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Thank you Paul for that very warm welcome. And I would say to the Association, Happy 50th Anniversary. I don’t think there’s been a more important time in 50 years for this organisation. To all of the honoured guests here – there’s too many to mention – Governor, Paul Irving and Commander 2Div, and to the many other distinguished guests here today. It is a pleasure to be here – what you are doing now is probably as important as it’s ever been, if not more so.
Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet to have these discussions today — the Turrbal people — and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also pay my respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have contributed to the defence of Australia in times of war and peace. Thank you very much for your service. Next, I would like to thank all of you here in uniform today, and to those of you who are no longer in uniform, thank you very much for your service. And I also thank all of your families for their support for your service during your time in serving our nation.
Our reserves forces are a critical enabler to the overall capability of the ADF. Our people are our competitive advantage. All who volunteer to serve our nation in uniform – do so equally. In my mind, service is service.
As our strategic situation is becoming more challenging Defence must avail itself of the best possible workforce. There is exponential and ubiquitous development of strategically disruptive technologies which are already impacting on our nation. Great power tensions are rising and our corner of the world is no longer immune. I went to the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore on my second day in this job, and it was a very sobering conference. It is very clear our region is anxious. We have seen that over the last few days in the discussions at the Pacific Islands Forum. Competition between the United States and China is intensifying, and it is in no ones interest to see that escalate any further.
North Korea is showing no willingness to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions addressing its dangerous nuclear and missile programs. They had six launches in the last three weeks alone. Terrorist groups continue to seek footholds and opportunities to establish operational cells and networks of supporters in our region. We see an erosion of warning time – new threats, cyber, space and ballistic missile threats. And hybrid warfare, grey zone conflicts, are real and growing threats. This is why it is absolutely crucial for Defence to have the best workforce at its disposal to ensure that we have the skills and capability as a nation to counter these threats.
In light of the strategic environment we are now facing, I’ve given the senior leadership group of Defence three key challenges. Of course, the first priority is always our people and their safety and security while on operations. But the three priorities I have given them are this:
The first one is our strategy framework. Before we rush into a new Defence White Paper, I want to make sure that this strategy framework we have is suitable and fit for purpose for our current environment. And I suspect it’s not as agile and adaptive as it needs to be.
The second one is capability integration. We now have over 180 new capability projects – large and small. So the question is not only how do we deliver that capability in terms of the platforms themselves, but how do we integrate it so that we have a capability multiplier, and we are not just introducing capability for the sake of it. So that’s the second.
The third one is reforming our enterprise. We had the first principles review which I think has been very successful, and we have got ourselves to a point now where I see the first principles review as finished. But that has now got the Defence department to a point where it can start to reform itself. So getting rid of constant cycling through use of reforms and actually putting ourselves on a new pathway to transformation. Of course the discussions we are having here today must be included. But I still think there is a significant cultural gap, a lot of bureaucratic blocks, and some very unhelpful cultural perceptions within and external to the ADF on the reserves.
This is particularly so in Army. Before I address this in detail I want to share a little about how my service, has been an integral part of my story, and shaped who I am today. I think it’s thereason why now, I am in this job today. As a Senator and now as a Minister, I draw extensively on the skills, knowledge and experience the Army has provided me. Quite frankly, without my reserve service, I don’t think I would be standing here as Minister today. In my Army career I have served in every possible category and today I am proudly a Sercat 2. Sercat doesn’t really have a very great resonance to it but it’s a good start – I’ll talk about the framework further. The Army taught me how to plan, to manage, to lead teams, to look at problems and determine three viable courses of action. But importantly for this job now, it also taught me how to make decisions. I was also greatly shaped by those I served with, in reserves and also full time Army. And those, like it is for all of us, those friendships have endured.
Last month, when I visited our troops in the Middle East I saw just how capable our reserve members are and how seamlessly they are now “one Defence” members. I witnessed daily life on deployment. I listened to their achievements. I felt their passion for what they are doing and also I felt their pride in serving Australia – feelings that all of us in this room share. So it was a great privilege to spend time with our men and women on deployment. But during that visit, I realised how far the Army Reserves has come and the strong contribution they are now making to our total force.
