Outgoing defence chief General David Hurley believes the new leadership team has a good mix of reposition, experience, new blood and continuity to facing ongoing challenges and reform defence force culture.
Repositioned are vice-chief Air Marshal Mark Binskin, who takes the top job, and navy chief Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, who takes the vice-chief job.
New blood is Rear Admiral Tim Barrett, who goes from fleet commander to chief of navy.
Continuing on are RAAF chief Air Marshal Geoff Brown and army chief Lieutenant General David Morrison.
They are all highly regarded officers who understand the challenges facing the Australian Defence Force of 2014.
There’s the ongoing program of cultural reform, launched following the 2011 ADFA Skype scandal. Any let-up will inevitably attract fresh blazing headlines.
Defence is also disengaging from its longest ever period of conflict, in Afghanistan. There the army excelled at fighting a low intensity conflict, but next time it may need to be something completely different.
The Australian Defence Force is also facing change in how it can do business.
Two new, large landing ships will give it unprecedented ability to dispatch forces throughout the region, to assist in event of disaster or to intervene in an unstable nation.
A new Defence White Paper, to be released next year, will spell out Australia’s defence and national security objectives and what’s needed from defence to meet those objectives. The new chiefs will have to start their implementation.
Little noticed in the leadership announcement on Friday was the move from three to four-year terms to give the chiefs more time to develop and implement important changes.
Tony Abbott explained it in political terms.
“They say it takes 12 months to learn the ropes and then you’ve got 12 months to do something and then you’ve got 12 months thinking about the next election.”
For the defence chief, four years is closer to the five-year appointment of the defence department secretary.
Neil James, head of defence lobby group the Australia Defence Association, makes another point worth repeating.
In selecting the new defence chiefs, the government had plenty of choice from a pool of experienced and talented officers, but that wasn’t always the case.
“In the 80s and 90s there was often only one person really capable of being CDF (chief of defence). This time round the government had a number of options. They have chosen the best option, but they still had a number of options,” he said.
That’s a consequence of the extended period of high defence activity and also, Neil James says, of a succession plan developed by former defence chief Angus Houston, then vice-chief David Hurley and Labor defence minister John Faulkner.