A government review of Australia’s defence innovation system has been released more than a year after it was completed, but heavy redactions based on public interest claims have kept all its key findings and recommendations secret.
The review was commissioned by the Morrison government and cost $2.2 million. It was handed to the former government at the end of 2021 but never publicly mentioned again by the Coalition.
It is unclear if the Albanese government and Defence Industry minister Pat Conroy has seen the full review. Mr Conroy’s office did not provide a response to queries on Tuesday, and the review had previously been with held from the new government.
Conducted by former Rio Tinto Australia managing director David Peever in the final months of 2021, it was slated as a “comprehensive review of Defence innovation, science and technology” that would deliver frank findings.
The fast-tracked review by Mr Peever, who led the Defence First Principles Review in 2015, included an examination of around $1.5 billion in Defence innovation funding programs which have struggled to turn research and development into sovereign capabilities or exports, as well as Defence contracting and research commercialisation.
A heavily redacted version of the review was publicly released on Tuesday after a freedom of information request. It was quietly published by the Department of Defence as Australia’s AUKUS commitments grabbed headlines and the local defence industry’s attention.
The redactions have been made on either public interest or national security, defence or international relations grounds.
They keep findings on the massive taxpayer investments in defence research and their governance structures hidden from the public.
All the review’s recommendations are redacted, as are most of the executive summary, forward, the critical “implementation elements”, and even the reason for the review.
Dozens of pages have been withheld entirely from public release.
The review notes an “urgent need” for faster innovation in the defence ecosystem, resulting from “an increasingly dynamic and complex defence environment”.
“Three trends are driving this changing strategic context: a more complex, rapidly changing international climate, the changing character of warfare (with increased threats), and rapidly emerging technologies,” the review said.
But the public document offers no meaningful assessment on how the defence innovation system is performing or could be improved to meet the challenge.
The FOI decision-maker said further disclosure of the review findings was contrary to the public interests because it could threaten a government agency’s ability to obtain confidential information or similar information in the future, and could also impact an agency’s management function.
“While I note the release of this material would be of some interest to the applicant, I do not consider that this information, if released would inform debate on matters related to Defence or Government administration, enhance scrutiny of government decision making OR promote the objects of the FOI Act more broadly,” the decision-maker said.
InnovationAus.com sought access to correspondence between the Department of Defence and the Defence and Defence Industry ministers at the time of the review. No documents were identified.
The total cost of the three month review was more than $2.2 million and was funded from the Defence Science and Technology Group operating budget.
In December, a Department of Defence spokesperson told InnovationAus.com that the Albanese government did not have access to the Peever Review, “as the review was commissioned by the previous Government”.
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