Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 06:18 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 06:18 | SYDNEY

Defence: Try and try


Graeme Dobell

20 April 2010 13:49

 Jimmy Cliff is the soundtrack for the decade-long budget battle facing the Australian Defence hierarchy. The lyrics are more than a reggae classic. They are the rhyme that rocks Russell:

Persecution you must bear,

Win or lose, you've gotta get your share...

...Try and try, you'll succeed at last!'

Try and Try' leads naturally to other Cliff pep talks, from 'The Harder They Come' (I'm going to get my share now) to 'I Can See Clearly Now' and most pertinent of all, 'Many Rivers to Cross.'

Last year's White Paper came with a lot of promises and one big threat aimed at Defence. The threat revolved around the question of whether Defence could ever stay inside a budget. At its crudest, the threat amounted to a decade-long test. The White Paper ladled out the largesse, but to prove worthy, Defence has to carve $20 billion out its own hide over the decade. This is more than pound of flesh stuff. This is hard pounding for year after year.

Defence has decided and the government has approved the details of this decade-long diet. What was an implied threat is now openly acknowledged.

The diet is given the name 'Strategic Reform Program' (when the Department did the same exercise in the mid 1990s, it was called the Defence Reform Program). Introducing itself, the SRP encapsulates the dread inside the deal: 'If Defence does not achieve the reforms set out in the SRP, and the $20 billion in cost-reductions, it will not deliver the organisation that can deliver and sustain Force 2030.'

The Defence Minister, John Faulkner, used the same argument when he spoke to the Defence Senior Leadership Group: 'To be blunt, while we have already started to build Force 2030 through decisions over the past year, achieving it in its full potential will not be possible without achieving the SRP in all its dimensions.'

The quote to the Defence heavies was included in Faulkner's announcement that Cabinet has considered and endorsed the SRP. The 'blunt' bit of this message is that you can't have all the White Paper goodies if you aren't very good at the delivering 20 billion big ones over a decade. You can't have one without the other: so you must try, try and try.

The Secretary of the Defence Department and the Chief of the ADF had a round-table with Canberra journalists last Friday to lay out the SRP's workings. From the military side, Angus Houston promised that Defence has found 'a more cost conscious way of doing business'.

As befits a former head of Finance parachuted into Defence to run the budget deal, Ian Watt laid out the threat-promise dynamic:

The White Paper and the Budget Audit proceeded in tandem through late 2008 and early 2009. The White Paper did recommend a more muscular ADF and the Government announced significant additional budget funding to meet the cost of that force. The efficiencies and cost reductions identified in the audit and to be delivered by reform and change through the SRP provide a further $20 billion over the decade for reinvestment in Defence and reinvestment in Force 2030.We've already started to build Force 2030 but it won't deliver in full without delivering on the SRP reforms in full because without those reforms Defence won't be able to provide the necessary reinvestment to help fund Force 2030. Deliver within our budget, deliver the change and reform we need to deliver SRP and we will be able to deal with Force 2030. This is the great opportunity and a great incentive for Defence.

Ah, yes, 'great opportunity and great incentive'. The boys from Finance are always polite in explaining  the terms of the threat.