Australian Command and Staff Course

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

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Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

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25 October 2019

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Well Dan, thank you very much for that very warm welcome. Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet here today— the Ngunnawal people — and pay my respects to their elders past and present. Also as the Minister for Defence, I also acknowledge and thank Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation with great distinction in times of peace and war.

I’m delighted to be back here this morning for the Command, Leadership and Ethics module. A module I know very well and I suspect it might be very similar to that I participated in and then instructed on here. But I’ve got to say being back here today has touched me very deeply for reasons that I will go through in my address here this morning. As Dan said, I know this place very well.  I’ve studied here, I’ve taught here. They were important times in my intellectual development and my development as a leader. This place here at Western Creek holds special memories for me.

In 2012, almost to the day, seven years ago, I addressed the members of this course for the second time that week as Army Adjutant General. On that second speech, I was reflecting on the issues raised in the Broderick Review. I spoke to the course then about a focus group I’d been part of the year before, in 2011 – conducted by Elizabeth Broderick the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner for Australia. She had conducted a review following the Skype incident at ADFA that was to be the tipping point on the issue of diversity and gender across Defence. In that session with the Commissioner and senior women across the three services, I heard one of the most profoundly sad things that absolutely shocked me to the core. Some of the women in that group said things that I will literally remember until the day I die.

There we were, this amazing group of accomplished senior service women – some of them sitting there, arms crossed, clearly they just did not want to be there. Elizabeth Broderick was quite shocked and she said to them why – and they said ‘well we don’t want to be here. We don’t want to talk about gender, we don’t want to be seen as a woman.’ And it was at that point when I heard one of the Air Force women say that – ‘I don’t want to be seen as a woman.’ That really changed everything for me. I just ask all of you here to stop – to pause and think. If a woman in your life – if your wife, your daughter, your niece, said to you they do not want to be seen as a woman. What they were really saying is that these women had believed they had fought too hard and for too long to prove that they were capable and successful in spite of their gender. They were horrified to be seen as a token or somehow judged as less worthy simply because of their gender. So here in 2012, I went on to say this in my speech to the course:

On Wednesday I briefed you on the Army Compliance and Assurance Agency and my role as Adjutant General and we explored the leadership and governance challenges you will be facing next year as Commanding Officers and Senior Staff Officers. Today, as a member of CAs Executive Council on Gender Diversity, I will share with you my personal reflections on the issue of gender in the military and what I see are leadership issues for you to reflect on.

As the only woman on the CA’s committee, I have recently been reflecting on the nature of leadership as a woman. I have always worked in male dominated workplaces with strong masculine cultures and leadership teams that continue to be over-represented by men at senior leadership levels. I am now leading my third Army-wide change program – is it because as a woman I bring change leadership qualities, or is it more my civilian background, where we all bring different perspective – or is a bit of both?

I ended this address with these observations of myself:

As a woman I know I am a leader - I effectively prepare strategies, lead teams, implement tough change and I get things done.  But I now know I do it differently from many men I serve with – and that is ok. I have shared my story with you to provide a different perspective on a difficult issue for Army, to assist you with your command philosophy reflections. All attitudinal and cultural change is hard, especially in big, long-established institutions like Army, but it is within your ability to make a difference. The real question is will you? 

When I finished speaking there was dead silence. Naturally, I was somewhat worried that I had completely missed the mark. That my first speech ever in Army on gender would be my last. But then when I looked up in the theatre, I looked up and I realised two women were quietly shedding tears. And then, slowly hands, from the men, started shooting up from the audience. For me, it was at that moment that I realised I had truly found my voice, not just as a leader, but as a woman. As a female leader. As me. It was a seminal moment right here at Weston Creek. One I will only ever be able to talk about and reflect on with much emotion, gratitude for the opportunity, and for the comfort and peace it has instilled in me since then. Quite frankly, all of the things I am feeling right now.

In finding my voice – I gained my first real insights into my own leadership style. But here, some other things crystallised for me too – where I’d come from, the sum of my experiences, what I am about, where I want to head. Of course, in this job now this process continues – and must continue – because I believe for as long as each of us is prepared, and brave enough, to scrutinise ourselves, in the pursuit of being better versions of ourselves. Being the best leaders we can be.

