The Minister for Defence Personnel, Science and Materiel,
Assuming that the investigation team is competent to assess the unique demands on the military in combat operations at a time when the pool of experienced people in the community is at an all-time low, they supposedly will focus upon the physical ability of women to handle the considerable variety of tasks that troops must handle. This is somewhat pointless. Some women will be able to cope while some, perhaps many, will not. But as with men, the ADF will select people for the task at hand. The danger in such an investigation is that, as has happened in some police forces, the task will be redefined to fit the equal opportunity drive regardless of any effect on the mission. There remains an inevitable suspicion that this is yet another investigation with a predefined outcome.
The commitment to this investigation obscures a far more important and fundamental philosophical issue of whether we as a community want to see our women on the battlefield, killing and being killed. The question has never been put to the Australian people. Rather it has been decided by governments under pressure from minority groups and their various choristers to see it as an equal employment opportunity question. People in these groups are typically unfamiliar with the brutal reality of combat and, like the usual advocates of conscription, they are quite unlikely to perform any kind of military service.
Yet as our casualties continue to grow in
There is actually nothing new in the government’s desire to extend employment opportunities for women in the ADF. In a tight labour market, even in a time of economic slowdown, the ADF is struggling to recruit even the inadequate numbers authorised by the government. While some of the pressure for change certainly comes from the equal opportunity enthusiasts, especially those women with ambition to become generals, most comes from a bureaucracy that for at least forty years to my knowledge has been unable to understand that, to get recruits, the ADF must compete effectively in a tight labour market. To avoid that fundamental reality, Defence and successive governments have used the equal opportunity argument to get more women in to make up the numbers.
For as long as I can remember, Defence has used civilian employment precedents to set wages for the ADF. The fundamental flaw in the reasoning is that military service, especially in the high-risk combat specialisations, does not have civilian equivalents. The lowest-paid people in the ADF are the combat infantrymen, yet theirs is the riskiest job, especially at a time when combat commitments have become almost a permanent feature of the force. Moreover, in this age of modern warfare, often against enemies that are hard to distinguish from innocents, the combat infantryman is a highly skilled specialist who must also exercise the additional skills of the diplomat. Defence has tried to get around this difficulty by paying hefty allowances for deployments to combat zones, but these have created their own problems including internal jealousies of those who benefit, especially given that all ADF personnel are required to maintain combat readiness or be discharged. Under these circumstances, access to increased pay becomes a lottery organised by the personnel branches. What becomes in fact a wildly fluctuating income for some frequently creates personal financial difficulties. Similarly, the plethora of allowances that are available creates problems where the desk-bound are more aware of their existence than the much busier combat troops.
When she was shadow defence minister before the election of the
What makes the current situation worse is that Defence has made the recruitment process so bureaucratised and slow that many qualified people give up and look for employment elsewhere. No job seeker is likely to hang around waiting for Defence without an income and perhaps with Centrelink breathing down his neck if he has another job offer. Given that the ADF perforce employs high-quality people, few potential recruits have difficulty in finding work.
There is something dreamlike about the desire of the government and its bureaucrats to increase the proportion of women in the ADF much beyond the steady 13 to 15 per cent of the past twenty years. The
In the ADF, while the numbers vary between the individual services and the reserves, employment is no comfortable sinecure for any personnel and thus does not appeal to many people, male or female, especially under current pay scales. Defence rather cynically banks on a high degree of patriotic or adventurous commitment from its people and generally enjoys it until growing maturity or family commitments force a rethink and a consequent departure from the force.
Expanding female employment opportunities into the most difficult and dangerous categories is likely to have at best a marginal effect on the overall percentage of women in the ADF. Currently women enjoy a number of privileges. One, of course, is that they may not be directed into close combat roles as men are. Every woman joining the ADF knows at the outset that, unlike her male colleagues, she is protected in that sense; the change envisaged by the equal opportunity enthusiasts could well result in a much lower rate of female employment. There does not seem to be much evidence that women are anxious to enjoy the bloody end of the military business.
More recently, commentators have introduced the demographic argument, that we don’t have enough men to defend
In the Spring 2005 issue of Defender, the Australia Defence Association journal,
Far from “considerations relating to the strategic military environment” defining defence needs, Australian history suggests that political and financial factors have been the primary determinants of defence policy. A year away from the outbreak of the Second World War, the then Treasurer,
Leaving aside the history, how compelling is Treasury’s attack on defence spending? According to Henry, demographic changes manifested by low population growth and an growing aged cohort mean “slower growth in the workforce, slower growth in per capita incomes and slower growth in the aggregate economy”. His figures are incontestable but the issue is what they mean for defence. One impact of slower population growth is the smaller pool of potential recruits.
Of course, Defence must compete for people within that pool but it is fundamentally the issue of competing that will decide whether sufficient troops are available. Competition can take a number of forms, with the most extreme being some form of compulsory service. Whether compulsion is introduced—as it has been on at least four occasions since Federation—is fundamentally a political question. Compulsion is of doubtful military value in modern strategic circumstances and is very expensive. Nevertheless, depending upon those circumstances, it is always an option available to government.
In this context, it should be noted that defence spending is qualitatively different from most other forms of government spending, especially those that can be characterised as transfer payments. Defence outlays are a form of insurance premium rather than recurrent or even capital outlays, and are thus a legitimate business cost. The challenge is to decide whether to afford the premium and how to calculate it.