Parliamentary Speech: Defence Recruitment

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Government has committed to the former Government's objective of growing the Australian Defence Force (ADF) by 18,500 people by 2040;

(b) to meet the objective, there must be net growth of 1,000 people per year; and

(c) the ADF recruitment numbers currently sit at a net growth of approximately 300 people per year; and

(2) calls on all Members to:

(a) recognise that our regional security environment is deteriorating;

(b) acknowledge that Australia must build a strong and capable ADF;

(c) focus on how we find, recruit and retain young men and women we need to build the ADF into the future; and

(d) build a strong values based narrative of service, duty and country in appealing to our next generation of ADF recruits.

It is now the consensus view that our strategic environment is the most challenging and complex it has been since the Second World War, something we on this side of the House have been talking about for some time, and the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister both acknowledged this very recently. If you look back over the last year, there are plenty of indicators: Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine; the no-limits partnership struck between President Xi and President Putin; and, of course, the Chinese surveillance balloons over the continental US these past few days. Things are dangerous and dynamic, and the risk of miscalculation is much larger than it was five years ago.

The opposition will be watching the outcomes of the Defence Strategic Review closely, and we welcome the Prime Minister's comments in The Weekend Australian Magazinelast November that the government will spend 'whatever is necessary to produce the Defence Force that could defend Australia'. This is particularly appreciated following the October budget, as the message it sent did not inspire confidence. The government of the day has a moral obligation to the Australian people to build and maintain a strong deterrent to any aggressor. Given the stakes, the coalition will always work constructively with the government to build a strong and capable Australian Defence Force over the next two decades. The Albanese government has committed to the former coalition government's objective of growing the ADF by 18,500 people by 2040. That is a net growth of 1,000 people per year, noting that in recent years recruitment has only managed net growth of 300 people. This is a huge task. We must focus on how we find, recruit and retain young men and women for our future Defence Force.

There are a few things I want to make clear today. First, we need a message that appeals to young hearts and minds, emphasising the ethos of service, duty, honour and country. They are Anzac values and they are timeless, but if you watch a recruitment ad today, or over the last few years, you might think joining the ADF was simply a vehicle for self-actualisation. Yes, there are benefits to service, but we need something more than self-interest if we're going to grow the Defence Force by a thousand people per year in a tight labour market. Even an article by the Australian Army Research Centre recently recognised the need for a new narrative around military service. The next generation is waiting to be inspired and challenged by traditional values of service to country and to fellow Australians.

Second, we must make onboarding faster. It currently takes 292 days, from first contact to recruit training. This is not good enough. The Australia Public Service is achieving the same milestone in around 140 days, which is still a long time.

Third, we must remove barriers to service, often bureaucratic ones. As Assistant Minister for Defence last parliament and now shadow minister for defence, I hear from too many young Australians who get turned away because they've had a shoulder injury from rugby or football, a food allergy or, in one case, were medicate for ADHD in their childhood—all talented, motivated kids, turned away because of risk culture. We need to move beyond the one-size-fits-all model and select kids who might not tick all the boxes but who can get the job done, and then some.

Fourth, we need to do a better job of keeping people in the ADF—retention. That could mean allowing them to study at a civilian university mid-career or taking a posting in the private sector, where they might gain critical skills in a different setting. I think incentives for homeownership are also important, especially for a generation that feels locked out of the housing market. We need more pathways to return to uniform, not just pathways out.

Finally, we need to think about how we look after our serving families. Operations, career courses and exercises take time away from the family. COVID demonstrated that we can achieve a lot through online learning, which may well save on travel and time away, particularly for ADF career courses. I remember about 10 years ago speaking to an Army psychologist who was talking about the tempo and the impact it was having on families. A lot of us were doing six months away, coming back for a brief time and then moving on to a career course on the east coast or elsewhere. He said it's the equivalent of running a marathon and then, at the end of the race, having someone hand you a kettlebell and say, 'Here, swing this for 30 minutes.' We've got to learn how to rest people so that they're fit to fight, train and do their job in the Defence Force. So we must balance the benefits of bringing people together with managing the risks of keeping families apart.

It's going to be a busy decade ahead, and I hope this can be part of an ongoing conversation. The opposition stands ready to support the government in growing the ADF. It is simply responsible national security, and it is what Australians expect.

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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2023-02-07 16:56:08 +0800