When I was a Reservist, as the title implies, our role was still to backfill for the permanent members of the Australian Defence Force — the ‘regular’ members. Back then when I enlisted, we were still perceived as an expansion base. We were treated and spoken of as 2nd class soldiers, Chokkos. Back then, it wasn’t easy – and also being a woman and a reservist - it was a bit of a double whammy. Our role was not always clearly defined, and work was not always guaranteed or valued. There was a perception we were less valued, less committed and less skilled than regular forces. This is quite absurd and insulting. Reservists have to balance a heavy commitment to not only the military, but also their civilian employment and of course their family. As everyone here who has served part time would know how challenging that balance is.
Consider, for a moment, the service of Major General Jeffrey Rosenfeld who is here today. He’s a Professor of Surgery at Monash University, and a senior neurosurgeon. He is also a Reservist who has been on 8 deployments. He joined the Army Reserves the same year I did, back in 1984, and has served his country numerous times since — both at home and overseas. He is one of Australia’s most senior and experienced military surgeons. Look at his recent experience in Iraq. Back in 2017, he was a neurosurgeon at the 21st Combat Support Hospital during the Battle for Mosul. His expertise in battle-field trauma proved critical. For his service, he was awarded the prestigious United States Meritorious Service Medal. There is absolutely no question of his commitment. He has served and sacrificed, and he has saved lives. The skills he brings to Defence are life-saving, and so are the skills of all who serve in uniform.
Until recently, the ADF did not seriously seek to most effectively harness these skills. Reservists were a largely under-utilised resource. Both in terms of their military training and also the civilian skills they can bring to Defence. That is changing. But I don’t think it is changing fast enough. As I said, what I witnessed in the Middle East was Reservists and regular servicemen and women serving side-by-side, absolutely indistinguishable from one another. I was delighted by the number of Reservists currently deployed to the Middle East — around 108 people which is just under 10 percent of deployed personnel in the Middle East. 12,700 reservists have deployed in the last 20 years – a fact we should all celebrate and be enormously proud of.
This includes Rear Admiral Mark Hill, commander of ADF operations in the Middle East, and Brigadier Tim O’Brien, commander of Task Group Afghanistan, both of whom I met when I visited the Middle East. Both are doing an extraordinary job. The fact these Reservists are commanding more than 1,000 troops on deployment speaks volumes to the cultural change that is occurring. Today, Reservists are no longer Chokkos. They are now part of ‘One Defence’. But while we have got the policy, it hasn’t been fully implemented yet and we have a lot of work to do to get us to that point.
Last month marked three years since legislation was changed, and since key components of the Total Workforce Model were introduced in Defence. Defence has come a long way in these three years and recognises that there are immense workforce challenges on the horizon – but in fact it is not just Defence, we have to realise we are working in a very competitive market here in Australia and the skills sets that we are seeking are also highly desirable in industry right across Australia. Growth in the working-age population is slowing, most markedly among 18 to 24-years. Technological advances are changing the skills needed by the Defence Force, and ADF members — just like their civilian counterparts. The workforce is demanding more flexible careers and working arrangements and Reservists are seeking more opportunities to more equally serve. Nationally, competition for the workforce will only continue to intensify. That is why flexibility — greater choice and control — is at the heart of the Total Workforce Model.
When we see servicemen and women wearing the same uniforms and marching in unison, it is easy to perceive them as one and the same. But as we all know in this room, each of us as an individual has our own personal life circumstances and our own life choices to make. All deserve greater choice in how they serve in the Defence Force — choice that in theory the Total Workforce Model provides.
It allows servicemen and women of the Permanent Force to serve either full-time or part-time. Or now the combinations in between. Theoretically, it allows them to work patterns of service that better suit them and their families. It must, of course, also work for Defence, and the three services will have to be mindful of capability needs. But this flexibility, and realising this flexibility, is essential if Defence is to attract the right people — with the right skills and attitudes and experience — and then keep them throughout their careers as their life changes and career choices evolve.
