Tensions are simmering at the highest levels of Australia’s military with Defence Minister Richard Marles forced to address rumours he is at loggerheads with top officials in his department.
In a closed door meeting late last year Mr Marles reportedly laid down the law to about 25 to 30 military chiefs and bureaucrats including Secretary Greg Moriarty and Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell.
Mr Marles told his department in no uncertain terms it should be able to deliver him excellence, with the tirade described as ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘giving them a rocket’ by two sources to The Australian Financial Review.
Another source claimed of Mr Marles and the department: ‘He doesn’t respect them and they sure as hell don’t respect him’.
Defence Minister Richard Marles during Question Time in Parliament on Thursday responded to a question about the rift from his Opposition counterpart
The tensions are understood to be rooted in a gap between the department’s calls for new military hardware and the government’s struggle to allocate funding.
During Question Time in Parliament on Thursday, Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie grilled his counterpart over the claims.
He asked whether Mr Marles could confirm reports of a ‘verbal dressing-down of his secretary’.
Mr Marles answered by saying the Australian Defence Force is ‘on a journey’.
‘I make no excuses or apologies for demanding excellence and a culture of excellence in the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force,’ he said.
He then said the problems in the organisation were a result of the Coalition’s 10-year tenure in government.
‘I have some sympathies for where Defence is at,’ he said.
‘When you have six to seven different ministers over nine years that is demoralising.
‘When you leave the oldest service fleet in the country since WWII that is demoralising.
‘And when you make $45billion worth of announcements but don’t put a cent behind it that is demoralising.
‘So there has been a lot of mess to clean up which this government is doing.
‘We are giving direction and working closely with the Defence Force to improve the culture.’
Defence Department Secretary Greg Moriarty (left) and Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell (right)
Mr Marles told Sky News earlier this week a ‘culture of excellence’ was important to ensure ‘procurement is happening as quickly as it can, and we are very much in the process of doing all of that’.
But some sources claim Mr Marles himself is partly responsible for delays with submissions from the department piling up ‘unactioned’ in his office.
Another source of conflict is reportedly the Defence Integrated Investment Program which is a 10-year outline for acquiring new weapons and equipment.
The military had asked for about 600 projects but this has been reduced to about a third of that, sparking frustration from the department.
Mr Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy are frustrated on their end by the outdated requests of the military who they feel are ignoring the Defence Strategic Review which set out to modernise the country’s military hardware.
The Defence Department is seething over the shortfall in funding while the government is frustrated at them for dragging their feet on the modernsation reforms, one source claimed.