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Defence Dept review ordered -

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Broadcast: 18/05/2006

Defence Dept review ordered

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: Welcome to the program. Still angry and embarrassed at the latest fiasco in his
Department's handling of the death of Private Jake Kovco, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has
initiated a complete independent management review of the Defence Department. Another one. This
review is just the latest in a long list of reviews, inquiries and reports that have been conducted
into various aspects of the Department over years. The recommendations come, but what changes?
Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There's nothing, it seems, Defence likes more than spending money, except
perhaps an inquiry.

JOHN MOORE, FORMER DEFENCE MINISTER, (1999): The objective of this is to have an independent
outside body.

PETER COSTELLO, FEDERAL TREASURER, (2002): Of course I share a frustration in relation to defence
contracting.

REAR ADMIRAL ROWAN MOFFAT, NAVY MARITIME COMMANDER, (2005): We've decided that for the moment,
until we find out more detail about exactly what occurred and why, that we won't fly.

BRENDAN NELSON, DEFENCE MINISTER: Well, obviously I am angry and disappointed that this has
occurred. I have asked the Chief of Defence in investigating this matter to advise me as to whether
this is a systematic problem or whether indeed this is human error.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: For the past 25 years, Defence has left a litany of procurement blowouts,
personnel disasters and military justice outrages. There have been eight reviews into the
departmental structure, five reviews into procurement blowouts and numerous Senate inquiries. From
the billion-dollar blowout of the Collins class submarines in the 1990s through to the Sea Sprite
helicopters that started arriving this month, that Defence spent more than $1 billion refitting,
only to find they can't operate in poor light or in combat conditions. And this week a Navy
Lieutenant Commander Robyn Fahy went public with her story of harassment and mistreatment and we
discover the military have lost the report into the Private Jake Kovco saga. There are now four
inquiries under way into the Kovco matter alone and Brendan Nelson, the new Defence Minister, has
now announced another complete management review of the Department.

BRENDAN NELSON: What I'm considering now is not only applying that business improvement board,
Tony, but also appointing a small number of high-level management analysts to work with that
business improvement board to examine systematically all of the non-operational procedures of the
Department.

DEREK WOOLNER, STRATEGIC AND DEFENCE STUDIES CENTRE, ANU: I think it's early days for the new
Minister. He's inherited a situation where there's been considerable confusion on policy grounds
and very heavy demands made on the ADF. He's on a very steep and difficult learning curve and I
think he's about to find out what a complex and, in some cases, confusing organisation the Defence
Department is. His suggestion of a review is probably worthwhile if for no other reason than to
help educate himself as to how the Defence Department works.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Defence is a huge operation. After Coles Myer, it's the second largest employer
in the country. It soaks up nearly 2 per cent of the nation's GDP. This year, its budget was $19.6
billion. But it's a Department that appears to be in a constant state of crisis and one that
continually makes fundamental financial errors that wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else. In fact,
it's the only government department that for the last two years has been found in breach of the
Financial Management Accountability Act by the Auditor-General. Part of the problem, according to
defence analyst Derek Woolner, is the sheer size of the place.

DEREK WOOLNER: The whole process is so intertwined with other functions of the ADF and the
Department of Defence that it's very difficult to point the finger at exactly who makes those
particular decisions. So that you will get a very long procurement development process which
involves civilians contracting at one end, but runs all the way back to some middle-ranking officer
who has a bright idea which may in the event prove to be far too advanced, far too ambitious and
technologically unachievable.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But as we now know, Defence has a profound personnel problem as well. It's no
surprise that the place can't function properly in a culture that's still riddled with
bastardisation and one that denigrates and attacks its own internal critics and whistleblowers.
It's a problem Angus Houston solemnly promised to tackle head-on in his first day on the job.

AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF OF DEFENCE, (2005): We must treat our people properly and
the chiefs and I will not tolerate any form of abuse in our system. We will eliminate bullying and
all forms of harassment. And we take that very, very seriously.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Ten months later, the problems persist. Though to be fair, many think it's not
for want of trying on his part. It's a big job for one man, although with such high-profile cases
as that of Robyn Fahy aired this week on the 7:30 Report, you'd think be in a position to act
unilaterally. He has done so with the Kovco matter. After yesterday's debacle over the lost report
into the repatriation of Private Kovco's body, Angus Houston accepted full responsibility. But it's
Brigadier Elizabeth Cosson, said to be the highest ranking female officer in the force at the
moment, whose job is on the line. She's the one who mislaid the report at Tullamarine Airport. Kim
Beazley, who as defence minister ordered the Collins class submarine, says Brendan Nelson should
also step forward and take it on the chin.

KIM BEAZLEY, OPPOSITION LEADER: I saw Angus Houston out there yesterday taking it all on his
shoulders and I admire the man. He took it all on his shoulders. But Angus shouldn't be out there
on his own. Angus shouldn't have Brendan sort of hovering around behind him in the background.
Angus should have Brendan out there being a man.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Down in Jake Kovco's hometown of Briagolong in Victoria, the Kovco family and
their friends can only look on in pained astonishment.

MICK MARTIN, KOVCO FAMILY FRIEND: I think it's a case of disbelief more than anything else. People
just don't, or are unable to get their head around exactly what's happened, how this can, one
mistake after the next can happen and it's just, as anyone would imagine, it's just completely
devastating. And it seems to be like a bad movie.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Part of the problem in Defence, as well, is the result of rapid expansion and
increasing demand. The last few years have been an extremely busy time. Afghanistan, East Timor,
Iraq, and the Pacific. But if they're baffled in Briagolong, you'd really have to feel for those
Aussie troops on deployment overseas and you'd have to wonder what they think when they look at the
mess the top brass and the bureaucrats are making of it all back here.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Michael Brissenden.

(c) 2006 ABC