1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2002  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2002   
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Australia’s Centenary of Federation involved a comprehensive program of Defence participation in official celebrations throughout 2001. Beginning with the Federation Day celebration in Sydney on 1 January 2001, Defence took part in many events to highlight the vital role it has played, and continues to play, in shaping the nation.

Australians are proud of their Defence Force and its many achievements over the last 100 years. Australia's armed forces have earned an enviable reputation for resilience, resourcefulness and compassion. This has been demonstrated in two world wars and numerous other deployments. In recent years, ADF personnel have made an essential contribution to stability in the nearer region and around the globe, as well as helping Australia’s community, friends and neighbours whenever required to participate in emergency rescues and respond to natural disasters.

As well as celebrating the Centenary of Federation in 2001, Defence also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Australian Army, the 90th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy, and the 80th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force.

The Department of Defence was established on 1 March 1901, along with six other new departments, and was located in Melbourne’s Victoria Barracks. The States' naval and military forces, which numbered over 30,000 personnel (although only 1,750 were full-time), were transferred to Commonwealth control at the same time. The Department was small and its role mainly administrative, as matters concerning Australia’s security remained the prerogative of the British Government.

Defence experienced some early problems in establishing its structure and mandate. Extensive parliamentary debate meant that the Defence Act was not proclaimed until 1 March 1904, even though the first Defence Bill was introduced in June 1901. Debate over defence policy continued throughout the first decade of Federation, as a young Australia sought to establish its security role and purpose in the new century. Eventually, Australia turned to the United Kingdom for protection by adopting an ‘Imperial defence’ policy. Notwithstanding, Australia established Naval and Military Boards in 1905, and also founded the Central Flying School and Royal Military College Duntroon in 1911.

Australia responded quickly to the call to arms for the First World War. Official notification of the prospect of war was received from London on 29 July 1914, and the first stage of mobilisation was ordered on 2 August 1914 (three days before the official declaration of war). The lead elements of the first Australian Imperial Force (AIF) embarked in the last week of September 1914, less than eight weeks later. By the end of the war, the expeditionary force comprised nearly 330,000 Australian men and women, of whom approximately 60,000 did not return.

The end of the First World War did not mean the end of Defence’s work. Finding employment for the tens of thousands of returned soldiers presented a major challenge, as did using the wartime experience to prepare Australia better for future threats. Coming to terms with new technology was also problematic. Examples included the advent of mechanised and armoured warfare, and the emerging force of air power. To cope with the latter, the Air Board was established in 1920 and the Royal Australian Air Force was founded in 1921. Moreover, Defence had to meet these challenges with reduced staff and a shrinking budget.

The Great Depression of the early 1930s exacerbated these funding pressures, and there were reductions to defence expenditure. The Depression also reactivated the old fear of Japan, and Australia again turned to its ‘great and powerful friend’, the United Kingdom, for protection. By supporting British-led ‘Imperial foreign policy’ and ‘Imperial defence’ (which leant heavily on sea-power and the Singapore strategy) Australia sought to ensure its future security. However, as the 1930s wore on, Britain became increasingly preoccupied with Nazi Germany, focusing spending on homeland defence through the Royal Air Force. With a declining British focus on Asia, cracks began to appear in Australia’s policy of ‘Imperial defence’.

The 1930s also saw the rise to prominence of Frederick (later Sir Frederick) Shedden, who became Secretary of Defence in 1937. Shedden became Defence’s longest-serving Secretary, guiding policy through a tumultuous period including the Second World War, the onset of the Cold War, and Australia’s commitment to the Korean War and the Malayan Emergency. Shedden was also a staunch defender of ‘Imperial defence’ and Australia’s close ties with Britain, which would have major implications for Australian strategic policy throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

