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Australian Government Defence Policy: contemporary issues, speaking notes: Australian Defence College Command ans Staff College Course, 7 March 2001



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SPEECH The Hon. Peter Reith, MP Minister for Defence

 

07 Mar 2001 MIN 70301/01

 

The Hon Peter Reith MP

Minister for Defence  

 

Australian Government Defence Policy: Contemporary Issues

Speaking Notes

 

Australian Defence College

Command and Staff College Course

7 March 2001

 

Introduction I am especially pleased to be here today, to talk about contemporary issues in Australian Government Defence Policy. ●

It is particularly significant given that you are the first intake of students to the new joint Command and Staff College. This college represents an important breakthrough in officer education to develop the teamwork, skills, and mutual understanding you will require for success in future joint operations.

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The reason I am here is that the Secretary and the CDF jointly have responsibility for the administration of the Defence Force - subject to the directive authority of the Minister in respect of the Department and the ADF. While the CDF is the military commander of the ADF, he acts at the direction of the Government, through the Minister.

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This is the central tenet of the civil-military relationship in our parliamentary democracy and it is spelled out in the Defence Act. I refer interested parties to S.8 and S.9 of the Act. ●

In short the ADF and the organisation work for the government of the day through the Minister and are subject to the rule of law. ●

Defence is a unique organisation but it is not a government within a government. It is responsible to the government. The government makes strategic policy, authorises the budget, and the Minister is accountable to the Parliament for the performance of the organisation.

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I have had exposure to Defence policy issues before - for a relatively short period - as Shadow Minister. There has been a bit of water under the bridge since then, but I think that this background and my induction into the portfolio has given me a clear enough understanding of Defence issues to appreciate the demanding policy environment in which we find ourselves.

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What strikes me most forcefully is the accelerating pace of change in so many areas that affect policy formulation and our national interests. We have not had to deal with such a dynamic set of concerns affecting such a broad range of our interests in a generation.

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I have visited East Timor and seen the ADF’s current major - but by no means only -operational deployment. I have visited China and will soon travel to the United States. ●

These activities has confirmed for me the importance of the change process taking place in Defence and the very broad range of our interests and responsibilities. ●

Defence has turned a corner Changing large organisations is a difficult business, and not without risks. I understand that some people don’t like the idea of change. ●

Naturally change for the sake of change is counterproductive. But continuous improvement is not only desirable and in some respects inevitable, but it is also essential if we are to have a modern leading edge defence force.

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In the past Defence has been in danger of becoming a great agency that was a failure. For all the undoubted success of East Timor and other operations, the Defence Organisation was manifestly not keeping on top of its budget, its acquisition process or its reform agenda - despite years of organisational changes.

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The Secretary, Dr Allan Hawke, outlined a number of reasons behind these problems in his address to the Defence Watch Seminar on 17 February 2000. The reasons he cited are complex and various but they added up.

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Poor management is reflected, sooner or later, in reduced performance. ● But in the past year the Department has risen to the Government’s challenge. It has pressed on with the reform process to secure a solid foundation for the future. ●

I must mention in this regard the role played by my predecessor, John Moore. He demanded that Defence honestly confront its problems, imposed a ‘get-well’ program on the Organisation, fought for and won a 10-year budget commitment, and guided the development of Australia’s Defence 2000 White Paper.

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These were significant achievements. The challenge now is to carry them forward. ●

Defence White Paper The Government’s intentions for Defence are now a matter of public record. They are contained in the Defence White Paper. ●

What the Government has decided on is a policy that offers an effective reconciliation between strategic imperatives and budgetary responsibility. ●

I know others have spoken or will speak to you about the White Paper and the process through which the Government developed it. Others will cover the issues of corporate and business process reform.

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I should like to reiterate a few points about the policy outcomes, the business of policy development and implementation, and then say what I expect of the Defence Organisation.

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You are undoubtedly familiar with the main outcomes - a large funding increase, a commitment to long-term capability improvement, and a modest increase in people in uniform.

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We have not done these things because Australia is threatened. Nor does the White Paper signal any major changes in strategic direction or intent. Australia is a secure country. Overall prospects in the Asia Pacific are good and the region is full of promise.

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But, we have global and regional interests. We are an outward looking country, and to ●

ensure our prosperity, we must engage with other countries in many ways - economic, cultural and personal - and on security issues.

Self-reliant defence of Australia remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. ● The Government wants an integrated and balanced joint force that has this fundamental purpose as its focus. But the defence of Australia does not mean just defending our coastline or the sea-air gap.

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Defence of Australia to this government means promoting peace and security in our immediate neighbourhood and approaches. So the ADF must and will be capable of other roles as well.

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Like the armed forces of many other countries, we have experienced a considerably increased tempo of operations in the past decade. This has risen to a peak in the last two years.

