Angus Campbell concedes Australian Defence Force is struggling to recruit, while top brass numbers explode

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
3 Min Read
General Angus Campbell has been grilled over the ADF’s recruitment issues. (Dominic Giannini/AAP PHOTOS)
General Angus Campbell has been grilled over the ADF’s recruitment issues. (Dominic Giannini/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Labor has sought to put the blame back on the former government amid questioning over why the number of high-ranking officers in the Australian Defence Force has ballooned, while general recruitment rates have declined.

In the wake of the government’s announcement the defence force would soon allow foreign-born permanent residents to enlist in a bid to improve stagnant numbers, senior officials came under fire during a heated Senate estimates exchange on Wednesday over the increasing cohort of one star and above officers.

Outgoing ADF chief Angus Campbell confirmed the force was set to achieve just 57 per cent of its recruitment and retention target this year, but said there would be “clear momentum” to tackle the problem by December.

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Greens senator David Shoebridge, who pointed out that defence officials have had the same confidence for years despite lacklustre growth, turned his attention to the overachievements of the defence department “in certain categories”.

In a question to Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty, Senator Shoebridge pointed out there had been a 30 per cent increase in the number of one star and above officers during Mr Moriarty’s seven year tenure, up from 189 to 254.

Greens Senator David Shoebridge
Greens senator David Shoebridge has grilled defence officials on juxtaposing personnel numbers. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

“Senior officers, they’ve also had a recruitment binge, that’s gone from 2158 when you started to now 2569, that’s about a 16 per cent increase,” Senator Shoebridge said.

“Unfortunately the people actually doing the work, the other ranks, the non officers ranks, that’s gone backwards (from 43,950 to 41,200).”

Mr Moriarty interjected, retorting that officers “do serious work”.

It sparked input from Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, herself a veteran, who shouted: “What, and diggers don’t?... How dare you.”

After the committee chair returned senators to order, Senator Shoebridge continued: “Is our defence strategy to frighten our adversaries off with gold braid? We’re going to glint them to death?”

Jenny McAllister, the minister representing the government, said Senator Shoebridge had “trivialised” a “reasonably significant” question, and pointed the blame at the previous Coalition government.

“We inherited a personnel crisis, a declining ADF, and a series of strength-based commitments that were only partially funded. Like many things, we’re working through that mess… No one pretends this is easy,” she said.

Senator Shoebridge said the problem had only gotten worse under Labor and was at risk of becoming “so top heavy it could tip over”.

Senator McAllister said the government was attempting to establish a force “appropriate for the strategic circumstances”, and like Mr Moriarty said, there were significant problems with recruitment and retention.

Department of Defence secretary Greg Moriarty during Senate estimates
Defence secretary Greg Moriarty says recruitment remained a key issue for the ADF. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

The grilling came as Labor came under fire for the bungled announcement that foreign-born permanent residents would soon be able to join the ADF.

Deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley had earlier branded it a “national embarrassment” that Defence Minister Richard Marles had been forced to slap down junior minister Matt Keogh, after he declared on Tuesday “all foreigners should be able to join the ADF”.

General Campbell and Mr Moriarty confirmed in estimates that statement was untrue, and would only apply to New Zealand-born permanent residents from July 1, and then expand to permanent residents from the US, the UK, and Canada, from January 1.

They must be able to attain Australian citizenship, and must not have served in any other military for at least two years.

Officials were grilled by the Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham how the plan came to be, revealing both Mr Marles and Mr Keogh had received a draft policy document from the department in March, and a draft press release and talking points in May.

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