Flat White

Can we get our money back on ADF chief Angus Campbell?

30 August 2021

11:31 AM

30 August 2021

11:31 AM

In signals intelligence the term “look through” describes the tactic of penetrating deliberate noise and interference to reveal the real message.

Practitioners of public relations black arts believe bad news should be quietly released on the back of really good news.

Even better is to release it quietly on the back of far worse news.

For the past year and a bit there has been little good news, though lots of bad.

However, looking through the noise remains relevant. In June, Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell said the Afghan war would not be resolved militarily.

Meanwhile, he dismissed claims the Taliban could overrun the war-torn country once international troops withdrew.

Not since Neville Chamberlain in 1938 has someone so senior got a prediction so wrong.


That hasn’t stopped Defence’s PR apparatus from seizing the moment to slip bad news behind the general noise.

ADF Inspector General Brereton’s report into Afghanistan has been quietly released with all the impact of a damp firecracker.

The heavily redacted public version is 465 turgid pages of circular supposition with curious references to such obscure concepts as Occam’s razor. Except Brereton’s report has resulted in allegations against 13 Australian soldiers being quietly dropped, forcing the permanently inscrutable Campbell into a public apology.

Some so-called leaders see ‘military justice’ as a primary command tool rather than a process of last resort.

Campbell’s backdown sends a clear signal there have been significant failures at the senior leadership level for which he, as CDF, must take ultimate responsibility.

Campbell has been at the heart of strategic decision making, including command and a secondment to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, since troops were first committed to Afghanistan in 2001.

In that period he has been promoted from colonel to general.

Campbell’s annual salary is $1,063,118, compared with $485,810 for his British and $755,900 for his US counterparts.

These figures are published in their respective governments’ financial accountability statements.

That’s a differential of $365,466 above Chief of Army’s salary and enough to employ two colonel equivalents who would not be allowed to get it as wrong as he has done.

They would be swiftly brought to account for any performance deficiencies.

Perhaps it’s time the Australian government looked through the inscrutable Campbell facade to ascertain if there is better value for money.

Ross Eastgate OAM is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and military historian who writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets DownThis piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin, where an earlier version appeared.

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