Kym Bergmann / Canberra

Major Defence reforms unveiled.

This afternoon Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced the Government’s
response to the Black Review into Departmental lines of accountability.
These are largely in line with expectations and the main features are:

* the establishment of two Associate Secretary positions to strengthen Defence’s capacity to implement the Black Review;
* the strengthening of capability development and acquisition;
* increasing rigour and contestability within capability development, including the establishment of a new process for the inclusion
of projects into the Defence Capability Plan;
* improving project management skills, implementing three year postings for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel into capability
projects, and developing employment incentives to retain key civilian staff in the capability area; * reforming Defence planning, decision-making
processes and performance management; and * substantially reducing the number of Committees in Defence.

The final point will be especially welcome by the broader community. Whether adding in an additional layer of bureaucracy in the form of 2 Associate
Secretaries can streamline the process will be a major test of these reforms.

A slight surprise is that these reforms appear to leave the Defence Materiel Organisation largely untouched and it remains a proscribed agency. It is
understood that one of the reasons behind the recent retirement of Dr Stephen Gumley as its CEO was his concern that the organisation’s limited
independency was going to be further curtailed under these reforms, but he might have been mistaken.

Another welcome addition – and one long called for in these pages and also by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – of far greater internal (and
external) contestability of the capability development process. For far too long, projects have not been given enough scrutiny at early stages and a
perception is widely held that the military and Defence frequently rush in the direction of a US solution rather than consider the alternatives. In
other cases, Defence has embarked on risky developmental acquisitions and overlooked more sensible alternatives.

However, the big concern is whether implementing the recommendations – which are very wide ranging – will further bog down an acquisition process already paralysed by excessive red tape.

It might be like watching a mouse trying to drag a brick – and then adding another brick.



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