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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2569

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (18:12): I rise to take note of the government response to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee report entitled Capability of Defence's physical science and engineering workforce. I would like to highlight to the Senate that often Senate inquiries do not have the level of success that this inquiry appears to have had. I would commend the work of the secretariat, the quality of the witnesses and former Senator McEwen's keen interest and participation in this inquiry.

What we have here is some seven recommendations, of which four have agreement, one has in principle agreement, another has been noted and yet another has been disagreed with. Given the impending greatest procurement in Australia's defence history, I think this report is a really good forerunner, if you like, for defence capabilities that may well be required and built up in this country. A simple recommendation is recommendation 1, which states:

The committee recommends that the Department of Defence commit to maintaining its physical science and engineering workforce capabilities in key areas to allow it to be both a 'smart buyer' and a technically proficient owner of materiel.

These things are self-evident and it is good to see that the inquiry drew this to the government's attention, and clearly we are on the same track.

Recommendation 2 states:

The committee recommends that the Department of Defence create a role, with appropriate subject matter expertise, analogous to the Director General of Technical Airworthiness, as a regulator to assess the competencies required for specific procurement and sustainment positions and the suitability of candidates to meet those competencies.

Once again, this recommendation met with agreement.

Recommendation 3 states:

The committee recommends that the Department of Defence take a strategic approach to the professional development of its physical science and engineering workforce as part of the Defence Industry Capability Plan.

Once again, we struck an appropriate chord in the inquiry and the government has agreed.

Recommendation 4 states:

The committee recommends that the Department of Defence undertake an assessment of workforce models to encourage more flexible and attractive arrangements for its critical physical science and engineering workforce.

Once again an appropriate agreement was reached and was agreed to by the government.

Recommendation 5 was that:

… the Australian Government clarify that the Defence Science and Technology Group will not be integrated into the Capability, Sustainable and Acquisition Group.

As has been noted by the government, recommendation 2.17 of the 2015 first principles review recommended that the Defence Science and Technology Group become part of the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group. The government did not agree to this recommendation and directed that it be considered again and advice provided as part of the annual update to the government on the progress of the implementation of the first principles review. The first annual update is being prepared by Defence.

Item 6 was that:

… Defence ensure that the roles and responsibilities of the Defence Science and Technology Group are directed to its areas of competence, rather than to technical risk assessments.

The government disagreed, saying that technical risk assessments are an important component of capacity development and that the area of technical risk assessments is the identification of the risk that novel technologies which are acquired to realise the desired capability cannot be developed in the time available. I think a fair amount of consideration went into the sole item of disagreement with the committee. I think the committee, on balance, would probably accept the government's position.

The final recommendation was that:

… Defence, in establishing the Defence Innovation Hub and the Next Generation Technology Fund review the obstacles to public research agencies, academia and industry personnel participating in research and development initiatives.

That has been agreed to in principle. On the whole, it was a very short, sharp, cogent inquiry which has produced a report that has had some favour and is in accordance with government's policy and directions.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.