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These military operations have ranged from disaster relief, evacuation of Australian nationals, unarmed peace monitoring, through to full-scale United Nations Chapter Seven peacekeeping operations. We expect this pattern to continue, as will the range of commensurate demands on the ADF.

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Australia's vital interests are best served by a stable strategic environment, based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. Australia cannot be secure in an unstable region.

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Australia needs to be able to work with our neighbours in handling threats to their stability and security. ●

We also need to be able to join in if necessary in maintaining strategic stability in South-East Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific, and to help the UN to uphold global security. ●

Australia possesses neither the capability nor the intention of operating alone on the international stage. Australia is a middle power and there is much that we can do and should do to help keep our region secure and support global security.

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We are not indifferent, nor do we wish to sit idly on the sidelines in the event of threats to the security of our immediate neighbourhood and the Asia-Pacific more broadly. ●

We are currently, for example, engaged in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. ●

We are conducting national tasks such as maritime surveillance and supporting events such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - and of course, the Olympics last year.

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We are contributing about fifty personnel to various peacekeeping operations under the UN in many other parts of the world. ●

The Government has developed a set of guidelines for commitment of the ADF - these are spelled out in the White Paper. ●

Basically, before a commitment is made the Government will take account of the extent of our interests, the nature of the mission, its achievability, costs, benefits and risks to Australia and the consequences for our wider interests and relationships in considering such commitments.

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Australia will continue to take a broad view of security that goes beyond military and ●

defence issues. Our commitment to stability and the things that underpin it - strong economies, sound environmental practices and good governance - is as strong as ever. It is a commitment of interest and of deeds.

In order to support Australia’s interests and facilitate Australian contributions to regional security we will continue to build extensive networks of bilateral defence and security relationships, and to support the growing range of multilateral security forums and arrangements. East Timor demonstrated the importance of this approach.

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We all realise that any policy should be viewed as a work-in-progress, a flexible framework for thinking about the future. Defence policy should never be seen as an "either-or option". So the future force outlined in the White Paper will allow the ADF to balance:

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alliance - and self-reliance; ● defence of Australia - and regional commitments; ● conventional war - and non-combat military operations; and ● current - and future capability ●

That is why I think the policy parameters outlined in the White Paper will serve us well in steering us through unpredictable times - times when our military will likely be called on for peacekeeping and peace enforcement duties - evacuations and humanitarian relief - times of frequent operational involvement, largely in our immediate neighbourhood but in more distant places according to our interests.

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The strategic environment we work in will continue to change, and in unexpected ways. We do not pretend to predict the future, but believe that we should prepare for it. This future will be complex, and I suggest we can surmise a few things:

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National governance problems will loom large in our near neighbourhood for some time to come; ●

Preventive diplomacy will become increasingly important; ● The international community will increasingly be called upon to deal with transnational problems; ●

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UN effectiveness will need to be addressed; and ● We will concurrently face both low-end and precision weaponry, Cold War and post-Cold War concepts and technologies. ●

The White Paper Process Let me now outline a few key points about the White Paper development process and the varied consultation that took place. ●

The Government was intensively involved in its development over the better part of the year 2000. ●

This included the most comprehensive process of ministerial-level decision making about Australia’s defence policy for many years. The result is that this is the most informed government on defence issues for the past 20 years;

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The process involved careful judgements about the roles we wanted the ADF to perform ●

and the capabilities we needed to have; The senior Defence leadership was fully engaged in the advice that went to Government, in fact the majority of the White Paper came as advice from Defence; ●

An extensive public consultation process provided important benchmarks for Government policy setting; ●

A parallel internal defence consultation process engaged a broad cross section of military and civilian personnel in the process; and ●

Government gave the issues a lot of consideration, listened to a broad range of opinion and committed itself to a comprehensive long term plan. ●

All of these factors made for a robust White Paper. It was an intensive process and in making its decisions about Defence policy the Government made important choices that balance competing interests. We are satisfied that there is a responsible and sustainable balance between them.

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Through the White Paper the Government has approved quite explicit direction for the ADF over the next decade and beyond. ●

We want maritime capabilities - primarily air and naval - that can defend Australia by controlling our sea and air approaches. These forces will be able to support Australian forces deployed in the region and support the security of our immediate neighbourhood as well as contribute to coalition operations in higher intensity operations.

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Recognising the neglect Army has faced in the past, we will maintain land forces that can operate as part of a joint force to control our approaches and respond effectively to incursions on Australia. They will also be capable of supporting the security of the immediate neighbourhood, and contribute to coalition operations in lower intensity operations.

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The government wants industry to continue to play an integral role in Australia’s defence capability. We also want the ADF to embrace and adapt to the rapid changes in technology that in some areas will affect military operations and capabilities significantly.

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The White Paper speaks about the need for a change in the culture - to one in which leadership prevails over bureaucratic culture. It identifies the challenge of a mixed leadership - much like the group of you studying here at the Command and Staff course - joint and combined military and civilian leadership.

