Military chief wary of defence cuts
Mark Dodd January 25, 2008
DEFENCE Force Chief Angus Houston has warned the Rudd Government against cutting defence spending, insisting there is no fat to trim without compromising overseas deployments involving 3500 personnel.
He has also foreshadowed replacing Australian engineers in Afghanistan with combat troops.
On Wednesday, Wayne Swan predicted heavy cuts in the 2008-09 budget after news that inflation hit a 16-year high of 3.6per cent in the final three months of last year.
The Treasurer refused to say whether Defence would be quarantined from the cuts, in comments apparently at odds with a pre-election pledge by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.
Yesterday, Air Chief Marshal Houston said the ADF was operating at its busiest tempo since the Vietnam War, with almost 20,000 personnel being rotated through deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and the Solomons.
Air Chief Marshal Houston said the military would always seek to "cut fat" and accepted Defence might have to deliver a 2-3 per cent efficiency dividend.
"I think the efficiency dividend will be applied in some areas, but not in the vital operational areas -- but that's something that will come in the fullness of time," he said.
"At this stage, the efficiency is applied in only a very limited part of our organisation."
Air Chief Marshal Houston also said counter-insurgency-trained infantry could replace army engineers based in southern Afghanistan after a review of operations.
The possible change to the army's mix of troops based in south-central Oruzgan province would not involve an increase in overall troop numbers, now at 1038. Instead, it would put a sharper emphasis on combat-ready infantry troops.
"What we'll do is look at what we've got on the ground and make some recommendations to the Government," the defence chief said.
Last month, new Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon warned that the war in Afghanistan would be lost unless NATO and its allies changed tactics to bring stability to the country.
His blunt admonition was delivered to a closed-door meeting in Scotland of eight defence ministers from the US, Australia and six other key NATO nations with troops in Afghanistan.
But after disparaging comments in Scotland that the coalition was losing the war in Afghanistan, Air Chief Marshal Houston said he believed things were now changing for the better.
"What we are seeing is the development of a comprehensive, whole-of-country strategy for Afghanistan, which is something that has been lacking up to now," he said.
Australia is the 10th biggest troop contributing nation to the 40,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force but apart from a 300-strong Special Forces Task Group, most soldiers are working on reconstruction and are not engaged in combat operations that cost three Australian lives last year.
Australians rate security No.1
January 23, 2008 12:00am
YOUNG Aussies rate safety, mateship and democracy as the three most important Australian values, according to a study into our national identity.
But youngsters have rejected the traditional national stereotypes that portray us as lovers of beer, barbecues, beaches and sport.
While socialising and money seem to be young people's top priorities, the survey found family and education were more important to them than prosperity and lifestyle.
The Aussie Have Your Say national identity survey, conducted by the University of Western Sydney and funded by the Australian Research Council, aims to survey 10,000 Australians.
Dr Genevieve Nelson from the university's Centre for Educational Research said the aim was to find what being Australian means.
"We want to put the Australian stereotypes to the test and get a better understanding of the Australian identity -- are we really all about barbecues, beer and being outdoors?" she said.
After surveying 5000 people so far, the preliminary findings look at the results from 2500 people aged 8 to 25 surveyed last year.
Those surveyed were given a list of categories and asked how Australian they felt that value to be.
Safety was the No. 1 value and the biggest concern in young people's lives.
The result was surprising, Dr Nelson said.
"That young people felt safety was the most important, especially in this time of terrorism, war and violence when the media makes us so aware of it, is very significant," she said.
"They feel Australia is such a safe country it's a big part of their national identity."
Stereotypes such as a love of beach, barbecues and sports were being challenged, Dr Nelson said.
"They seem to have rejected them, or at least they haven't registered them as important parts of what it means to be Australian," she said.