World War Two broke out in September 1939, sparking the rapid expansion and reorganisation of Defence. Such change continued throughout the war. As is shown in table S1.1, Defence administration was divided into four separate departments in 1939 - Navy, Army, Air, and the Department of Defence Co-ordination (each headed by separate Ministers). The Department of Supply and Development had been established earlier in the year in anticipation of the coming conflict, and soon underwent radical change. The urgency of war made a number of its functions important enough to warrant new, separate agencies: the Departments of Munitions (created in 1940) and Aircraft Production (created in 1941). The Department of War Organisation of Industry was created in 1941, which was part of Prime Minister Menzies’ "prospectus of an unlimited war effort". The Military Board was suspended in 1942 and an Australian Commander-in-Chief was appointed. The Department of Post-War Reconstruction was established in 1942 to begin planning for the end of hostilities. A number of departmental renamings also took place during the war, leading to the Department of Supply and Shipping, and a return to the Department of Defence.

S1.1 DEFENCE ORGANISATION, Evolution through World War Two


1939Separate Departments of Defence Coordination, Navy, Army, Air, and Supply and Development created.
1940Department of Munitions created (abolished 1948).
1941Department of Aircraft Production created (abolished 1946). Department of War Organisation of Industry created (abolished 1945).
1942Military Board suspended and Commander-in-Chief of Australian Military Forces appointed. ‘Coordination’ dropped from title of Department of Defence Coordination. Department of Post-War Reconstruction established (abolished 1950). Name of Department of Supply and Development changed to Department of Supply and Shipping (abolished 1948).
1946Military Board reinstated.

Source: Department of Defence.

From a national security perspective, the Second World War was extremely traumatic. Not only did Australia suffer around 27,000 war dead, it was threatened with invasion and had its northern reaches bombed. Moreover, Australia’s traditional great-power ally, the United Kingdom, was defeated in Asia and soon reassessed its security role in the region.

This led Australia to look to another 'great and powerful friend', the United States. Thus began Australia’s most important defence relationship since the end of the Second World War.

The war’s end brought with it many more challenges and opportunities. Again, using the wartime experience to prepare Australia better for future threats was important, as was coming to terms with the advent of new technology and the arrival of the ‘atomic age’. These considerations were made within the broader debate over the development of a ‘new world order’, which was eventually based on international institutions such as the UN (established in 1945) and the Bretton Woods system (including the foundation of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, established in 1944). The late 1940s also saw the beginning of the end of French, Dutch and British colonies in Asia, which presented Australia with a more complex strategic environment.

This environment was complicated further with the growing fear in Australia of communism. During 1948 communist activity aimed at gaining independence for Malaya caused a State of Emergency to be declared by the British Government, and Australian forces were deployed to counter the threat during 1950. The new Menzies Government (elected in 1949) was so concerned by communism that the Cabinet believed a Third World War was likely within three years. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 heightened these fears; however, as the conflict ground into a stalemate, analysts decided that a ‘Cold War’ was more likely than global conflict. Australia had been quick to support the American-led UN force in Korea (both politically and militarily), and the alliance was cemented with the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) Treaty of 1951. Efforts to maintain close ties with Britain continued with the deployment of forces to the Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve in the Malayan Emergency of 1955. However, Britain's and Australia’s strategic priorities began to diverge soon after. Britain focused on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, granted independence to Malaya in 1957 (amid increasing talk of withdrawal from ‘east of Suez’), and began negotiating its entrance to the European Economic Community. Meanwhile, Australian strategy became increasingly focused on South-East Asia, and the strategic concepts of ‘forward defence’ and the ‘containment of communism’.

The late 1950s also saw major changes in Defence, with Shedden retiring after 19 years as Secretary and the Department’s move from Melbourne to Canberra. Furthermore, a Prime Ministerial Directive issued in 1958 gave overall responsibility for defence policy to the Department of Defence. However, the existence of separate Departments of the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force, and the continuing influence on strategic policy from External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Department, tended to blur the lines of responsibility.

