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Wednesday, 15 March 2000
Page: 12891

Senator HOGG (7:02 PM) —I acknowledge the fact that Senator Ferris has allowed me to get up on my feet first and your own indulgence, Mr Acting Deputy President, in staying in the chair to enable me to briefly address this evening ANAO report No. 26 of this year, Army Individual Readiness Notice. I am doing this in the adjournment debate for the simple reason that the unfortunate part about ANAO reports is that they are not kept on the Notice Paper once they have been presented in this chamber. They just mysteriously, so it seems, slip off the Notice Paper and, unless one addresses one of these reports at times such as these, the time passes by.

I find this report of such importance purely and simply because it is really quite critical of the Army in their attempts to have an Army individual readiness notice. The ANAO made a number of recommendations, two of which Army agreed with, four of which Army agreed with in principle and two of which Army did not agree with at all. I will not proceed to address individually those recommendations this evening, but I will simply look at some of the report and the significance for the defence forces in particular. When questions were raised on this at a recent estimates hearing, it became evident from the evidence of the Defence representatives that the principle was going to be adopted by the defence forces. If one looks at the criticism that is made of the actual Army individual readiness notice program already operating, one has some legitimate concerns for what might be happening with the expansion of this program to the whole of the defence forces. At page 10 in the overall conclusion, the ANAO drew attention to this fact:

The objective of AIRN is to ensure that members can be deployed on operations, potentially in a combat environment, to perform their specific skills within a notice period of 30 days.

That is the objective of AIRN, but they came to this conclusion:

... the ANAO could find no relationship between the minimum standards set for AIRN components and the achievement of a deployable standard in 30 days.

Further, they went on to say:

... at September 1999, only 74 per cent of full time members and 34 per cent of part time members to whom AIRN applies met the minimum standards required by AIRN.

This, of course, is a major concern. In fairness to the Army, the ANAO then went on to qualify this by saying that the figures were not a reliable indicator because there was some difficulty with the reliability of the statistics. But, even if there is a reasonable degree of error in those figures, one still must have real concern for what is expressed in the report, given that this is at a time when we are looking to our preparedness and our involvement in East Timor, a major involvement at that.

The report went on to then look at the ANAO's experience with some of our major allies. The report says that our `major allies do not use a system like AIRN to manage soldiers' individual readiness', and it went on to say that the representatives of the armies contacted by the ANAO indicated that `they did not consider a system like AIRN would be affordable in their context, primarily because of the administrative burden it would impose'. That is my major concern with the indication from the defence forces that they were likely to extend this right throughout the whole of the defence forces--that it would impose an unnecessary administrative burden upon various units within our Army, Navy and Air Force. The overseas armies—our major allies, as the report says, if that can be taken as any guide—saw the program that was being operated by our Army as posing administrative burdens that they could not see themselves being able to carry. The report went on to say:

Regardless of the model chosen, there needs to be a clear linkage between individual readiness component standards and the individual readiness objectives to be achieved.

That seems to me to be all paramount if the defence forces are going to extend this concept across the whole of the defence forces. The key findings at page 12 elucidate why there was the development of the AIRN in the first place. The report says:

Army developed AIRN to address two emerging risks. These were the increasing likelihood of short warning conflicts ... and the increasing hollowness of regular army units ...

That was the rationale on which the AIRN was developed in the first place. But it is interesting to look at the implementation of AIRN. The ANAO report goes on:

The slow pace of implementation adversely affected Army's ability to keep to the implementation timetable. For example, delays by units in implementing AIRN meant that costing information collected during this period did not provide a true indication of the cost of AIRN. It is apparent that, three years after the implementation of AIRN, Army is still not able to assess the annual cost of AIRN.

This is a real concern. Here we have a proposal for something that may well be spread into the other aspects of our defence forces and, after three years of its implementation, Army is not in a position to in any way outline the annual cost of AIRN. That is a fairly telling criticism of Army, and one would hope—and that is why I am flagging this now—that the defence forces, if they are going to maintain AIRN and/or spread it to the other parts of the defence forces, will closely monitor this to enable the taxpayer, at the end of the day, to get value for money out of our defence forces and to ensure that the readiness capability that is required is, in effect, there. On the recording and reporting of AIRN information, the report states:

The ANAO found that the system placed a significant administrative burden upon units, lacked timeliness in some areas, produced information of questionable validity and did not encourage members to maintain a continuous state of individual readiness.

So that of itself is a fairly scathing criticism of something that Army had persisted with over a period of three years. In their final comment on page 18, before they came to their recommendations, they said:

... it is questionable as to whether a review after five years for such basic processes is consistent with promoting the most efficient and effective use of Commonwealth resources.

So, in raising this this evening, I hope the defence forces are wise, if they do pursue this, in having the costings available and ensuring that AIRN and/or its equivalent across the defence forces does deliver what it is supposed to deliver, because we do need an efficient and effective Defence Force that is truly accountable in this day and age. In conclusion, I once again express my thanks to Senator Ferris.