Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sanity, please!

Here in Australia the defence community is awaiting an edict from the Department of Defence on whether and under what circumstances ADF and Defence employees may partake of corporate hospitality from the defence industry.

This follows a celebrated memo from the head of the Defence Materiel Organisation, Dr Steve Gumley, a few days before the Avalon air show reminding his staff of their "obligations". This was widely interpreted as a ban on accepting corporate hospitality during the show and caused widespread anger and disgust.

There are very few occasions on which corporate hospitality is extended on any significant scale - traditionally, events such as air shows have been the vehicle for this type of activity and its value is immense. Sitting down with somebody outside the office environment and talking freely but informally about issues and problems of mutual concern is a vital part of the defence (indeed, any) business environment. Typically, it's the industry which has the resources to provide this informal environment and the obligations it brings are mostly well understood by all concerned.

There's every reason to want to ensure the probity of relations between contractors and those who spend public money. But Gumley's memo (which I haven't seen, by the way) and the much-anticipated edict seem to be a heavy-handed and counter-productive response to a problem which doesn't exist.

Putting the relationship between Defence and Industry onto such a formal basis that people can't even sit down to share a cup of coffee or a meal as part of the process of building a respectful business relationship is just stupid.

I can't blame Gumley for this - I'm sure his orders come from much higher up, and they may be intended primarily to cause some pain and embarrassment to a Defence Department leadership which Defence Minister Stephen Smith feels isn't serving him properly.

But it creates the mistaken impression that there is an issue that needs tackling. Nothing could be further from the truth. Australia's defence procurement system is highly regarded around the world for its probity and integrity. Pointless measures of the type we're currently awaiting are an insult to the men and women who try to serve this country and their various employers honourably and with integrity.

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