Minister for Defence - Australian Civil-Military Centre’s Civil-Military Leaders’ Workshop

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The Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Minister for Defence

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12 June 2015

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Thank you for inviting me to close this second Civil-Military Leaders’ Workshop.

As leaders in our shared regional security, I particularly wish to express my thanks to the international delegates for their participation over the last four days.

The workshops focus has been on readying ourselves for whatever challenges we may face in the future.

A big part of ensuring we are best able to respond to future challenges is by coordinating through a whole-of-government approach to problem-solving and responses to crisis situations.

In some respects, modern day operations are about understanding and navigating through the complexity of multi-agency operations. Lives depend on our responding as effectively and efficiently as possible.  

The work you have engaged in over these past few days will help you be more effectual in these situations.  

Arguably, the most significant reform to Defence in Australia is currently underway. I see the stewardship of the implementation of the First Principles Review of Defence as a priority for me and the Government.

At its core Defence must move from a current inefficient federated approach into a single, integrated organisation that delivers enhanced joint capability.

Defence is streamlining its operations to create a cohesive, integrated ‘One Defence’ organisation.

In the same way when Australia responds to crises overseas it does so as ‘One Government’.

Australia’s national crisis response architecture is sound and well-practiced.

However, as recent emergency operations have shown, you don’t get to pick your crisis. And increasingly, emergencies involve working together with new partners.

Responding to natural events like Cyclone Pam, Typhoon Haiyan and the Great East Japan earthquake is something that we have always done.

However, these crises are coming more often and are affecting larger populations than they have in the past. Further, there is an expectation that we respond immediately, with the right assistance and get it to remote, disaster-affected communities.

At the same time we couldn’t have anticipated the nature of other post-disaster tasks like the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, or the international response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.

And while we have a strong regional focus, we do find ourselves engaging with novel partners in complex coalitions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is where this workshop and the work of the Australian Civil-Military Centre come in.

Individual countries and organisations are often well prepared to deal with crises within their own domestic contexts. But we can never be fully prepared to deal with operations offshore.

The host nation (or nations), international relief organisations, Non-Government Organisations, the private sector, military, police and national aid agencies have to hit the ground running – together, coordinating their individual efforts to a collaborative, joint response.

This is not an easy task, responses are time critical and lives are on the line.

We also need to ensure that every aid and assistance dollar spent in these circumstances is well spent, is not wasted and is directed to doing the most good.

Everyone here is aware of cases of waste and of opportunities lost in past operations.

The challenges to effective coordination are ever greater as we move into an era of ever more complex multinational and multiagency operations.

Whether it is in the context of a natural disaster or in the aftermath of conflict multiagency operations are stressful, confusing and pressured.

No one expects perfection – events are unfolding, changing and unique – we need to be realistic.

But what the Government does expect is that all government agencies will work together effectively and efficiently.

We expect that government and non-government agencies will not frustrate each other’s efforts in a scramble to do good.

Preparing for multi-agency coordination of operations

I hope that during your time here you have had the opportunity to learn a little about the investment Australia is making in multi-agency coordination.

While different political, bureaucratic and social cultures means every country is going to have their own approach to a problem, we do see value in taking a deliberate, planned approach to coordinating our efforts.

The Australian Civil-Military Centre, based in the Department of Defence, facilitates cross-agency levels of preparedness by stakeholder agencies in government; the private sector; non-government organisations; international counterparts and international agencies — including UN organisations.

It doesn’t seek to replace the excellent work that is done by the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Federal Police or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

It also doesn’t have an operational role.

Rather, the Australian Civil-Military Centre helps to identify best-practice for crisis response in Australia and abroad and shares it with all these institutions through:

  • lessons-learned studies;
  • whole-of-government crisis-preparedness desk-top exercises;
  • preparing and publishing guidelines and educational materials; as well as,
  • conducting workshops such as this, which aim to build good working relationships across the spectrum of crisis responders.

As you know, it is too late to try and start building good working relationships in the middle of a crisis when we need to be at our most responsive.

Given this, a major emphasis of this workshop has been on the issue of learning lessons from operations, so that we can best strengthen and coordinate our responses to a situation before it happens.

History, particularly contemporary history, is a difficult discipline to engage in – particularly when we are immersed in a never-ending cycle of operations.

Yet it is essential that leaders make the effort to capitalise on what you are doing right and ensure that we do not repeat mistakes.

A critical lesson for us, from the lessons learned reports on our whole-of-government coordination of operations in Afghanistan, the search for MH370 and the recovery effort of MH17 has been that multi-agency operations are here to stay.

So government agencies (and their civil society partners) need to continue to work hard to understand each other’s mandates, functions and capabilities.

As the staff of different agencies move through their jobs, this is not a task that ever ends.

Agencies need to devote resources, not only to their own business, but in learning how others operate and where their work intersects.

Agencies need to invest in interagency training and exercises. And staff need to gain experience in other agencies to break down organisational stovepipes.

We must achieve a better civil-military-police balance if we are to get better outcomes from contemporary operations.

In his frank assessment of the lessons learned in planning the US commitment to Afghanistan, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates concluded that:

“…vastly more attention was focused on every aspect of the military effort than on the broad challenge of getting the political and civilian part of the equation right. Too little attention was paid to the shortage of civilian advisers and experts: to determining how many people with the right skills were needed, [and] to finding such people.”

There are no pure military solutions to a crisis and effective operations require the shared expertise on many.

Whether we are responding to an unforseen disaster, or engaging in protracted reconstruction we now need to deploy of civilians alongside our military or police forces.

We need civilians to be prepared, trained and able to work with host governments and cooperate with military and police forces.

Just as importantly, militaries need to be able to work effectively with the civilians who share the operational space with them.

The far more complex composition of operational teams means that we must conduct lessons learned in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, share those lessons widely and embed them into future response architecture.

We put enormous effort into enhancing military preparedness. An ever wider range of civilian agencies and experts are required for offshore operations.

This is where we increasingly need to put our effort.


So as I close this workshop, I wish to say once again, thank you for your efforts this week.

You have gone some way to building a stronger regional and international common front for multi-agency operations.

It is something that the Government fully appreciates because it meets the expectations of both our domestic constituencies, and increasingly, the shared objectives of regional states.

Better preparedness leads to more cost-efficient and effective operations.

It means offshore deployments will be shorter – and that military forces are not tied up in expensive, non-military tasks.

It means we can do more with less and ultimately, better coordination between crisis responders saves lives.

Thank you for being here and I wish you a safe journey home.

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