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By Barry Rollings
DEFENCE Secretary Dr Ian Watt has a suc-
cinct but compelling message for the naysay-
ers who question the department's ability to
change to meet Government expectations -- it
In his first interview with Army, Dr Watt
took issue with recent media analysis that pon-
dered whether, in all the talk and planning,
anything really would change in the face of the
Government's requirements for reform, budget
cuts and implementing the White Paper.
"The media is asking the wrong question,"
Dr Watt said.
"The question that should be asked is:
'Can Defence deliver the White Paper and the
Strategic Reform Program without changing?'
The answer is that it cannot.
"Defence has to change. I know many peo-
ple will say 'it has been said often before and
Defence hasn't changed' but I see a Defence
organisation that has already changed a great
He said when he became Secretary of the
Finance Department more than 7½ years ago,
it seemed that Defence "struggled to do many
"Defence delivered on its operations well,
but in other things -- such as projects and per-
sonnel -- it often struggled in the things that had
an administrative catch to it," he said.
Dr Watt said Defence had changed greatly
since then, and more significantly, almost uni-
versally for the better.
"It has to keep doing that. No organisation
stands still; organisations change or die," he
"Defence is core government business. We
can get out of a lot of things that governments
do, should we choose to, but we can never get
out of Defence.
"The Government has given Defence a very
consistent message: implement the White Paper,
implement the Strategic Reform Program, we
have given you a budget, what we regard as a
very generous budget, and Defence has to live
within that budget."
Although he was initially reluctant to depart
Finance, he believed strongly that the current
Defence Ministerial team would make a big dif-
ference to the organisation. "I thought Defence
had laid the foundations for change already. The
new Ministerial team had great promise to build
on those foundations and I thought that I could
help in the change process."
While he saw no 'magic formula' for
Defence reform, Dr Watt said it was paramount
that the organisation and its people desired
change, "or at least a very significant proportion
of the leaders in an organisation have to change
and bring the organisation and the people in it
Defence had a terrific chance to "build the
organisation it wants to be", Dr Watt said.
"Very few organisations have the opportu-
nity to do something that this Government has
handed to Defence. In setting the White Paper, a
20-year budget and Strategic Reform Program,
the Government has given Defence the tools to
change itself and I think that's great," he said.
Dr Watt's work philosophy will be one
of engagement. "... I intend to meet as many
Defence people as I can over a reasonable time
period," he said.
Foundation of change
Dr Ian Watt believes
Defence has made
but will need to
process to meet its
Photo by Cpl Ricky Fuller
Defence Secretary Dr Ian Watt joined the APS in
1971 with Victoria Telecommunications Division of the
In 1972 he won a Treasury cadetship and arrived in
Canberra in 1973.
After a little more than a year he returned to Melbourne
for family reasons and studied for a Masters and PhD at
La Trobe University while teaching there.
He returned to Treasury in early 1985.
His career has included being secretary of three gov-
ernment departments, deputy secretary and first assist-
ant secretary in Prime Minister and Cabinet, a posting
to the Australian Embassy in Washington, and two
appointments with the Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development.
Army October 29, 2009
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