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Address at the Defence Senior Leadership Summit, 11 February 2001, Canberra.



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MEDIA RELEASE The Hon. Peter Reith, MP Minister for Defence

 

12 Feb 2001 MIN 120201/01

ADDRESS BY THE HON PETER REITH MP AT THE

DEFENCE SENIOR LEADERSHIP SUMMIT

Sunday, 11 February 2001 - Canberra

Allan, thank you very much for the opportunity to be here. To you and to Chris Barrie, I welcome the invitation to come up on a Sunday to Canberra to talk about my portfolio responsibilities. If Tony Abbott was capable of shifting me out of my office and getting into my fridge he’d get a row of diet Coke which hopefully tells you nothing of my modus operandi any more than a brief which I sit and listen and absorb will give you an indication of how I am going to operate.

Let me say right from the start I suppose what I like to try and do is to do my homework and to get immersed in some of the issues. And whilst I suppose the implementation of the White Paper is a simple marching instructions from the Prime Minister I am the first to acknowledge that there are a hell of a lot of issues which challenge us all and I am looking forward to sort of getting into the nuts and bolts of the defence portfolio.

I have come up here though, however, I suppose really to offer a message and that is that I am very committed to the tasks ahead. It is a great challenge. It’s a great portfolio. I did have the Defence portfolio once before only for a relatively short period but I suppose in my political experience once you have had responsibility for a portfolio area once you leave it you still like to keep your finger on the pulse. And I have attempted to do that in Defence being fortunate to sit around the Cabinet table has given me an additional opportunity to do so but I am certainly relishing the opportunities already afforded to get on with this job.

In terms of the way ahead I suppose one thing I certainly bring as one who has been sitting around the Cabinet table is a clear enough understanding of Defence issues from that time to appreciate the demanding strategic environment in which we find ourselves and the challenges that that presents to Defence.

I should also say I don’t come alone. Bruce Scott, of course, is well known to you as the Minister

Assisting and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and I don’t need to refer to him particularly. But I do also note that I am very fortunate and pleased of the appointment of Brendan Nelson as the Parliamentary Secretary. Brendan Nelson for those of you who follow national politics is an up and comer in the Federal Parliament. I have dealt with him in the past, he is a very good operator and I have already attempted to expand some of the responsibilities which he has. He also has, as Eric Abetz had, the Cadets as one of the issues and that’s certainly a high priority for the Government to get on with the implementation of our objectives already stated in that regard.

In Question Time this week I nominated people management as an important issue for the period ahead. This is obviously true in a number of respects. I must say I thought it was a good idea to have Senior Deputy President Rob Cartwright as your speaker tonight, and he’ll be I’m sure more comprehensively introduced later, but he was at Telstra which had a sort of government/bureaucratic background and they’ve been moving to adapt their people management to a new environment and certainly that sort of reflects, I suppose, one of the big challenges we have in defence.

The White Paper acknowledges the quality of ADF leadership in military operations, particularly at the tactical level.

So when the White Paper says we need a change in the culture of leadership, now I suppose you’d have to conclude that basically it’s pointing at you - the top 200 plus.

I have been reading the CDF and the Secretary’s speeches and they haven’t minced words when it comes to the question of leadership. The White Paper says we need a "leadership culture", not a "bureaucratic culture". It also says that the challenges of the new leadership include a mixed military, civilian and commercial workforce, and a greater emphasis on ensuring Defence resources are used efficiently as well as effectively.

I’d say that there has been a fair amount and still is a fair amount of angst about "cost cutting" programs in Defence. And I understand that some people don’t like the word "change" or the idea of it. Of course, change for the sake of change is counterproductive. As far as I am concerned continuous improvement is not only inevitable, but also essential, if we are to have a modern leading edge Defence force.

I also have no doubt that there are still inefficiencies and waste in Defence and I do not want Defence’s credibility to be undermined by a lack of effort in improving efficiency. It was Allan Hawke who said also last year that Defence has got to build its credibility in the ranks of government more generally and I don’t mind telling you sitting around the Cabinet table I have been more likely to join up with some of the central agencies in being critical on this issue about Defence as anybody else.

Perhaps the Treasurer thinks it’s appropriate I should be given the portfolio given what I have said in the past.

