Defence Minister Richard Marles insists the "corrosive" revolving door of defence ministers has ended with him.
But Mr Marles admitted "pain" and "challenges" in the post-Defence Strategic Review era as the Defence Force and department are made better places to work and defend the nation.
In an interview with The Canberra Times, the Deputy Prime Minister has rejected that Defence is bogged down by too many reviews, saying "change involves hard decisions" and there is "pain" but he makes no apology for doing a lot of thinking about the job of the Defence Force in the current strategic environment.
He also accepts current recruitment, an urgent, acute task for defence, as needing to explain to Australians a greater "sense of cause".
Mr Marles said the department and ADF leadership are of the "highest order" but political leadership has been lacking, even "corrosive".
"There is a need to assert a leadership which is enduring," Mr Marles said. "There is a need to clearly get the defence budget in back into a rational place."
"You've had a defence enterprise which has not had leadership for the better part of a decade. I mean, literally, the head of that entity being the Minister of Defence was running on a timeframe of one every 18 months.
"I've been in the job 18 months and my intention is to stay here. The idea that you can give meaningful leadership to a department over that period of time is obviously ridiculous. And yet, that is what was served up to the department and the ADF for 10 years. It has had an impact."
In the recently released Australian Public Service census, the Defence Department was just behind the overall APS rating of 68 per cent with 67 per cent of staff reporting it was a good place to work. It is an improvement of three percentage points on the previous year.
The result for the senior leadership of the Defence department, the SES manager leadership index score, was 66 per cent. It has not moved since last year and it was 2 percentage points below the APS average.
The Defence Minister said excellence is expected from both the department and the ADF.
"We absolutely demand it. And we have made that abundantly clear," he told this masthead.
"One of the things that really attracts me to this portfolio, why I fell in love with it, was the quality of the people that you have the opportunity of working with and that view is undiminished."
Hard requests are being asked of Defence in a time Mr Marles describes as having the world's rules-based order being "significantly challenged." There's major conflict in the Middle East, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, power shifts in the Indo-Pacific, and the dire climate risk to Australia's national security.
With the Defence Strategic Review pointing to "acute" workforce challenges and asking Defence to be "bold and innovative" when it comes to recruitment and retention, Mr Marles said the most important thing to do is shorten the time for recruitment, but there is also a need to improve remuneration and standards.
Defence public servants just got a 11.2 per cent pay rise over three years, as part of the just announced public sector pay deal.
Should defence specialists be paid "market value" as there could be far better money elsewhere? The minister's answer is "yes", but it is quickly followed by a discussion of the value of a "sense of cause".
"What working in the department and working in the Defence Force offers gives you, which is different to the private sector, is a sense of serving your country," Mr Marles said.
"And there is something deeply fulfilling in that and I think we need to be telling that story and explain to people you know, the genuinely fulfilling opportunity which comes from that, and I see that constantly."
He said recruitment messaging on the individual journeys within Defence is part of the "whole package" as people will have a right to have a "sense of what journey they'll be on."
"I absolutely think that a sense of cause and service is a really critical part of this," he said.
"I'm just continually struck by the really palpable sense of cause and service that people have which is actually inspiring to someone like me, but which is clearly very fulfilling for the people themselves."
But he rejects criticism from the federal opposition that Defence and the defence industry is struggling from the many reviews Labor has announced since taking office last year.
Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie cites delays and a lack of signals for work.
But Mr Marles has told The Canberra Times there has never been a more important time to do foundational thinking or "dispense with business as usual".
"What it demands is to do that strategic thinking," he said.
"We make no apology for the fact that we have done a lot of that thinking I don't think you can intelligently move forward with the kind of defence force that we need unless you engage in that thinking."
But for the defence industry, he offered acknowledgement of "pain" but said there are signals for work.
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"Change involves hard decisions but it also involves opportunities," the minister said while pointing to spending $31 billion last financial year on capability and sustainment compared to $28 billion in the last Coalition financial year.
"It's not like we've stopped everything in its tracks while we've been doing this thinking, in fact, while we've been doing this thinking we have absolutely been continuing on and we've been continuing the process of procurement.
"Yes, there is change. And that means that for some there is pain, but there needs to be change."