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Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   24th July, 2007

Air Cdre E. J. Bushell AM, RAAF (Retd)

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

The report of the Proust Defence Management Review was released just before Easter, long awaited by those who felt that the Defence organisation was dysfunctional and hopeful that there may be a breakthrough in fundamental management reform. Unfortunately, the review was constrained by its Terms of Reference not to look into those areas where the major fault lines exist. The review did, however, lift the blanket on one area that had been excluded –the Secretary/Chief of Defence Force diarchy, but the blanket was snatched back by the Defence bureaucracy, or perhaps by the 'defensive bureaucracy'. The review certainly aired the debilitating culture that has been allowed to develop unchecked within Defence since the Tange changes of 1974.

Defence's response to the review, unsurprisingly, followed the 'party line' established to handle the criticisms of previous reviews: agree with everything possible, give the illusion that things are in hand or being considered, and make promises to correct everything, despite the fact that the entrenched organisational and management problems highlighted dictate against those promises being achievable.

In summary, the report is most useful in that it identifies and scopes many of the cultural, organisational, and management problems inherent in Defence, but unfortunately not all because of the limitations of the Terms of Reference. From Defence's demonstrated limited ability to respond to the many reviews that preceded this one, expectations from this review should be limited, except where it is used to justify additions to the already bloated numbers and functions in the bureaucracy.

Why should this be so? Firstly, the seeds of our problems with Defence's competence were sown with the changes introduced by Sir Arthur Tange during 1974. Ostensibly aimed at improving joint Service coordination, the changes were really aimed at entrenching public service supremacy over the Services. Dr T. B. Millar at the time warned, with good foresight, that the move would:  "result in a giant step along the road to Public Service (as opposed to Parliamentary) control of the armed services."

'Designed for peace, but adapted for war', the Tange bureaucracy flourished, too busy expanding its areas of influence and control to obtain from Government the resources so sorely needed to maintain even minimum core Service capabilities, but at least the Services' structures and skills, all born of hard won experience over decades, remained substantially intact, if under immense strain.

However, this was to change rapidly under the combined effects of the Commercial Support Programme (CSP), Defence Efficiency Review (DER), and its hurriedly conceived sibling, the Defence Reform Programme (DRP), which imposed revolutionary changes with any input from the Services blocked by the weight of career-driven conformity with the wishes of the 'party line'. Despite continuing reviews and reports, the resulting inefficient bureaucracy has been permitted to grow without check.

Today, we have a ponderous and defensive Defence bureaucracy addicted to form over substance, a bureaucracy removed from the reality of defence matters, merely giving an illusion of adopting progressively contemporary management practices and ideas; a bureaucracy unable to reform itself because its organisation, its organisational attitudes and its behaviour are fundamentally flawed. Unfortunately, government and parliament have been unable or unwilling to impose those traditional checks and balances needed to direct the required structural reforms.

This is not a criticism of those working within the bureaucracy. People are only as effective and productive as the organisation within which they work allows, and their management encourages.

The major structural flaws within Defence have been well identified by the well-respected Australian Defence Association, as follows:
  • A long history of inefficient ministerial supervision. Compare the current arrangement, where there is but one minister organisationally divorced by the bureaucracy from the Services, with the pre-Tange days when each Service had a minister who understood and had a good working relationship with his Service, and was represented by his Secretary who was a member of the Service Board of management.
  • Constitutionally and professionally improper arrangements for managing civil (not civilian) control of the Military by Ministers.
  • No statutory governance mechanisms such as management boards incorporating clear lines of responsibility and accountability.
  • No clear separation between administrative and policy organs of the Department on the one side and the strategic-level Military Headquarters on the other.
  • Institutional pervasive and grossly improper civilian bureaucratic interference in professional military matters, with some degree of an equally improper reverse situation.
The impact of these structural problems has been aggravated by the failure of Defence to establish feed-back loops in its management processes to detect and rectify problems promptly. These are the really important matters which any serious review of Defence management would have to face.

In short, management of Defence and the Services by the public service is both improper and inappropriate. A fundamental review of the organisation of the Services, the bureaucracy, and their proper relationship with civil control by government is long overdue. The Proust review adds good fuel to the fire, but provides no way of putting out the flames.

Ted Bushell, AM is a retired Air Commodore with 35 years experience in RAAF engineering, maintenance and new project management.

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