Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:29 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:29 | SYDNEY

DMO review too radical for comfort


Graeme Dobell

11 May 2009 14:42

If a government accepts all but one recommendation of a defence review, then go immediately to the one idea that got the thumbs down. It will tell much about Defence as an institution and the interaction between ministers, the military, public servants and industry. So it is with the government response to the Mortimer review of the Defence Material Organisation (DMO), which was released on the same day as the Defence White Paper.

The one Mortimer idea that was sunk was the also the big game changer: to scrap the diarchy and create a new top trio instead.

David Mortimer, the chairman of the Leighton Holdings, came up with a business-flavoured response to the need to make DMO more like a business. Put the head of DMO completely in charge. Make that position the equal to that of the secretary of the Department and the chief of the Defence Force.

The diarchy is controversial enough. Turning it into a three-way tussle was just too much for Defence. Every other Mortimer idea was embraced or at least partially hugged so that that the institution did not have to make room for another king.

Defence argued that making DMO an executive agency would weaken operational capacity, undermine the authority of the Chief of the Defence Force, affect the Secretary’s statutory authority, and ‘would not achieve a cultural transformation to make DMO more business-like’. Not only would the sun not rise and the hens stop laying, it would cost a lot of money to separate DMO from Defence.

All those arguments carried the day. History also supported the Department, at least the history lived in Canberra over the 30 years since Arthur Tange amalgamated everything. Yes, it’s an unwieldy beast, so the argument goes, but it would be even more uncontrollable if it was turned into lots of independent beasts.

Lots of other arguments were deployed. If DMO needed full independence, why not the same solution for Defence Signals or Defence Science? The chant of ‘jointery’ has been about merging, not dividing.

Everyone is in favour of making things more efficient; even more business-like. Ultimately, though, structures don’t make hard decisions for you. Budget week is going to teach that lesson again.

Photo of an RAAF C-17 courtesy of the Department of Defence.