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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 20:53 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 20:53 | SYDNEY

Can we afford the White Paper plan?

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13 August 2009 11:47

Allan Behm, a former head of the International Policy and Strategy Divisions of the Department of Defence, is a risk analyst with Knowledge Pond.

Media reports of an imminent change at the top of the Department of Defence reinforce the view that the Government is serious about realising the $20 billion in savings promised by the Strategic Reform Program.

The Defence White Paper, released by the Prime Minister in May, holds out the prospect of a significantly more capable defence force to meet future strategic uncertainties. While it will inevitably be tweaked over time, the proposed force structure is both appropriate and adequate.

But the White Paper offered few clues as to how this force structure would be paid for. Like many Defence observers, I was critical of this shortcoming. A month later, however, Defence released its Defence Strategic Reform Program – Delivering Force 2030. This document addressed earlier concerns. Just as the force structure plan is ambitious, so too is the SRP. To deliver on one, Defence will have to deliver on the other.

Despite the rumblings that can be heard from Russell Hill that the savings are impossible, the SRP is deliverable, in my view. But it will require more than hard work: it will require strong and determined leadership, complete alignment within the senior hierarchy, governance arrangements that identify where accountabilities reside, and a rejection of the culture of 'entitlement' that affects so many parts of the Defence organisation.

While 'parsimony' (interestingly, one of the corporate values of CISCO Systems) may not appeal to Defence, austerity certainly appeals to Government in the current economic climate. The Government has exempted Defence from the budget cuts applied to other Departments. But it has to impose tight financial controls, improved financial management, better contract management, and significantly reduced administrative overheads in the capital program if the savings targets are to be achieved.

If, as is rumoured, there is change at the top, the incoming Secretary will need to resist the 'this is the way we do it around here' paradigm, replacing it with 'this is what you are going to do, and this is how you are going to do it around here'. And if the rumours are true that Dr Ian Watt, Secretary of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, is in line for the job, he sounds like just the person to harvest the $20 billion.

Photo by Flickr user Cayusa, used under a Creative Commons license.

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