6PR Perth Mornings with Sean Cowan

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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4 January 2024

SUBJECTS: ADF Continuation Bonus, Defence Recruitment and Retention, Parliamentary behavior

HOST, SEAN COWAN: Matt Keogh is the acting Defence Minister. Good morning, Matt.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: Good morning, Sean, great to be with you.

SEAN COWAN: Look, thanks for joining us. I wanted to ask you today about the, what looks like an extraordinarily generous $50,000 payment to ADF personnel. Can you tell us how that works?

MINISTER KEOGH: So basically, this is a continuation bonus which is paid to our Defence Force personnel who sign up after their initial service obligation for a further period of time in the Defence Force to make sure that we can retain them because what we find is, we need to make sure after we've invested so much in training our Defence Force members, we don't want to lose them. We don't want them to leave. And so this is an incentive for them to stay in the Defence Force after their initial service obligation period.

SEAN COWAN: So Matt, I'm assuming that indicates that we did have a fairly serious retention problem because you know, $50,000 is very attractive and I imagine is some sort of carrot for ADF personnel.

MINISTER KEOGH: So what we have seen over the last few years really coming out of COVID has been an uptick in the rate at which people have been leaving the Defence Force. Now that's starting to come down now, which is really good. But what we found is that in those sort of junior to middle ranks and experience within the Defence Force, that's where we start to see people leave and we get a bit of a hollowness at that level. And so this is designed to keep people in for a longer period of time. So by signing up for a further three years, after the initial service obligation period, they get the $50,000 bonus.

SEAN COWAN: So do they have to formally sign up to and agree to that at the start of that extension, or is this something that they can sort of do the extra three years and then claim it at the end? Or how does that process work?

MINISTER KEOGH: Yeah, so there's a career conversation between each Defence Force member, their chain of command and career management around where that Defence Force members is intending to go after they finish their initial service obligation period, and they become eligible at the beginning for that $50,000 on the basis that they sign up for a further three year obligation of service, and so that gives them certainty, they get that money up front, and the Defence Force has the certainty of having those people signed up for a further three years in the Defence Force and we've had a really good uptake of people interested in taking up these bonuses, so of the 1,991 eligible people 721 have already accepted the offers. There are further offers going out now we've seen sort of like over 80 per cent uptake of people eligible taking this up and of the people who haven't taken it up, about half of those are still staying in the Defence Force, they're just not signing up for the full three year commitment. They may end up staying on longer anyway, but various family circumstances or whatever else, they just haven't signed up for that three year obligation, but it's really great that we're seeing that uptick now with the bonus.

SEAN COWAN: So a couple of procedural things there I suppose. If you're saying people are staying on despite not claiming the bonus, there's no way they can claim it in retrospect if they do stay on for that three years?

MINISTER KEOGH: No you can’t, the idea is that you get the payment if you sign up and give that commitment to the three years but various people have different circumstances in their life and their family circumstances they haven't wanted to sign on, but they are staying on the Defence Force and that's a really good sign too and it shows the positive experience that people have when they're a member of our Defence Force.

SEAN COWAN: And the other side of that equation if you sign up for three years and then pull the pin after one or two because of some changing circumstance, I'm assuming you're going to have to repay that money?

MINISTER KEOGH: There's a conversation that has to be had about what are the circumstances that led to that person deciding to leave within that period or being able even able to leave within that period and that's why we have these, when you first sign up that initial service obligation, and that varies in length, depending on the training involved and what sort of role you've signed up for in the Defence Force. And then this is a further three year service obligation that the Defence Force member would have and this complements a range of programs that we have for specific roles at specific levels within the Defence Force to ensure that we maintain that capability because when it comes down to it, ultimately, it's our people that are our most important capability within the Defence Force and we need to keep them. 

SEAN COWAN: And of course we're going to need more and more in the coming years with the AUKUS deal kicking in and not just Defence Force, but we're going to need people, civil contractors and the like to ramp up to build these new vessels. Now what's going on in that sector to try to fill some of the gaps?

