BUNGLING, corruption and mismanagement in the Defence Department have cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars and put the lives of service personnel at risk.
As Australia's 50,000-strong defence force readies itself for a possible war with Iraq, a Sunday Mail investigation reveals a litany of failures, cover-ups, delays and rorting in the defence bureaucracy. The nation's servicemen and women are regarded as among the best in the world — but are under-equipped and poorly served by their administrative chiefs.
The Sunday Mail has received information from a loose network of more than 70 defence personnel who have tried to report mismanagement and abuses but have been rebuffed and persecuted for their efforts.
Documents obtained show that independent watchdogs within the department are compromised and their investigations vetted by senior bureaucrats. The investigation found:
Despite dozens of internal reviews, audit reports and Senate inquiries, incompetent and negligent defence bureaucrats have allowed open-ended sweetheart deals with private contractors.
Public servants spend hundreds of hours covering up mistakes and contracting bungles, making sure none is made public. Some of the same senior public servants who have covered up corrupt practices and turned a blind eye to thousands of contracting blunders are now employed with the same contractors on lucrative consultancies to the defence industry.
Recent contracting scandals centre on Defence Materiel Organisation's new major projects, upgrades and modifications, and maintenance contracts for defence establishments.
The top 16 of defence's major acquisition projects have run $5 billion over budget. They include the Collins Class Submarine fiasco, the 30-year-old Seahawk helicopters and the F/A-18 fighter upgrade.
Defence Minister Robert Hill says the creation of the new Defence Materiel Organisation fixed the problems. But defence officials say new projects and contracts are riddled with delays and overruns. They say the same people responsible for the previous problems and blowouts are in charge of the new organisation.
"Many of the supposedly new projects are actually old projects with the same problems — they have just been given new names," one official said.
Hundreds of officials have taken big retirement packages only to bob up again in lucrative "professional service provider" (consultant) jobs — working for the very firms they failed to supervise properly in their old public service jobs.
The rot in the department is so serious that the two internal investigators charged with looking into defence contract bungles and processes (the 250-strong Inspector-General's Department and Management Audit Branch) have been compromised by defence bureaucrats, who have prevented them from completing thorough investigations.
Defence documents show department official independent investigators sanitised reports and coerced contractors into providing inaccurate information.