Tensions are simmering at the highest levels of the Australian military with Defense Minister Richard Marles forced to address rumors that he is at odds with senior officials in his department.
At a closed-door meeting late last year, Marles allegedly laid down the law on about 25 to 30 military chiefs and bureaucrats, including Secretary Greg Moriarty and Defense Forces chief Angus Campbell.
Marles told his department in no uncertain terms that it should be able to deliver excellence, and two sources described the tirade as “awkward” and “giving them a rocket” to The Australian Financial Review.
Another source said of Mr. Marles and the department: “He doesn’t respect them and they certainly don’t respect him.”
Defense 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 stem from a gap between the department’s requests for new military equipment and the government’s struggle to allocate funds.
During question time in Parliament on Thursday, Shadow Defense Minister Andrew Hastie grilled his counterpart about the claims.
He asked if Mr Marles could confirm reports of a “verbal reprimand of his secretary”.
Marles responded by saying the Australian Defense Force is “on the road”.
“I make no excuses or apologize for demanding excellence and a culture of excellence in the Department of Defense and the Australian Defense Force,” he said.
He then said the problems in the organization were a result of the Coalition’s 10-year tenure in government.
“I feel some sympathy for the Defense situation,” he said.
“When you have six to seven different ministers for nine years, that is demoralizing.
‘When you leave the country’s oldest service fleet since World War II, that’s demoralizing.
“And when you make $45 billion worth of ads but don’t put a dime behind it, that’s demoralizing.
‘So there has been a lot of mess to clean up and what this government is doing.
“We are providing direction and working closely with the Defense Forces to improve the culture.”
Department of Defense Secretary Greg Moriarty (left) and Chief of the Defense Forces General Angus Campbell (right).
Marles told Sky News earlier this week that a “culture of excellence” was important to ensure “acquisitions happen as quickly as possible, and we are in the process of doing all that”.
But some sources claim that Mr Marles himself is partly responsible for the delays, as the department’s submissions pile up “unanswered” in his office.
Another source of conflict is reportedly the Integrated Defense Investment Programme, which is a ten-year plan to acquire new weapons and equipment.
The Army had applied for about 600 projects, but this was reduced to about a third, causing frustration in the department.
Marles and Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy are frustrated by outdated requests from the military who they believe are ignoring the Strategic Defense Review which set out to modernize the country’s military equipment.
The Defense Department is furious about the funding shortfall, while the government is frustrated by its delay in modernization reforms, one source said.