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Defence department diarchy demolished

August 15 2011 at 5:07 AM
WAFFer  (Premier Login Faz1)


THE choice of former general Duncan Lewis to head the Department of Defence effectively demolishes the convention that Australia's defence establishment should be headed by a military officer and a civilian official of equal standing.

The so-called "diarchy" was introduced in the days of Arthur Tange who, in the 1970s, brought the departments of Army, Navy and Air Force into the Department of Defence and the three services into a new Australian Defence Force.

Tange's plan was for the ADF and the department to be headed by a uniformed type and a bureaucrat, who would jointly advise the government of the day.

As the national security adviser to the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments, Duncan Lewis is certainly now a civilian.

But he is also one of Australia's most accomplished soldiers who retired as a major-general having commanded the Special Air Service Regiment and the ADF's Special Operations Command, which includes all special forces.

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There has been speculation in Canberra for some time that he was in line for a top job in Defence, possibly even as chief of the ADF.

As a fluent bahasa speaker, Mr Lewis was in line to be ambassador to Indonesia until it was decided he was needed in Canberra to advise the government on national security issues.

"Duncan Lewis is highly capable and he is now in civvis but he's a soldier through and through," a former senior Defence official said last night.

"What does that mean for the diarchy and the division of powers? The uniforms will run Defence. Where are the checks and balances in all this?"

It was also noted that Mr Lewis has not run a major commonwealth department -- especially one that is likely to be seen by hard-eyed bureaucrats in finance and Treasury as a source of big savings to get the government out of the red.

Also noted was that in just five years the Department of Defence has had four secretaries and four ministers. With that lack of continuity on the civilian side, it is small wonder it's had problems.

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