current projections, we’ll be spending about $16 billion on capital in 2023-24 as measured in today’s dollars.

    The risk in all of this is that proposals of diminishing worth—for both extra personnel and new equipment—will arise. In a funding regime driven by GDP share rather than by balancing costs and benefits, there’s no lower limit on the marginal worth of proposals.

    By setting a generous financial target for Defence of 2% of GDP, the government has effectively sent the military on a shopping expedition.

  43. Steeleye

    Kaye: “By setting a generous financial target for Defence of 2% of GDP, the government has effectively sent the military on a shopping expedition.”

    Has there ever been another government department that has had its budget set as a percentage of GDP and then effectively been told: “Here’s your money for the next decade – go out and spend it”? What Defence mandarin wouldn’t love that? Defence budgets, of course, are the ultimate sacred cow (with the possible exception of anything terrorism-related). Defence is the exclusive preserve of conservative governments, and the ALP meakly goes along with pretty much anything that is proposed (it probably aids this process that the ALP is just about as conservative as the conservatives).

    Will this ever change? Not while Defence is a key plank for the conservatives to gain or maintain power and not while the opposition is too weak-kneed to suggest more efficient alternatives to the most expensive toys.

    You said above that “We would be far better served investing in equipment to help us in the role that we actually play in the region – disaster relief, emergency response, humanitarian aid, search and rescue, rebuilding, peace keeping, evacuation”. This is absolutely correct and painfully obvious to any thinking person. Now try getting it past the hairy-chested lot for whom such an approach smacks of a bleeding heart – I wish you luck!

    Time to go and toast our Head of State. Then again … maybe not.

    Have a good one.

  44. mars08

    Kaye Lee:

    …I would never criticise our defence personnel – they risk their lives to do a job I could never do…

    Really? The are beyond reproach? Frankly that comment reeks of the puerile, infantile “my country, right or wrong” foolishness.

  45. Wally

    Here we go mars08 taking a comment totally out of perspective.


  46. mars08

    @Wally… while i appreciate your insightful perspective… if you don’t mind, I’ll wait for Kaye Lee’s reply…

  47. Kaye Lee


    I must agree with you. Our armed forces most definitely should not be above scrutiny and reproach – as many examples I could name would show. My mind was focused on funding but the implication of my comment was justifiably criticised.

    I withdraw the “I would never criticise”.

    The standards we walk past are the standards we accept.

  48. mars08

    Thanks for the reply, Kaye Lee. I just get very nervous at any hint of Australians climbing aboard the bogus “support the troops” bus….

  49. stephentardrew

    My interpretation of Kaye’s post is that she would not malign regular defense force personnel who are simply doing their jobs, some effectively, some not, yet she is more than willing to criticise the dysfunction of a military industrial complex literally gone rogue. Having worked with defense force personnel in psychological support services I understand her reticence too be overly critical of those who joined as naive teenagers only to be misused and abused by politicians.

    Defense force personnel are often very protective of their roles and take unfair criticism badly which can have adverse psychological effects especially if suffering from PTSD or some other mental illness. It is an area where one needs to tread carefully and be very targeted with criticism.

    Nothing is simple and straight forward.

    A little thought needs to go into how the military are criticised.

    I do not doubt Kaye’s intelligence or integrity nor yours Mars08 however it sometimes pays to read between the lines.

  50. Kaye Lee

    A thoughtful comment Stephen. Soldiers should not be criticised for doing the normal duty that our politicians and their generals send them to do, and many of them pay a great price for doing their job. But as with any large group of people, a few will do the wrong thing. The circumstances under which they work makes possible wrongdoing all the more dangerous so oversight is in everyone’s best interests, as is dealing with the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of our defence personnel.

  51. mars08

    Given the pointless, fabricated, dubious, politicised missions demanded of our armed forces in the past decade… isn’t it amazing that there are people still willing to enlist?

    I wonder if the public mood would be different if we had conscription?

  52. Wally

    @Mars08 “Given the pointless, fabricated, dubious, politicised missions”

    The only wars that are not political are based on religious beliefs so I agree with that part of your comment but a couple of mates who served in Afghanistan would argue that their efforts were not pointless and much less political than we are led to believe. Listening to their experiences first hand very quickly changed my opinion/s on war but I still believe peace is better and so do they.

    East Timor –
    Operation Astute was an Australian-led military deployment to East Timor to quell unrest and return stability in the 2006 East Timor crisis. It commenced on 25 May 2006, the operation was established at the request of East Timor’s government.

    Iraq –
    The commander of the Australian taskforce leading a contingent of soldiers to Iraq to help train local forces says they are doing their part in “the world’s fight” against Islamic State (IS) militants.

    Afghanistan –

    I do not believe Abbotts terrorist crap at all, in fact I think he incites rage in our enemies and that makes them more dangerous but we cannot ignore ISIS and other terrorist regimes wether they threaten us and/or other innocent people directly or indirectly.

