Home' Future Building Australian Infrastructure Review : December 2011 Contents Spotlight on
Volume 2 Number 2
Over the past decade, numerous
reports and inquiries have pointed
to significant enhancements that
could – and should – be made to
the procurement and operation
of Australia’s Defence assets and
services. Now, as Government
looks to drive serious efficiencies
into the Defence capital and
there is a chance that significant
changes will occur,
writes Jeff Hutton.
The final straw for Defence Minister Stephen
Smith came in early February. Queensland was
reeling from the devastating impact of Cyclone
Yasi, and Smith sought to deploy one of the Navy’s
amphibious warships – the HMAS Tobruk – to assist
with relief efforts.
But there was a problem. HMAS Tobruk was
stuck in dock undergoing essential maintenance and
she would not be ready for deployment. Worse still,
the Navy’s two other amphibious lift ships, HMAS
Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla, were similarly
unavailable, and Smith was apoplectic.
It was the latest setback in what had become a
wider problem within Defence.
A report in The Australian earlier in February had
found that two-thirds of the Navy’s fleet could not
operate at full capacity during the first six months of
2010. It also found that each of the Navy’s six Collins-
class submarines spent between five and 12 months
of the year to June 2010 in dry dock, undergoing
repairs or maintenance.
Speaking at a conference in Canberra in mid-
February, the Defence Minister did not mince his
‘Maintenance and sustainment must be bread-
and-butter issues for Defence, for the Defence
Materiel Organisation, for Navy and for the Defence
industry,’ Smith said. ‘It’s easy to throw criticism
around here, but I caution that many of the seeds of
the problems we now face were sown more than a
decade ago...some are only now emerging.’
Inefficient procurement and poor sustainment
practices were squarely in the Minister’s sights.
The most high-profile failing in recent times,
the procurement of the Sea Sprite helicopters, cost
taxpayers $1.4 billion before the plan was scrapped
without a single helicopter being delivered. This and
other failures seeded David Mortimer’s excellent
review of Defence procurement in 2008.
Mortimer – the then-Chairman of Leighton
Holdings and Australia Post – recommended
wholesale changes to the way Defence conceived,
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