Too many funerals for John Faulkner?

The photo below, from Monday’s funeral for Private Tim Aplin, caught my eye in one of the papers yesterday.


Source: ADF

All the politicians look affected by the moment, but it was the pain on Faulkner’s face that held my attention. I’d seen it before, as our Afghanistan casualities mount and military funerals become more frequent. Faulkner is feeling heavily the special burden all Defence ministers carry.

So while I was not expecting today’s announcement of Faulkner’s retirement from the ministry I was not surprised. That photo was the first thing I thought of when I heard the news that he was standing down.

But the practice of politicians attending soldiers’ funerals is a good one. While no minister takes the decision to send troops into combat lightly, it is important that they see firsthand the consequences of those decisions. The soldiers do want to go, but wives, kids, parents and friends can pay a terrible price.

32 thoughts on “Too many funerals for John Faulkner?

  1. Nobody goes into politics to take a job which is impossible to get right and easy to get wrong, and which has such consequences even when other policy settings are well set.

    As I’ve said elsewhere it seems strange that Labor has such a lock on effective policy in this area when it is so closely identified with conservatives in other countries.

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  2. Good Point Norton.
    Elder – I’d wager 90% of Australian politicians don’t pays any real attention to foreign policy and defence issues until actually charged with overseeing them (and in the case of J.Bishop not even then). Rudd was a rare outlier in having an interest long before coming to power.

    The ALP however tends a more internationalist outlook, which leads to those like Rudd/Evans along with aiding a greater interest in defence policy (Esp for those taken with America like Beazley). The Curtin effect doesn’t hurt either.

    For the Libs however, while it’s assumed a native issue for them, those who get involved never seem to prosper (Fraser being the last to really benefit from it) and they have no real heroes in the area either to inspire younger ones.

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  3. You’re being too nice. Faulkner couldn’t handle having a real job. The ALP government’s mismanagement of defense is yet to come out.

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  4. Andrew Elder: on what basis do you class Beazley as a good Defence Minister? Sure he was interested in the issues, but that does not mean he was a competent administrator. He was an appallingly bad Finance Minister, a disaster as Communications Minister, pointless as Employment Minister and seemed to have a few, shall we say, implementation problems as Defence Minister.

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  5. Everyone has implementation problems with Defence, regardless of party or ability. Beazley however was the force behind much of the modernisation and push for the defence of the continent strategy, which then helped free foreign policy to really push into Asia. Ministers have to be able to administer and re-orientate departments for the coming challenges, Beazley may have had a so-so relationship on the first (though has anyone?) but certainly met the second requirement completely.

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  6. Sinclair, do you have anything specific to point to on this issue or is this just your habitual dislike of all things nominally left-wing coming to the fore?

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  7. The ALP government have stripped $ billions out of defence over the next ten years or so, they have stopped many defence projects in their tracks, are not updating existing projects, have delayed promotions and, of course, the large number of recent ADF deaths must reflect poorly on the government and leadership.

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  8. This man’s greatest achievement is the bullying of public servants. What heroics! What mashed brains!
    Also, can we please post a picture of Julian Burnside. It would be nice to say a few words about him.

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  9. “large number of recent ADF deaths”

    All this handwringing over a handful of deaths in Afghanistan is ridiculous. What is it, 14 in 8 years? As many get killed on our roads every few days. They’re over there fighting a war. It’s very sad for the families, but getting killed by the enemy is a well known occupational hazard for soldiers, who, incidentally, are all volunteers.

    To put it in context, Australia lost 100,000 men in the two world wars. Now that was a big deal.

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  10. “All this handwringing over a handful of deaths in Afghanistan is ridiculous”
    .
    I have the opposite opinion — I think it’s good, as it draws attention to the silly position Australian is in there and the reality of what it really means (and not just for Australians) — it’s 14 people killed for no decent reason, and I’m glad I’m not one of them. It’s not just those that get killed either, it’s injuries, mental health problems that many of these guys will have for the rest of their lives, and all the problems this will cause both for those that are fighting now and the people that will have to deal with them later (like their friends and families). Most of these latter costs are quickly forgotten from the public mind, but not by the individuals nor those that interact with them.

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  11. Andrew Carr

    Jesus wept! You really have overdosed on the Kool Aid. Any Labor admin/PM with a more “international outlook” than John Howard? ROFL.

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  12. SoR – I don’t disagree with your analysis, I’m just wondering if the Liberals are ever going to pose the question as to whether defense spending cuts are related to ADF deaths. Is there a reason why more ADF deaths have occured since the ALP came to office? Afterall the ADF have been in Afghanistan since 2001. It may be bad luck, but lets hear the argument.

    Conrad – that is a different argument and well worth having.

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  13. by the way Sinkers Faulkner actualy taught retarded children before going to AP Head Office and then the Senate.

    A lot better than teaching retarded economics like you.

    Why there are more deaths?

    Is this a trick question? Most people agree the Taliban are fighting back quite strongly.

    That could the the answer.

