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Monday, 30 November 2015
Page: 14026

Mr NIKOLIC (Bass) (12:15): I acknowledge the member for Gilmore's excellent speech. In fact, as she was speaking, it made me recall my time living in her electorate as the commanding officer of the Parachute Training School in Nowra from 2000 to 2001. I echo her comments about cadets, because at that time we looked after the 222nd regional cadet unit from Ulladulla and they were a great bunch of young people, many of whom, after having experienced a taste of the Army with my unit, went on to join the Army.

I am also pleased to speak about the Defence Legislation Amendment (First Principles) Bill 2015, which amends the Defence Act 1903. The thinking that underpins the changes in this bill was undertaken during the first principles review of Defence. Members may recall that, prior to the last election, the coalition committed to a first principles review as a way of ensuring that Defence is appropriately structured and organised to support the Defence Force into the 21st century.

There were five people named to head up this review: the former managing director of Rio Tinto, David Peever, who was assisted by Jim McDowell, a former BAE Systems executive, Robert Hill, a defence minister in the Howard government, Lindsay Tanner, a finance minister in the Rudd government, and former Army chief Peter Leahy. Their report was titled Creating one Defence. It was released in April this year and is set to reshape the Defence enterprise over the next few years. The review praised Defence's record of operational service, which has certainly grown in the last 15 years.

The review makes me reflect on the fact that, when I first joined the Army, as a young 17-year-old soldier in 1978, there was a fairly narrow focus at that time on the defence of Australia. I can recall doing a lot of exercises focused on that sovereign protection role. In addition to working out how to repel the mythical Musorian enemy—they were called the 'Musorian Armed Forces'—we fought a fair few bushfires in support of civil authorities around Australia. We undertook a variety of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief tasking, and trained for the possibility of assisting the protected evacuation of Australians and other approved nationals in our region. I can even recall in 1983, as a nuclear, biological and chemical Defence instructor, being part of a response team ready to respond to Kosmos 1402—a nuclear powered, disabled Soviet satellite—which at that time had the potential to scatter radioactive fragments across Australia. But I must admit that those moments of excitement and high tempo were pretty few and far between.

How things have changed as concepts of security have broadened during the last 35 years, as have the things that we routinely expect of our troops. The Australian Defence Force still helps our civil authorities to fight bushfires and deploy to places like Pakistan and Banda Aceh, Japan and Papua New Guinea in support of our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief objectives. Our troops have also assisted the people of East Timor during troubled times. They have furthered the cause of good governance in the Solomon Islands, conducted border protection activities close to home and counter-piracy operations in the north Arabian gulf and off the Horn of Africa. Perhaps most notably, they have fought and died while conducting high-intensity war fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

In responding to those broadened concepts of security and our community's increasing expectations of our troops, the first principles review found that Defence has implemented significant changes since the 1990s. Despite that outstanding record of operational service, the first principles review also called for more effort and improvement in the area of organisational effectiveness. One of the report's key recommendations said, quite rightly, that we had to 'establish a strong, strategic centre' to strengthen governance, accountability and top-level decision-making. The report highlights the need for more work to be done in aligning the government's strategic aspirations with the tasks we ask our troops to perform on behalf of the Australian people, and we need to make sure that we give the Defence Force the appropriate resources to undertake those tasks.

It is fair to say that the first principles review is only one component of this important work. As Australians will know, the Defence white paper and the force structure review will also contribute to that restoration. But the first principles review highlighted some key shortcomings that must be urgently addressed—in particular, the need for some re-engineering of Defence structures, processes and systems. Governance and accountabilities need to be more clearly defined; institutional waste and suboptimal decision making must be addressed. Getting the most out of the white paper relies on these enhancements to structure, system and process. To achieve this, Defence must move from a current inefficient federated approach into a single, integrated organisation that delivers an enhanced joint capacity.

As I said earlier the title of the report, Creating one Defence, sums up the proposal behind it. The key purpose of this bill, therefore, is to enshrine the properly constituted command arrangements at the very top of Defence which will support unity of purpose. The government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to 75 of the 76 recommendations. The review outlines a two-year implementation plan with key milestones which provides high-level direction for Defence. The implementation of these recommendations will be led by the secretary of the department and by the Chief of the Defence Force, and will commence immediately, with the majority of the recommendations made in the report to be implemented within two years. The commitment of this government and that of the Defence senior leadership is steadfast in delivering on these recommendations.

