Fisher's main arguement is that Australia has adapted a non-partisan forum for deciding issues of national security and its overall defence policy because it is geographically isolated from its allies, and therefore must make swift defence decisions. Australia cannot afford to take decades to decide on procurement; like Canada has been doing now on its FWSAR, CF-18 replacement, and the replacement fleet for the Royal Canadian Navy.
You can read his article below and decide for yourself.
Published by Matthew Fisher, National Post, Thursday February 18, 2016 Edition
While Canada has long dithered about what fighter jets to buy, Australia has acquired F-35s and F-18 Super Hornets with little political fuss or public outcry, Matthew Fisher writes, due to an all-party consensus that a common and consistent vision on national security is top priority.
What has evolved Down Under is an all-party consensus that robustly defending Australia is a top-level national interest. Decisions on strategic policy, defence budgets and procurement policies reflect that. A common vision on security supersedes everything.
There is a strong public expectation political parties and their leaders will set aside their differences and work together.
No matter which party is in power in Canberra, major defence policies have remained the same. There was been little parliamentary squabbling or controversy over such issues as the deployment of Royal Australian Air Force F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets to bomb the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, while training more Iraqi security forces than Canada has done or is proposing to do.
Nor do opposition parties seek election in Australia by campaigning to undo many of the outgoing government’s defence policies. Continuity in security strategy and philosophy are considered far too important. Even the media and defence analysts tend to be agreed on this. So debates on national defence often end up being about different shades of grey.
Australia provides the best straight-up comparison with Canada because both are large, thinly populated countries and share the Westminster political system and traditions. But while Canada has dithered for years about what fighter jets and warships to buy next, with little political fuss or public outcry Australia has acquired F-35s and F-18 Super Hornets. Its navy has commissioned a huge new assault ship, with another on the way, and is committed to spending more than $15 billion on a fleet of submarines to be built in Japan, Germany or France.
Such purchases often become political footballs in Canada because some politicians demand the money be spent in their jurisdictions. Australia can avoid such expensive partisan nonsense because the public has little patience for politicians trying to gain advantage from important decisions about the country’s security.
The usual explanation for Australia’s striking unity on security issues is that it is far from friends in a distant corner of the world while Canada expects the U.S. to pay most of its defence bills.
This is at least partly true, but consensus on national security has also been obvious for decades in Britain and France, and even in small Nordic countries with liberal traditions such as Norway, Sweden and Finland. In the U.S., there is still fairly broad political backing whenever a president commits troops overseas.
Canada has not had a broad public or political consensus on major military matters for some years. The most notable exception to this drift, which set in after the Korean War, was the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan. John Manley’s report, whose recommendations were accepted by Parliament in 2008, called for combat troops in Kandahar to be provided with helicopter and unmanned aerial vehicle support, and combat help from a U.S. army infantry battalion.
Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was responsible for the prosecution of Canada’s combat mission in southern Afghanistan during its most difficult years, points out it was not only incoming Liberal governments that tried to reverse the security policies of those they were replacing. For the first time in more than half a century the Paul Martin government decided to send ground troops to fight overseas in 2005. Within a few months, it was out of power.
“Canadians had instead elected the Harper government and its main military plank was to do more in the Arctic, not Afghanistan” he said. “The Conservatives had to immediately adjust to NATO and working in coalitions.”
Stephen Harper was no fan of peacekeeping or the United Nations. Justin Trudeau champions peacekeeping and internationalism. So does the New Democratic Party, which has a strong pacifist bent and would like the military to be defanged.
Without taking a position on these opposing views, Gauthier said, “You can’t turn around national security policy on a dime. Procurement takes 20 years and development of military capacities takes 15 to 20 years. There has to be some kind of consistency in a country’s national security vision. Defence and foreign policy derive from agreed interests and values.”
Armed forces in a democracy must abide by the decisions made by those whom the public elects. There is no question about that.
But it would be mighty helpful if Canada’s political parties understood, as Australians do, why there is a compelling need for continuity in defence policy and could forge a consensus about what the country’s strategic interests and values are. There is no chance that will happen as long as they do not regard national defence as a priority.