Defence industry is one of few sectors in the Australian economy (perhaps the only sector) to have a single customer – the Department of Defence.
Defence journalism is much the same. While we try to cast as wide a net as possible to gather information, our reporting often relies on a main point of truth – the Department of Defence.
Which is why many defence journalists were concerned when the standard reply to questions to Defence changed earlier this year – a change that coincided with Peter Dutton’s move into the Defence portfolio.
As Kym Bergmann, editor of APDR, reported in May, there was an instruction given to Defence from the new Minister’s office that responses to questions are to be ‘as brief and succinct as possible’ and that ‘capability-related interviews are unlikely to be approved.’
Subsequently it has become virtually impossible to gain any information from Defence on Australian military capabilities. Even when ADF members approach the media themselves, formal requests to arrange interviews are acknowledged and then later denied. It seems the only ADF member currently permitted to engage with the media is the Government-appointed Covid-19 task force commander.
The effect is that Defence is now undertaking the largest re-capitalisation of Australian military capabilities since the Second World War, including the historic procurement of nuclear powered submarines, without accountability to the Australian taxpayers it is tasked to defend.
This matters for three reasons. First, Defence is answerable to the Minister, who is in turn answerable to taxpayers through democratic processes. If the Department withholds information on military capabilities and acquisitions from the public, it is restricting the democratic right of Australians to have a say in how they are defended.
Second, the moratorium means project teams and uniformed members are achieving capability milestones without recognition, and are also unable to publicly refute inaccurate reporting. ADM understands this is having a significant impact on morale within some sections of Defence.
Third, the moratorium is depriving Australia’s defence industry of its ability to communicate with its prospective workforce. Australia’s shortage of skilled workers is the largest obstacle to the successful delivery of military capability. If the Department prevents defence industry from speaking about its work, how will it attract the talent it needs to deliver the capabilities the Department has asked for?
The contingencies that the ADF is preparing for are of far greater consequence than one minister’s discomfort with accountability. As we look forward to more enlightened times ahead, ADM will continue to do what we have done for over 28 years – a period of time that has seen 14 Defence Ministers come and go – and that is to report the business of Defence as accurately and as promptly as possible, while providing our readers with balanced and insightful analysis of the major issues.
In this issue you will find two such stories from Senior Correspondent Julian Kerr, who delves into what a proposed Collins-class upgrade might look like now that RAN’s next submarine fleet will be nuclear, and turns the magnifying glass to Navy’s Hunter-class frigate build program.
This month we also farewell another team member here at ADM, whom we know will be familiar to many of our readership. Advertising and features manager David Jones (pictured to the right) is retiring this month after 14 years in the role and the whole team would like to thank DJ for his loyal and dedicated service over that time. We’re sure you will join us in wishing him the very best for the future.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoy reading what our talented team have brought you this month.