The mystery of the deep-sixed Defence Innovation Review

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Defence Strategic Review is a big piece of work covering a lot of territory and vital to our national security. It is quite right that this review received in-depth media coverage. It is important and was treated as such.

The DSR is not to be confused with the Defence Innovation Review, another important piece of work that has been treated very differently.

The $2.2 million Defence Innovation Review was conducted by former Rio Tinto Australia chief David Peever.

It was conceived as an independent look at the Defence innovation ecosystem to better understand whether the nation was getting value for money from its investments in defence innovation programs.

The Defence Innovation Review has never seen the light of day, deep-sixed by the department and never made available to the new government.

The Defence Strategic Review would have benefited greatly from a look at the Defence Innovation Review, given its clear interest in emerging technology and the issues of domestic production and sovereign capability.

It does seem a little crazy that an independent review conducted by an eminent Australian into the programs that underpin much of the effort toward building Australian capability is untouchable.

It seems even crazier still that the new government seems utterly unfazed that this review has been withheld by the department, and frankly seem uninterested in getting it into the hands of Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy.

It is hard to imagine that this report would not have been anything but very useful to those authors of the Defence Strategic Review as they sought to understand and shape Defence efforts to build sovereign capability.

The three-month Defence Innovation Review was commissioned by then-Defence Industry minister Melissa Price in September 2021 and then handed to the former government at the end of 2021.

The review was never publicly mentioned by the Coalition again, and once government changed hands in May 2022 with the election of the Albanese Government was quietly archived.

A heavily redacted version of the report was published as a response to a Freedom of Information requestion – so heavily redacted that the review no longer had meaning, let alone observations and recommendations.

When former Minister Price announced the Defence Innovation Review, it was touted as a “comprehensive review of Defence innovation, science and technology” that would deliver frank findings.

It was to include an examination of $1.5 billion in Defence innovation funding programs which have struggled to translate Defence R&D spending into either new capability, or commercially valuable Defence exports.

While the review was to examine value-for-money issues, a casual observer might wonder whether the $2.2 million spent on the three-month review provided value to the Australian community.

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy has said he commissioned a study of Defence industry policy and has said the government will publish a Defence Industry Development Strategy later this year.

The Department of Defence has defended its deep-sixing of the Peever Review by saying it was commissioned and carried out for the previous government, and it did not need to be shared with the Albanese Government.

But a more curious Defence Industry Minister might have pushed harder – insisted even – to get a look at the review.

If nothing else, it would have been a good indicator of what $2.2 million buys you in the Defence world.

For taxpayers, given that no-one has been allowed to see this mystery review, that $2.2 million bought nothing at all.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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