So far, there have been four big influences for me in my professional career – Army, politics, parliament, and ministerial office. What a quartet! When I reflect back, Army taught me many things. It taught me at a young age to plan, to manage, to lead teams, to look at problems and of course determine three viable courses of action to deliver an objective. It taught me as it taught all of you, how to make decisions – I must say after being in parliament for five years now, the ability to critically think and make decisions is a very rare skill indeed. My long career in politics has taught me much about human behaviour, about the tortuous nature of our Federation’s machinery of government – about how slaves to process and structure we can all unwittingly become.

I have also learned in both politics and Army that our jobs as leaders – come down to a conscious choice. The choice is this. As strategic leaders, do we succumb to the status quo and unwitting, slavish adherence to process?  Or do we consciously decide to fight for change to deliver better outcomes? I recall Elizabeth Broderick’s words in her preface to the ADF review:

“Meaningful change is never easy – it takes courage to set aside the status quo. When that status quo perpetuates marginalisation and loss of personnel, when it threatens the future capacity of the organisation, new and innovative ways of thinking must be embraced.

The ADF senior leadership comprises people of integrity; leaders committed to cultural evolution who recognise the critical link between an increase in women’s representation and the future sustainability of the Defence Force – (Leaders) who are determined to ensure an environment that is optimal for, and takes advantage of, the strengths of both men and women. Leading cultural change demands strong focus, an unwavering determination and a willingness to be held accountable.”

No doubt, it’s a lot easier to stick to the status quo, but, as Broderick points out, it can be wrong and will inevitably let down those we lead. At its core, I believe strategic leadership is about two things. The first is to understand the nature and use of power. And then to use it wisely. The second is having the courage and determination to lead change – calling out the status quo, making the hard decisions, and taking the team along with you.

These are two constant themes in both my military and political careers. In one way or another, all of us live and breathe politics. Politics is everywhere, at all levels of society and organisations, at the tuck shop, in this room here, politics is everywhere. At its heart, politics is about a number of things – 

  • how it’s distributed, managed and exercised 
  • who holds the power, who seeks it, how it’s controlled and how it’s used. 

Politics and power and the relationships between the two impact on all aspects of our lives. When you think about what Democracy is about, it’s a system designed to control and moderate power and to redistribute it from the few to the many. While certainly not perfect, and vulnerable to human fallibility, it is a system that has enabled our peace and freedom, and demonstrably contributed to our security and prosperity. And while politics and power are deeply embedded in human behaviours, outside of learning and critical thinking environments such as this here today, Australians themselves aren’t really comfortable in my observation, talking about power and its use. Discussion around the harder edges of power, and the application of kinetic military energy and particularly lethality are an anathema to our egalitarian sense of self. Yet these things are fundamental to the ADF’s reason for being.

So reflecting on that and reflecting on what power is in Defence, when I was looking around for a good description of power within Defence I couldn’t go past that renowned political commentator – Groucho Marx. 

He said “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” 

I often say in my observation in both politics and in Defence, we do this over and over and over again. So when I reflect on that, when I was here in this very lecture theatre for 12 months in 2011 on the then CDSS course, it was certainly a seminal year for me.

It was an extraordinary privilege spending day after day in this room listening to the most amazing array of speakers. It prepared me well to become Army Adjutant General, then a Senator, a Minister, indeed now, the Defence Minister – sometimes on reflection, it prepared me in the most surprising of ways.

CDSS was certainly a year of intellectual liberation – a year where I had the opportunity to critically think, and to examine my leadership and ethical underpinnings and how I want to lead. While we were certainly encouraged to think outside the box, there were, as I discovered quite spectacularly, unspoken limits, back then, to speaking outside the box. I discovered that – when I strayed well beyond them.

My CDSS strategic studies masters dissertation was an examination of how Defence could be reformed to more effectively deliver strategic policy and capability. In hindsight when I was here then, I was an oddity – a career reservist, a woman, and someone who had a very different way of thinking about the world and certainly looking at Defence.

I vividly remember sitting here in this room and having some DS looking at me like I was a creature from outer space. But the low point, the only low point for me that year, of straying ‘outside the box’ was receiving a note in one of those pigeonholes out there, by way of a post-it note. It read, ‘your dissertation has failed - come and see me on Monday.’ And that was it. To say the least, I was gutted. I had put my heart and soul into that paper for pretty much all of that that year.

