Standing up for Canberra

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee

Defence gets a bad rap. It seems like every week we read a story about a Defence capability that is overdue or overbudget or allegations of sexual harassment or assault. I applaud the constant questioning and scrutiny of Defence, and have spoken out in this chamber about the deplorable behaviour by a minority of its personnel. Last year or earlier this year I spoke about the regiment that had those disgusting comments about women on its Facebook. When I was in Afghanistan I commented about a sticker that was either of a naked female or of female in a bikini. I commented on it and said I thought it was inappropriate. I was told that it was good for morale. A sticker does not make for good morale. I said it then and I say it now.

Tonight I want to highlight some of the good work that this behemoth of an organisation is doing and it is highlighted in the annual report. Defence's job is to defend Australia and its national interests. It does this with more than 100,000 permanent and reserve ADF members and civilians and a multi-billion dollar budget, at sites scattered throughout Australia and the world. Before this life I spent 10 years consulting Defence. I worked in DMO, I worked with the finance area, I worked with the fairness and resolution branch, I worked in the environment branch, the ICT area, DSTO, the Australian Defence Force Cadets and with the secretary. I got to travel to cadet units in Nhulunbuy, Bamaga and Thursday Island. I got to visit munitions plants and distribution sites throughout Australia and I loved nearly every minute of it.

Tonight I will focus on a number of areas. First, is the Strategic Reform Program. This is Defence's highest priority after the conduct of operations and is designed to deliver savings of $20 billion. It does that through three key elements: improved accountability, improved defence planning and enhanced productivity. It remains Defence's highest priority after the conduct of operations. In the first year of the SRP the savings were of the order of $790 million. In the second year savings were in excess of $1 billion, so the target was achieved. In the year they were reporting on, the target was about $1.2 billion but there is nothing to suggest that the target will not be achieved in this current round. The targets then start to climb and it becomes very difficult, according to what Defence advised during the hearings.

The SRP is divided into seven streams: ICT, smart maintenance, logistics, non-equipment procurement, reserves, workforce and shared services and other cost reduction. The only recommendation we made arising from this annual report was that we had to work our way through the whole annual report to get a sense of what the SRP was achieving and what it was doing. So we advised Defence personnel during the hearings that they should separate it out into another chapter, which they took on board.

ASPI has made the comment that Defence budget papers refer to the SRP in a number of places but very little useful detail was provided. I think that is because it is buried throughout the document. It does deserve closer examination so I welcome the fact that Defence has also taken on board this recommendation to create a separate chapter on the SRP.

In the brief time I have available I want to say that the annual report also highlights what Defence is doing in terms of the Indigenous participation, in terms of multiculturalism in trying to broaden the diversity of Defence's personnel base and in what it is doing in terms of disability. Most importantly, it covers off the area of women. As we know there have been a number of reviews of women in the ADF. Most recently there was the review by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick. Defence has been working on women's action plans for a number of years. It has got to a point where they now need to reboot it, in a way, and recast it. That is what they have made a commitment to do.

Finally, having worked on the reconciliation action plan in Defence, I was delighted to see that there appears to be a commitment to engage in welcome to country and acknowledgement of country by Defence personnel whenever they are having a ceremony at bases or sites throughout the ADF.

I enjoyed the hearings into this Defence annual report. I commend it as an interesting read to those who are interested in defence.

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