March 3

“The Minister for Defence has no direct command authority.”

“The Minister for Defence has no direct command authority.”  At least not while Australia remains the sort of democracy it was even in the world wars.   “’Defence is not ungovernable,’ (former defence minister Kim) Beazley insists. ‘They are very responsive to someone who knows what they are doing.’   

“Perhaps predictably, he is critical of ( John ) Howard's ministers who he claims ‘expected the department to be working for them politically, not for the country’,” reports  Deborah Snow and Cynthia Banham in The Sydney Morning Herald 28 February, 2009 (“Calling shots in defence”) 



“Some former officials believe there are cultural stumbling blocks to smoother relations between ministers and Defence. Behm recalls running a seminar for a group of senior military officers a decade ago, asking them to debate who they worked for.

“He got at least three different answers. ‘We called the first group the Cavaliers [because] they were absolutely sure that they worked for the Queen or the Governor-General,’ he says.“ ‘Then there were the Roundheads who thought they worked for the government of the day. Some in that group thought they worked for CDF, but since CDF thought he worked for the minister we counted them as Roundheads … The third group we called the Maoists because they thought they worked for the people.

“We had a furious argument about who was the decision-maker and ultimately I had to get someone like the Vice-Chief to come in and convince them all that they worked for the minister.’”I am appalled by that the view that military officers “work for the Minister for Defence” could ever be put in some authorised seminar to Australian officers.

They do not and they never have.The two thirds who thought they worked for the Crown – or the people – were absolutely correct as to where their allegiance is and should be. The Constitution provides that command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth is vested in the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative, that is the Australian Crown. 

The Crown in our constitutional system is in the ultimate analysis the trustee for the people. The Crown and the people are in this context synonymous.This does not mean that the Governor-General will not normally act on ministerial advice. In a democracy the armed forces are under the control of Parliament and subject to the directions of the government. 

The chain of command which flows down from the Australian Crown means that a soldier, sailor or airman takes orders only from his superior, and not from the minister. The minister will communicate with the high command, not to the forces.    

…politicians (and apparatchiks) are  not in the chain of command …

Telling officers they work for a transitory minister will lead to politicians, or worse, their too eager apparatchiks, ringing up officers and telling them what to do even on the battlefield.  This would be a disaster.

The armed forces would be used to ensure the re-election of politicians and governments.  
This is not our way and never has been.Australia is not some tin pot dictatorship but an old and sophisticated democracy.  
 If a minister wants something he should go to the Chief of the Defence Staff, not to officers in the field.  

“Ministers have no command authority over the armed forces," says Air Marshal David Evans AC DSO AFC (Rtd). “The commissioning of an officer is in effect a license to exercise command. The commissioning document comes from the C-in-C but is countersigned by the appropriate Minister of State. This dual signature is a reflection of the symbolic relationship between the Crown and the Parliament in the matter of command.

“Once commissioned, an officer’s use of his command authority lies within the command system, generally referred to as the chain of command, and outside the field of executive government.

 “The Minister of Defence for instance has no direct command authority in the true sense. He cannot go to the commander in the field or any subordinate officer and issue a command: “The Governor-General as Commander-in-Chief “  ACM National Conference 2003     


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