Leadership is of course central to an effective modern defence force, as is unity of purpose between the three services. The first principles review has charted a course towards an integrated organisation that delivers enhanced joint capability. Perhaps the key recommendation of the review was that Defence:

Establish a strong, strategic centre to strengthen accountability and top level decision-making

This requires the updating of legislation to formally codify the roles played by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force in particular. A key effect of this bill is the amendment of the Defence Act so that the authority of the CDF and VCDF is formally recognised. The review recommends in its report:

The Chief of the Defence Force to have full command of the Australian Defence Force by removing the legislative limitations on the Chief of Defence Force's command power;

The Vice Chief of the Defence Force to be recognised explicitly as the 'Deputy' of the Chief of the Defence Force. This amendment would require clarifying that the Vice Chief of the Defence Force has command responsibilities as well as administrative responsibilities in relation to the Australian Defence Force as directed by the Chief of the Defence Force; and

The Service Chiefs to be explicitly subject to the direction of the Chief of the Defence Force. A legislative amendment removing their statutory authority would ensure absolute clarity of the Chief of the Defence Force's command and authority.

During most of Sir Angus Houston's time as Chief of the Defence Force, I served as a member of his Strategic Command Group in Russell offices building R1. That experience re-confirmed for me that, when it comes to command and control, we must rely on properly constituted and legislated arrangements, rather than on goodwill, between the CDF and the service chiefs. This bill strengthens key military leadership roles, enabling improved coherence and effectiveness in Defence command and decision-making.

In addition to strengthening the command responsibilities of the Chief and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the bill streamlines the statutory treatment of the components of the Australian Defence Force in defence legislation, repealing the Naval Defence Act 1910 and the Air Force Act 1923 and incorporating the substantive provisions of these acts in the Defence Act 1903. These provisions include the recognition of the Regular Army, the Permanent Air Force and the Permanent Navy, together with the reserve components of each of the services, and the ability of the Governor-General to call out Australian Defence Force Reserves under certain circumstances. These include wartime, peacekeeping operations, support to community activities of national or international significance, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Let me touch briefly on the legislative coverage of the Defence Reserves, which are being brought together into a single Defence act, helping to further integrate our reserves into the total force concepts articulated in Plan Suakin and Plan Beersheba. When I spoke earlier about broadened concepts of security, it has often been the reserves that have filled the breach, so to speak, in assuming the responsibilities of our regular forces to free them up for high-intensity activities at the upper end of the conflict spectrum that I mentioned earlier. The reserves have filled rotations for our Rifle Company Butterworth deployment in Malaysia. Outstanding reservists, including from my home state of Tasmania, have also deployed to places like Solomon Islands and Timor.

In essence, this bill traverses the broadened concepts of security I highlighted earlier, ensuring that the ever-increasing range of tasks we expect our troops to do, from humanitarian assistance at one end of the spectrum to high-intensity war fighting at the other, are appropriately recognised, commanded and resourced.

Importantly, the measures in this bill ensure that, for the first time, all three services of the ADF are under one act—the Defence Act. The services retain their individual identity and service chiefs but are nested under the Defence Act as part of the Australian Defence Force. It is not exaggerating the point to say that this is historic because, prior to this, each service was separately recognised in legislation.

The powers of the service chiefs as a result of this change are subordinate to the overall direction of the Chief of the Defence Force. That said, the service chiefs' vital roles in raising, training and sustaining capable force elements within their services remains, and they will continue to command their respective services subject to the sole command direction of the Chief of the Defence Force. For the vast majority of our troops, their local command-and-control arrangements will remain unchanged. Of equal importance is the fact that none of the identities, traditions or history of our service units will be lost.

As I mentioned earlier, I note the bill also consolidates the statutory treatment of Defence Force Cadets, making provision for the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force cadets in a new part of the Defence Act. That is why I am pleased that this bill modernises the existing provisions to ensure the relationship between Defence Force Cadets and the Defence community is interlinked. But the bill also makes it clear that Defence cadets are volunteers—a community-based youth development organisation. The day-to-day activities of cadet units and their organisational structure into Navy, Army and Air Force cadet units remain unchanged. Again I reflect on the excellent generosity of spirit of the people who are involved with our cadets, giving them a taste of and an interest in service life in the Army, Navy and Air Force and, as I said, translating that interest into their joining our services and going on to serve our country.

I note that this bill enjoys bipartisan support in the parliament and I thank members opposite for lending their support to the sensible, uncontentious provisions that this legislation encompasses. I join my parliamentary colleagues in welcoming this bill that implements two key recommendations of the first principles review. It results in a stronger, whole-of-organisation command framework in Defence, and I have no hesitation in commending this bill to the House.