Efforts to massively boost Australia's defence exports have fallen short, and a failure to gather basic data has hindered the program's success, a new audit report has found.
The Australian National Audit Office investigated the federal government's Defence Export Strategy to assess the effectiveness of its implementation so far and published its findings on Thursday.
It found the Defence Department's planning and implementation of the strategy had been, at best, "partially effective".
The Defence Export Strategy was launched in January 2018 and committed the government to 26 initiatives aimed at overhauling the nation's defence exports capacity by 2028.
The government highlighted defence exports as crucial to Australia's national security as revenue raised would feed directly back into improving the nation's defence capabilities while also boosting local industry.
The strategy was intended as a mechanism to implement a parliamentary defence committee's recommendations, including to establish Australia as one of the top 10 global defence exporters.
However, the audit report found that despite making the announcement that Australia intended to be a leading defence exporter, the strategy completely lacked supporting analysis or data about how this would be achieved.
"The strategy objectives and initiatives developed by Defence were largely supported by research and consultation but were not informed by robust defence export data," the audit report said.
"Defence did not clearly map how the strategy initiatives would contribute to the achievement of strategy objectives."
The report was also critical of the strategy's implementation noting that while Defence had established sound governance arrangements, planning arrangements were not sufficient to deliver either phase one or two of the strategy on time or on budget.
Phase one was due to be complete by the end of 2018 and phase two by the end of last year.
But by June this year, Defence had still failed to establish baseline data for defence exports or develop a methodology for measuring defence exports, the report found.
Of the eight phase one key milestones, only two were delivered on time. Of the three phase two initiatives, one was delivered on time while it was unclear if the other two were complete as Defence failed to specify what completion involved.
The report made one recommendation that the department develop an evaluation framework for the strategy to adequately monitor the achievement of specific objectives and its overarching goal.
Defence accepted the recommendation and acknowledged, in its response to the report, the difficulty of assessing the strategy's success without a baseline for exports, but noted this was a complicated process.
The report also noted that reporting to ministers and senior Defence officials had been limited and had not drawn the attention of key decision makers to identified risks.
The federal government as a whole would benefit from developing measurable and achievable objectives when implementing new policies and any baseline data should be gathered at the earliest possible stage, the report said.