Anthony Albanese names Vice Admiral David Johnston as new Chief of Defence amid huge shake-up

Dan Jervis-Bardy
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Vice Admiral David Johnston has been named the new head of the Australian Defence Force.
Vice Admiral David Johnston has been named the new head of the Australian Defence Force. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPImage

Vice Admiral David Johnston will be the new Chief of the Australian Defence Force under a major shakeup of the military’s top brass.

Vice Admiral Johnston — the current Vice Chief of the Defence Force — will take on the top job from July, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced on Tuesday morning.

He will replace General Angus Campbell, whose six years in the role made him Australia’s longest-serving Chief of Defence Force.

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Mr Albanese said Vice Admiral Johnston had the “experience, intellect and resolve” to steer the ADF through a “complex and rapidly changing global strategic environment”.

“His understanding of integrated defence will be critical to delivering on the priorities and recommendations of the defence strategic review, ensuring our defence force has the right capabilities and the right leadership to meet the challenges ahead,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese acknowledged the significance of appointing a naval officer to lead the ADF, with the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine deal at the forefront of Australia’s future defence strategy.

Vice Admiral Johnston joined the Navy as a 16-year-old in 1978 and was named Vice Chief of the Defence Force in 2018.

His elevation comes at a critical juncture with China’s rise stoking tension in the region, ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the Federal Government pushing full steam ahead with the AUKUS pact.

“I am very conscious of the responsibility that comes with the role, the strategic environment in which we face ourselves, and most particularly the responsibility I have to the extraordinary men and women in the Australian Defence Force and the families who support them,” Vice Admiral Johnston said.

Mr Marles praised the outgoing General Campbell, who agreed to extend his term to provide continuity in the military’s top brass after Labor’s election win in 2022.

“I am personally deeply grateful to you, Angus, for all the service that you’ve provided to me over the last two years, but the nation is grateful to you in terms of the service that you’ve provided over a colossal career,” Mr Marles said.

General Campbell endured a tumultuous six-year term with repeated questions about the culture of the military under his watch.

His oversaw the fallout to the Afghanistan war crimes inquiry, and just last month offered an unreserved apology for Defence’s failures to support veterans.

Vice Admiral Johnston’s appointment – which still needs to be rubber-stamped by the Governor-General – was part of a wider reshuffle of the military’s leadership.

Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman, will be the new Vice Chief of Defence Force.

Air Vice‑Marshal Stephen Chappell will be promoted to Chief of Air Force.

Lieutenant General Greg Bilton will step down as Chief of Joint Operations, replaced by Rear Admiral Justin Jones.

Lieutenant General John Frewen – who rose to prominence after former Prime Minister Scott Morrison brought him in to rescue the troubled COVID-19 vaccine rollout – will be replaced by Major General Susan Coyle in the role of Chief of Joint Capabilities.

Lieutenant General Gavan Reynolds will finish up as the inaugural Chief of Defence Intelligence, with that role to be handed to a civilian appointee.

The shakeup means the ADF has three female three-star officers for the first time in its history.

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