  53. Andreas Bimba

    It’s time to spill Tony Abbott from government. Even though the Abbott government has been appalling in all areas and this ineptitude helps the cause of all competing political parties in time for the next federal election in 2016, the very bad submarine supply contract for the RAN appears to be imminent and can’t be allowed. Very large defence contracts such as the submarine contract cannot be mismanaged in terms of cost, capability, support and local production. To award the submarine contract to the Japanese Soryu class will give the highest support costs and the lowest Australian content for design, construction and support. The Soryu class is small and has only half the range of the Collins class and the Soryu design has an additional air independent propulsion system that takes up too much space and weight that could be used for additional fuel, weapons and supplies as is the case in the Collins class.

    The facilities of South Australia’s ASC should be used to build the replacement for the Collins class regardless of which submarine design is chosen. Preferably ASC should be the lead contractor for all of the competing design/build/support tenders so as to maximise the proportion of local design work, local construction work and local support. The required core expertise is available locally and the DSTO, a foreign build partner and selected local and international subcontractors can assist to meet all technical, capability, cost, risk, quality, delivery schedule and support challenges.

    The unit build cost for the Collins class replacement submarines should be less than double that for the Collins class in inflation adjusted terms which would give a submarine supply contract cost of less than AU$20 billion for 12 submarines. The submarines should therefore be affordable with a long term 2% GDP defence budget. In comparison the US currently spends about 3.5% of GDP on defence, Russia about 5.5% of GDP and China about 2.1% of GDP.

  54. Steve Laing

    But war is not waged on percentages of GDP, but on absolutes. Even spending 10 percent of GDP we would not cut the mustard against the Chinese. So why bother? We need to look at this from a different perspective.

  55. Andreas Bimba

    Sorry I don’t agree Steve. Sea borne invasions are extremely risky especially when you throw the US into the equation and have a few submarines, drones and stealthy fighter jets of your own and a decent sized army. China has some potentially nasty nations in between us as well such as Vietnam, Indonesia and even Malaysia and Singapore.

    Add all this together and even a super power like China will probably reject the military conquest option and continue with its current economic conquest strategy.

    The Conservatives planned military expenditure of 2% of GDP is not unreasonable and will provide those high tech items that have very long lead times but can be decisive in modern war. The ADF is competent and are not as mad as many here maintain.

    If all goes bad at some point then the guerilla war option can become the fall back strategy. The bottom line is Australia should not be handed over without a damn good fight and any invaders must pay a huge price.

  56. Kaye Lee


    Global corporations have more power than governments and war isn’t good for trade unless you are an armaments manufacturer.

    Why would anyone invade us when they can buy us as you have mentioned.

    Gone are the days when you can hide a convoy of ships in the ocean.

    You seem to acknowledge this and then want to spend trillions defending us against….who? That money could be spent so much more constructively.

    I am sure the ADF are competent but how much better would it be if they were acknowledged for the very positive contribution they make in the areas I outlined before (disaster response etc) than seen as invaders of other countries as some view our involvement overseas. They should be a defence force not a strike force and they should continue in their constructive role in our region.

  57. Andreas Bimba

    Kaye, a determined national government like Australia’s with the people behind them can make any corporation sqeal like a cut pig as the government is the gate keeper to the Australian market and has infinite ways of inflicting pain.

    The mass media moguls must however be exiled first and I’ve read that Nauru is a nice tropical oasis. The TPP and all FTA’s need to be shredded ASAP.

    The fact that Australia is currently being purchased by China and other foreign corporations is just a consequence of stupid neoliberal economics and politics and this must all be wound back. MMT economics and Japanese style METI economic development or Professor Goran Roos’s approach are far preferable models of economic development. Combine this with the Greens demand for a sustainable economy and we have the road map.

    I understand your argument that military spending is generally a waste of money if we can avoid war but it appears the world currently is getting more dangerous, not less and weakness can be severely punished. If most equipment is built locally and local offsets insisted on for unavoidable imports plus when the training and employment aspects of military service are considered, the 2% of GDP cost of defence is largely regained as it circulates around the economy. I like the example of Sweden during the cold war where they were able to support a strong military, gave considerable foreign aid, had free education, generous health and social welfare and remained independent. Given Australia’s natural resource wealth and human potential we should be able to have it all as well.

    The majority of the electorate probably support a capable ADF without getting too carried away. The Greens and the progressive left need to capture the vote of middle Australia so as to be able to form government and defence funding at the current level I suspect makes sense politically and from the security aspect.

  58. Andreas Bimba

    In my 2nd last comment where I wrote the Japanese Soryu class submarine is small in comparison to the Collins class is wrong. The Soryu is 4,200t submerged and the Collins is 3400t submerged. Both are very big diesel electric submarines but the Collins has much more range which is critical for Australia.

  59. strobedriver

    I hear you and if I may say your observations are great

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