Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 8 2009 Contents 18
When Dr Ian Watt was
asked by the Minister
for Defence, senator
John Faulkner, whether
he was interested in the
position of secretary for
Defence, he had to think about it.
After more than seven-and-a-half productive
and enjoyable good years as head of the
Department of Finance and Deregulation he was
reluctant to leave.
“I thought about it over a fair period and in
the end, said yes,” Dr Watt said. “It was really
because Defence had strong foundations for
change already, with very good work done by
the CDF and the former Secretary on Force 2030
and the Strategic Reform Program, and the new
Ministerial team that offered great promise to
build on those foundations. I thought I could help in
that change process”.
There is no doubt in the new Secretary’s mind
that Defence will be changing. This is because the
Government has told the department to implement
the White Paper.
“Can you do that without changing? No you can’t,”
he said. “Defence has to change. No organisation stays
still. The Defence Department has changed a lot in
recent years; it will have to change further.
“Defence is core business for the Australian
Government and you can’t not have a Defence
Force and a Defence Department. However, these
organisations have to change because the Government
and the public demands changes from us.”
The inevitability of change is something Dr
Watt has had the chance to observe during his
Public Service career.
He first arrived in Canberra in 1973, not long
after the advent of the Whitlam Government,
having won a Treasury Cadetship that bound him to
work in Treasury on graduation.
He returned to Melbourne to be closer to his
family but in 1985, after completing a Masters
and a PhD at La Trobe University, returned to
Treasury and Canberra, where he has performed
various senior public service roles ever since. (see
biography opposite page)
“I believe I am a better public servant than I
was an academic,” he said.
“Much of my career you could put in terms
of another Budget delivered, another project
completed. But there are also broader achievements.
“My experience in Finance provided an
example of that. When I arrived in 2002 it was an
organisation without a clear role in Government
and one that had floundered. It wasn’t particularly
well-regarded in the APS or by Government. Not
long after I arrived I was asked what my vision was
for Finance. I said I wanted Finance to be the policy
advisor, the program manager, the implementer of
choice for the Government in its field, and to be
there at the table when key decisions were made.
When I left, that’s where we were.”
Dr Watt points out, though, that some things
can remain disconcertingly the same.
“When I came back to Treasury in early 1985 I
started on the same floor in B Block of the Treasury
building, around 20 yards from where my first desk
had stood in 1973.
“Finance is now in B Block and, at one stage
as Secretary, I had a small office that I occasionally
occupied that was about seven yards from where
my original desk had stood in 1973. So my wife,
very unkindly, used to tell me that I’d come seven
yards in my public service career.”
Now, having made it at least a kilometre over
the lake (which must make someone a success
by any measure), the new Secretary is evaluating
the challenges of his new role – and familiarising
himself with the organisation and getting on top of
the job. In his view, there is only one way to do that.
“My philosophy is one of engagement,” Dr
“People see a lot of me, they hear a lot of me
on the phone, and I’m out and about. I’ll be talking
to people, I engage. If there are problems, I go
there. I think this is one of the responsibilities of a
leader and a manager.
“I’m used to an organisation where you can
get around and actually talk to everyone. I know
I can’t easily do that in Defence, but I do intend
to meet as many Defence people as I can. I’m not
going to spend my life in this office. You can’t be a
leader in any organisation if you do that. I believe
in getting to know the people I work with.
“Australia has long had the ability to manage
national and international organisations of
considerable complexity. You can’t manage an
international organisation solely from Canberra.
It doesn’t work. I hope to become more than
an occasional visitor to Defence sites around
Canberra and interstate.
“I’ve set some targets for myself between
now and Christmas. I’m not going to tell you what
they are but I’d be delighted to tell you in the new
year whether I’ve met them.”
Defence has the complexity of size and of
geography and technology, but it also has a unique
complexity – that of the mixed civilian and military
strong foundations of Defence
lure new secretary
By Gillian Field
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