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Missing in Action – Public Debate

A great debate at the 45th annual Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture

On the evening of Tuesday 15 October, Rear Admiral the Honourable, Kevin J Scarce gave the 45th annual Essington Lewis Lecture “Missing in Action- Public debate and its contribution to Australia’s policy directions”. Kevin is a retired Royal Navy officer who was the 34th Governor of South Australia and is currently the Chancellor of the University of Adelaide. The lecture was held for the first time at the Adelaide University Health and Medical Building. For nearly 45 minutes, Kevin kept the audience of nearly 100 people enthralled in his wide-ranging discussion about the failures of both State and Federal governments to tackle important but politically sensitive topics. Diana Todd (granddaughter of Essington Lewis) and her husband John were once again special guests for the event.

Rear Admiral the Honourable Kevin Scarce with the EL Honour Board

After an introduction by the Chair of the Adelaide Branch of the AusIMM, Chris Sykes, Kevin spoke using only notes with a short introduction about Essington Lewis. Essington was born in Burra, grew up in South Australia and went to work for the BHP company in the early 1900’s. He continued to work for the company rising to the positions of chief executive and chairman until his death in 1961. Kevin explained Essington’s passion for Australia and his importance in getting Australia ready for War in the late 1930’s. Essington visited Japan in 1934 and he realised that at some point, the two countries would be at War. Kevin contrasted Essington’s long-term vision and ability to see beyond short-term gains, by placing BHP at the forefront of building up Australia’s defence capability.

Kevin compared this foresight to current politicians and the combative and often visceral debates in the Australian parliaments, where short election cycles and the 24-hour media, dominate political thinking. He suggested that Australia has several important defence issues and external threats to consider. One of these being the rise of China, with their “Belt and Road initiative” which involves developments and investment in nearly 130 countries, including the Australasian region.

Kevin then went on to pose a question about the propulsion of the new submarines being designed to be the main line of defence for the Navy, from 2025-2030. He explained that nuclear powered submarines have significantly longer endurance times and can travel faster than the conventional submarines, currently being designed and built in Adelaide. This would be an advantage for the Australian Navy, given the distance that submarines would have to travel in any conflict.


Kevin also spoke about the need for leadership in Parliament. Leaders who will tackle the difficult subjects and be prepared to air these issues in public, allowing for informed debate on topics that would undoubtedly be controversial. He finally called on the audience to take responsibility for leadership and debate in Australia and hold our politicians to account.

Rear Admiral the Honourable Kevin Scarce answering questions

After his excellent presentation Kevin answered questions for over 20 minutes. Many questions focused on submarines and the potential for changing to nuclear powered versions in the future. One question put to Kevin asked if complacency had slipped into Australia’s thinking given it is nearly 50 years, or two generations, since Australia has been involved in a significant war.

Dr Ian Gould (the 39th Essington Lewis speaker) was then called upon to give the Vote of Thanks. He commended Kevin on his thought- provoking and forthright discussion about the Australian political scene. Ian presented Kevin with a cross-section of Whyalla steel rail in commemoration of Essington’s work in establishing the Whyalla steelworks.

Dr Ian Gould with Kevin Scarce

The evening concluded with an opportunity for all to socialise with canapes and drinks, kindly supported by BHP.

Diana Todd, granddaughter of Essington, with Kevin Scarce and Chris Sykes

Mark McGeough & Chris Sykes – T&S Chair & Branch Chair


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