Problems in the Department of Defence are mainly structural and financial, not personal or civil-military in nature

Continuing problems in the Department of Defence are mainly due to two reasons. First, insufficient investment by the Government and poor recognition that the capabilities they say they need require additional funding. Second, deep-seated structural inefficiencies in accountabilities, how the department is organised and how operational outputs are met. They are not due to either the civil bureaucracy or the defence force having too much power overall or in supposed competition with each other.

Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Monday, 24 September 2012
(not published)

Geoff Barker’s over-reliance on the reminiscing of old-guard bureaucrats (“Doubts remain as another Secretary bites dust”, September 24) has again led him back to 1980s viewpoints. 

Rather than being entrenched, defence force chiefs serve on 3-year contracts and are retired regularly, whereas senior departmental officials have 5-year ones that are often renewed. 

Senior ADF officers have also been known to resign on points of principle. 

As Air Marshal John Harvey rightly did last year, to protest the improper and bizarre idea to create an unnecessary Associate Secretary to oversee both capability development (primarily a military professional function) and equipment procurement (mainly the opposite). 

Moreover, the military’s statutory and war-tested chain of command is neither “wasteful” or somehow improper as Geoff claims. 

Nearly all major Defence scandals such as Children overboard, Abu Ghraib, ADFA and numerous procurement bungles have been caused instead by commercial management fads being imposed on, or political or bureaucratic interference in, the chain of command. 

As to ADF chiefs being somehow “untouchable”, “unaccountable” or “considering money a free good”, all the major independent reviews over the last decade and a half by parliamentary committees and external experts have instead recommended re-empowering the Service Chiefs. 

Largely because departmental matrix-management structures stripping them of most responsibility for inputs, while still holding them responsible for operational outputs, keep failing. 

Most problems besetting Defence are not attributable to supposed “undisturbed arrogance” among the military, but are instead the legacy of some truly arrogant civilian bureaucratic attitudes and methods across the last quarter of the 20th Century - until Australia’s near strategic failure in East Timor exposed their dangers. 

Finally, Geoff ignores that civil-control-of-the-military is necessarily a ministerial function constitutionally and legally - never a bureaucratic one - even when Ministers are indecisive, uncaring in their duties or irresponsibly ambitious. 

Many problems in Defence could be readily fixed if ADF commanders are allowed to command where purely military professional functions or responsibilities are involved.

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