The media continues to chime out the failings of the Department of
Defence. Not the fine and courageous deeds of our fighting men and
women in the ADF. Nor the equally important efforts of those
conscientious and hard working people in the Department and its
supporting Industry. Those who every day have to push through the
proverbial with the ever pointier sharp stick trying to get the ‘frank
and fearless advice’ so desperately needed to the top of the hill.

The refrains in “Company paid off for Defence plagiarism” (The Age, 09 Jan 06), “No defence for big payout” (Herald Sun, 10 Jan 06) and “Revelations raise fears on defence equipment” (The Age,
10 Jan 06) come as no surprise to the vast majority of folks within
Defence and Industry. Nor do such headlines as “Soldiers gagged
on gear concerns” (The Australian, 06 Jan 06) and “Defence purchasing linked to low morale” (ABC On-Line, 04 Jan 06).

The people with the courage and the tikker to bring such matters to the
attention of those who have the responsibility (and are being
employed/paid) to ensure such failings do not occur should be lauded
and listened to by them. Instead, the booming bass tones of the
Department’s bassoon section fortissimo the party line with such things
as ‘Army denies gear failures’ (The Australian, 06 Jan 06) and

‘Army rejects faulty equipment claims’ (SMH, 06 Jan 06) in the
ever predictable attempt to drown out any point of view that
countervails their own – even when it is the truth.

The same can be heard in another though far more poignant and personal
part of the Defence symphony. This takes the form of the
anguished and malevolent tones in ‘Culture of Navy sex bias laid bare’
(The Australian, 22 Nov 05), ‘Captain knew of base bullying’ (The
Australian, 24 Nov 05) and ‘Bullying sexual harassment claims spark
inquiry’ (SMH, 30 Nov 06). In amongst the ever increasing outrage
of those subjected to Defence failings like ‘RAAF told me:

Cover up assault of girls’ (SMH, 26 Dec 05), the revival movement for
change beats on ‘Our defensive force a law unto itself’ (The Age, 11
Jan 06).

Alas, the leader of the Defence band stands tall on the vaulted podium
of the Maestro, replete with rose coloured glasses and a shiny

new baton but not much else; save for an unopened hymn book called “The
Defence Service Charter”. The Maestro stands oblivious to, as if
unable to hear, the blaring obvious tonally rich and brassy
recommendations of his own professional association extolling the
virtues of ‘Poetic Justice’ (ADA Defender, Summer Edition –
2005/06). Instead, the now trite and tired refrains of “a values
based ‘some-thing-or-other'” and “the three C’s being consideration,
compassion and caring” (as opposed to Canadian Club and Cola – a
Maestro’s favourite pre-concert aperitif) and “people matter”
continue to emanate from the podium. However, no one is listening
’cause after seven inquiries and a litany of off-beat Oom-Pah-Pahs and
repeats by previous Maestros, it’s just too difficult to believe
anymore.

Given what’s gone before and the band leader’s own discord in such
things as ‘Payment of Compensation Claim to AVM Peter Criss’ (Defence

Media Release CPA 209/05, 22 Aug 05, as amended), one only has to say,
“Why w’uldya?” As predicted in letters from the public calling the tune
‘Defence wastes justice inquiry’ (AFR, 23 Sep 05) and as can be seen by
the low recruiting and retention figures, people don’t believe anymore
and are voting with their feet. The biggest and most serious risk
by

far that is materialising within our Department of Defence today is the
negative effect the behaviour of those charged with running the
organisation is having on recruiting. Let’s hope someone is
listening and not only recognises the chorus line to the tune but is
prepared to orchestrate the sorely needed changes in melody and harmony
along with a key change and up beat contrapuntal timing, in a composed
and measured way.

Peter Fray

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