How political tensions hurt Australia's national defence

Political tensions within the Abbott government have sowed disunity among the ranks, with implications for the Joint Strike Fighter program and our national security.

Let me introduce you to Mal Brough and Dennis Jensen.

The leaders of the anti-Abbott forces are two of the most remarkable politicians in the House of Representatives. Indeed, they are among the smartest people we have elected to go to Canberra.

That does not make them right in trying to destabilise the Abbott government and, indeed, it was apparent after Abbott’s National Press Club address that any such move was likely to fail.

An angry Tony Abbott on the back bench would make life impossible for the new PM – just ask Julia Gillard (Why Abbott will stay on as Prime Minister, February 2).

We’re right to give credit to Peter Costello for the current retirement system in superannuation. But his assistant at the time was Mal Brough and it was Brough who designed it. Self-funded retirees who receive tax-free pensions have Brough to thank.

When Howard lost the 2007 election, Brough lost his seat and attracted controversy. His fast track to the top was derailed. Many less talented people now have ministerial appointments and both Australia and the Abbott Government are the poorer.

Dennis Jensen is one of the few scientists in the House and at one time he worked for the CSIRO. His science-based views on climate change are politically incorrect.

Prior to entering Parliament he was a defence analyst and an air traffic controller so it is not surprising that he turned his attention to the biggest single government defence purchase, the Joint Strike Fighter.

Like almost everyone else of calibre (apart from top defence officials who are protecting their reputations) that has looked really closely at the JSF program, Jensen discovered it was a disaster.

Jensen made no secret of the fact that it will leave Australia with a second rate air defence system.

Because he had done so much work on the project, Jensen discovered that officials from Lockheed had misled the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. He wanted them recalled and, if Jensen had succeeded and his accusations stood up, then Lockheed officials theoretically could have faced a Parliamentary imposed custodial sentence.

That was never going to happen, but for suggesting it Dennis Jensen was punished and was allocated a seat in the House of Representatives chamber that was right at the back and as far away from the action as possible.

Telling the truth is not always rewarded in Canberra.

The defence minister in the Abbott government had once been a legal adviser to a supplier for the JSF project so did not like Jensen's references to conflict of interest.

We now have a new defence Minster, Kevin Andrews, who is one of Abbott's strongest supporters. It's unlikely he will now look at Jensen's expert analysis of the JSF, so we are destined not to have air superiority in our region.

Indeed, I fear future generations may look back and see that this was one of the lasting legacies of the current government tangle.