4 September 2022
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people, and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land from which I am beaming to you today from, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past present and emerging.
As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation in the past and continue to do so today.
Thank you for the invitation to join you for the Defence Reserves Association 2022 National Conference.
For more than 50 years, the Association has been the voice of those Australians who seek to serve our country while also working in the private or public sector.
It’s the voice of one of the most incredibly diverse communities in Australia.
There are more than 31,200 active Reservists in the ADF.
They come from every corner of our country, from almost every profession and trade, and from every stage of working life, many of you with your own full-time ADF career experience as well.
They lend this Association a powerful voice in the policy debates around defence because you are focused on fostering greater involvement by Australians in the defence of our nation, and you help to focus Defence on making the best decisions in the interests of those who serve.
At this Conference, you’ve brought together Defence leaders from the public service, Army, Navy and Air Force, who are focused on our people at all stages of their journey in defence.
As Minister for Defence Personnel I work closely with them all - and not just around the desk in Canberra.
For instance, this past week, Major General Wade Stothart, the Head of People Capability, who is speaking to you later today, joined me in Western Australia for Veterans’ Employment Roundtables and visits to recruiting offices and Defence Member and Family Support in Perth and Rockingham, so that we could hear directly from those on the ground how our services are supporting our people. That means personnel, veterans and families.
I have also been meeting with personnel of all ranks, across the country, including Reserve elements like the 13th Brigade and the University Regiment, here in Perth.
Because the challenges we face in recruitment and retention look different from different parts of our country, we need to make sure we are really listening to what is happening on the ground.
I’m making it my mission to get around to as many bases as possible to talk to personnel working in Defence right now – so I can get a good grasp on what they’re experiencing every day and what things I, and our Government can do to best support personnel.
Our personnel are our greatest capability.
Without the people of defence we have but a collection of expensive museum pieces.
We must ensure we are supporting personnel and their families every step of the way.
And we need to work together, at pace, because the challenges we face will not wait for us.
Since 1969, when this Association was founded, our strategic environment has been transformed.
Indeed, the world we face in 2022 is more complex and challenging than at any time in the last 70 years.
Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine has once again brought war to Europe.
The world faces growing climate risks and enduring pandemic impacts, and the knock-on impacts of inflation, supply-chain shocks and de-globalisation.
Military build-up is occurring at a rate unseen since the Second World War, and the largest investment in new military capability is occurring in the Indo Pacific, led by China, unaccompanied by any transparency or reassuring statecraft.
The rules based order that has allowed sovereignty to flourish, peace to be the norm and economies to thrive is under unprecedented strain.
In the first 100 days of the Albanese government, our focus has been to deliver on our election promises, to work together with purpose and speed to make Australians safe and our country more secure.
We will make the prudent and necessary investments to transform the Australian Defence Force into one with more potent deterrent capabilities, commensurate with the strategic challenges we face.
The Albanese Government is committed to spending at least 2 per cent of GDP on Defence, including to enhance the Australian Defence Force with capabilities like long-range and precision strike weapons, offensive and defensive cyber, and area denial systems.
As we did in opposition, in Government we have committed to AUKUS and acquiring up to eight nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.
We will grow the Australian Defence Force in line with these new capabilities, and we will support our men and women to acquire the personal capability and skills they need to operate and optimise them in the service of our nation.
Fulfilling a commitment we made in opposition, the Government has established the Defence Strategic Review, and appointed two independent leads to conduct it in former Minister for Defence, Professor the Hon Stephen Smith, and the former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston (Ret’d).
It will look at what we need to do to ensure the Australian Defence Force is well positioned to meet our nation’s security challenges within and beyond this decade.
This will be a comprehensive review of how the ADF is positioned to deal with current and future strategic circumstances for Australia and the Indo-Pacific region.
The independent leads will present the Review and its recommendations to the Government for consideration in early 2023.
People trust that in the worst of times, the ADF will exemplify the Defence values of service courage, respect, integrity and excellence.
Over the four years from 2019 until 2022, the support of our Reserve members spanned from the Bushfire crisis of late 2019 to the COVID-19 pandemic response and support, and extended into the catastrophic floods that devastated the East Coast.
From COVID-19 Compliance checks, wayfinding at vaccination centres and logistics assistance to local charities in the form of food packing and deliveries, to delivering vaccines to indigenous communities;
From doorknocking communities ahead of bushfires, to mixing and filling fire retardant for aerial firefighting, to post-disaster recovery and infrastructure remediation ...
They saved lives, they saved homes, and they saved livelihoods.
And in a different example altogether – one that demonstrates the incredible versatility and talents and dedication to excellence that is embedded in our Reserves and in our Veteran community - in Newcastle, a team of Army engineers from the local Reserve unit worked with the Veteran-owned company 3ME technology to strip away the mechanical propulsion from a Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle and replace it with powerful electric drives.
It now accelerates up to four times faster than a standard Bushmaster, is almost silent, generates a much reduced heat signature - and it achieves zero carbon emissions.
The prototype, electric-powered Bushmaster went on display at the Chief of Army Symposium and is now being formally assessed for future land capabilities.
Australians owe a debt of gratitude to all our Reservists for their selfless service.
While preparing for conflict is central to Defence’s role, our nation’s security is not limited to protection against traditional threats.
COVID-19 taught us that oceans can’t isolate us from a global pandemic.
Ukraine has taught us that geography won’t protect us from the economic impact of Putin squeezing the supply of natural gas to try and coerce Europe.
Worldwide, expanding cyber and grey zone capabilities are blurring the line between peace and conflict.
Around the world, nations are grappling with the extreme weather events that are the consequence of a changing climate.