The Government is investing $200 billion in defence capability, but I know, as all of you know, too often the focus has been on platforms themselves and not enough focus has been on delivering that capability. My fear is that without the reforms that you are considering here today, we will again deliver platforms, but we won’t have the people to actually deliver that capability. We need the right people to operate these new platforms and maximise capability. Skilled people. Creative people. Committed people. Open-minded people. Australians wanting to serve. It requires a more innovative and adaptive approach to workforce management — one that makes better use of the Total Workforce Model.
Throughout my days in the Army, what always astonished me was the sheer breadth of experience in reserves. Reservists come from all walks of life. Our reserve forces offer an incredible skill-base, and Defence knows it. But what we haven’t been very good at is actually realising and harnessing that capability. This new model, the Total Workforce Model – we might need to find a better way describing all the categories in this model – but it does provide a great opportunity. A good example of this is where permanent members opt to serve part-time, Reservists can be called upon to provide the needed capability and capacity. Likewise, in a more traditional role, when permanent members — known as Service Category 6 or 7 under the Total Workforce Model — are away from their units on training, exercise or deployment, Reservists — in Service Category 3 to 5 under the Total Workforce Model — can fill the capability gaps.
This workforce model promotes flexibility and maximises our people capability.
Also, last week, when I was visiting 2Div I met the Commanding Officer of 19th Chief Engineer Works who advised me of the great work the company is doing in integrating its part-time workforce. And it was wonderful to hear how part-time Sappers of 19th Chief Engineer Works, together with their full-time team mates, are part of an integrated workforce that is developing and delivering significant infrastructure projects both in Australia and across the Pacific region. To hear their passion with which they were talking about what they are delivering in a range of nations including Fiji, PNG and Vanuatu – it was wonderful. We must get some of these stories out there to the public.
In the future, Reservists will have more experience in uniform. They will also have greater access to skills development and career advancement. Which I think will make them all better soldiers, better sailors, and better airmen and women. Of course, the great challenge now is how do we make sure the Total Workforce Model actually works? The Total Workforce Model must succeed. We know this Model works – and I think Navy and Air Force in particular have embraced it and are doing some very good things. One example with the Air Force is it is now called the Total Workforce System – which is a good way to capture it. When Air Force undertakes planning, it considers all options for people capability — from Service Category 2 (known as SERCAT 2) through to Service Category 7 or SERCAT 7. It has even developed a range of tools to better align workforce demand with capability. We are also seeing the cultural mindset shift within Air Force.
Not that long ago, it would have been inconceivable for an Air Force firefighter to work part-time — after all, a crew cannot work with a member down. So it is no surprise that when Leading Aircraftwoman Alicia Channells had a baby last year, she thought she would have to give up her job as a RAAF firefighter. But when she spoke with her supervisor about her desire to work part-time, he suggested she transfer to SERCAT 6. So she did. Alicia is now what they call an ‘adaptive resource’ — that is, she is not attached to a crew. Instead, she steps in where needed. It is a win for everyone. Alicia can work part-time in a job she loves, and it gives crews and other team members an opportunity to do a course or have time off. This success speaks to Air Force’s positive attitude towards the Total Workforce System. It knows, in today’s world, Defence must make best use of capability.
It is a similar story in Navy. Recently, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan removed a differentiator that identified Permanent officers from Reserve officers. He simply got rid of the differentiator. He did so to reinforce that Navy is a total force, rather than two discrete components. And as we know here, an administrative move is a very powerful culture of signal within Navy. And the new Navy Future Workforce Branch, which began last month, will help Navy move forward as one workforce.
