One of the posts I did on Anzac Day has hit 100 comments, with discussion diverting onto wider defence matters. This seems like a reasonable indication that I should do a post specifically on defence matters.
There are plenty of defence related issues high up on the political agenda at the moment, including the death of Private Kovco in Iraq, regular stories of massive overspends and failings in expenditure on defence equipment, problems with the military justice system, the (not unrelated) issue of inadequate recruitment and retention, and the wisdom of the deployment of our forces in such a range of places around the globe – added to with the news that Australian troops are on their way back to East Timor.
Many of these will be examined during Estimates Committee hearings into the Department of Defence next week.
There’s too many different aspects there to cover in this post. One that I try to give some attention to is the poor treatment provided to many service personnel who are injured or harmed during their service – not just in war zones but at any time. This is linked to but wider than the issues of military justice and veterans’ entitlements. Apart from basic notions of justice and fairness, I also think these failings significantly hamper recruitment and retention.
In regard to some of the wider management problems with the Australian Defence Force, there is a very good piece in today’s Age by Hugh White whose views I have a lot of time for.
DEFENCE is by far the most complex organisation in the country. It doesn’t just provide armed force. It does everything from social work and brass-band music to rocket science and signals intelligence. To do all this, Defence employs more people than any other organisation in the country except Coles Myer. But unlike Coles Myer, many of Defence’s people are doing the most dangerous and stressful jobs in Australia.
No wonder things are always going wrong.
But there is a difference between these routine, if painful, administrative bungles and much bigger systemic problems. Defence does face deep systemic problems that put at risk Australia’s future defence by allowing bad decisions about the kinds of capabilities we build and the way we build them. The question for Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is on which he focuses: the distressing bungles or the deep systemic problems.
Last week Nelson announced a new management review to tell him what they are. I can tell him right now.
No one is in charge.
Defence ministers have repeatedly thought it was more important to shift the blame for some minor but newsworthy problem onto someone else’s shoulders than to build a strong, productive and trusting relationship with the people they have to rely on to make Defence work. That is not what leaders do.