Josh Farquhar writes:
The Chief of Army's response to Dr Palazzo's insightful and constructive comments on the lack of ADF involvement in public debate does not address Dr Palazzo's most critical point: why have senior ADF officers been so notably absent in the public debate?
Of the three factors proposed by Dr Palazzo ('bureaucratic, cultural and operational') as limiting ADF involvement, Lieutenant General Morrison effectively comments only on the first, and he merely states that Dr Palazzo is wrong without providing any substantial counter-argument. Dr Palazzo mostly points to internal disincentives and restrictions on public comment from within the ADF. He makes only limited suggestion of fault lying with government, but instead refers specifically to the 'Defence hierarchy'. It is somewhat redundant for Lieutenant General Morrison to offer that his own public comments have not been subject to clearance processes, when he is one of a handful of people at the very top of this hierarchy that Dr Palazzo suggests is at fault.
By any reasonable measure, public contribution to strategic debate in Australia by serving military officers has been virtually non-existent. Engagement is rare even from retired senior officers, with a few notable exceptions. Important strategic issues need to be addressed, and experienced military officers should have significant value to add to the public discourse. Their limited involvement impedes the quality of debate and leaves it unbalanced. Lieutenant General Morrison's comments reinforce Dr Palazzo's question more than answer it. Why is the ADF voice missing?
If we accept the Chief of Army's assertion that debate is not stifled from within the ADF, then there must be some other explanation for the lack of involvement by military officers. The explanations left to choose from are not encouraging – either ADF officers are inclined to remain disengaged, or they do not have the capacity to offer valuable strategic input. If either possibility is true, then the ADF may be carrying far more significant problems than mere censorship. It may be that what Dr Palazzo generously refers to as an internal cultural preference for 'doers over thinkers' could also be described as a combination of anti-intellectualism, institutional arrogance, and lack of strategic perspective within the ADF.
While the Chief of Army claims that there is no overt censorship burdening ADF officers, he does not comment on how organisational culture might be stifling debate. In a small military where opportunities for senior officer career progression are very limited, cultural norms are extremely powerful in controlling behaviour. Serving officers might not engage publicly because it is simply not the done thing. However, it is encouraging to hear that Lieutenant General Morrison is heartened by the amount of freedom available to him to comment publicly on military matters. It will be further encouraging to see him inspire his officers to do the same.