TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH PAUL KENNEDY & VIRGINIA TRIOLI, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST, ABC 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 JULY 2011
TOPICS: DMO - Dr Stephen Gumley.
PAUL KENNEDY: Now, the sudden resignation of a top public servant has cast a shadow over the organisation in charge of arms and equipment for the Defence Force. The Defence Materiel Organisation has been in the firing line recently over delayed Defence projects and acquisitions, in particular the poor maintenance record of Australia's Navy supply ships.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Dr Stephen Gumley was the head of the DMO until the Defence Minister announced his resignation yesterday. To tell us more, Defence Minister Stephen Smith joins us now. Minister, good morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It surely must have been time for him to go given all the stuff-ups, the lack of Navy ships available to you to be deployed in the aftermath of Yasi and the like.
STEPHEN SMITH: I think it's a bit unfair to place all of that at the feet of either Dr Gumley or the DMO. Dr Gumley-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Buck has to stop somewhere.
STEPHEN SMITH: And this is one of the points I've made about Defence and this will be a feature of the Government's response to the so-called Black Review which is all about accountability.
But in my time as Defence Minister, my analysis is that very many of the problems we have are things falling between cup and lip and so, for example, in the near future I'll release the Rizzo Report into the failure of our amphibious vessels.
That'll show a long term structural deficiency but it'll also show lack of coordination between DMO and Navy, between DMO and Defence but it's unfair on Dr Gumley. He's been in one of the toughest jobs in Canberra for seven and a half years and he said to me, on the basis of my conversations with him, what was the reason, seven and a half years is a very long time. He's done a very good job in difficult circumstances.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So it's not his fault.
STEPHEN SMITH: You can't sheet it - sheet blame to him individually or personally for the difficulties we've had in procurement. That would be unfair.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me-
STEPHEN SMITH: It's also important to make this point. He has been responsible for making the DMO a better organisation now than when he started, for putting the Defence Organisation in a better position now than when he started. He's also presided over the successful acquisition of a range of important equipment, whether it's Bushmasters, whether it's C-17s, whether it's Abrams tanks, so he has done, in my view, a very good job in difficult circumstances but we've got significant procurement and capability issues and we need to effect structural reform which does sheet home personal accountability but it's unfair on Dr Gumley to suggest that it's anything other than the fact he's been there for a very long time doing a very tough job.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just one more point of clarity then. Would you have wanted him to stay? Could that structural reform have been achieved under him?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I said to him that if he wanted to he could play a role in our reform program. He came to the conclusion that after seven and a half years it was time to move on and he effectively said, having made a decision to retire, a clean cut was best and that's why it occurred in the course of this week.
PAUL KENNEDY: What are those major deficiencies? Are they communications, is it a cultural problem?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think it is structural. As I say, in the next period I'll release the Rizzo Report which dealt with the failure of our amphibious vessels. That'll show a long term structural deficiency, it'll show a failure to invest in some Navy engineering resources, but it'll also show, as I put it, falling between cup and lip, lack of proper coordination between Navy and DMO. So we've got to get that structure right.
The Black Review into accountability and governance will also deal with these matters. If you said to me what's the single most important thing we can do for Defence, it is to improve personal and institutional accountability and that's what the Government's response to the Black Review will do.
PAUL KENNEDY: Does the DMO historically not listen and act alone, too often?
STEPHEN SMITH: Look, I think it's a bit unfair to sheet it all home to DMO or home to one particular individual or one particular institution. There's a lack of coordination, there's a lack of integration, there's a lack of symmetry and that's what we need to fix. There's also a lack of institutional and personal accountability.
In the old days, if a Defence procurement program went wrong, it was almost as if there was a shrug of the shoulders. We can't do that now. We've got to give the taxpayer value for money, value for effort, and if things go wrong institutions and people have to be held accountable.
That doesn't mean that you want their head on a spike but it does mean you've got to learn from your mistakes and change processes and change systems.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The Opposition Defence spokesman, Senator David Johnston, has said that he's heard rumours that the DMO is actually going to back away from those important reforms that you're talking about and wonders whether the strict commercial disciplines that should be in place actually will be at the end of that process.
STEPHEN SMITH: Oppositions often, you know, rush to judgment. That's - that's their role-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, it's their job to scrutinise.
STEPHEN SMITH: It's their role in some respects and I've said before, people should wait until they see me release the Rizzo Report into our amphibious difficulties and the Government's response. They should also wait until they see the release of the Black Review into accountability and governance and the Government's response, rather than trying to second guess.
But there will be implications for Defence Materiel Organisation, for Defence Department itself both in terms of governance, accountability, and structure. It's the only way we can improve our outcomes here, is through a reform program and that's what I'm absolutely committed to and that's what we'll do.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, at the end of this parliamentary sitting before the long break, do you have any empathy with the sense of despair that many Australians feel at our Parliament and the Question Time in particular, where an Opposition rarely asks a real question and the Government rarely really answers a direct question?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a range of things there. Because now the televising of Question Time, which we've had now for a decade or so, that's pretty much the only focus that the public see of parliamentary activity. The truth is-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: A concept Harry Jenkins is always at pains to make.
STEPHEN SMITH: The truth is 85 per cent of what we do in the Parliament we do by agreement. Question Time is where you see the debate, the clearing house, the clash of ideas, the clash of the major parties, the clash of political cut and thrust and, in my experience, the public are generally turned off by that and so we always have to be conscious of that.
Yesterday I think, frankly, was a bad day and one of our members had to apologise for something that was effectively over the top and what the Prime Minister said at the end of Question Time I think was very much appreciated by the Parliament and by the community.
So we've got to be very careful about breaching community standards but the reality is, from time to time you will see robust conduct in the House of Reps but that's a much better clearing house than the way in which some other countries do it. You know, we settle our disputes on the floor of the chamber and in primary schools and town halls every three or four years. Other countries settle their disputes with the barrel of a gun and we don't want that.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Stephen Smith, always good to see you. Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.