As we hurtle toward a federal election, the usual policy suspects start to raise their political heads. Defence is always a good one. Firstly we decide on a threat to Australia. The flavour of the threat this decade (2020’s) is China. Remember back in the 1960’s when it was the flavour of the month as well. “The Communist horde” rampaging through the region and ending up in Australia?
The threat that caused the Vietnam war and “all the way with LBJ.” And how that war ended in the Yanks being chased out of the country with their tails between their legs and the only hoards we got were the lovely Vietnamese people who came here on boats. We all knew how that ended.
Yet here we are again with the coalition parties trying to make Australians afraid of the Chinese. Maybe a threat does exist, maybe not, but their reason for starting on about defence has nothing to do with actual defence. What it has to do with is to make people think they will be less safe under the Labor party. In effect it’s a way of garnering votes by telling a story, which essentially isn’t true.
Perhaps the worst part about the story is that half of it is told and it’s always the bit which has the most political effect on voting. In other words the vote for me bit. We as Australians should have a very good defence against this less than truthful version of the facts but the most unfortunate thing about this is that we don’t.
What I am referring to here is the 4th Estate, the so called purveyors of the truth in news. The journalists. Their failure has led me to write this blog and to lay out the facts after actually looking at the expenditure on defence. The basic premise which was put out by the coalition parties about a month ago was that defence under the coalition will always be more as a proportion of GDP than the Labor party.
The further proposition was that Labor’s defence spending in 2013-2014 was the lowest proportion of GDP since 1938. I had heard this before by Tony Abbott in 2012 when he stood in front of the helicopter landing docks at Williamstown dockyard and blasted Labor for taking $21 billion out of defence.
Yet it didn’t stop the Coalition coming up with the same old tired meme in 2022. I have heard David Speers, an ABC journalist mention it at least three times on air as part of his ABC duties as a commentator, including on “Insiders”.
I wondered if he had ever done any analysis and I would say that he never has, having done the analysis myself. So let’s cut right to the chase. What is defence? What is the reason for the comparison with the GDP of Australia? Answering the first question is easy. In the budgets before 2015, Defence was made up of 4 budget items.
Defence proper (the Sailors Soldiers and Airmen and their upkeep of them and their equipment)
The Department of Veterans affairs. And lastly
The Defence Materiel organisation. (Procurement of defence materiel).
Each of these areas was a budget item until 2015, when the defence materiel organisation was merged with its approx 4000, staff into the defence portion of the total defence budget. In the Spreadsheet attached to this blog, I have detailed the Expenditure in three ways,
A total of defence and defence materiel
The total defence spend (Which includes Dept of veteran’s affairs and defence housing).
So it is quite clear what we are all talking about when figures are mentioned. Answering the second question is also both simple and also complicated. It’s not a measure of how effective the defence force is, only how much is being spent on it. Imagine two countries with the same GDP and they both spend the same money as a proportion. They both are equipped with bows and arrows, yet one defence force is a much more efficient and better force than the other. Why, because they have been trained properly in the use of their bows and arrows, where as the other side just use them for parades.
So basically an effective defence force isn’t one necessarily which has the most money spent on it. There is also another aspect which we haven’t yet addressed and that is the way the Arms are procured. Take for example the procurement of the “Super Seasprite” helicopters for the new Anzac frigates under the Coalition, A contract which was cancelled in March 2008 and the remaining Seasprites sold off to the New Zealand Navy. That contract cost $1.4 billion and the Sea Sprites were in limited service for about three years. Here is the ANAO report about it. A complete failure of the Howard Government. https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/default/files/ANAO_Report_2008-2009_41.pdf
What the data in the spreadsheet reveals.
When the Rudd government came to power in 2007, they continued to increase spending on defence until 2012-2013 budget when an Actual reduction of $2,371,672 ($2.3 billion) was brought in. Mainly in the Defence Materiel Organisation budget ($2,342,636) and the Defence proper budget ($218,623) for a total reduction of $2,371,672.
During their 6 years in power the net gain to the defence budget under labor was $7,906,385. (7.9 Billion).
In 2015 the coalition budget abolished the Defence Materiel Organisation and rolled their Approx 4000 staff into the Defence budget, yet the Budget allocation appears to have been left out. There is a drop in the total (Total) spend on Defence by minus $9,920,001. Yet we hear nothing from the news commentators about this.
In 2019-20 the defence budget again shows a reduction to the tune of $2,645,211 ($2.6 billion). Yet we hear nothing from the news Commentators about this.
In the Years of the Coalition government since Sept 2013, the Coalition have added a net gain $2,634,731 ($2.6 billions) to the defence budget.
Conclusion. It’s very easy to try and scare people and then say that the alternative government won’t protect them. It’s also very easy to Parrot the lies that the Government are trying to put out there.
Defence spending should be Bi Partisan and shouldn’t be used in this way. It’s a disgrace to try and scare people into voting for you on the basis of a lie and one made in order to bully you into voting for them.
I think this is a great reason to vote for the other side. Defence should be above politics.