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The workforce of the future will be more difficult to manage and lead with the mixing of the different generations with different expectations, understanding of and comfort with technology, and outlooks on life and careers. Recruitment, development, and retention will become a more essential skill for leaders.

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Organisations like Defence will have to be very adaptable to be able to customise career paths in a more flexible way, allow people to manage work and family balance, and alter the current patterns of transition from a military career.

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I am not saying that I have all the answers. I look to people such as you to develop them with me. ●

Implementation

My job is to bed down the White Paper and implement the major financial reforms that are still necessary to take Defence forward. ●

Have no doubt; the Government accords the highest priority to the successful implementation of the White Paper objectives and in particular achieving the goals of the Defence Capability Plan.

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In some ways I would characterise this year of implementing the White Paper as even harder than the last year of developing it. Because this is when the change really gets binding and starts to bite. What we do now will count.

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So, how can the Defence Leadership group help to bed down the White Paper and implement the necessary reforms, effectively and efficiently? ●

We operate in a complex environment, involving a sprawling Defence Organisation, a large budget, a dynamic international environment, unpredictable economic and social conditions, information overload, citizen and interest group demands for a greater say in policy, and a probing media.

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I want the senior Defence and national security advisors - generally officials in Defence but in close consultation with those in the Prime Minister's Department and Foreign Affairs - to help to create some order, to assist me in maintaining strategic direction, and to support the Government in making timely decisions that will lead to good policy outcomes.

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Government has set the general direction. I am open to good solidly argued professional advice on how to get there. ●

 

I need officials to organise implementation procedures and monitoring mechanisms that balance and reconcile divergent pressures while they allow for adjustment in the light of progress, new information, and changing circumstances.

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When I spoke with senior Defence leaders about a month ago I made a couple of observations that warrant repeating: ●

I said: Defence cannot effectively deliver Government’s outcomes unless it has credibility with the rest of government. ●

I also noted that Defence’s standing with the economic portfolios has not been as high in recent times as we would like - although I am convinced that things are improving - and that establishing and maintaining confidence in our financial arrangements will be a prerequisite to gaining the cooperation of other Government agencies.

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And finally, I nominated people management as an important issue for the period ahead. ● With these comments in mind, I have set a few priorities for myself and for our Defence Organisation. I offer them here in no particular order: ●

I want to continue the process of reform that will restore the contract of trust between the Defence Organisation, and Parliament and the Australian public. ●

Defence needs to be seen to be an efficient and effective organization and this can be done by introduction of improved governance and greater accountability, and meeting efficiency savings targets.

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I expect Defence to deliver the promised $50 million towards savings this year, building up to $200 million over time. ●

I want to have confidence in the way defence does business, hence the importance of the ongoing reform of defence business processes. This is an important way that Defence can justify the additional resources being provided.

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We need a continued and significant effort to bring the acquisitions and logistics functions up to commercial standards. ●

I have a direct role to play through my advisory Defence Improvement Committee that includes representatives from industry, and will help to benchmark Defence management and steer the process of continuous improvement.

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I am committed to implementing the Defence Capability Plan. The White Paper describes a rigorous process of review by Government on an annual basis of progress towards implementing the Plan, and of the performance of the Defence Organisation in delivering capability.

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This will also allow Government to consider the need for any revisions of the Plan. These review procedures will be embedded during the drawing up of the FY 2001-02 budget. ●

I want to see more open lines of communication within Defence, and to improve our communication and interaction with the general public. ●

The public has high expectations of Defence - the East Timor operation elevated these - but too often we have disappointed Australians by lapses in organisational behaviour. ●

Government requires Defence to demonstrate that it meets community standards. This is not just Government policy, it is vital for Defence’s future. ●

Recruitment and retention are key issues. Defence will not attract and cannot hold people unless it is seen as a fair and equitable place to work, valuing its people and providing worthwhile careers.

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Finally, I want to address issues that affect the quality of leadership. I want to see the senior leadership group in Defence developed further, and the momentum of this leadership renewal maintained. We must create scope for leaders who can manage transformational change, and encourage them.

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Conclusion In my view the White Paper - and I know Admiral Barrie, Dr Hawke and the Chiefs understand this - establishes a contract between the Government and Defence. The Government has placed its confidence in Defence.

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The fate of the White Paper and reform processes are, at the end of the day, very much in the hands of those who will benefit from it - and that is of course the people, like you - involved in or with the Australian Defence Organisation.

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I commend your professional interest, and for Australian course members your deep personal commitment to effectively meeting these challenges. ●

For course members from foreign military forces, many of these issues will not be unfamiliar to you, and I welcome your interest and preparedness to share your perspectives with us.

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Let me stop now and encourage you to raise your own comments and questions. ●

[Ends]

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