Judith Collins Takes Charge: It’s time for change

Judith Collins
Judith Collins, New Zealand’s first Space czar.

Ross Browne, Director of public affairs firm Museum Street Strategies, writes that the new Defence Minister has an opportunity to initiate system and cultural reform to capitalise on New Zealand’s wider innovation system.


Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has formed his new government with new clusters of portfolios intended to deliver a Complementary ‘NZ Inc’ approach across portfolios and to get better results on the front line.

Responsible for Defence, Space, the intelligence agencies, the Science, Research and Technology portfolio, as well as being Attorney General, the Hon Judith Collins is one of the most influential figures in the Cabinet.

Clustering defence and intelligence under a senior minister to achieve stronger coordination follows the Labour Party approach in appointing Hon Andrew Little following the findings of the Royal Commission into the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Collins is one of the most senior defence ministers of the past 35 years.

In Opposition, Collins was particularly active in the development of technology, science, and innovation policy. Her seniority reflects the importance the new government has placed on security issues, innovation and economic transformation, and her portfolios effectively make her New Zealand’s first Space czar.

Evolving space-based technologies have important military and commercial applications, and that has clear implications for the intelligence agencies. The $900 million GDP contributions and 5,000+ jobs being supported by the space industry have driven investment in advanced manufacturing and STEM training. New Zealand’s space launch capacity is world leading, and our geography is a critical market discriminator.

Risk-aversion, tradition, hierarchy, and structure are the enemies of innovation. In the armed forces, the cultural environment is the enemy.

The science, tech and innovation system is a critical enabler to the Space portfolio. It too should be critical to the Defence portfolio.

In my article in the Summer 2018-19 issue of Line of Defence, I wrote about the emphasis the UK military was putting on innovation. In the UK defence context, “innovation is gaining value from the exploitation of novelty.” 

General Sir Nick Carter, the former professional head of the British Armed Forces, emphasizes the need to think differently, shift defence culture and criticised government procurement processes as impediments to delivering advanced military capability. “In technological terms, the private sector is ahead of us …. that’s where the best ideas and the best technologies are. This should be right at the core of what we do modernising defence.”

In stark contrast, NZDF’s innovation framework defines innovation as ‘the identification, creation and implementation of ideas that deliver new value, enhancing our operational outputs, organisational knowledge and capability.”

Laced with jargon and business-speak, NZDF’s framework is silent on novelty and talks of ‘incremental innovation.’ It goes on to state that transformational innovation will typically require senior leaders to be involved. Innovation funding is discretionary. A 13-person committee predicts the future and writes more strategy.

It’s fortunate Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun, was self-employed.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony called for unrestrained and disruptive tactics – “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” – to defeat the enemy. Prussian strategist von Moltke the Elder preached a culture that encouraged divesting authority and taking calculated risks, because in fluid environments that’s what it takes to respond immediately and exploit opportunity.

Risk-aversion, tradition, hierarchy, and structure are the enemies of innovation. In the armed forces, the cultural environment is the enemy. The National Party campaigned on the need for economic transformation and innovation. It said bloated government back offices hold the country back. Collins has the mandate and the opportunity to bring system and cultural reform to capitalise on New Zealand’s wider innovation system.

Babcock
RiskNZ