Some hard financial choices were made in order to meet the Government's expectations of the department during the last financial year. We pursued a strategy designed to protect ADF personnel and Defence operations, and to minimise impacts on core capabilities. The department prioritised investments and reduced administration costs. Budget volatility made all of this difficult.
The number of Australian Public Service and contracted personnel within the department was reduced. Shared services continued to be developed and implemented. A challenge for the department is to nail down results so far, ensure they can be sustained over the medium term, and develop a process of continual innovation and improvement.
We have actively pursued cultural reform especially in respect of gender and in personal accountability, but we have a long way to go.
A further challenge is our ICT systems, which do not always meet required standards. Our ageing estate also needs critical attention, especially as we introduce new capability and work to meet our increased responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
We have made some progress in implementing the Black Review reforms, which allow Defence as an organisation to make progress against established enterprise-level priorities. We have a Corporate Plan for 2012-17 and a Defence Annual Plan. The Defence Annual Plan details our organisational priorities, assigns clear outcomes and accountability and will be used as a key enterprise management tool. We have established a Defence Civilian Committee to focus on professional skills development and cultural/accountability issues.
The 2013 Defence White Paper dealt with a number of important developments in the strategic environment since the release of the 2009 White Paper. It reaffirmed the Government's strategic policy framework and committed to the core capabilities in the 2009 Defence White Paper. It also committed to enhancing a number of Australia's most important overseas relationships.
The single biggest challenge for the next 12 months will be the department's ability to continue to deliver agreed strategic objectives should budget volatility continue. There will be a need for continued APS downsizing to ensure we live within our means.
The transition in Afghanistan is now well underway. As the drawdown continues, we will need to continue to address a mix of policy and practical issues. We are also developing new initiatives in terms of our defence relationships with the United States, China, India, Japan and Indonesia.
Our efforts in developing defence cooperation and strong relationships with the countries in our region will continue. We look to form deeper ties with ASEAN countries, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific, and the Republic of Korea. The rotation of US marines through northern Australia will continue, with about 1,150 marines in 2014. There are a series of practical issues, such as housing,cost-sharing arrangements and other logistical matters, that need to be addressed to make this a long-term arrangement.
We will implement further reforms in sustainment, procurement and accountability. We will need to upgrade the estate, ICT and logistics infrastructure to support new capabilities and meet work health and safety obligations.
Our efforts on cultural reform will continue. The Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office was opened in July 2013 to offer services to those in the Australian Defence Force affected by sexual misconduct. Restricted reporting guidelines have been adopted and policy will be rewritten to support it.
The case studies detailed throughout this annual report are a reflection of the efforts and combined talents of the civilian and military workforce of Defence, including the Defence Materiel Organisation and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
After more than a decade of high deployment tempo, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) concluded two overseas operations in the 2012-13 financial year. Operation Astute, our mission in Timor-Leste, ceased in April—13 years after Australia's first deployment under International Force East Timor. Our decade-long commitment to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, known as Operation Anode, also ceased in September.
In Afghanistan, a key milestone was achieved in October 2012 when the four Australian-mentored Afghan National Army (ANA) infantry Kandaks assumed the lead for independent operations in Uruzgan. Australian Force elements handed over Uruzgan's Patrol Bases and Forward Operating Bases to the ANA and the resulting change in posture allowed the ADF to move from a Mentoring Task Force to a smaller Advisory Task Force. The first senior ANA officer to visit Australia arrived in September 2012. Major General Abdul Hamid, Commander of the ANA's 205 Corps, spoke highly of the ADF and the significant improvements he has witnessed in Uruzgan.
Australians were immensely proud to see Corporal Daniel Keighran awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia (VC), the third VC for Operation Slipper. The Army also recognised the 2nd Commando Regiment and Special Air Service Regiment for their incredible efforts when the first Battle Honour since the Vietnam War was presented for the Battle of Eastern Shah Wali Kot. During 2012-13, the ADF had 60 people deployed to five peacekeeping operations throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Four Royal Australian Navy frigates patrolled the Middle East Area of Operations as part of the Australian-led Combined Task Force 150, including HMAS Toowoomba, whose crew helped confiscate half a tonne of heroin in one of the largest illegal drug seizures in maritime history.
Closer to home, the ADF's main effort centred on our contribution to maritime security and border protection. At any given time, approximately 500 Defence personnel were assigned to support Operation Resolute along with up to seven Armidale Class Patrol Boats, one major Fleet Unit, three AP3C-Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a Transit Security Element.
In parallel with these operations, the ADF provided assistance to Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands and to flood and fire affected communities in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia. The positive social media response from grateful Australians was overwhelming.
In addition to our operational commitments, Defence has continued to make progress on our cultural reform program, known as Pathway to Change. On 26 November 2012, I apologised publicly to those who have suffered sexual, physical or mental abuse while serving in the ADF. This was a significant step in acknowledging past actions and a statement of support for reform actions. Throughout 2013, Defence has worked with the Honourable Len Roberts-Smith and the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce as they have undertaken their important work. In keeping with my commitment to ensure we provide a fair, just and inclusive work environment for all our members, women already serving in the ADF have, since January, been able to apply to become mine warfare and clearance diving officers in the Navy; airfield defence guards and ground defence officers in the Air Force; and to join the infantry and armoured corps, explosive ordnance disposal and combat engineer squadrons in the Army. Giving women the opportunity to take on these positions complements our commitment to cultural reform under the Pathway to Change strategy.
The tempo over the past year reflects the ADF's workload over the last decade. Tens of thousands of ADF personnel have contributed to achieving Australia's objective to support peace and stability in our region and beyond.
Many challenges remain but our ability to sustain a high operational tempo in parallel with our day-to-day business and deliver results is a credit to our military personnel and the civilians who support them.