Communication 101

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One of my big concerns this year has been the varying levels of effective communication between Defence and industry. Not in a technical C4I context (though we do explore that this month, see P24 onwards) but more in the formal and informal channels that exist between Defence community members. I am defining the Defence community in this case to encompass the department in the form of its various Groups (CAS, E&I, CIO, DST) and services - the Defence industry base, consisting of primes and SMEs and the political class.

This was brought home to me during the recent hearing of the House of Representatives, Joint Committee, Public Accounts and Audit as it related to the ANAO report into the Hawkei program. It explored the interaction of the ANAO, the department, Thales Australia and the Attorney-General.

The ANAO report acknowledges that all the material it drew upon cannot be released publicly. In formal language, the ‘Disclaimer of Conclusion’ essentially means that the ANAO has blacked out many parts of their supporting evidence and is not able to “express a clear conclusion on the audit objective” in light of that measure. The redacting of material is formed on the basis that “it would prejudice the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth; it would unfairly prejudice the commercial interests of any body or person”.

Thales Australia sought both legal actions through the court system and the Attorney-General to delay and/or amend the report. The Attorney-General supported their claims, brought to them by both Defence Ministers in Payne and Pyne, that the report in its original form would affect their ‘commercial interests’.

As I reported at the time of the release of the redacted final report in September, this is an unusual occurrence. In fact, the last time this provision was used was in 1987.

For those that missed it (I heartily recommend the Parliament House live stream) Senator Rex Patrick was politely irate at the level of information provided by the department to him. He seemed particularly irritated that information he had requested via government channels was rejected on national security grounds but were later released via the Freedom of Information process. He also raised the point that the classification of material within the department perhaps needs to be considered more broadly. I can understand, if not share, his frustration in that regard. Timely information from Defence is an ongoing issue for many.

Earlier this year, I also reported on a letter to industry from CASG/Army on Army Aviation, which pretty much told them to go away outside of a few key dates. While I was not alone in my assessment of the letter, the representatives who signed it did take the opportunity to reach out and explain their motivation; they wanted effective and efficient engagement with industry by seeking to minimise ad hoc meetings. While this is a worthy aim, it was not communicated effectively. Written communication from Army Aviation since that point has improved.

Another point of improvement was an industry brief I attended for JP 9102 (see P24 for more), one of the projects to support the Australian Defence Satcom Systems program in the next decade. The $2-3 billion program is still very much in its early phases but is building on a strong foundation of active industry engagement. Having sat through numerous industry briefs where a slide pack backed by a probity officer runs the room, this session was a refreshing change. There was ample time for questions and answers (which were actually answered!), an acknowledgement of the role industry organisations can play in the form of ADIESA (Australian Defence Information and Electronic Systems Association) and a spirit of open collaboration which was most excellent to see.

The program director was clear, candid and concise in his approach, recognising that, while the office has a direction from government and its user community, nothing is set in stone at this point. The office is approaching the capability with an open mind in terms of a possible solution.

It must also be noted that material coming out of the Minister’s office is continuous. With an emphasis on industry announcements, Minister Pyne seems to be everywhere.

All in all, it’s a mixed bag. There are pockets of excellence and some not so great behaviours when it comes to communications within the Defence community. But once again, I am still waiting for my online and frequently updated Integrated Investment Program. It is Christmas next month . . .

This article first appeared in the November 2018 edition of ADM.

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