Assistant Minister for Defence - Launch of Project Suakin by Stuart Robert at HMAS Harman

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The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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26 November 2013


Minister Stuart Robert, MP, Assistant Minister for Defence, Air Marshal Binskin, Acting Chief of the Defence Force, representatives of Chief of Navy, Chief of Army, Chief of Air Force and Deputy Secretary of Defence People, ladies and gentlemen.

In Australia and around the world defence forces are facing the challenge of attracting and retaining quality people in an environment of drawdown from operations, constrained budgets, diverse capability changes ranging from the lowest end to the highest end and serious competition for a shrinking and restricted pool of labour.

To meet these challenges Defence needs to be able to use all of its people, permanent and reservists in an economical and flexible manner to generate all the capability effects expected of it by government. And to do so it needs to position itself as an employer of choice by responding to the aspirations of its people, of its reservists that contribute more and of its permanent service men and women for more flexible career structures because we know that they will serve longer if they are afforded that flexibility. The Australian Defence Force's responses to these challenges is Project Suakin and to launch Project Suakin it is my privilege to introduce the Minister Mr Robert.


Well good morning and thank you for coming out on what is a beautiful sunny day out here in HMAS Harman to launch Project Suakin. Now don't be deceived by Army's First Battle Honour in terms of Suakin, it is a whole of ADF initiative. If I think back 25 years ago when I first joined the military there was one way to serve and one way only and unless you fitted into that cookie cut of model of serving, it was very, very difficult to get a full wholesome career within the Defence Force. And times have changed in 25 years.

The Defence Force competes in a wide open market with the very best talent we could possibly get from across the country and indeed in terms of our lateral transfers across the world. We do it because we are a small elite defence force. We want to apply a disproportionate strategic effect in the battle space to overcome our small size, through our potent force. And the only way we can do that is by having the finest people our nation can bring to the fore. That's my priority, that's the Government's priority. How do we get, how do we retain, how do we develop, how do we encourage, how do we promote the finest young Australians to become the finest Australian Defence Force that we possibly can.

And this is the genesis in the birth of Suakin. A genesis that has input from over 10,000 of our finest in uniform. To say what do you want in terms of a workforce structure, what works for you, how do you want to interact with the military at a younger age when you first come in, perhaps when you get married, have children, perhaps when there's a desire to do something in a civilian workforce and perhaps then come back into the military to service once more? What does a workforce structure look like for you? And a lot of that input, a lot of the survey work, a lot of the 90-odd focus groups have got over 160-odd submissions and work that has come in, all of that has informed what we're launching today in terms of Suakin. Because we do compete in an open market for the best talent Australia has got and I can see from looking around that that's going exceptionally well. We are getting the finest crop of Australians our country can provide for us. But we need to provide each and everyone of you more and more flexible options to allow you to continue to serve.

The Government expects a wide range of capability from our Defence Force. A sheer look at our operational tempo for the last decade gives a glimpse through the window of the capability that government seeks to be applied on a battlefield. But to do that we will need a far more flexible workforce that can generate the right course at the right time that as much as possible fits in to the flexibility requirements of our people. So in conjunction with a whole range of other service initiatives the whole of defence workforce model is about enhancing people's opportunities to choose, enhancing their ability to serve and positioning the ADF as the employer of choice.

Every survey that's done from the Lowy Institute to some of our most respectable survey institutions show that in terms of reputation and the organisations within the Australian community that have the highest reputation, the ADF is always on top. Always on top. The organisation the Australian people look to in crisis is the Australian Defence Force. The organisation that people think is the most esteemed and the most respected is the Australian Defence Force and you've all worked exceptionally hard to achieve that great standing in the community. Now is the opportunity to have a whole of workforce planning model to enable people to stay to provide that flexibility that families can enjoy and to further enhance that reputation.

The good thing about Suakin is it's been shaped not just by permanent members of the ADF but the reservists as well. It's responded to a whole range of research and consultation. It's responded to the willingness of reservists who want to do more and more in terms of service to their country and of course ADF members who are looking for greater career flexibility.