    More fighting usually means more casualties

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  14. We’re in a difficult position.

    The reason why we’re still not on top in Afghanistan is because the Republicans in the US didn’t take the fight seriously, and nor are the Democrats.

    This is the country that, sixty years ago and with the same allies, beat both Germany and Japan in less than four years. There is no reason why they couldn’t spiflicate a bunch of misogynistic goatherders, if they had the will. But not taking the fight seriously means not devoting the necessary resources to the fight.

    Our alliance obligations mean that we have to fight alongside the Americans. Sadly, that means our involvement is costing us lives. (Geo)politics has always involved hard choices. But in light of the Americans’ dithering, the attitudes of this government and the Howard government – in limiting our involvement as much as possible – appears quite sensible.

    Regarding battle deaths I agree with Andrew and conrad. One of the reasons why the Europe in the first half of the 20th century was such a charnel house was because governments – even in the democracies – were to a great extent indifferent to casualties. One of the reasons why we’ve had such light casualties is because politicians are much more sensitive to the electoral consequences of the deaths of our soldiers, and I think this is a Good Thing.

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  15. Sinclair, since the defence spending cuts have not been implemented yet, it might be hard to argue that they have been responsible for deaths in Afghanistan. Mind you, since the defence department is easily the most wasteful part of government, there is plenty that can be cut without having any effect on our defence capability.

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  16. Sinkers has no idea of when people went back to Afghanistan because they thought it safer and when they decided to leave because it wasn’t because the Taliban was making a comeback.

    It isn’t hard to decipher why casualties are now higher than previously if you wish to know.

    It is if your intent is to spread ignorance

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  17. This is spot on – Faulkner is a good and decent man, who feels these losses hard. And despite comments about him “bullying public servants”, those who actually know what they’re talking about would know that he is one of the few politicians of either side held in genuinely high regard by the public service.

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  18. The ALP government have stripped $ billions out of defence over the next ten years or so, they have stopped many defence projects in their tracks,…

    Ahh, “small government” we can all agree with πŸ˜‰

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  19. “Cuts are bad for morale even if they have yet to occur.”
    Especially cuts to health and education. You wouldn’t want the doctor at the emergency department to have his morale down next time you’re in there, would you? πŸ™‚

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  20. As it turns out I’ve spent a lot of time in the EM recently and its looked pretty good to me.

    More importantly health and education are private goods. National security is a public good. The ALP are stripping $20 billion out of national defense.

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  21. You’d like them to private goods, but, your fantasies notwithstanding, the reality is they are provided by government. National security is a public good, but pissing money away on it is bad. Nobody, but nobody, who is acquainted even remotely with the way Defence spends money disagrees that they waste it horribly.

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  22. Nobody, but nobody, who is acquainted even remotely with the way Defence spends money disagrees that they waste it horribly.

    You have evidence?

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  23. Sinclair, the Collins class submarine and over the horizon radar fiascos are public knowledge. Generally, every informed commentator writes about Defence’s hopeless procurement. A lsrge part of the problem is that never order anything off the shelf. Everything, such as a tank or fighter jet, has to be tailor made to Australian conditions. Does they really? Only Defence knows and nobody is prepared to second guess them. This adds billions to costs. Anecdotally, I have heard stories from people in Canberra whose job it is to keep spending departments under control that would make your hair stand on end, if you had any. Not just about big hardware, but practices like having dozens, yes dozens, of dentists stationed at individual army bases.

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  24. SoR – I totally agree with the submarine example. But that is not Defence that is government. I don’t recall the radar example, but happy to take your word on that. I also remember an example of the ADF having x years supply of the contraceptive pill (can’t remember where I saw that). But two points: (1) every large organisation stuffs up procurement somewhere – you have to demonstrate that the ADF are worse than we might expect given their size and objectives ceteris paribus, not worse than some abstract notion of efficiency and (2) the ADFs objective isn’t to save money or economise* – their objective is to wage war in defense of Australia and/or to meet the political objectives of the Australian government (for example wage war against the Taliban). That must be an expensive exercise with all sorts of redundancies that wouldn’t and shouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere. So I agree they spend lots of money that ex post may well be wasteful, but I can’t agree that they waste money horribly.

    * to be sure the government should be economising but if they want to cut spending (a good objective) then they need to scale back military operations (ceteris paribus also a good objective).

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  25. If the Collins class Submarine is a fiasco why then has it sunk US ships in exercises?
    Why have the Yanks let it be known they would want them up in China at a shot if hostilities broke out between China and Taiwan to keep the Chinese navy in dock?

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  26. Homer, the only submarine worse than the Collins class is the Bob Collins class. It goes down at the wrong time with the wrong people.

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  27. SOR,

    If that is the case then the US navy is in bucketloads of trouble given how many ships these submarines sunk in war games.

    Why do the US navy want the submarines to be near Chinese harbours to ensure no Chinese sip leaves in the event of hostilities with Taiwan?

    sounds like your research is as sloppy and up to date as Sinkers

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