Morally better law

What happens if the Chief of the Defence Force finds ministerial direction unconscionable, not just disagreeable or unlikable, but morally impossible; so repellent that no matter the supposed benefit, the direction is out of the question? 

Right now, the Defence Act says, ‘…the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary must comply with any directions of the Minister’, meaning the Minister’s orders must be followed. But Lieutenant Commander Richard Adams, inaugural Chief of Navy Fellow at UNSW, believes the wording should be altered.  

“I'm looking for morally better law,” Adams says. “I’m looking for law that recognises the obligation of military people to refuse direction that is unconscionable.”  

“The problem is a very interesting one,” says Adams. “Obviously, the military must be subordinate to the civil power. But the current legal forms go too far. To make this point, we only have to remember the proceedings at Nuremberg, where it was established that there was a point where conscience and professional knowledge and moral responsibility forbade obedience to political direction”.  

The audience of his work, Adams says, is not only professional officers and policy makers but all Australians, who should be interested in a proper relationship between their civil society and its military instrument.  

The Chief of Navy Fellowship is the beginning of a powerful partnership between the Royal Australian Navy and the world of academia. Adams thinks of it as a gift to the Navy, offering the chance to explore significant ideas in depth, with supervision and collaboration, and to publish in a way that will benefit the ADF.  

“UNSW Canberra also benefits enormously,” he says. “The institution is responsible for Australian citizens who have volunteered to serve their country in a way that most other people never do. It is very powerful offering for those students to have a connection with the Navy through a Chief of Navy Fellow.”