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Cover Story

by Alisha Porter

On May 3, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced that a new Defence White Paper would be delivered in the first half of 2013. The development of the new White Paper is being led by Deputy Secretary Strategy, Brendan Sargeant. Minister Smith has also appointed a Ministerial Advisory Group to provide independent advice, which includes two former Secretaries of Defence, Allan Hawke and Ric Smith, as well as Paul Rizzo, Chair of the Defence Audit and Risk Committee.

The announcement of a new White Paper coincided with the delivery of the Federal Budget, which identified
$5.4 billion in savings to be made from within Defence. Brendan sees budgetary constraints as fundamental in establishing the limits of the strategies underpinning the new White Paper, stating that "a strategy that does not recognise at a very visceral level the reality of resource limits is not a strategy – it is just words on paper," or, to cite former secretary of Defence, Sir Arthur Tange, "a strategy without dollars is not strategy".

According to Brendan, "the White Paper should frame our aspirations as an organisation, in terms of both what we are and what we want to be, against resource limits. It needs to be grounded in our strategic environment, our budget situation and a clear understanding of what the Defence organisation can achieve in responding to these two primary elements.

"We need to find a balance between being able to achieve the level of capability that we need to manage the strategic risk in our environment, while at the same time recognising that resources are limited and that we have to make some tough choices."

Brendan points out that while the team will need to consider many issues as the White Paper is developed, "the challenge of producing a White Paper can be stated quite simply. What sort of ADF and Defence Organisation does Australia need to support its security in the 21st century? It is an easy question to ask, but the answer has many dimensions and it needs to: describe our future strategic environment and recognise the resources we expect to have available. The answer must also outline the strategy that responds to that environment and resource situation, and set out the posture, force structure and organisation we need to give effect to that strategy."

In contrast to 2009, the new paper will be developed as part of the normal Defence policy process, which will assist in building organisational capability and mark a departure from the previous establishment of a separate team to work ‘off-line’.

"What this means in practice is that in my role as Deputy Secretary Strategy I will be responsible for ensuring that the work is done across Defence to support the decisions the Government needs to make on Defence policy," Brendan says.

"I am also responsible for ensuring that a draft White Paper document is produced that the Government (through the Minister) can consider. To do this, I will be supported by Strategic Policy Division, a part of my group, and the Joint Capability Coordination Division, which is part of the Vice Chief of the Defence Force Group.

"We are also using some existing processes and establishing some new ones to enable us to engage broadly and deeply across Defence. A White Paper is of such importance to all of us, it is essential that people have the opportunity to engage. We have already built links throughout the organisation in order to support new work we have done to develop the Annual Plan, the Enterprise Risk Framework and the Corporate Plan. We will use these consultative processes to engage the organisation in the development of the White Paper."

Brendan emphasised that the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force, advised by the Secretary and CDF Advisory Committee (SCAC), are the final decision makers on what options are presented for the Minister’s and Government’s consideration

The relatively short timeframe is seen as the main challenge in developing the new White Paper.

"We have established a schedule of activities and we will follow that schedule pretty relentlessly," Brendan continues. "I think this will be the biggest challenge – just working through the many complex issues in the relatively short time available.

"Through the Minister we will be asking the Government to make a series of decisions. Those decisions are complex and will require a lot of underpinning analysis to ensure that the Minister and the Government have all the options available to them. The good news is we have a lot of existing inputs to draw upon – the Defence Planning Guidance, Force Posture Review, the Defence Capability Plan Review, the Budget review and the forthcoming Australia in the Asian Century White Paper."

Brendan views effective collaboration as an essential component to the development process.

"Rarely is anything useful achieved without collaboration. I believe that very strongly. So, even though the White Paper will be a document that ultimately is decided and approved by the Government, my personal vision is that the advice that goes to the Government should be the result of our best thinking and that this thinking needs to be the outcome of collaboration and conversation, both internally and externally.

"We are setting up processes to do that, including with other departments who have a major stake in Defence. That includes the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury, and the Department of Finance and Deregulation (DoFD). DFAT and DoFD will second officers to Defence to help us. We will also be supported by the Office of National Assessments.

"We will also draw on external think tanks, business groups, defence industry and other stakeholders, including through the outreach work done as part of the Strategy Framework put in place following the 2009 Defence White Paper."

Deputy Secretary Strategy, Brendan Sargeant, says in developing the White Paper, Defence needs to find a balance between being able to achieve the level of capability it needs to manage strategic risk, while at the same time recognising that resources are limited. Here, Private Shane Bear, from Mentoring Task Force-Four, begins a patrol with soldiers from the Afghan National Army in the Char Chineh Valley of Uruzgan province.