At the heart is the more extensive use of less than continuous full time service. How do we enhance our policies, our procedures the way we do business, to provide an employment environment that builds on an ADF member's or civilian's career and provides better planning.

Now like all things in the Defence Force it will take time. It will be wonderful if we put in place a model that achieves all of these aspirations at once but it will take some time. But our hope, our dream and our plan is to provide a structure that works for the majority of us whilst retaining our operational edge, that provides an advantage in retaining our people because our people want to stay because not only is the Defence Force an exciting and exacting and tough career, but it's also one that meets the various needs and aims as they move through their life - if we can do that and I'm incredibly confident we can and I'm committed to ensuring we are able to, I think we will end up with a far better more capable, more potent and more flexible defence force.

So it's great to be able to be here to launch Suakin with the VCDF and of course General Brereton and I look forward to the VCDF's comments in terms of the next phase.


Good morning everyone, it's great to be back on navy soil again. Thank you for the people coming this morning. I know that we've drawn a few people from around Canberra to be here to listen to this and be able to ask questions. A particular thank you to Australia’s Federation Guard for coming across - appreciate that.

It's a bit of a mix. For the older members that are here today what we're about to launch and what we're talking about here is probably a career framework that you wished you had available to you throughout your careers. For me the younger folk and some of the intermediate folk it will be the future for the framework within which you will work and for that reason it's very important I think you get a chance to understand where we're going with Suakin, but more importantly you get the chance to help shape it. And that's what the aim of this launch is is to make everyone aware that we're still trying to design Suakin and we're still trying to look at what we need to implement and to do that we need to talk to a lot of people that are currently members, whether they be permanent members or reserved members.

As we always say people are our greatest capability - there is no doubt. Our Defence Force is based on being a quality force not a quantity force. So therefore we need to get the most out of our people. And with that, that's why we're looking at the framework that Suakin is going to give us.

Now Suakin has been endorsed by the Chiefs of Services Committee which is good. The three service chiefs are on board with this. What they see is the ability to bring together an over-arching framework that the three services can work under. Now we all know we've had flexible workplace policies out there for a while. The issue has been the policies are there, how do we handle it, how do we make it all happen. So what we're looking to do here is have a common framework across all the services.

We're looking to be able to provide a full time, part time, and casual service options for members and for the capability managers, the chiefs. We're looking at considering the remuneration and supports to these various service categories. We're looking at streamlining transfer processes to allow the potential for people to seek work across the various service categories. And we're looking at optimising where needed and where practical the management policies, procedures, and the systems to be able to support this framework. It's no good having a framework in place unless you can use it and you can manage it.

And we're commissioning the portal ForceNet system where we can have the connectivity, not just with reserve members, but that will open up more for permanent members as well over the coming years, and we're also using ForceNet to be able to develop a portal for families to come in and be connected as well, which is a new initiative and we're working very closely with Defence Families Australia on that.

Now, as I said before, to support the delivery of Suakin, we're looking to be able to get out and discuss with members. I think the Minister mentioned there'd been 90 focus groups. There have been a lot of discussions around the place on designing this. I see that we're still going to have to have those discussions going with the services, with the members in the service, both permanent and reserve, to be able to set up these service categories and make sure we get the most out of them and that they are practical for us to use.

The intention is still, though - and I want to emphasise this - it gives the ability for the service chiefs to be able to manage their workforce as they need. What we see with Suakin is it gives them a better framework to be able to get the most out of the people that they have in the services. And as many may know, as we've signed up more and more on the flexible workplace framework that Suakin meets many of the recommendations that came out of the Broderick review of 2012 into - investigation into conditions within the ADF.

But what I will say, and I'll emphasise what the Minister said, and we've heard a number of times, is this will take time. This is not something that's just going to get rolled out between now and Christmas, which, for those parents here will know is only a month away, this is going to take time because we want to get it right and we want to make sure we set the focus for the future, and we have a framework that is quite enduring there to get the most out of the people that we have in the Defence Force, the most out of the reservists, so that we can have that permanent, that part time, and that casual service.

So again, thank you very much for being here today and we look forward to being able to take some questions. Thank you.


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