Thank you, Gerard and all, for the opportunity to briefly speak to you and your colleagues on the Australia Defence Association (ADA).
You have a busy day. The Industrial Relations Commission a week ago on penalty rates has not made things any easier. So I’ll be short – and I look forward to the discussion.
The ADA was formed 42 years ago as a bi-partisan organisation focused on the need to defend Australia and to encourage understanding of our strategic threats and defence needs.
Our core purpose is set out on our website: Since 1975 the ADA has been Australia’s only truly independent and non-partisan public-interest watchdog and ‘think-tank’ on strategic security, defence and wider national security issues.
We go on to say that our mission is to defend the long-term public interest:
- We seek to represent the long-term public interest in helping ensure Australia is strategically and domestically secure.
- Including that current and future Australians are adequately defended.
- Our public-interest oversight primarily focuses on ministerial, governmental and parliamentary accountability for the effective formulation and execution of strategic and wider national security policy, including the consequent capabilities, tasking and operations of the Australian Defence Force and Australia’s six intelligence and security agencies – and the effectiveness of their supporting departments.
We are a broadly community-based, strictly independent, staunchly non-partisan, national public-interest watchdog organisation.
Our members come from all walks of life but share intellectual and practical interests concerning Australia’s strategic security over the long term.
ADA Membership is open to all Australians who believe in the need for informed and effective public debate about:
- Australia’s strategic security, our common defence and our liberty and sovereign freedom of action as a nation;
- our domestic security and unity as a national community; and
- preserving a logical and practical balance between potentially competing needs for community security, civil liberties, adequate defence capabilities and other key national investment priorities.
A majority of ADA members have never served in our defence force, a police force or with one of our intelligence and security agencies (although many have).
In summary, we seek to represent the long-term national interest concerning public-policy issues integral to Australia’s strategic and domestic security – not any sectional interest.
As necessary consequences of our independence, community base and non-partisanship please note that:
- We do not institutionally represent the profession of arms.
- We do not otherwise collectively represent the men and women of the Australian Defence Force.
- We are not a defence industry or other commercial body in any shape or form.
- We are not a war veterans or ex-Service organisation (ESO).
- We have no political affiliations, inclinations or agendas.
One of the three main founders was a union official from Perth, Jim Harding from the Federated Clerks Union, a civil libertarian and Army veteran from World War II
The other two founders were Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, KBE, CB, DFC, a World War II veteran and professional air force officer who had ended his Service career commanding the RAAF from May 1961 to May 1965; and Peter Firkins, the director of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, a well-known military historian and a RAAF veteran from World War II.
In our DNA is an interest in advocating for the best interests of those serving in the defence forces, the reserves, and the retired.
We act as a quasi-union for those who cannot advocate for themselves. But we are not formally appointed by anyone.
We have a low profile but we pack an effective punch.
Each year we meet with the defence chiefs (army, navy, airforce), the head of Australian Defence Force, the Minister for Defence, other relevant Ministers and their Shadows.
We are highly respected. We listen, advocate and reflect on good policy and practical outcomes.
Current ADA members are scattered across the parliament. Shadow Minister Richard Marles is a strong supporter. When I saw Amanda Rishworth late last year, she recalled hearing about the ADA at a SDA delegates meeting many years ago. Mike Kelly, Labor’s Parliamentary Secretary for Defence is a member.
When John Faulkner ceased being Defence Minister he wrote to us seeking to join. As did John Howard, Brendan Nelson, and others.
The SDA has historically been supportive to the organisation and we are very grateful. The MUA is also a supporter and that means we are ideologically supported across the labour movement.
That support is actually vital to us because, frankly, we are a very lean organisation. It is not too much of a stretch to say we run off the smell of an oily rag.
We are scrupulous about conflicts. We do not want to be captured by defence companies so we have limits on the funds we can take from organisations servicing the defence industry.
We have a strong Board, a mix of practical wisdom, experience and knowledge. A former Chief of Army, Professor Peter Leahy AC, the director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra is on our Board.
Neil James is our Executive Director. He has done a brilliant job in thinking about the issues, articulating the case for defence, in smartly dealing with the issues of the day.
Retired Deputy Secretary Department of Defence, Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Steve Meekin, has just joined the Board.
In sum, the reasons for supporting the Australia Defence Association are: We are a credible, balanced body that articulates a strong defence perspective that understands the people who serve.
The ADA has been vitally successful in influencing and, frankly, assisting the ALP on defence issues and defence industry credibility.
We work with all political parties and have strong supporters.
The ADA acts and speaks up for those who cannot officially speak for themselves. The people who join the defence forces are decent folk, overwhelming of working class stock, who care about this country, who want a decent job, to be protected in retirement. We are so very often called to be their voice. We do not megaphone our views, our voice might not be well known even, but in the places that matter we are heard, respected and paid attention to.
The ADA’s submissions on public policy matters, Senate Committees and government inquiries, are highly credible.
The ADA emphasises that as a rich, isolated island continent, vitally interested in trade, we cannot be complacent about the defence of Australia.
We are an organisation with a history, a tradition, that is sympathetic to the best elements of the labour movement. That makes us unique.
Finally, if I have not done this enough already: thank you for your support. The SDA is vitally contributing to the defence of Australia, to the defence and security of your members’ lives.
You help us in the ADA to make a difference. That is because we have our ear to the ground, we speak to real people, our network is vast, we are considered thoughtful and reasonable. We know what we are talking about.
This detailed speech was drafted by the ADA Executive Director, Neil James. Speaking to a table of 20 people, the national officers and the key state officials, precluded my reading out the content. Next to me that day was Richard Marles, the ALP Defence spokesperson who delivered without notes a tour de force on the importance, from a Labor viewpoint, of defence. So, I glanced at the notes and relayed the main points, attempting to appear confident and on top of the detail.
The Maritime Union of Australia and, sometimes, the metal workers’ union, were ADA members, along with the SDA.
Besides the important theoretical and practical issues associated with the defence of Australia, is the people-perspective. Most of the defence force personnel is drawn from ordinary Australian families. Sometimes the ADA argues the case for a controversial issue, a member of the services who needs defending, on superannuation entitlement, on rates of pay.
If there was no ADA, some of these issues would build up, some might get no attention whatsoever. We exist for the greater good and to ensure the loyal protectors of our community have a voice.
The ADA over many decades has politely and firmly pushed the issues we believe in. We are one of the few ‘lobby groups’ respected all round.