I know that real efforts are being made by Defence in this area. I am aware of that and it has been going on for some time but we certainly have to keep at it. And, in fact, again here the White Paper is pretty clear. It says that we are looking at $50 million towards savings in this coming financial year, building up to $200 million over a period of time. That is a target we must meet. Have no doubt about it and I will be looking to you to provide the advice and the leadership to ensure that that target is in fact met.

I have enjoyed the debate, I should say, in some of the discussions that I have had about whether or not Defence is a business and whether Generals’ should be business managers. I note for certain that going to

war is not the same as running a business. I do understand that. So while I am sympathetic to the argument that Defence is not a business it is a department of state that spends a very considerable amount of taxpayers dollars. Government, therefore, expects clear responsibility and accountability from each of you individually for the resources you have been entrusted with and the delegations you exercise. This highlights the need for Defence to address urgently the management information systems to support this accountability.

I also have no doubt that we can meet the objectives set out in the White Paper. I am advised that Defence basically ticked off on the costings. Even more importantly, the majority of the White Paper - both on strategy and capability - came on as advice from Defence. The Government did listen to Defence and has by and large responded in a very positive way to the professional advice that we have had from Defence.

So Defence was an integral part of the process.

I think it is a genuine quality document, the White Paper. There have been a lot of White Papers. I have looked at a few myself over the years, I have talked to people who have followed the Defence debate from both inside and outside for a long time. There is no question that the Defence White Paper not only looking at the strategic assessment but then drilling down to the capability and the dollars and putting timelines on the acquisition of that capability has given us a White Paper and a sense of direction that Defence has not had for a long time.

What we have got to do is make sure that we can say to government and to demonstrate to government at large and through government to the population at large that we have a capacity to effectively and efficiently deliver.

As the Defence Capability Plan says, if there is a better, more cost effective means of achieving our desired capability result, then we will look at that before finally ticking off on any particular projects or proposals.

That is sensible, that’s a commonsense approach. But let me make it very clear, as far as I am concerned the White Paper is quite straightforward and I expect Defence to stick to it and I don’t want any backsliding on that issue. I think it’s very important we stick to the issues and to the guidance provided.

From my briefings to date it is clear that continued and significant improvement to bring our acquisition and logistics functions up to commerecial standards will be central to achieving the White Paper objectives and again we have got to continue on the path that has been set in that regard.

Of course I respect the views that have and will be put to me on lots of issues. But in this situation there is a very clear view from government. And in our democracy that’s the view that prevails. For anybody who has got any doubt it’s set out in s.8 of the Defence Act.

Under s.9 the Secretary and the CDF shall jointly have the administration of the Defence Force - subject to s.8 which gives directive authority to the Minister in respect of the Department and the ADF.

I suppose no more needs to be said.

But of course this framework affects everything. That is why, for example, I need to know what is happening. A pretty simple proposition, but I do need to know what’s happening. That is why, in appropriate circumstances, matters have to be brought to the Minister. Certainly the CDF is the Military

Commander of the ADF but he acts at the direction of the Government, through the Minister.

On this matter I would just like to emphasise that I expect you to set a high standard in presenting your advice to me. I am open to arguments and options, but I require sufficient information to enable me to make decisions. And I think as a general rule certainly in the last Department I had you know where there are issues, where there is a real balance I will certainly make it my business to get those people who are proffering advice to come up and have a good chat about it and we’ll hear the arguments for and against before a decision is made.

I would not want anybody to think that I am a rubber stamp but I am certainly interested to hear. And I will on more occasions than not rely upon good professional advice solidly based.

In passing I should say I suppose really in the transition period I have a pretty positive view about the role that John Moore took in Defence. There will be ongoing issues where he had a view. I will certainly be very interested to know what his view is. And if a brief comes up and there was a contrary view before tell me what it was and we’ll have an open discussion about it.

Defence is a unique organisation but it is not a government within the government. It is responsible to the government.

So no-one should feel any responsibility to have published the internal operations of the government. I can assure you if there is anything really public to be said, I am more than capable of saying it. If you have concerns about any issue, then you ought to really let me know. It’s not all that hard to make a phone call. Peter Hendy is my Chief of Staff. I can assure you that senior people in Defence will continue to have direct access.

Let me conclude with a few observations on some of the factors not really with any order of priority to our tasks.

