Defence Appointments Send Timely Message
Te Karere Ipurangi: New Defence Chiefs
by Ross Himona
Te Karere Ipurangi
11 December 2001
The significant feature of the new appointment to Chief of Defence Force is that the Labour Alliance government has passed over the existing chiefs.
Whilst this has undoubtedly been designed by Michael Wintringham and Helen Clark to start with a clean slate at the top, it has also been necessary to pass over those who might be sympathetic to the National Party and Old Guard campaign to discredit Labour Alliance defence policies.
Given the eighteen month long politically motivated misinformation campaign against Major General Maurice Dodson, as the fall guy for the new defence policies, he was never really in line for the appointment, having become a political liability to the Government. Collateral damage.
Both Rear Admiral McHaffie and Major General Dunne were passed over for this appointment. Despite Max Bradford’s professed support for the new appointments, this would be a blow to the instigators of the campaign to get rid of Dodson, for McHaffie and Dunne were both believed to be the preferred candidates of the National Party and the Defence Old Guard.
Having been plucked from the third tier in Defence, and owing his rapid elevation to this Labour Alliance government, the new CDF, Air Commodore Bruce Ferguson, should be more willing to implement the policies of his benefactors than his predecessor and the present incumbent, Cary Adamson.
To restore credibility and honour to Defence he will need to be seen to actively support the government of the day. It will not do for him to be seen, even privately, to be in league with those former colleagues and National Party supporters who are campaigning to discredit the new defence policies.
With General Dunne passed over for one of the top four appointments, Brigadier Jerry Mateparae was the natural choice for Chief of General Staff. Air Commodore John Hamilton seems to be the logical choice as well for Chief of Air Staff.
What has really happened at the top of Defence? Is it just a matter of senior officers unable to settle their differences?
The club at the top of Defence consists of the Chief of Defence Force, Secretary of Defence, Chief of General Staff (Army), Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Air Staff. It has long operated as a closed club that allows only one view to prevail at the top. That view is the so-called "balanced force policy" that has allowed quite extravagant structures to remain in place, and extravagant career structures to remain in place with them. That extravagant policy, involving token but expensive air and naval forces, is the post WW2 status quo policy still espoused by the National Party, and by the sabre rattlers of the Old Guard.
Dissenting views at the top (usually only by CGS Army) have been suppressed, often by resort to some quite sophisticated bullying. And the convention of a single Defence worldview has meant that Army’s viewpoint has often been buried in the status quo.
Given the present unpopularity of the previous Chief of General Staff (Army) Major General Piers Reid with the National Party and the Old Guard, it would seem that General Reid was not entirely in accord with the National Party and Old Guard worldview. However with a National Party government in place during his tenure as CGS, Reid was not likely to be heard. National’s C Team man, Max Bradford, has been quite bitter in his sniping at Reid, indicating perhaps some disagreement while he was in office as Minister of Defence.
Dodson replaced Reid as CGS before the Labour Alliance government was elected. He is known as a man who sticks to his guns, and is not a person who would willingly submit to the tactics of the club at the top. With a Labour Alliance government in place it must have been obvious that new defence policies would be required. However it seems that the club at the top decided to continue to push the old National Party line, despite the duty of every officer to support the policies of the government of the day.
As it turned out, Helen Clark, who has a more thorough grasp of defence strategy and policy than any politician for many years, was more receptive to Army’s viewpoint. Any politically aware senior officer could have predicted that. It now seems obvious that Defence, along with many other government agencies, was not prepared for a Labour Alliance victory at the last elections. Except perhaps for Army.
Surprise, surprise, Helen Clark went with the Army assessment. Even Field Moushall Blind Freddie could have predicted that. But apparently the Blind Freddies in the club at the top didn’t. So they blamed it all on Dodson, their bitterness no doubt fuelled by the loss of their cherished toys; their ships and their planes. And by the loss of career opportunities of course.
Unbelievable as it may seem, there were even, in this day and age, more than a few troglodytes wandering the corridors of Defence singing the old refrain from the 50s and 60s about Reds under the bed.
So the National Party and the Old Guard launched an 18-month attack on Dodson to prevent him from becoming Chief of Defence Force, and to try to embarrass the Labour Alliance government. They were helped by more than a few sympathisers within Defence, at high levels, many of them still in place.
Yesterday the top echelon was passed over. Secretary of Defence Fortune will not likely be given an extension to his contract either.
Fortune and his uniformed counterpart, Chief of Defence Force Cary Adamson, were the leaders at the top of this fiasco, during which the honour of the Officer Corps and the ethic of its political impartiality were discarded. Aided by former defence minister and leader of the National Party C Team, the Honourable Max Bradford.
The Government has now sent a clear message to Defence; “Sort out your political impartiality and your loyalty to the government of the day, or it will be sorted for you”.
It is a timely and well-deserved message.