The First Principles Review (FPR) was to be the review to end all reviews.
Commissioned in August 2014 by then Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, the FPR was ‘designed to ensure Defence is fit for purpose and able to promptly respond to future challenges’.
Released in April 2015, the FPR made 76 recommendations, of which six were key recommendations. The Government agreed or agreed in-principle to 75 recommendations (rolling DST Group into the wider organisation was the single rejected issue). The FPR set out a high-level implementation plan in its last chapter, which envisaged that ‘the vast majority of the change should be delivered within two years’. That two-year period ran from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2017. Hence the ANAO check in on its progress.
The national audit body has concluded that Defence is on its way essentially; not there yet but on the road.
“Defence has implemented a substantial number of the most important recommendations of the Review—relating to building a strong strategic centre within Defence and reforming the capability development process. The implementation of other important recommendations—including the reform and consolidation of Defence’s Systems Program Offices and enabling services—remains a work in progress,” according to the ANAO.
“Achieving full implementation and the intended results of this agenda will require continued focus across Defence for several more years. Defence is not yet in a position to demonstrate that it has achieved all the intended outcomes of the Review.”
Work towards the ‘strong strategic centre’ is ongoing but the ANAO could not point to any ‘quantifiable savings’ at this point in the process. Yet the report also recognises that ‘reform of the Systems Program Offices is expected to run until 2023. Completion of this significant project will be required to realise many of the expected improvements in the efficient, effective and professional delivery of military capability’.
The ANAO report is also neutral about some of the other work being done on reforming enabling services, particularly when it comes to estate management, workforce management and service delivery.
“Defence has undertaken action to close all but one of the enabling services recommendations. The outstanding recommendation relates to estate enabling services. Defence’s ability to improve enabling functions is limited by the lack of a coordinated, enterprise-wide plan to address the inefficiencies identified by the Review in the Service Delivery work stream."
“Defence has implemented the recommendations in the Workforce stream, but delays in implementing the Strategic Workforce Plan, including Defence White Paper People initiatives, will take until 2021. Defence has implemented the recommendations relating to behaviours. Defence is not yet able to demonstrate that the intended outcomes of the recommendations relating to enabling services, workforce and behaviour have been achieved.”
The report has also seen the need for a more transparent reporting framework.
ADM Comment: The FPR was a significant body of work and its implementation was always going to be a journey, with milestones reached along the way. Two years to make a huge number of changes that affect every facet of the sprawling organisation was never going to be an achievable goal. But changes are being made and bedded down. In fact, many of the visible changes have been on the intangibles; culture and behaviours.
ADM will keep an eye on how the changes are filtering through various parts of the organisation and welcomes the ‘more transparent reporting framework’ going forward.