Text size: A A A

National security top priority, but Defence worried about min swap

Malcolm Turnbull has reaffirmed in his first question time as Prime Minister that the government’s top priority remains the defence of its people.

National security agencies, which have been encouraged to come up with regular announceables under this government, may however have to break in a new minister.

George Brandis may not be moved from Attorney-General, and there is little that would be interrupted if he was. The Department of Defence, however, has experienced frequent setbacks as a result of the turnstile Defence ministry.

Among Defence officials who spoke with The Mandarin, there was “widespread horror” at a report in the The Advertiser that Christopher Pyne would be given the portfolio, and that the Future Submarines program would be built in South Australia — ignoring the competitive tender process designed to placate the state’s MPs.

Kevin Andrews (pictured) has already expressed his desire to stay on as Defence Minister while doing media rounds today, citing the workload needed to be effective in the role:

“This is a very significant time for Defence. We are just in a throws of concluding a Defence White Paper, which is about the next 20 years of Defence in Australia. We’re going through the process for the evaluation for the submarines, we’re about to launch the evaluation for the Future Frigates and Offshore Patrol Vessels etc. It takes months to get on top of a complex portfolio like that, and obviously I’d be prepared to continue to serve.”

Andrews is seen by departmental and ADF officials as highly capable in comparison to many of its recent ministers. His tendency to ask probing questions about value for the public when making staggeringly expensive spending decisions is seen as an improvement over ministers who got bogged down in technical minutia and “toys” instead of paying attention to high-level policy.

Women overrepresented in redundancies

The department is also undertaking its largest restructure in many years, possibly since the merging of the public service agencies supporting Navy, Army and the Royal Australian Air Force into a single department. The First Principles Review recommended cutting around 1650 civilian positions, on top of the existing 1500 personnel cut in the forward estimates.

The Defence Materiel Organisation was abolished and recreated as the CASG, the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, wiping out a layer of general managers in the process. Consolidation of other home-front services were also designed around removing the layers of management, which can in some areas exceed the Australian Public Service Commission’s recommended five-six management layers by almost double.

Capable senior women — including DMO joint, systems and air general manager Shireane McKinnie — were among those who lost their jobs in the restructure. The department, like the Australian Defence Force, has struggled to foster gender balance in its ranks, and a disproportionate number of those slated to lose their jobs are women due in part to the nature of those roles.

But the recent cuts have not been enough. Defence secretary Dennis Richardson has written to all SES asking for additional voluntary redundancies from the senior executive and EL 2 ranks.

When asked about how many redundancies have been taken so far, a Defence spokesperson replied: “None.”

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.