Retired defence force leader Major General Peter Cosgrove bordered on being a "technophobe" who resisted new technologies, a senior Department of Defence official has revealed.
Ross McIntyre, director of communication services, Department of Defence, told the Wainhouse Collaboration Summit in Sydney this week how Defence's IT arm struggled to get new technologies accepted by Cosgrove during his tenure (he retired in July 2005).
"It would probably be unkind to call him a technophobe, but he was close," McIntyre said. Cosgrove's service in East Timor earned him the Companion in the Order of Australia award.
"His greatest claim to fame was that he knew how Combat Net Radio works. That was all he knew," said McIntyre. Combat Net Radio runs on VHF frequencies and is used by most Defence staff.
However, according to McIntyre, Cosgrove saw the light on technology after a stint as commander of the international task force responsible for keeping the peace in East Timor from 1999. McIntyre helped provide communications infrastructure for the effort.
The tiny nation's poor communications infrastructure forced Cosgrove to use technologies he had previously shunned -- for example videoconferencing, a technology relatively new to Defence staff.
"[Cosgrove] had used videoconferencing a little bit because some of the operational commanders in other parts of the Defence organisation had become used to [it]," said McIntyre. "But we never convinced General Cosgrove that it was a good thing. Until he went to Timor."
"The reason why he became dependent on videoconferencing in East Timor was that he liked to be able to see 'the whites of their eyes', as he put it, particularly the politicians'. It really gave him the opportunity to read the body language of people, and he realised how valuable videoconferencing was."
Since Cosgrove's approval, Defence operational staff today stage 300-400 videoconferencing sessions per month. Defence bases around Australia also use the technology for distance education.
Cosgrove's attitude was also turned in Timor after Defence set up a theatre broadcast system to cope with the lack of mobile infrastructure. The satellite-based system was designed to deliver remote intelligence and imagery to Defence staff.
"But what General Cosgrove found out was that we could also deliver TV over it," said McIntyre, noting Cosgrove was a rugby union fan.
"So the challenge I was given was, 'why can't I see the Rugby Sevens?'"
McIntyre went ahead with the system, much to the delight of Cosgrove. "He was one happy general," he said. "The only comment he made was 'why can't it deliver the beer and pies to go with the football?'"