When I was debriefed on why my paper had failed, it was because the strategic reform of the Department of Defence to deliver military strategy apparently wasn’t strategic enough, and I wrote like a politician. Go figure! I think I have had the last laugh – I had a new supervisor, I was able to resubmit and take out some of the politician speak from my paper, and it passed. But now, being the Minister for Defence, having that 12 months to really throw myself into understanding the Department of Defence and understanding its history, and seeing that for 110 years – the reforms, the reviews, why Defence was not fully delivering capability. In fact, when I researched it, Defence had never fully delivered a White Paper or a single capability plan in its entire history. The first Royal Commission into Defence underperformance happened during World War 1 in 1914 – so going through that and trying to understand why that has happened, so that we could break out of that cycle, was a wonderful opportunity.

Despite the fact we had been in a cycle of reviews and reforms and a perception of underperformance, not of the Australian Defence Force, but Defence as a whole – was a very interesting insight. The huge shifts and disruptions in our global economy today, security environment and technological capacity that is now happening mean that rapid change is a fact of life.

Having delivered three large and complex change projects within Army organisational-wide, I came to see that adaptive leadership is as essential in Defence as it is in politics. It is not a weakness, but a strength. In political leaders – in fact, probably all leaders – Australians look for authenticity, strength and compassion. Being able to demonstrate strong and decisive leadership – while at the same time being open and compassionate – is not always an easy balance to get right. And particularly knowing when to be which one can be a bit of a delicate balance. I learnt about compassion early in my career, working for two wonderful MPs in Western Australia in very hard electorates who showed me what compassion was and how to use compassions for constituents who needed it.

It was a number of years later in 2001, I was chief of staff to Chris Ellison, then the Minister for Justice and Customs. It was a really tough three years - 9/11, the Bali bombings and the first wave of people smuggling and deaths at sea – it was through all of those experiences as a chief of staff, that I came to see the other life of politics and leadership. What that showed me was that you have to be hard – but you have to know when to be hard. My resilience was tested throughout this time – and what sticks with me is what I saw, what I heard and what I smelled after the Bali bombings. It was there that I truly came to understand that as much as there is good people in the world, there are people who exploit our compassion and their intent is to destroy our way of life. They do not respect our compassion that we hold so dear. I learnt at that point that genuine compassion has to be balanced by strength – strength of belief and purpose. The ethical underpinning of all of us has to remain intact.

So in that sense, please in no way underestimate the value of the work, the studies and the thinking that you are doing here on ethics and ethical leadership in this course. Our service values – in Army’s case: courage, initiative, teamwork and respect – are critical. They are the ethical foundation on which servicemen and women build bonds of trust and loyalty to support each other in the service of our nation. Just as relevant in the military as they are in politics – and in fact in all aspects of our life. In the ADF – and in politics – a leader is only as strong their team, and that team is only ever as strong as the values, trust and ethics that bind its members.

You may have gathered from where I began this morning, that there is no greater passion for me than the pursuit of equality of opportunity for women to serve our nation alongside our men in uniform. In whatever capacity they strive for and are prepared to work for. There are just as many Australian women, as men, who want to serve our nation, in the armed forces, police forces, border force, emergency services, and in politics.  They want to serve as themselves, as women. But, as in most professions, there are still many barriers to genuine equality of opportunity for women – as women. So, I guess I’m still straying beyond the limits, disrupting the status quo.  And I’m quite content with that – knowing that I can be an effective leader because I am a woman, not in spite of it but because I am a woman.  And I am aware that I am by no means perfect – and that is ok too. When I took up a seat in the Senate in 2014, I set out my roadmap in my first speech. Strong democratic institutions, civics, a safe and secure nation.

For me, for Western Australia as a Senator, it has meant championing industrial opportunities in Defence, Space, and now in new energy metals. In the Senate, it has meant tackling issues ranging from getting younger Australians with disabilities out of aged care to championing and introducing modern slavery legislation. And coming back to that dissertation I mentioned – with such a shaky start – has turned out to be my touchstone over these past few years in parliament. And now, more so than ever, in my role as Defence Minister. In that dissertation I examined the historical power interplays between politics, defence and power, and I argued that these dysfunctional dynamics have prevented the complete delivery of every single white paper. Another status quo I am firmly committed to disrupting.