This brings me to Army. It could be argued that it has been relatively easier for Navy and Air Force to implement the Total Workforce Model, as the vast majority of their Reservists have been in the Permanent Force. As those in this room know, the Army Reserve history, structure culture is very different to both the Navy and Air Force. Some would even say the Army Reserve has been an institution in itself. With the majority of Army Reservists being ab initio members - like I was. Few have served in the regular Army. CA is absolutely committed to this transformation – but he cannot do it alone. Despite this, Army is slowly embracing the Total Workforce Model.
To this end, last month, Chief of Army issued a tasking directive required for Army to achieve its strategic tasks and directed outputs. It provided the framework for capability management. A key part of that framework is the implementation of the Total Workforce Model, to fully harness the whole workforce – but again there are some significant administrative and cultural challenges. And not just in separate full-time units and 2 Div units. Army already has highly effective integrated units, part- and full-time, and are expanding this model to other areas to strengthen the identity of One Army. The Total Workforce Model can also stop the revolving door of capability.
Each year, around 5,500 to 6,000 ADF members leave the permanent Defence Force. The majority of them — particularly soldiers — do not continue to serve. It is an appalling and unnecessary loss of capability. I hope across all the services we see more members transferring to SERCAT 3, 4 and 5 - reserve rendering service - rather than leaving the ADF. Not only to retain their skills and experience, but to utilise it in new ways.
The story of Flight Lieutenant Leo Hwang from Air Force is a great example of not only how the system can work not just within the services but now increasingly across services. Leo graduated from ADFA in 2007. Seven years later, his life was quite different. He had a family, and a fitness business. In 2015, he made the difficult decision to transition from the ADF and no longer serve full-time. Leo had a wealth of experience and knowledge – he had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, received a Meritorious Unit Citation. It’s a shame to lose that kind of experience — that capability. Lucky for Defence — and Leo — there was an opportunity for him to continue to serve, in the Army. Given his Air Force aviation engineering experience, he was offered a part-time job with the Army Aviation Branch, at Victoria Barracks as a SERCAT 3 member. Twice a week, he tests and evaluates drones and their impact on Army and Land Commanders — providing vital information for the Army. Right now, Leo’s story is unique. But in the years ahead, I hope it will become the new norm. I hope that Defence’s ‘normal’ workforce consists of full-time and part-time members — members from across the Service Spectrum.
I must say, I am particularly excited about the Service Options available within the Total Workforce Model. On the face of it, it sounds like something that is a bit hard to be excited about but I think it does provide great opportunities. Some of the new service options are game-changers, but SERVOP D is the most innovative. It’s where the ADF, partners with Industry - to share people. In particular those people that industry needs, but so does Defence. SERVOP D arrangements allow the creation of a dual employment arrangement. It is very possible under a SERVOP D for a person to be engaged as a reservist for 3 days a week and work the remainder of the week with a civilian employer. This is particularly important if Defence wishes to secure people with skills we so badly need. And it is with people we cannot retain permanently for a variety of reasons. This arrangement builds greater capacity and capability nationally between industry and Defence. So, in my discussions with industry, I’ll make sure they know about SERVOP D, and I will be encouraging them to enter into these agreements with Defence. Defence is also collaborating with industry and academia to build the high tech workforce required to meet Australia’s future capability requirements.
To grow our military capability in new ways we must meet the challenges of increased and changing threats. We still have the old threats, in fact they are increasing, but we have at least four major states who are now rogue. We have all the increasing new challenges, all of which needs a new workforce. We can only do this if we grow and change the composition of our workforce. We now need to make “one defence” work. Within Defence, we need to see greater mindset shifts and cultural changes — as well as administration and policy changes.
But the early success of the Total Workforce model is promising, and now we must redouble our commitment to its implementation. Your deliberations, outlined by Paul, will be critical in that and I very much look forward to hearing outcomes from today and working with the Opposition and others in parliament to make sure we can bring these changes through, and get rid of the roadblocks of which there are many.
Service is Service.
We have to recognise the contributions of our reserves and adapt to the 21st Century.
So thank you very much for what you are doing here today – and I look forward to working with you as we move forward to finally get rid of the difference between regular and reserves – so we never hear those words again. Full-time, part-time – they need to be words of the past.