When a new defence minister is appointed,
“it doesn’t take long for the defence forces to work him out”, Michael Costello
wrote a couple of weeks ago.
“After seeing Brendan Nelson in the job for a few months, the word among the
military is that he is just like Andrew Peacock, but without the substance.”

Now the Minister has the perfect
opportunity to demonstrate he’s capable of tackling bigger problems than the
questions he used to deal with in his old Women’s Weekly column, Ask Dr Brendan.
A sensitive subject for the square bashers has raised its head again.

The head of the Defence Materiel
Organisation, Stephen Gumley, admitted to defence industry suppliers in June
that the provision of clothing to Australian troops deployed overseas has been
beset with “stuff-ups”. The Age has been given a secret recording of Gumley’s
briefing and reports today his full and frank comments that the DMO needed to lift its game or risk
letting down Australian troops.

In an exceptionally candid briefing, Gumley
said the army was inefficient in managing its clothing and equipment budget which
placed stresses on the DMO; that the clothing supply had been “stuffed up” because
of a failure to ensure equipment had up-to-date technical specifications; that
the complaints system was flawed and that a secret internal inquiry had found
there were “systematic problems with management in procurement”.

Neil James Executive Director of the Australian Defence
Association
applauds Dr Gumley’s “frank and
forthright remarks”, he told Crikey. “It’s exactly type of kick up the a-se
that the defence industry and the DMO needed.”

And maybe the boot up the bum the Minister
needs to get him moving – even though the sole might fall off an Australian
army boot.

As a first step, he may like to clarify
this comment from last month: “I am advised by the Chief of the Australian Army that the
equipment that our soldiers have at the moment is the best that they have ever
had.” Then there’s this media release
from February: “Australian Defence Force personnel are operating with
world class equipment and clothing. To claim our troops lives are at
risk, as has been reported in The Weekend Australian today, is seriously misleading.” Not to mention his comment to Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National: “In terms of equipment I am satisfied, by the way, there is
no problem with the equipment at all.”

Peter Fray

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