“Robert Hill leaves politics highly regarded as John Howard's best minister for defence, the man who finally managed to point Australia's armed forces in the right direction,” The Sydney Morning Herald's Damien Murphy wrote on the weekend. Yet there were some important qualifications:
Like all his predecessors, Senator Hill was unable to shatter the congealed bureaucracy that bedevils the defence of Australia. It remains too big a job for one person.

The Australia Defence Association's Neil James believes three ministers are needed to run the business of war and peace. "Hill did it brilliantly, the best since Robert Ray," James said yesterday. "But he was a workaholic and you can't guarantee his successors will be, so better to appoint three people to do the job."
There's a much more detailed critique of Hill's tenure – and what needs to be done in Defence – in the latest edition Defence Brief, up on the ADA's website.

It's worthwhile, however, grabbing a few key thoughts from the Association:
Senator Hill's capable record as Minister for Defence, especially his capacity for focused hard work, has greatly disguised the growing problem that the portfolio is now simply too big for any one Minister. The department's broad structural deficiencies and extensive financial management problems are both a cause and a symptom of this excessive ministerial span…

Given the importance of defence in national terms, the size of the department and its budget, the Portfolio Minister should be assisted by a full-time junior Minister overseeing defence science, technology and procurement matters. A second full-time junior Minister should oversee the day-to-day operational and administrative activities of the defence force, including all the associated personnel aspects. This would not only increase ministerial grip on the department to the extent required, it would also mean there was a career structure to help groom junior and senior defence ministers…

The high throughput and often indifferent quality of junior Ministers and Ministers Assisting in the Defence portfolio over recent decades has not given the ADF the ministerial oversight its consistent loyalty and professionalism has deserved.
There's another argument from defence observers – different but complementary.

It acknowledges that Hill's tenure as defence minister was largely scandal free – but says existing and developing problems worsened through ministerial inaction during his time in the portfolio.

Proponents of this case say that Hill became a public mouthpiece for the Defence bureaucracy – that there is little evidence he contributed anything of substance to the development of policy or to management but instead presided over an unprecedented growth in bureaucratic power over domain expert opinion.

That sets a significant challenge for the incoming minister. Ministers? If they stay, of course.

The defence portfolio has also been a departure lounge during the time of the Howard Government. The record isn't all that encouraging:
Ian McLachlan – 11.3.1996-21.10.1998
John Moore – 21.10.1998-30.1.2001
Peter Reith – 30.1.2001-26.11.2001
Robert Hill – 26.11.2001-20.1.2006