Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Government's decision to contract out military support functions such as pilot training is being resisted by senior Defence personnel

PETER THOMPSON: The Federal Government is getting tough, this morning, with the nation's military brass who oppose the introduction of more commercial support in Defence. Canberra is in the process of axing 15,000 jobs in the military in order to save $2 billion. Five thousand of those jobs will be contracted out to the private sector, including basic pilot training. The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Gordon Bilney, has just completed a whirlwind visit to the United States, Britain and Australia's peacekeeping forces which are stationed overseas. Mr Bilney is now back home in Canberra and he's talking to Andrew Sholl.

ANDREW SHOLL: Mr Bilney, thank you for coming onto A.M.. Many people can understand catering and maintenance being contracted out, but why contract out pilot training?

GORDON BILNEY: Well, partly because a it's the - in some areas it can be the most effective way and the cheapest way of doing this form of activity and it is, of course, the only way. Many places overseas train their pilots using commercial pilot training schools, often employing ex-military people to do that, but it's a very effective way of preparing people for a career as a pilot.

ANDREW SHOLL: So how much more reliant on the private sector does defence have to be?

GORDON BILNEY: Well, over the next few years, we expect to contract out several hundreds of millions of dollars of work to the private sector and that will create several thousand jobs in this area. It's difficult to put a precise figure on it because what we're doing is competing the way that Defence does things in-house against proposals that come from the private sector, and we're taking whichever is the most cost-effective option.

ANDREW SHOLL: So what sort of attitudes are you running up against?

GORDON BILNEY: Well, personally, I thought the intro was a bit hard on the military because I find that the most professional people in military are very anxious to get on with spending defence dollars wisely because that frees up resources to spend on the real things that defence forces should be about, which is providing our defence rather than doing things that are more cost-effectively done by industry.

ANDREW SHOLL: So you're surprised when the Defence Signals Directorate, for example, says: `Such changes will lead to a pool of unenthusiastic and bitter staff.'?

GORDON BILNEY: Of course, you'll get resistance to any change in any organisation, and the military, as a conservative institution, often protecting traditions which, I think, are very valuable. But where those traditions are no longer relevant, we need to challenge them and find better ways of spending the $9.5 billion which each year we provide for our defence, and there are better ways.

ANDREW SHOLL: Will we see, this week, whether the military will relax the rules for homosexuals in the Defence Force? Do you think we are going to see a new enlightenment from the military brass?

GORDON BILNEY: What has been proposed by the chiefs of the various armed services seems, to me, to be very sensible. It doesn't just concern homosexuals, by the way. What it says is that inappropriate sexual conduct, unacceptable sexual conduct of any kind will, where it affects the military capability, the operational effectiveness of the service concerned is out of court. But where that's a private matter, where somebody wants to take their boyfriend or girlfriend for a holiday in Bali, well, then it's none of the business of the services because it doesn't compromise operational effectiveness.

ANDREW SHOLL: But there is resistance to this, isn't there? Defence spokespeople are saying this is going to sap the morale and capabilities of defence.

GORDON BILNEY: I think that relies on a misunderstanding of what's being proposed. What the chiefs are proposing - and what I saw before I went away - seemed a very sensible reform in line with the mainstream expectations of Australians these days, and that is, if your conduct is unacceptable, you'll be discharged, whether it's heterosexually unacceptable or homosexually unacceptable. Where it's a private matter, that's none of the Defence Force's business and I believe that's very well understood by a bunch of very professional people in our armed services.

ANDREW SHOLL: Mr Bilney, thank you for your time.

GORDON BILNEY: Thanks, Andrew.

PETER THOMPSON: Gordon Bilney, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel with Andrew Sholl.