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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 500

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia) —by leave-The Opposition notes with interest the statement by the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley). However, a number of aspects in it need to be commented on. Certainly, policies encouraging Australia's involvement, particularly in high technology areas, would have the support of those on this side of the House. The real question, however, with respect to automation in the services comes more from personnel and acquisition procedures. It is in that sector that the Minister has said and done nothing. In fact, it is in this area more than anywhere else that the Minister's administration, deplorably, has been moving further and further away from reality and creating enormous problems for the future.

The Auditor-General's efficiency report into the Department of Defence entitled `Principal Item Stock Control and Entitlement System' dated November 1986 was most damning of the Army's computer organisation. One of the critical problems is that personnel management policies do not equate with acquisition objectives. The programmers are often inexperienced; many are straight from university. They come in as captains with no systems or organisation experience and the result is seen in projects such as the PISCES project, which was an absolute shambles. Current computer methodology invariably takes several years to complete which, more often than not, is more time than that of any one posting. In other words, servicemen and servicewomen are posted to these positions and moved on before the computer methodology for a particular project can be adequately developed. There is an absence of continuity in personnel, and that prejudices the speedy and most cost effective completion of projects.

Too many non-technical people are posted to technical positions and this certainly relates back to the top heavy nature of the Department of Defence, which the Minister has encouraged to develop. Because financial delegation is too narrowly assigned, no one really vets what the Department is paying for. To live within the bureaucratic limitations, middle level officers break up their project needs so as to keep responsibility for the control of the project and financial control in their hands. That finishes up with inefficiencies. Big projects being broken up into a series of unco-ordinated little projects inevitably also leads to severe cost overruns. In an area such as computing there is a need for tight project definition.

Under the present organisation, the by-productis often seen in inoperable systems. No one really knows what the other guy has been doing. People are transferred, the whole system has been an absolute disaster, and yet the Minister blithely tells us that under this new system we will encourage Australian differential contracts with the Office of Defence Production of the Department of Defence and everything will be okay. In fact too often the Department of Defence lumbers the Services with equipment that has been sold to it by fast talking computer salesmen. The result is that the Department of Defence has been caught with equipment that does not best suit the needs of the Services. There is a need for a coherent acquisition strategy with prime input from the users themselves. But because so few of them are there long enough, it is very difficult for those users to define exactly the requirements and to place before those who are the suppliers of both hardware and software the exact best way by which they could operate.

There is much to recommend a prototype strategy whereby the users and builders get together to work out how best to meet the needs of the armed services. This would be far preferable to the demonstration model approach that is currently used by the Department of Defence whereby it buys off the rack and then amends its needs to suit the equipment it has in stock. Computerisation has the capability of saving Australian taxpayers many millions of administrative dollars which could be put to other uses. However, computerisation, if maladministered, has the potential to cost many millions more than it saves.

Unfortunately, this statement omits more than it says. Elements of it certainly encourage Australian design and development which, of course, have to have our support. But unless the Minister can change his posting obligations and his selection processes, and unless he can move to a prototype strategy instead of a demonstration model, as in so many areas under the Minister's administration the taxpayers' dollar, I am afraid, will continue to be wasted.

Mr Beazley —It's a terrible life.

Mr SINCLAIR —It is so true though.