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Friday, June 05, 2009

Defence shelters detail

The resignation of Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon for failure to fully adhere to the Ministerial Code of Conduct serves to highlight the importance of those interminable Estimates hearings. As The Age points out the end came-following months of scrutiny and adjustments to his declaration of interests- because of inaccuracies revealed in questioning Defence officials yesterday about "undertakings that the minister made publicly in March about his role in the lobbying activities of his brother. Mark Fitzgibbon is the managing director of NIB Health Fund who, in partnership with US company Humana, last year sought to do business with the Defence Force." The episode should prompt some questioning as well about the adequacy of the lobbyist registration scheme.

Fitzgibbons' involvement in matters of business interest to his brother aren't the only details hard to get out of the Defence system, despite all the talk about transparency, and other initiatives such as Operation Sunlight and its promise of meaningful budget papers.

Mark Thompson of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is recognised as one of the few who know what's really happening with defence spending, running at
$72,990,375.34 per day. In his latest commentary, "The Cost of Defence" Thompson laments that "the most comprehensive White Paper of the modern era’ has been followed by the least comprehensive Defence budget papers of the past decade."His conclusion about transparency and accountability:

"As the first budget after a new Defence White Paper, there is a glaring absence of substantive information on funding, investment and reform. The best that can be said is that the budget is consistent with a White Paper that’s silent on when anything will occur or what things will cost. All we are offered is a vision of what the defence force will look like in 2030. We don’t know when new capability will arrive. We don’t know when old capability will be fixed. We have minimal information on how $20 billion of savings will be accomplished, and not much more on how the money will be spent. We don’t know how much capital investment has been delayed, or when it has been delayed to. And from a funding model extending twenty-one years into the future, we are only given a glimpse of the next four years. But relax; we are going to have twelve submarines sometime after 2030.

Update: This 30 page report released on Wednesday by Defence Secretary Warner adds to the picture. I'll be interested in Thompson's analysis.

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