Defence cannot effectively deliver the Government’s outcomes unless it has credibility with the rest of Government. My Cabinet colleagues quite justifiably become concerned when classified or sensitive material appears in the media. If Defence cannot keep national secrets how can Government be expected to work closely with you.

In addition, Defence’s standing with the economic portfolios, as I referred to earlier, has not been as high in recent times as we would like. I’d have to say things are however on the improve. And as Minister I will be a forceful advocate for the credibility of Defence in the Cabinet. But establishing and maintaining confidence in our financial management and accountability will be a prerequisite to gaining the cooperation particularly of Treasury and Finance.

I think this was one area where John Moore certainly left his mark. His views on this certainly resonated around the Cabinet room. As I say, I think we have got off to a new start and that’s very good but we’ve got to keep it up.

Secondly, I’d say, it’s really a statement of the obvious, but the success of East Timor has certainly underpinned greater public interest and support for Defence. The Community Consultation team which was led by Andrew Peacock has also shown that the Australian public is knowledgable about Defence issues and has expectations that Government will meet the challenges.

I note that, sort of in passing in a sense, as I say it’s a statement of the obvious, but let’s look at our

strengths, let’s remember to, sort of, nurture our strengths because I think we are in Defence in a strong position as at today to go forward with the guidance provided and maintaining a general public support is terribly important.

You should have absolutely no doubt, make no mistake about it, 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. The Prime Minister was very clear to me when he rang me I was just leaving the golf course off the Murray and he said, "where are you?" and I said "well, I just got out of the car, and I’m standing here at the entrance to the Renmark Golf Course". And he said, "well, I’d like you to take the Defence job. Have your flak jacket on and you have got to get on with the White Paper". Pretty straightforward. I believe and have absolutely no doubt that we can achieve that.

I do want to mention just sort of two other subjects. I particularly wanted to in these sort of first remarks to you as a group strongly endorse the action taken by the CDF on the stand down of the beginning of last week. I’d had a bit to do with that issue over the years, I suppose I appreciate the complexity of some of those issues. It is very important that we send a message as last week did both externally and internally that Defence is very focussed on those issues. Needless to say simply from the point of attracting new recruits. We have got to make sure that we have a very strong position in regard to those issues so I do welcome those and I dare say there will be more about that in the public debate in times ahead.

The second one which I sort of bring with me really from my last portfolio was the issue of indigenous employment. And here I think Defence has been very active in relationships generally with the indigenous community. I do want to encourage you to continue to have that as an important strand of the work that Defence does in the Australian community. I know there is support right throughout Defence for that approach. I suppose I have learnt in that area that as many others before me have that it’s not an easy issue to bring forward quick results. But it is an issue again where the Government has a high priority and I think if provided you have got a strategy, you are realistic about your objectives and you are prepared to work away at meeting those objectives then you can, in fact, produce some good results.

I think there are some good results for Defence in taking an interest in that issue and I will certainly be encouraging, as I say, us to continue to do what we are doing and as in so many areas of this indigenous issue if there are things that we can do better and if you have got a bright idea well let somebody know and let’s see what else we can do. In fact, generating good ideas about our management, I think, is a style which can be adopted right across Defence. And I think the sort of conference that is being held today and tomorrow, you know, provides that opportunity. But it’s not an opportunity just on a Sunday and a Monday, this is something you have got to do in a dynamic way day in, day out if we are to be better, if we are to be a highly respected, well organised Defence Force.

Lastly, just in conclusion. Well, I’ve sort of had my feet under the desk now for three or four weeks. To Allan Hawke and Chris Barrie thank you very much for the easy transition, I suppose, into the job. We have got a lot of issues ahead. The Government, of course, has the highest confidence in both the Secretary and the CDF. I welcome the approach and the good working relationship that we have started off with. I am very confident about the capabilities of Defence generally both in terms of people and the like and organisational effectiveness.

I start, I suppose, always on the basis that we are a very strong organisation and I always start on that basis and then acknowledge that we have got some problems. And when we have got problems, well, we just honestly acknowledge our problems and get on with fixing them.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I hope that you feel as I do that we start the year in good spirits, we have got a good sense of direction about where we are going and we relish the challenges in the time ahead. Thank you very much.

[ends]

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