Former minor level military officers who leave the army with a huge chip on their shoulder generally find it hard to have their views taken seriously in the debate about Australia's defence policy. Give that same officer a grand title with an independent sounding organisation and those same views come blasting out of radios and appear on televisions and in newspapers all over the nation.
So it was this morning when Australians woke to find Neil James, the executive director of the Australian Defence Association, giving them the opinion that the nation's Sea King helicopters should have been replaced years ago. He was the media's darling as journalists desperately sought to find somebody, anybody, to talk about Saturday's tragic helicopter crash on Nias Island.
Now the opinion of Mr James might well turn out to be absolutely correct but expertise in the subject was not the reason his views were being sought. Today's appearances, like countless others by the current executive director and his predecessors, were purely and simply the result of the title.
Which brings me to the first rule for anyone wanting to take part in political debate: start an organisation and give yourself a title. If it sounds impressive, believe me you will be heard.
The Australian Defence Association is a wonderful example. It started in Perth in 1975 when Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, KBE, CB, DFC, who had been Chief of the Air Staff from May 1961 to May 1965, Jim Harding, described on their website as "a leading Western Australian trade unionist", and Peter Firkins, the director of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, decided that Australia was at a strategic watershed following the fall of Saigon to a major North Vietnamese attack. According to the website "they had the vision to see that an independent and non-partisan ‘ginger group’ was required to stimulate, nurture and monitor effective public debate on national security issues."
The ADA has grown from there to become a regular participant in the defence debate. But who exactly is it? Well its board of directors is these days a long way short of Air Marshal Hancock's status but you can judge that for yourself from the following descriptions taken from the ADA website.
Dr Brian Ridge - Brian Ridge is National President of the ADA. He teaches Linguistics and Asian Studies (including sections on regional security and defence) at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. He has taught previously at other Australian universities and overseas in Singapore and China. Brian is linguistically curious and his day is not complete without a new word from the "Worthless Word For The Day" list (it is a real list!)
Neil James- A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Neil James served for over 31 years in the Australian Army. His experiences spanned a wide range of regimental, intelligence, liaison, teaching, operational planning and research positions throughout Australia and overseas, including Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Canada, Iraq, the United States and New Zealand. Neil is the author of four ADF and Army operational manuals, has written numerous articles for professional and specialist journals, has contributed chapters to several books on defence matters and has authored several entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. He has served with the senior teaching staff at the Army Command and Staff College and the Australian and Canadian defence intelligence schools, and has taught on specialist courses with various Australian and allied intelligence and security agencies. After serving for nearly four years (1997-2000) as foundation director of the Army's 'think-tank', the Land Warfare Studies Centre at Duntroon, his final posting was as head of the operational plans branch at Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand near Wellington. In 2000 the then Australian Defence Studies Centre at UNSW published his comprehensive and critical study paper on reforming the strategic management of Australia's defence. The paper earnt him both his trans-Tasman exile in 2001-02 and his current position as Executive Director of the Association.
Ian Bostock- Ian Bostock is a professional journalist and the editor of a national consumer magazine. He graduated from UNSW in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science, and has been an independent defence writer and analyst for more than a decade. Since 1995 Ian has also been the Australian correspondent for the Jane’s group of international defence journals.
Alan Collier- Alan Collier is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and served for five years as a an officer in the signals corps. Since leaving the Army in 1982 he has pursued eclectic interests as an electrical engineer, businessman, lawyer, company director and management consultant. He is of the view that there is more importance in defence and national security issues being vigorously debated than in any necessity that he agrees with any particular point of view.
David Forbes- David Forbes is barrister practising in commercial and insolvency law in Melbourne. He is also a volunteer lawyer at the Darebin Community Legal Centre. David joined the ADA in 1984 and has an on-going interest in national security and foreign policy issues. David writes occasional articles for Defender and academic legal journals. He regularly reads The Economist for breakfast.
Dr Malcolm Kennedy- Malcolm Kennedy spent 14 years in the regular and reserve components of the Australian Army. He saw service in Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Laos, and has travelled extensively in East and South-East Asia. Subsequently, he taught at Melbourne and Monash Universities. Editor of Defender, he now works as a freelance writer and editor.
Tom Magee- Tom Magee is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and served as an infantry officer for 16 years. He counts his time with 3RAR establishing its parachute capability and his three-year secondment to the PNG Defence Force as the highlights of his time in the Service. Since leaving the Army in 1993 he has worked in a variety of executive roles in the resources industry, predominantly in the metalliferous sector. A ‘specialist generalist’, he sees the honest broker role of the ADA as bringing an essential element to public debate of national securit