The move of Ian Watt to SecDef is being interpreted as the government moving to bring Defence under control and making sure it scrapes out the $20b in savings promised. True, the budget and Defence finances are likely to hit a wall in the next year or two—and might even be one more reason for an early 2010 election.

But far from bringing Defence under control, it further diminishes oversight of the military and their task: it risks leaving CDF in control of everything but accounting.  There is no path for alternate for alternate civilian advice to the Minister—or given the military’s influence in PM&C, to the Government—on strategy, operations or capability.  Watt will be focussed on the books.  Unless he deliberately moves to strengthen civilian capability in strategy, operations and capability inside the Department—for which he must have the absolute endorsement of both Faulkner and Rudd—he will be ‘Master of Caravan’ only, and the diarchy, and with it civilian control, will be dead.

And let’s not forget the signals sent by Nick Warner’s future.  His move to ASIS is ostensibly a demotion; that role is an agency head, a lesser position and not a secretary-ship, and one out of sight and out of mind.  When Defence is a problem, civilians are punished.

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