Defence analysis: Not much cheer in new Cabinet

24 Sep 2015


THE cheers greeting Stuart Robert’s ministerial elevation to Veterans’ Affairs barely drowned out the stale champagne fizz from the Canning by-election victory leftovers.

Even that momentary euphoria evaporated when it became obvious Robert had also been given responsibility for Human Services, covering a broad range of social and health services including Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support.

Veterans’ concerns that their hard won entitlements would eventually be subsumed into the “social security” pool have been realised thanks to Turnbull’s new ministry.

This is every veteran’s worst nightmare but the federal bureaucracy’s treasured goal.

Indeed the wider Defence community’s reaction has been less than enthusiastic about Turnbull’s Defence ministerial appointments.

With serially under­performing defence ministers, the community had hoped for a better deal.

Marise Payne’s appointment has been generally welcomed, even by the Australian Defence Association’s usually forensically critical executive director Neil James, who noted her long enthusiasm for defence and security issues, as well as her related committee experience.

While Kevin Andrews had also been regarded as a steady if personally bland hand on the tiller, it’s not a hard act to ­improve on.

Labor’s Steven Smith could barely conceal his contempt for uniformed personnel while his hapless fellow West Australian, Liberal David Johnston, blundered from one political error to the next.

Mal Brough, recycled both as an MP and minister, now has Defence Science and Personnel. Neither Robert nor Brough, both ex-ADF members, have inspired hope of a more robustly sympathetic approach to veterans’ representations any time soon.

Without that baggage, Darren Chester remains an unknown quality.

What is it about former ­uniformed Defence personnel whose political ambitions have been fulfilled, who then abandon all their former principles in favour of self interest?

Former Labor Minister for Defence Materiel Colonel (R) The Honourable Dr Mike Kelly AM paid the price for choosing political advantage above loyalty to the wider Defence community.

Robert has demonstrated similar tendencies, while Brough’s previous performance as Assistant Defence Minister 2003-04 suggests he will also follow suit.

Elected in 2007, Stuart Robert was Shadow Minister for Defence, Science, Technology and Personnel and from 2013 succeeded Kelly as the retitled Assistant Minister for Defence in the Abbott Government.

In that role he significantly disappointed the Defence community who approached him with genuine grievances by simply regurgitating the same bureaucratic responses his predecessor had offered.

Indeed, it is not for nothing he is known instead as the Minister for Self-Promotion.

Bundaberg raised, ADFA and RMC educated Robert served as an intelligence officer – perhaps as remote as it is possible to be from the aspirations and needs of junior frontline soldiers.

One of several government Pentecostal Christians, Robert may discover veterans will not turn the other cheek when their representations are summarily dismissed in a mist of negative, banal bureaucratese.

With the veteran community being bundled under the same ministerial umbrella as Centrelink and Medicare, but having to fight harder for entitlements, it seems there will be no champagne corks popping for some time to come.