As we know here, there is no greater constitutional responsibility for any Federal Government and elected representatives than the defence and security of Australians. As Minister for Defence I sit at a fulcrum – where power and politics intersect. My job now is to ensure Defence can respond to the full range of challenges and opportunities – from the use of force against the nation, through the grey-zone, to the application of soft power.

The stark fact is for all of us that we are living in the most significant period of geostrategic transition since the Second World War. Our region, the world, is dynamic and fast evolving – full of opportunity but also increasingly contested on all three ocean fronts of our nation. There is also increasing anxiety about what the future will look like. Yet we must accept that change is absolutely inevitable. We can’t turn back the clock, we must respond to it. How we respond to this new security environment will determine our future and, more importantly, it will determine the future we bequeath to the next generation.

To deal with this to my mind, we need a new approach. We must harness Australia’s national power, both hard and increasingly soft, and how it’s best harnessed for our national interest. We must work more closely with regional partners to shape the character of a new world order – because the world order that all of us have grown up in is changing and it is not coming back. The real challenge for us is how do we work with our Allies and other democratic partners, regionally and now globally, to shape a new rules based order that respects sovereignty but adapts to the realities of a multi-polar world.

So to do this, in my first month as Minister, I addressed the senior leadership group of Defence, and I outlined three priorities. I’ll go through them now with you. The first is Strategy. We have to ensure that we can continue to proactively assess and respond to our security challenges and this greater uncertainty in our strategic environment – the challenge here is our current strategic framework being up to that, and I would argue that it is not a single fire and forget. If you think to the 2016, current White Paper, we are on track to deliver it – but the world has changed far more rapidly than we would have thought around three to four years ago. So what strategic framework do we need so that we can iteratively and far more agilely keep up with our changing geostrategic circumstances? So that’s the first challenge.

The second challenge is Capability. This government is delivering, and defence has done an extraordinary job so far in delivering the Integrated Investment Plan, which is $200 billion worth of new capability across the three services, and the three capabilities, plus now cyber and space. While they are working well to deliver that capability, the real challenge is twofold – how do we make sure that as we introduce this capability and do it on time and on budget, but also make sure that when it’s delivered it is capability that one, we need and two, capability that can be integrated into the force in being.

That is a huge challenge – but one thing I say now regularly to people is that the 200 billion in taxpayer dollars is not about jobs first and foremost, it’s about the capability we are acquiring because we need it. The spin-off is that we are investing it into Australian industry and developing a sovereign industrial capability, but the challenge is to make sure that the IIP is agile enough to make sure that as we deliver capability we are not delivering something we thought up 10 years ago that is now outdated or irrelevant, or a lesser priority than something else, or another challenge. So that is the second, and not inconsequential, challenge for our organisation.

The third challenge is reform. Without continual reform and transformation, there will be no capability – and there will not be a Defence force capable of meeting an increasing range of contingencies that we now need to deliver.

So the First Principles Review is finished – I’ve drawn a line under it, as it has been very successfully implemented by Defence. But it isn’t a case of ‘Oh good, we’ve done that reform – we don’t need to worry about it anymore’. What we’re now working through is how we genuinely transform overtime to a more genuine “One Defence” organisation. To turn the “One Defence” term into something that is true. So how do we do it in a way that avoids the constant cycles of reviews and reforms that had plagued defence – like herds of wild elephants stomping through Defence over the years. We need to genuinely go down the path of continual adaptation and transformation – so that is the work now going on in Defence, to determine what Defence looks like after the First Principles Review. So that is our third challenge – reform.


These are the three pillars I believe will underpin future success. There are challenges which are serious calls on my own leadership, but also the leadership of each and every one of you.


So I’ll finish up with a quote from Sir Robert Menzies, who in one of his Forgotten People speeches in May 1942, during the heart of WWII. And he said this:

“One of the many troubles – I was going to say of democracy – but perhaps I should say of ourselves as a people – is that we do not think enough – and we take too many astonishing things for granted.”

Just as relevant then, as it is for us today.

In Australia we are blessed with so much. It comes down to courses like this to start thinking - why does it matter to think more and not take too many astonishing things for granted? This course enables you to think deeply about many important issues that most Australians are prone to, and have the luxury of, taking for granted.

So I say this - understand your reform challenges as a military leader. The opportunity is yours to embrace and pursue. As I said seven years ago, the real question is – will you? Will you.

Thank you.

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