Richard Marles makes big admission over ‘cultural issues’ in Australia’s defence force

Richard Marles has admitted there are “issues of culture” within the higher echelons of the defence force and department that need to be challenged.

The Defence Minister has been under pressure over reports he has grown increasingly frustrated with his own department, to the point he hauled secretary Greg Moriarty, and Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell, in for a closed-door meeting late last year to demand a better culture of excellence.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Marles downplayed the characterisation of the conversation but said he “absolutely” expects excellence from his own department.

“I think what we need to see in terms of the leadership of the Australian Defence Force and the department of defence, and I’m not just talking about the two leaders, but the broader leadership, is that all that we do is done with excellence,” he told Sky News.

“That advice is timely, that advice is accurate, that we are expecting of ourselves the same amount of excellence that we would expect of somebody who’s in the infantry or somebody who is maintaining an aircraft, where there is excellence and complete competence.”

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson said Mr Marles’ comments appeared to be a “public vote of no confidence in his own department and the military leadership of our defence forces”.

“That’s a deeply disturbing thing,” Senator Paterson told Sky News.

“If he does have confidence in them. He shouldn’t publicly undermine them by saying that.”

Mr Marles had said the culture issues within senior leadership, and ADF and departmental leadership more broadly “needs challenging”.

He added that morale within the department had been hammered by the previous Coalition government, pointing to the rotating door of defence ministers in a short time period.

“I’ve also made this observation … I mean, when you have six, really seven different defence ministers churning through the portfolio over the course of nine years, that has an impact on morale. And it has had an impact on morale,” he said.

“When you go out and make all these fanciful announcements, forty-five billion dollars’ worth, and there’s no money behind them, it’s obviously going to have an impact on morale. And it has.

“I mean, would you leave the country with the oldest surface fleet sailing since the end of the Second World War, which is what the former government did, that is going to impact morale.

“So I think there were those issues within the ADF and within the department. And I can understand how that has happened. Going forward, though, we need to address that culture.”

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