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Duncan Lewis is Julia Gillard's new “parent” figure? · 7 August 2011

Has Duncan Lewis replaced Angus Houston as Julia Gillard’s “parent” figure? Is this why Gillard – who is Prime Minister of Australia – promoted Lewis to Secretary of Department of Defence?

This Department has a very well documented history of incompetence when it comes to buying and managing equipment and general management of complex systems.

Lewis is an ex-Special Forces officer and commander who reached the rank of Major-General before his retirement in 2005. Thereafter he became a government adviser on national security. There is nothing in his career that suggests any knowledge or aptitude for management of a very large complex government department. According to a former senior Defence official, Lewis is “highly capable” but “he’s a soldier through and through”.

Reading the 5 August press release of Stephen Smith, the Minister of Defence, one could be forgiven for thinking that he was damning Lewis with faint praise – in comparison to that offered about Ian Watt who Lewis replaces and who goes on to head the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet:

“His (Watt’s) departure as Secretary of the Department of Defence is a loss for the Defence organisation but having a Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who understands the national security and defence issues, including budget, capability, acquisition and sustainment issues will be a considerable advantage for central agency consideration of these complex issues. As Minister for Defence I have very much enjoyed working with Ian. … I have worked closely with Duncan as the National Security Adviser on international, national security and defence issues. Duncan is very well qualified to discharge the heavy responsibility of Secretary of the Department of Defence.”

It seems very doubtful that Smith was happy to lose Watt with his understanding of “budget, capability, acquisition and sustainment” issues. This suggests that Julia Gillard, who received “direct advice” from Lewis on national security issues, was the driving force behind his appointment to Defence.

I have previously suggested that Gillard fits Professor Norman Dixon’s definition of the “irrational authoritarianism” whose “weak ego and feelings of dependency” lead to a quest for achievement “because of the status, social approval and reduction of doubts about the self that such achievement brings”.

(See: Julia Gillard psychological profile in left column)

What I did not mention was Dixon’s view that “one essential for an authoritarian’s peace of mind” is “someone higher up, an all-powerful ‘parent figure’”.

Of course, in terms of political and economic power, a prime minister does not have “some higher up”. But in psychological terms, it is quite possible.

Gillard’s attitudes to Angus Houston (ex-chief of Australian Defence Forces) seemed to have elements of this.

Prior to becoming prime minister she had displayed no interest in defence or international relation issues, but wanting to appear strong upon obtaining this position she immediately adopted a very hard-line on the war in Afghanistan.

The same fear that led her to want to appear strong probably also led her to view Houston as a “parent” figure – at least in the defence and national security area.

Houston may have been intelligent and seemed strong, but he also had a quite simplistic view of the world.

(See: Air Chief Marshal Houston and Stalin in left column)

Lewis may well be in a similar mould to Houston, or – more importantly – viewed as such by Gillard.

Norman Dixon nominated “Heinrich Himmler as an extreme example of the authoritarian personality”. According to Albert Speer, Himmler was not without “remarkable qualities: the quality of patience to listen; the quality of long reflection before coming to decisions; a talent for selecting his staff, who on the whole turned out to be highly effective people”.

Himmler thus had some of the qualities of a good HR manager, and it may be that Gillard, as an irrational authoritarian personality, has made an “effective” choice in selecting Lewis.

But it was not Himmler’s aim to select people with wide talents; a military-like focus on the job at hand was the main criteria.

Gillard’s aim should have been to put someone in charge of the Defence Department who could complement the narrow military minds in uniform. She has almost certainly failed in carrying out that responsibility—and, once again, demonstrated her “incompetence”.

Gillard probably needs people like Houston and Lewis to provide a sense of certainty as a balance to her own uncertainties – just as Himmler needed Hitler.

In the case of Houston, he was already in place when Gillard became prime minister. With his retirement she probably felt very exposed—particularly if Houston’s replacement, General David Hurley, did not fulfill her psychological needs.

But she had a potential substitute in the form of Lewis and her emotive instinct would have been to elevate him to a position where he could be a more complete “parent figure”.

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