16 March 2010

An inside perspective to media concerns on the ADF budget

As I’m sure we have all noticed and have taken great interest in the recent articles posted by Norbert regarding Defence spending. While for the most part I leave politics alone, and am content in following my orders (as I’m still a current serving officer), Defence spending is one issue I will gladly speak on. While I do agree with many of my colleagues points, I am additionally aware that what information trickles down to my pay grade and in the public domain is only a fraction of what is really going on.

My comments will be heavily Army based, as I would rather speak of what I know, hear and see, than what I think happens in the other Services.

As with any defence budget cut that is invoked, it’s normally my diggers that miss out. It’s the ones at the bottom of the chain are the ones hardest hit, yet expected to perform the vital functions.

During my short time as an Army Infantry Officer, I have noticed and am aware of much expenditure that is needless and could be better used. I do tend to agree with the Sydney Morning Herald article in that the expenditure of Learjets, first class airfares and five star accommodation is lavish, however it’s my belief these have their place in only a very few circumstances. However, for domestic trips I believe it’s highly inappropriate, but are aware that this occurrs.

As I continue to read the SMH articles $518 million is to be saved through cutting the budget on health, training, advertising. These areas do not need cost cutting, they need to be given more, or at least keep their current budgets. Why? Health is a major issue. Our soldiers need to be medical fit if they are to perform their duties.
Our military (especially Army) is undermanned, and need to recruit heavily. Cutting the advertising and recruitment budgets seem to be ‘setting up for failure’, when our training reinforces “setting yourself up for success”!

My last visit to the School of Infantry, there were many, IETs that were in the holding platoon, mostly due to medical circumstances, but also due to spots not being available on their next course. Small training budgets mean less trained troops.

It appears that Defence is going to be accountable for its expenditures as if it’s a business. So let’s not treat it like a business. Let’s look at it as an organisation. A business would not outsource a job or position, when they are capable and more to the point have employed people already performing that task. Hence, let’s look at these civilian contracts. Why do we have civilian cooks when we have military ones? Why do we have civilian transport drivers when we have military ones? Why do we have civilian security when we are the MILITARY? Just to scratch the surface…

Why is it that Government at every level, insists on employing three people to do a one person job?

Let’s look at the Army Reserves. One of the primary roles of the reserves is to reinforce in the regular forces by filling the gaps. I’m starting to wonder how the reserves are meant to do this when their own budget doesn’t allow them to have a weekly parade. How they maintain their skills when they are not able to afford ammunition, or simply conduct a training weekend. Almost every unit that I know, have had to cut their training days and cancel training activities due to their budget. The well known slogan of the reservist, “one night week, one weekend a month, two weeks a year” should now read – “one night a week mostly, one weekend a month occasionally, two weeks a year fingers crossed”.

Yet, despite these units operating with one hand tied behind their backs, the officers and NCO’s in these units give 100% in their efforts providing for their soldiers.

I’m trying to force myself to keep this short, as I haven’t even scratched the surface. I am passionate about our defence force, and even with these continuing problems, Australia is continually producing some of best soldiers in the world.

However, this frustration of mine regarding the budget, training, civilian contracts and equipment, is generated from two folds. One from running a business and dealing with small budgets, and second being a member of the defence force and seeing first hand the problems and potential opportunities where this should be fixed and are not.

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