MINISTER KEOGH: So we're really leaning in on the recruitment end of Defence as well, because as you say we need to grow our Defence Force and AUKUS is a key part of that, and particularly here in Western Australia, which is where our submarine base is. And so, we now have a new recruitment partner Adecco that we're working with, we're shortening the period of time that it takes to recruit somebody because that had blown out to around 300 days from when somebody tried to sign up to the Defence Force to when we actually enlisted them, which is terrible. We're getting it down to 100 days with the new partner Adecco. We're going to try and shorten that even further in the near future as well so we're not losing people because they go and find some other job for example, and we're doing things that improve the overall value proposition that is signing up to the Defence Force. So in addition to things like this continuation bonus after your initial service obligation, we've also improved the amount of health care and service that family members can get through Defence Health. We've expanded the training options and the learning and study options within Defence for people who are looking to further their own study and improvement for whilst they're in Defence or maybe for when they do at some point leave Defence as well so that's a more attractive proposition. We've improved things like the Defence housing mortgage assistance scheme, we've expanded the eligibility on that, and we're doing a review on Defence housing right now to improve that offer. So we're doing a whole range of things that improve what it's like for someone in Defence, not just for them, but for their family, as well as making sure that we're out there, getting the recruiting system working much better. And we'll be rolling out a range of new advertising campaigns around ADF careers over the course of this year, as well.

SEAN COWAN: Matt, why 300 days? That seems an extraordinarily long amount of time to get someone in the door?

MINISTER KEOGH: Your shock was matched by mine. This is what I found when I came in as the new Minister in the middle of last, middle of 2022, and went how on earth does it take this long, and that's why there's been this movement to a new recruitment partner in Adecco and there's a requirement on them to get that down to 100 days but we're also working with them on how can we make that even shorter again, and how can we make sure that when we're recruiting, we recognise the huge diversity of the different roles in the Defence Force and the people are aware of those when we're advertising, but also, not all of those roles are roles that get sent overseas or on the front line. Some of them are very much sort of back office strategic or cyber work, things of that nature, where we're not sending you overseas. Some of that best work is done in a dark basement with someone wearing a hoodie. And that's a really important part of modern warfare and we don't need those people to meet combat infantry health requirements, for example, and we need to make sure that we get those settings right. There's more people we can recruit that currently, we exclude from being able to be recruited so that we can get the right people in for the right roles.

SEAN COWAN: And Matt what are you doing in terms of increasing that, that civil construction workforce because we know that massive numbers are required over the next few years to carry out our end of the AUKUS deal and I know, there's some concerns in industry about how the hell we're going to ramp that up.

MINISTER KEOGH: Yeah, look, this is a great opportunity for not just the country but for Western Australia in particular, because there's a whole heap of work that's going to be happening down at Garden Island, that's going to be happening in Henderson. And that's going to require a lot of existing skill sets like construction, as you say, and civil engineering and all of those things, as well as the newer skills that are going to be required to support hosting nuclear powered submarines, and our submarine base and so we're working in with the State Government here in Western Australia about how do we support TAFE roles, training, making sure that people in high schools know about the options for STEM training and how they can see a career in in the AUKUS arrangements whether that's in the Defence Force, or in industry supporting the AUKUS arrangements, as well. And of course, critical to that is our fee-free TAFE places which we made a commitment to at the last election and well exceeded we're now rolling out over 300,000 fee-free TAFE places so that people are encouraged and incentivised and can see hey, there's great jobs here - we will train you, that'll be free, and you can see the pipeline of work. And this is something I'd really like to emphasise to people just think of the multi-decade pipeline of work in civil construction, in supporting nuclear propelled submarines in the new technologies and STEM roles that will be available right here in WA as a result of AUKUS.

SEAN COWAN: And finally Matt, a question without notice. We are going to be discussing the worst behaved MPs in Federal Parliament this morning. I've had a look through the list which has been published on WA Today, you don't appear, you haven't been ejected at any point. But really interestingly, there's only one WA MP who's been ejected while he's been elected. What does that say about us? Are we a bit docile or something?

MINISTER KEOGH: Ahh look, it probably speaks to our more refined characteristics here in Western Australia. Also, probably shouldn't be lost on people that despite our obvious, very clear political differences across the aisle, and we've got very good reasons for those disagreements, we all have to get on the one plane that goes to Canberra on a Sunday. And so we also have to get on well with each other and I think, to be honest, and you know I do a regular spot on 6PR with Andrew Hastie, I think that people expect that politicians can get on with each other and we have the fights over the things that we should be fighting about, but that we're all working together in the national interest and I think obviously Western Australians do a pretty good job of that.

SEAN COWAN: Just don't get in Andrew’s way if he's gotta get back into the Chamber in a hurry! Matt thank you very much for your time.


SEAN COWAN: Matt Keogh there, the Acting Defence Minister, so what do you make of that? 133 882… Would you take 50 grand to stay on your job for another three years?


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