Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 7 2012 Contents In terms of management style, he says he would
like to think he is demanding.
“Equally, I would like to think that however difficult
people might find me from time to time, that I am a
fair person,” he says, adding, “I think that is quite
Dennis has joined Defence at a time when
Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan and
Defence’s share of the Federal Budget are topical
and divisive issues. He says it is his intent to fulfil
his five-year posting at Defence, which means he
will head the Department as Australia withdraws
While he says that will be a momentous occasion,
he predicts the challenges won’t end there.
“The thing is if you slice and dice any number of
ways over the last 15 years, people who have been
in this job, and people who have been in the CDF’s
job, have faced big challenges,” he says.
“Since East Timor in 1999 there’s been a rolling set
of challenges, whether it be 9/11 and what flowed
from that, whether it be Afghanistan, Iraq, Solomon
Islands, East Timor – the operational tempo for
the ADF has been fairly intense and, of course, the
support the Department provides the ADF has been
under intensified pressure.”
Another significant issue facing Defence, according
to Dennis, is the Department’s budget.
“It’s a big issue,” he says. “I suppose the starting
point is that in the broadest possible terms it’s in
all of our interests as Australians for the Federal
Budget to be brought back into surplus. I mean the
economic wellbeing of the country underpins what
Government can or can’t do – that’s the first point.
“Second point is that, self-evidently, all parts of
Government have to make contributions to the
achievement of a budget surplus.
“The next point to make is that clearly
the cutbacks we have faced
in Defence do present real
challenges. It’s not just the
odd marginal dollar that’s
been affected – it’s big
dollars we’re talking
about. And even in an
organisation of this size, that does bring with it its
Ultimately, Dennis says the budget allocation was a
decision of our elected representatives.
“The decision is for our elected representatives
and as a professional public servant my job is then
to get on with the job once that decision is taken,
regardless of what my advice might have been
beforehand,” he says.
Dennis has rubbed shoulders with some of the
world’s most powerful people during his years as
a public servant. On the shelves in his office are
photos of him with two US Presidents and the
former head of the CIA, now US Defense Secretary
Leon Panetta. There’s also a framed tribute to all of
the ADF personnel who have died in Afghanistan.
He also has a formidable background in both the
national and international security sectors, having
been posted to Nairobi, Port Moresby, Jakarta and
Washington in DFAT, serving as Principal Adviser
to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, as well as
working in the Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, the Department of Immigration, and in
the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation as
Director-General from 1996 to 2005.
In a career that began in 1969, he has seen both
change and continuity.
“I tell young people entering the organisation that
many of the international issues they see now will
continue to be issues for them when they reach my
Dennis, who has lived in Canberra on and off
since 1969, is also a keen sports fan and is a
director on the board of the Canberra Raiders. He
also supports the Brumbies and, in the AFL, the
Melbourne Demons, but says his first love is rugby
He also loves to travel and while Ambassador to
the US, he and his wife Betty visited all 50 states,
driving through 48 of them. One highlight he
mentions was spending a weekend on the aircraft
carrier USS Harry S. Truman – which holds 5000
people – when it was training for an operational
Asked if he believes his time at Defence might
hold similarly impressive highlights, Dennis
“The great highlights in
Defence will unquestionably
be those which I don’t see
coming,” he says.
“I think that has been the case
for successive Secretaries of
Defence for decades.”
Issue 7 2012
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