Opinion – Self-interest the enemy of action

ONLY someone who has attempted to take a large bone from a small terrier understands the fury it can generate.
Multiply that by several terriers and bones and the fury increases exponentially.
Larger dogs usually, but not always, tend to be less possessive, particularly if they have taken control of all the bones.
Australia’s state and federal bureaucracies mirror that fanaticism with departments jealously protecting their independence while resisting what they regard as gratuitous intervention in their affairs.
When it comes to countering Australia’s real and present terrorism threat such bureaucratic independence can be counter-productive.
Australia’s co-ordinated response to terrorism grew from the 1977 Hilton bombing when Malcolm Fraser understood the need to develop a co-ordinated response between those agencies likely to be given that responsibility, state police forces and the ADF.
Fraser established a standing committee to advise on appropriate responses to acts of terrorism, with the additional responsibility of co-ordinating those responses.
The problem then and since has been the multiple agencies involved with their competing agendas but more stiflingly their competing bureaucracies. Bureaucrats are like those small terriers, fiercely protecting their departmental bones when a collective need to act is paramount.
Only those who have not been involved in exercising those processes could argue against a centralised super security ministry with responsibility for the disparate, competing parts.
This includes many of the Australian media commentariat who mostly have no idea but express their ignorance exquisitely and vacuously.
Although other national departmental amalgamations have had their difficulties – think the Defence Department – most critics of a super security ministry are simply defending parochial self interest.
The intolerably arrogant Canberra bureaucrat Sir Arthur Tang oversaw the amalgamation of separate service departments. The small terriers protecting their bones snapped at his heels but the universally despised Tang simply ignored their plaintive protests.
Likewise the establishment of a joint defence force academy which, for all its many faults, has now trained generations of senior ADF leaders who understand each other and their individual strengths and weaknesses.
While single service agendas can and still do arise, it’s hard to argue Australia’s defence interests haven’t been better served by a single department.
The main weapon for defeating terrorism however is detailed and timely intelligence.
While each of the agencies proposed for the amalgamation has its own independent intelligence gathering and interpreting capabilities, their product is not automatically available to other agencies.
As important as this proposed departmental amalgamation could be, the proposed Office of National Intelligence within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet as recommended by former diplomat Michael L’Estrange is even more crucial.
Getting that intelligence to those who need to use it in a timely manner is also critical.
If a single home affairs ministry improves inter-agency co-operation it will prove its critics wrong.
If it reduces bureaucratic hesitation and obfuscation, decision making and responses will be enhanced.
If it allows government to shave off layers of duplicated public servants, even better.
Ross Eastgate
21 July 2017


  1. David Compton says

    Pity you got the date of the Hilton bombing wrong. 1978 not 1977

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