The question of where and how militaries engage in response to these challenges isn’t just a question for Australia.
To give you just one example, this year, while Australia’s Defence Force have been on the front lines during devastating floods, France’s Armed Forces have been on the front lines during their heatwaves and bushfires.
There is a need for balance and sustainability, as the theme of this Conference acknowledges; recognising the role of the ADF in providing acute response in times of crisis, maintaining operational readiness, maintaining morale, and the primacy of others dealing with the tales of such work.
We need to have a whole-of-nation understanding that our security and Defence Strategic Mobilisation is a whole-of-nation activity.
Defence is adopting a mobilisation planning approach that considers both Defence and contemporary whole-of-nation response requirements.
If Defence is to fulfil its mission of defending our nation and our national interests, it will need to do better at attracting personnel with the right attributes, skills and talents, and it will need to better at keeping them.
And it will need to keep on doing better, year on year, for many years ahead.
Workforce growth will occur across all states and territories, including capital cities and many regional areas of Australia.
It is still the case that many Defence recruits cite the experience of a family member or friend as a reason for joining up themselves.
It is fantastic that so many members are acting as role models for the people around them - showing by the way they live their lives that the ADF is a pathway to achieving a great career by serving our country.
But that doesn’t help us to reach out to new groups who may not know anyone who is a member of the ADF – either full or part time - and may not realise that our workforce is diverse, and happily growing even more diverse in line with the nation it serves.
And the people who influence career decision making – parents, teachers and career advisers - may not know either.
They may not know about our commitment to training, to ensure that every member – full or part time – is supported to reach their full potential.
They may not know the work is meaningful and the career experience is broad.
They may not know that when you work for the ADF – full or part time – your family is supported.
Recruitment has to get better - the Government knows it, and Defence knows it.
And retention needs to get better too.
After all, if we can cut the number of skilled people leaving the ADF, and keep more of the people we pay so much to train, the recruitment mountain we have to climb won’t be so steep.
We need targeted and collaborative action to inspire the workforce of the future, increase the number of people joining the ADF, and retain talent to ensure we can deliver Defence’s and our nation’s capability requirements.
And we need to work to ensure that veterans and their families are supported post-service to reach their full potential too.
A huge body of work is in train to innovate, to expand and enrich how we manage the people in our workforce, from the beginning of their service to the end and beyond, and I look forward to talking with you about it over the time ahead.
I know there are unique challenges in Reserve service, and there is often a balance to be struck between military service, civilian jobs and family commitments.
Whether it’s attracting or retaining personnel in the ADF, flexibility will be critical to the future.
Flexibility in adopting the suite of full-time, part-time and casual service arrangements.
Flexibility to move across and between ADF, civilian and industry roles.
And flexibility to return, after you leave.
The Total Workforce System is designed to encourage people to stay in the ADF for longer, and to move across service categories, which will benefit both the service and the individual.
I am also looking closely at the current services that are available to Reservists and their families, through Defence Member and Family Support Branch, and the services that support Reservists through their transition to family life.
From the 1st of March this year, all Reserve Service Categories can access Transition support services.
As at 31 July 2022, there have been a total of 234 Reserve Transition cases managed by the Reserve Transition Centre
Members can reach back into Defence via the ADF Post-Transition Survey to access additional support and information from their Transition Coach for up to 24 months post-transition.
The Defence Member and Family Helpline which operates 24/7 is also available for transitioned members, including Reservists.
Modern reservists remain an integral part of our military, ready to step up in response to any challenge and in defence of our national interests.
I am keen to hear from you about ways the Government can do better to support potential reservists to join the ADF, to participate fully and to transition to civilian life if that is their ambition.
A critical part of improving the lives of our serving personnel, veterans and their families is examining, with care and compassion, the issue of defence and veteran suicide.
The Government welcomes the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
It is a very important report, and we are carefully considering all the recommendations.
I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank all members of this Association and their families who have come forward to tell their stories to the Royal Commission.
I know that coming forward and sharing your experience hasn’t been easy, but it will help us to understand how we can better help members and their families in the future.
If you have a story to tell please come forward and tell it – you will be supported and protected.
The Royal Commission is undertaking vital work examining systemic issues and common themes in deaths by suicide of current and former ADF members and their families.
The rate of veteran suicide in Australia is a national tragedy, and it is a rate that is significantly higher than across the general Australian population.
It is devastating that Australia has lost more serving and former serving personnel to suicide than it has lost through operations over the last 20 years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is an important opportunity to strengthen our approach to the mental health and welfare of ADF personnel, veterans and indeed their families into the future.
It is work I am personally committed to, and will keep talking about, as we chart a path to a better future.
We will formally be responding to the recommendations of the report soon.
I was recently told of one incredible example of the work of 41 Battalion of the Royal New South Wales Regiment – a Reserve Regiment - during NSW FLOOD ASSIST.
A house was hit by a land slip, trapping people inside.
The Rescue agencies turned to the ADF and in a matter of minutes they had planned and had volunteers boarding a helicopter.
They flew into the area, dug out the trapped individuals and assisted in medical treatment so they could be evacuated.
As the weather deteriorated, they stayed overnight on the ground with minimal equipment, keeping themselves and remaining members of the public safe until another rescue helicopter could be sent.
It is a living example of the way that Reserves exemplify the best of what it means to be Australian.
On behalf of the Australian Government, I want to thank the members of the Defence Reserve Association for the work you do to support Australian Reservists, to help grow our Reserve workforce, and to help ensure the ADF is in the best possible position to defend Australia and its interests.
I wish you all the best for a most successful Conference.