The 1960s brought more challenges, most notably the ‘Confrontation’ between Indonesia and the newly-formed Federation of Malaysia, and the Vietnam war. Australia’s commitment to Vietnam began in May 1962 with the deployment of advisers and Army instructors, and slowly escalated throughout the decade. By the end of the commitment in 1972, around 50,000 Australians had served in Vietnam with 501 killed or missing presumed dead.

The 1960s also saw the seemingly inevitable change in Australia’s major defence relationship, as Britain’s withdrawal from Asia was finally made official with the endorsement of the ‘East of Suez’ policy in July 1967. At the same time, Australia sought to strengthen its ties with the United States through Prime Ministerial visits to Washington and an increased commitment to Vietnam. However, with President Nixon’s Guam Doctrine of "no more Asian entanglements" (announced in July 1969), Australia was expected to assume greater responsibility for regional security. Hence, Australia was compelled to move towards a more self-reliant strategic posture.

As Australia made this change, it became apparent that the Government would need more sustained and systematic advice about the development and employment of its armed forces. The contribution of Sir Arthur Tange (Secretary between 1970 and 1979) is especially notable, as he deliberately set out to attract highly talented people to Defence who would lay the intellectual and conceptual foundations of Australian strategic policy. Tange also pushed for a more fundamental reorganisation of Defence and, when Labor took office in December 1972, one Minister assumed responsibility for the Departments of Defence, Navy, Army and Air. More importantly, in 1973, a single Department of Defence was created by the amalgamation of these departments.

The Whitlam Labor Government (1972-75) made a strong impression on defence and strategic policy, although these were not high priorities for Labor when it came to office. Whitlam oversaw the completion of the withdrawal from Vietnam (which had been initiated by the previous Coalition Government), ended conscription, ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, recognised Communist China, and opposed upgrades to the US base at Diego Garcia (but continued to support ANZUS). These changes required a reassessment of Australia’s strategic policy, a process which was complicated by the Timor crisis of 1974-75.

The return of the Coalition to power in 1975 saw a gradual re-strengthening of the American alliance, although self-reliance was still advocated. Prime Minister Fraser was concerned about the USSR’s strategic intentions in the region, and his suspicions were seemingly vindicated by the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam (a Soviet ally) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The election of the Hawke Labor Government in March 1983 did not fundamentally alter Australia’s defence policy or strategic direction. The ANZUS treaty remained crucial despite some public opposition to American bases and disagreements between New Zealand and the United States over nuclear weapons. Kim Beazley became Minister for Defence in 1984, with a strong academic background in strategic and international affairs. A year later he commissioned Paul Dibb (a former Director of Defence Intelligence) to write a Defence review, which would be used to inform Labor’s 1987 Defence White Paper, The Defence of Australia.

Robert Ray took over from Beazley in 1990, overseeing Australia’s commitments to the Gulf War, Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda and Bougainville. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, this was another important time in international strategic affairs which would have major implications for Australia’s strategic environment and defence policy. The November 1994 White Paper, Defending Australia, was an attempt to reflect these changes, stressing the end of the Cold War, the growing importance of Asia, and the need for defence self-reliance.

The election of the Howard Coalition Government in 1996 meant further changes for Defence. At the organisational level, the Coalition initiated the Defence Efficiency Review (which aimed to eradicate duplication, improve decision-making processes, and focus spending on the ‘sharp end’ of Defence), the accepted recommendations of which became the Defence Reform Program. At the operational level, the Coalition has continued to oversee the commitment to Bougainville, as well as committing Australian forces to East Timor and the Solomon Islands in support of UN missions. At the strategic level, the Coalition wanted a more flexible and mobile defence force, able to deploy into the region to help Australia’s neighbours and allies. These strategic changes were considered necessary to meet the challenges of post-Cold War instability, and were enshrined in the 2000 White Paper, Defence 2000 – Our Future Defence Force.

Australia enters the 21st century as one of the world’s most secure countries. This has come at a cost, with the loss of nearly 90,000 men and women in the service of their country since Federation. Defence will continue to work to ensure the security of Australia both now and into the future.