The Coalition Knows How To Reward Service


Earlier this month we put out the call: who has won big under the new Coalition Government? The results were unsurprising. Business figures, industrial relations ideologues, and military personnel are at the top of the pile under the new regime. The Coalition have long memories, and service during the Howard years has been rewarded accordingly. Today we're looking at what went unnoticed during the strange case of the submarines and Sophie Mirabella, and the just rewards for loyal service during the War on Terror.

The War On Terror Pays Off At Last

Now that Peter Cosgrove has taken the office of Governor-General, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell is no longer Abbott's top military appointment. Campbell was given his new pips in a slap-up office ceremony not long after the Coalition took power, but has steadily been pushed out of the Operation Sovereign Borders spotlight as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has restricted media access to the details of border protection. Campbell said earlier this month that he wouldn't be able to give an honest assessment of the operation's success before March.

Campbell looking happy about his promotion, 2013. Photo: Department of Defence.

His replacement as Deputy Chief of Army, and reportedly also the 2IC of Operation Sovereign Borders, is Major General Peter "Gus" Gilmore, a highly decorated veteran of special forces command. His CV is impressive, but he should be best remembered as the commander of the SAS raid on the Tampa in 2001 that was, at the time, condemned as piracy. He was a favourite of John Howard, who commended him personally in Parliament after the Tampa affair, decorated him on behalf of the SAS upon his return from Afghanistan in 2002, and promoted him in 2003 to the National Security Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on secondment for 18 months.

While in Afghanistan, Gilmore ramped up the use of "capture-kill raids" — or as he put it in a 2011 interview with The Age, "deliberate detentions" that sometimes result in lethal force. "We all do it for a really good cause — a democracy like Australia,'' he said. ''And the fact our soldiers are prepared to shoulder that burden for the nation is a massive responsibility that I think we sometimes understate.''

The Coalition has a penchant for using retired military officers for government business, and accordingly Abbott appointed retired general Jim Molan to be his "fixer" in Jakarta days before the election. "I will be the troubleshooter, I will be the fixer," Molan told The Daily Telegraph in September last year. "Technically I have been directed to facilitate regional co-operation." He's spent a bit of time in Jakarta before — including running the military presence there during the East Timor peacekeeping operation.

Molan has been a relentless proponent of Operation Sovereign Borders, from its formative stages. He helped put the plan together and launched it at a glitzy do at the Hilton in Brisbane. He defended its byzantine command structure on the ABC in July last year. Former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith called him a "partisan" who actively campaigns for the Liberal Party.

His involvement in immigration policy is, like Gilmore, a follow up to his 2004 role running counter-insurgency operations during the Iraq War — another Howard Government appointment.

Molan planned and executed the second battle of Fallujah, Operation Phantom Fury, in which illegal white phosphorus ammunition was used. The attack was launched with an assault on Fallujah's only hospital; a decade later babies are born in that same hospital with horrific birth defects because of the use of depleted uranium ammunition. Al Qaeda now reportedly owns the town.

In an excerpt from his book, Running the War In Iraq, published in The Australian in 2008, Molan expressed his disdain for local journalists:

"Within an hour of the strike, some Arab network would broadcast pictures of the scene and assessments by so-called spokesmen in the local hospital, listing the number of women and children who had been 'slaughtered by the crusaders'."

Perhaps this goes some of the way towards explaining the secrecy over Operation Sovereign Borders. 

The Strange Submariners

After she lost Indi to Cathy McGowan, Sophie Mirabella was appointed to the board of the Australian Submarine Corporation. The ABC's Melissa Clark asked Senator Mitch Fifield at the time whether it was just another case of "jobs for the mates".

"The Australian Submarine Corporation is a significant industrial venture," Fifield replied. "She’s got a first class mind. It’s an appointment made purely on the basis of merit."

Two other first-class minds were appointed to the ASC board at the same time, and received far less scrutiny than Mirabella: Peter Iancov and Paul Rizzo.

Prior to his appointment, Iancov was CEO of the DORIC group, a construction contracting company that has won big contracts in recent years, including the WA Coalition Government's $118 million Busselton Hospital project. In the midst of their success, and only months after he was hamming it up on the construction site with WA MP Troy Buswell, Iancov quietly stepped down. Less than a month later he was appointed to the ASC board.

Iancov is a big name. He's WA Chapter President of the Australian Institute of Building, a powerful employer association for those in the construction and engineering biz, with strong Coalition links. Over the 2012-2013 reporting year the AIB hosted eight high-profile addresses from conservative figures, including from former National Mark Vaile, Howard-era Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, now-Senator Arthur Sinodinos and Lt Gen Peter Leahy.

He is also a member of the AIB's "Industry and Government Liason" committee. What liasing he's been up to is less obvious, but he's evidently a fan of the Coalition's plan to cut red tape. Back in July he posted "good target" in response to a Facebook post on cuts from Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer.

Paul Rizzo was the author of the Rizzo Report, on the state of the ASC and our ability to maintain our own fleet. It was commissioned in the wake of Cyclone Yasi, after some navy assets couldn't be deployed because of maintenance issues. Rizzo found "wholesale institutional failures" in the fleet, and humiliated the then head of Navy, Ray Griggs, in a joint press conference with Jason Clare and Stephen Smith. "It's a confronting read," Griggs admitted on a windy day at Fleet Base East, Garden Island.

As the Lowy Interpreter said at the time, the report mandated a total rebuild of the Navy's engineering capacity. Rizzo was appointed to chair an implementation panel to do just that, and a year later, Defence was happy to report a new, decentralised approach involving "business change teams", positioned at shipyards and at the waterfront.

Around the same time, the head of the ASC, Steve Ludlam, was in The Australian defending his organisation against calls for submarine building to be shipped offshore. "We are not defeated by them, rather we are led and guided by them," Ludlam said, of the Rizzo review and other inquiries.

He may well be defeated by the Mirabella-Rizzo-Iancov trifecta. The Australian published a long report in September last year on the Abbott Government's decision to sink $250 billion into shipbuilding — with special attention paid to the probems that have plagued the ASC.

This story is part of our series on Tony's Cronies, on the Abbott Government's appointments. Read the rest here.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.