Reconcile this. A report is released detailing that there are 775 “plausible” allegations of criminal, sexual and other abuse in the Australian Defence Force dating back to 1951 that need further investigation.
The most senior members of the ADF publicly reaffirm their determination to change the ADF culture at the media conference releasing the report. Only cultural change can stop this pattern of horrific behaviour.
Yet the public commentary from those purporting to be the representatives of Defence force personnel and anonymous comments attributed to senior serving ADF personnel is triumphant. They demand apologies or even the resignation of the Minister who initiated the review.
Why? Because his immediate action in the wake of the scandal that kicked off the inquiry in forcing the head of the Defence Force Academy to stand aside was found to be without legal basis.
Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association and self-styled spokesman for the interests of serving personnel, went so far as to declare that the Minister was motivated by his own ambitions to be Prime Minister by seeking improve his image among women.
Sounds like cultural change in Defence doesn’t so much have a long way to go as having a long way to start!
Defence has long been a poster child for cultural clashes with the Government, but they in many ways represent an extreme example of the type of disconnect that lies at heart of the failure of government relations in many companies and industries.
Defence culture, at its most extreme, reflects a view that politicians;
- are incapable of understanding the true importance of the issues Defence must deal with;
- cannot take the long view that Defence does;
- are motivated by venal or selfish interests, and;
- should therefore be treated with contempt and reflexively be ignored.
Prick the surface of many corporations, and not dissimilar attitudes are just below the surface.
These attitudes manifest themselves in ways that are unhelpful to both corporations and the governments they want to influence.
Too often, the problem lies not with the Government, but with the cultural of the corporation that is incapable of understanding any perspective but its own.
Many management theses have been devoted to warning of the dangers of corporate group think. But business representatives routinely tramp into Canberra to demand money or a new policy regime or the overturn of a court or regulatory decision as though it is an entitlement because they are “wealth creators” or “job creators”.
Far from compelling attention, such attitudes are more likely to strike policy makers as superficial, self-interested and in some cases simply coarse. But corporations who find their entreaties rejected often regard this as further evidence of the incompetence and ignorance of politicians, rather than taking the time to reflect on what policy makers have tried to explain to them about public priorities. Such as, for example, “Why would I subsidise your business when there are hospitals that can’t afford to keep their beds open?”
Group think in corporations is often so powerful that it simply cannot assimilate unsupportive information, even when delivered in terms as blunt as the above.
Think of Telstra’s campaign from 2005 to 2009 to be given protection from competition, and subsidy to invest in broadband. When its initial arguments for a leg up in 2005 were not accepted by the then Howard Government, it shifted gear to hectoring abuse of Minister and regulators alike. It threatened an investment strike and denied services to regional consumers in a petulant attempt to get its way.
In doing so, it persuaded successive Federal Governments that it could not be dealt with, and ultimately laid the groundwork for bipartisan support for the structural reform of the entire telecommunications industry so that no company could exercise such power. In other words, exactly the opposite outcome of that which Telstra wanted.
While Telstra and the ADF are spectacular examples of organisations that are so busy talking to themselves that they hear no one else, anyone who wants to persuade governments of something would do well to have a simple rule in mind. Before you open your mouth, at least try to walk a mile in their shoes.
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