The Guardian March 1, 2000


Corporatising the armed forces

by Peter Symon

With considerable press coverage in the middle of February, Dr Allan Hawke, 
the Secretary to the Department of Defence presented a "due diligence" 
report to a Defence Watch Seminar.

The press mainly reported the criticisms he made of the present situation 
in the Department of Defence and his declaration that the Department had a 
"credibility problem".

Typically, the daily press gave little analysis of his statement and 
readers and TV viewers would have little idea of what the major content of 
his report was all about.

Dr Hawke was appointed only six months ago by the Howard Government as 
Secretary to the Department of Defence following the sacking of the 
previous Secretary.

Taking into account that Dr Hawke will have billions of dollars of 
taxpayers' money to spend and will wield considerable power in his new job 
it is necessary that the direction of his thinking be known. In a nutshell, 
it is about corporatising the armed forces.

Throughout his report he uses the language of the corporations and his 
intention is to introduce their "values" and methods into the defence 
forces.

Corporate language

He uses such terms as "market tested", "corporate plan", "a CEO 
responsibility", the "defence product", the Government's "owner-shareholder 
hat", "corporate Information Technology systems", "cost accounting", 
"corporate performance assessment", "corporate support groups", "personal 
performance agreements" (individual work contracts?), "our corporate 
governance framework", "value added", "career management scheme", etc.

No-one can be against efficiency in the Defence Department or in any other 
area of government, so the real question is: "Where is this corporatisation 
talk taking the Australian armed forces?"

The Government's strategic objectives and their political underpinning are 
going to be spelt out in a Defence "White Paper" which is now being 
prepared.

Dr Hawke did not touch on these questions except to say right from the 
beginning of his talk that the "strengths plus our current capability, 
community support for Defence, and the US alliance provide a platform that 
we can build on."

He described Australia's strategic environment as "increasingly dynamic".

Dr Hawke is well aware that the "White Paper" is going to set the stage for 
the involvement of Australia in military adventures outside of Australia's 
shores and in the Asian region or even further afield in fulfillment of our 
obligations to the US alliance.

Of course there will be due talk of "peace-keeping" obligations decided by 
the United Nations, but when the chips are down, the Australian Government 
will accept whatever role is demanded by the US.

It should never be forgotten that all NATO governments participated in the 
bombing of Yugoslavia which was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

This was an act of blatant aggression and NATO countries decided 
deliberately NOT to take the matter to the UN Security Council.

Dr Hawke's job is to help prepare for these possibilities in circumstances 
where the cost of hi-tech weapons and their frequent replacement with "up-
dates" has become enormous.

He is faced with the fact that the cost of these weapons is not covered by 
the means being provided by the Government.

He says: "The current state of Defence's financial situation ... might best 
be described as parlous...

"The plain fact is that Defence has not been able to match the ends it is 
trying to achieve with the means it has been given to do so ..."

Is this a prelude to demands for a considerably increased allocation of 
taxpayer's money for alleged defence needs or is it signalling a process 
where defence is to be financed by corporate sponsors and investors or fee-
for-service  as we are witnessing with state police forces?

Dr Hawke continues: "Not only am I responsible for delivering the `Defence 
product' to the Government (Government wearing its purchaser hat), but I am 
also responsible for ensuring the financial and other sustainability of the 
Government's investment in the business (Government wearing its 
owner/shareholder hat)."

More money

Dr Hawke gives a list of weapons already on the order board.

They include Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft, ANZAC helicopters, 
Amphibious Transport ships (to land troops in someone else's country?), 
Electronic Warfare systems, etc.

He comments that "new projects have been approved at a rate significantly 
higher than what is affordable in the long-term  and that's just in terms 
of the acquisition costs."

The point should be made here that the use of the word "defence" is 
misleading. It is not really about the necessary defence needs of Australia 
but the class objectives of the Government to make the country (and the 
world) safe for the corporations of this and other countries.

At the present time about $11 billion is allocated annually for the needs 
of the armed forces. For this sort of money it should be possible to have 
highly trained, well equipped forces, yet when it came to providing forces 
for East Timor, it was found that to send upwards of 4,000 personnel to 
East Timor stretched Australia's capabilities to the limit.

Dr Hawke said that there has already been "massive change" in the Defence 
organisation and immediately goes on to record the fact that in the last 15 
years the ADF has been reduced from 70,000 to around 40,000 on the civilian 
side.

Today, there's some 50,000 in the ADF and around 16,000 in the Department. 
(An overall reduction of about 44,000 personnel but there has been no 
reduction in the defence budget.)

In the last ten years says Dr Hawke, over "11,000 military and civilian 
positions have been market tested [process of competitive tendering and 
contracting out] with average savings in excess of 30 per cent."

This is enough to gladden the heart of any Chief Executive Officer. Their 
claims to fame are often related to the number of jobs that can be done 
away with.

Dr Hawke says that there is "widespread dissatisfaction with Defence's 
performance in Canberra" but does not draw the conclusion that at least 
some of this dissatisfaction may be due to this process of job disposal and 
the extra workload that this usually implies.

More "cost reductions and other efficiency measures" are to come according 
to Dr Hawke.

Selling the product

He is not satisfied with the way the Defence establishment has communicated 
with others.

"The Government and taxpayers should know what Defence is doing, where it 
is heading, and where their money is being spent", he says. But there is 
little in the statement to give any enlightenment about this.

He does mention the debacle of the submarines but only in terms of it being 
"our biggest project risk" and not in terms of the wastage and corporate 
incompetence that it actually represents.

Dr Hawke says that "in these days of instant global communications ... as 
Australia's strategic environment becomes increasingly dynamic  as we 
come to crunch time on some crucial decisions about the future role and 
shape of Australia's Defence Organisation  this becomes even more 
important ... And having to `sell' ourselves in a modern society is not 
something we are used to doing."

Whether the people of Australia are prepared to buy the sort of policies 
and objectives that Australian governments and its US ally have pursued in 
the past and will want to "sell" in the future is doubtful.

Dr Hawke speaks about "transparency" but this is exactly what the 
propaganda machine of the ruling class does not intend to do. Nor will 
transparency be a consideration when an Australian Government decides to 
send military forces overseas to intervene in some conflict or other or 
play the part of aggressor as in the case of Vietnam and Korea before that.

For years Australian governments covered up for the Indonesian aggression 
and occupation in East Timor. In fact, Australian governments actually 
condoned this aggression. This was not any fault of the communication 
skills of those in the army or in the government but a determined policy 
pursued by governments.

Long-term objective

There may also be a long-term objective which logically flows from the 
corporatisation of the armed forces about which neither Dr Hawke nor anyone 
else will speak.

The corporatisation of various publicly owned enterprises have invariably 
been a prelude to those enterprises being privatised and handed over to 
private capital for their profit.

Increasingly, even functions of government are suffering this fate. Why not 
Australia's military forces as well?

There are already many more private police and security forces than in the 
state police departments. Prisons are being privatised. Various government 
departments are being privatised  the CES readily comes to mind. Why not 
the army?

It may be thought to be unthinkable but there are already in existence 
various privately run mercenary forces such as was recruited by the PNG 
Government to wage war in Bougainville.

As the big corporations take over more and more publicly owned enterprises 
and more and more functions of government, the urge to exercise outright 
control of the armed forces will become irresistible especially as the 
resistance of the people grows to the policies being pursued and more and 
more countries throw off the yoke of capitalism and imperialism.

The corporatisation of the armed forces is a necessary prelude to them 
becoming Australian Defence Forces Pty Ltd. Far-fetched? We shall see!

Back to index page