06 June 2009

Welcome to Defence, Senator Faulkner

There is a charming story on the front page of today’s (6 June) The Age which recalls how, in 1993, John Faulkner as junior Defence Minister accompanying a group of World War I veterans on a tour of the Western Front, gave up his ministerial car to an old veteran who had decided that he could not go on and wanted to go home. It emerged that the digger in question was suffering a form of claustrophobia on the bus. Upon hearing of this John Faulkner gave up his car and joined the other veterans on the bus.

This story leads Tony Wright and Brendan Nicholson to conclude (correctly) that Senator Faulkner is a problem solver. What the story says to me is that Senator Faulkner is a man who takes the trouble to find out what is the problem we are trying to solve – always a good place to start.

John Faulkner will make a very good Defence Minister. The main requirements for success in any portfolio are to work hard, listen hard and carefully, give guidance, and make decisions. Trust of and respect for all the people upon whom the Minister must depend also help a great deal; a low trust environment is very demotivating and corrosive. John Faulkner meets all these essential criteria, and is a quick, intelligent and insightful person as well.

A very experienced Crown Law Officer observed to me twenty years ago that no solicitor can be better than his client.

As it is for solicitors, so it goes for Departments; no Department can be better than its Minister. A good Minister, on the other hand, opens up his/her Department’s possibilities enormously, by energising all of those talented and committed people and creating the headroom to enable them to make the contributions of which they are capable, by making the clear and timely decisions needed to generate and sustain momentum, and to minimize re-work – in the process setting a pace that will in itself lift performance and shine a light on those that are not quite up to it.

Just by being a very capable Minister, John Faulkner will lift the performance of the 97,000 people, civilian and military, who contribute in one way or another to the defence of the realm.

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