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Defence cuts, outsourcing "crazy": union

Date

Noel Towell

National Commission of Audit chair Tony Shepherd

National Commission of Audit chair Tony Shepherd Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Abbott government would be “crazy” to outsource Australia’s sensitive military science capability as recommended in its Commission of Audit, unions say.

The potential outsourcing of DSTO is crazy - you don’t outsource your national security research brains 

Professionals Australia ACT Director Dave Smith

Technicians’ union Professionals Australia believes the commission’s proposals for the Defence Department in Canberra puts 4000 jobs on the line, with another 2000 workers in Melbourne and Adelaide at risk, too.

Tony Shepherd’s Commission of Audit report recommends cutting the numbers at the Defence precinct in and around Canberra’s Russell Offices back to 1998 levels and re-absorbing the Defence Materiel Organisation back into parent Department.

There are about 9000 Defence workers in the capital, up from about 5000 16 years ago and Mr Shepherd’s audit recommended taking an axe to the numbers and targeting senior public servants and high-ranking military officers working at Russell.

The commission also recommends that the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) should be considered for outsourcing, putting the future of about 2000 science, technical and support jobs in Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne and Edinburgh, north of Adelaide in doubt.

But Professionals Australia ACT director Dave Smith slammed the proposals.

“The potential outsourcing of DSTO is crazy - you don’t outsource your national security research brains,” the unionist said.

DSTO is responsible for landmark Australian scientific developments, including the black box flight recorder and high-tech military hardware like the Jindalee Over-the-Horizon Radar, the Nulka anti-ship missile decoy and the Australian minesweeping system.

The unionist said Mr Shepherd’s plans for Russell could lead to job losses in the capital and serious problems for the Melbourne and Adelaide DSTO sites.

“If they seriously followed through you would be looking at something in the order of 4000 jobs in Canberra,” he said.

“You are looking at more than 2000 engineers and scientists across those (DSTO) sites if they seriously outsource that work.

“The national security issues are mind boggling.”

The plans would be a recipe for more technical problems with the nation’s military hardware, and more debacles like the Collins Class submarine saga, according to the union.

Mr Smith said his union would support a review of the Defence establishment but only if was undertaken on a “first principles” basis.

“The [Defence] Minister would be irresponsible in supporting any of these recommendations prior to the first principles review,” he said.

“The Government should be going further and addressing the critical skills gaps that are already affecting project delivery and maintenance and have been identified in countless reports.”

The main public sector union, the CPSU, also said that the outsourcing plan posed potential national security problems.

“Outsourcing the DSTO seriously risks compromising the national security,” the union’s National Secretary Nadine Flood said.

“How can anyone countenance handing over such a valuable strategic area such as defence technology is beyond belief.”

Ms Flood pointed out that contractors cost up to 30 per cent more than Defence staffers.

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