Artistry Lost – Others Will Pay is the first in a planned body of narrative poems critically portraying Australia's Defence Infrastructure Sector – the nation’s silent big budget capability enabler: its Defence estate. The poem is one of complex associations and underlying themes detailing a generational practice shift within government and client-side project teams, protectively valuing governance rigor as monies best value, amid escalating collaborative contracting commercial risks and project costs. Mutedly, this shift highlights a fundamental skillset gap now embedded across Defence and its client-side project teams at the taxpayer’s cost.

The poem centres around the creation of Defence's infrastructure project core – its construction documentation. It likens this to creating a book where publishing teams no longer read the draft prior to launch and where client-side proofreading functions are knowingly outsourced to the reader at sale. Key actors Security and Estate Group, Indo-Pacific Engagement Branch (IPACE), Project Managers, and Design teams act in kind as publishing process managers, having lost skillsets to coordinate and read their singular output to industry – drawings. This collective competency gap, the principal growing source of commercial dispute and government/industry relatedness, is now crippling Australia's domestic and Indo-Pacific Defence infrastructure sectors in time, cost, and human energy.

The narrative conveys that Defence client-side infrastructure teams now opt for the high ground by default – they no longer read. Exclusively hungry for rigor, devoted to an image of solid professional competence, client-side teams have become fearful of entering a world of commercial relevance in which they no longer know what they are doing. They choose to confine themselves to a narrow technical and siloed practice of integration.

There are few client-side project managers who choose the swampy lowlands equipped to read drawings and specifications; 12th and 19th Chief Engineer Works are this exception. They deliberately involve themselves consistently in messy but critically important problems during planning, stakeholder engagement, commercial relevance, design and delivery management, and – when asked to describe their method of enquiry – they speak of trial and error, intuition, and muddling through. Unknown to themselves, these teams have demonstrated through practice the benefits of closing the skills gap with industry in contrast to their civilian counterparts.

For the perceptive reader, this poem poses two key strategic questions; (a) shall practitioners stay on the high hard ground where they can practice rigorously, as they understand technical rigor, and where they are constrained to deal with problems of relatively little importance? Or (b) encourage practitioners to descend into the swamps where they can engage the most important and challenging commercial issues to better align technical rigor?

Artistry Lost – Others Will Pay uncomfortably portrays client-side practitioners as silos of diminishing value; once admired but now a morphed capability of outsourced government labour in approach and mindset when compared to industry’s high value-building contractors and supply chains who read drawings commercially. Equally this poem challenges client-side teams to critically reimagine their lost skills as valued practitioners and act.


Delivering Defence Estate Infrastructure: A Reflection in Action

Artistry Lost – Others Will Pay

Drawing – our oldest text.

Designers author aged books new. Proof-readers once proud now absent.
The only readers, artisans and supply chain, queue hungry in silence for prose.
When relevance blurred authors respond, ‘competent readers would know what we mean’.
Isolation kept. Relevance afoot.

Project managers as editors no longer read, they have become process managers.
Rigor their metric, copied technique their currency.
Mastery for others, time a word the reader’s risk.
Incite confused theirs to point.
Relevance irrelevant safety first.

Government as publisher no longer reads. With other’s money libraries commissioned.
High thresholds of error accepted. Orchestrated reprints expected.
No time. Fill empty shelves with bigger books and further restrict the reader list.
Prices inflate from concept to counter, then known secret costs revealed.
No surprises guaranteed, guaranteed.

Hidden masters Legal construct feigned accountabilities endorsed, except for readers isolation kept.
Rigor, a bastion sound of fair and protected rights in script.
Actors all integration proclaimed. It must be true.
Honesty the dupe profound.

Time to finish and replay lessons learnt.
Best endeavour publishing and after sale costs reasonably incurred.
There’s nothing more to monies best value. Rigor confident. Rigor compliant.
Commercial relevance’s red remain taboo.

Reader base low. Literacy forgotten. Team of teams a myth.
Time a word others will pay.

I begin to reimagine.

Anthony Esposito 2022