ABC Radio RN Breakfast with Sally Sara

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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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5 January 2024

SUBJECTS: ADF Continuation Bonus, Defence Recruitment and Retention

HOST, SALLY SARA: We're joined by Matt Keogh, the Acting Defence Minister and of course, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs. Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: Good morning, Sally. Great to be with you.

SALLY SARA: Matt Keogh, $50,000, it's a big bonus, do you think it will be enough to do the job?

MINISTER KEOGH: We think it's certainly going to have an impact and is having an impact on keeping people in our Defence Force longer, and we're very positive, we're very pleased to see the feedback that we've been getting on making this continuation bonus available to our Defence Force personnel in keeping them in the Defence Force and continuing to contribute to our national security and national interest.

SALLY SARA: The Defence Force Strategic Review, of course, released late last year found that 10 per cent of the ADF leave the force every year, what's the data and the research telling you about why people want to get out of the Defence Forces?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, there are many different reasons why people seek to leave service in the Defence Force. And as you can imagine, some of those are related to family circumstances, and different career opportunities that may present to them. And what we are trying to do here is to improve the attractiveness for Defence Force personnel to stay in for a further three years after they finished their initial service obligation. And so this complements a range of other things that we've also been doing like expanding family health benefits, expanding the scope of the study assistance schemes, improving higher duties allowances and travel policies, making sure that service in the Defence Force is as attractive as possible to people. And recognising where we're seeing a spike in people leaving in this sort of junior to mid ranked area, people coming off their initial service obligation, that there's a real incentive to stay by providing this continuation bonus.

SALLY SARA: What about the bigger issue with the competitive job market at the moment, not only for those who are going through general enlistment, but those who are going in as Officers, some of the young people who have very strong academic sporting and leadership records, there's a lot of competition out there for those young people.

MINISTER KEOGH: There absolutely is, and certainly in this very low unemployment environment that we're confronting at the moment that is having a serious impact on our capacity to attract people to join the Defence Force in the first place, and to keep them in the Defence Force as well. And as you would imagine, having a Continuation Bonus like this becomes a factor that those people consider when they're looking at, you know, what they are obtaining and what they receive when they're in the Defence Force. And it's working to keep them in the Defence Force when they look at those other options. But it's also great that we're able to see that for our Defence Force Members when they do choose to leave, that they do have good employment prospects after their time in Defence, because that sets them up for success as a veteran once they've left the Defence Force. But critically, providing this bonus provides a real incentive for them to stay for further three years.

SALLY SARA: Minister, we’ve seen a lot of coverage of problems with defence procurement and equipment, how much frustration is there amongst members of the ADF in delays of getting the equipment that they need, and also, in some cases, not having enough personnel to crew ships or to crew and manage and operate the equipment that we have?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well certainly the historic issues that we confronted coming into Government when it came to capability acquisition, making sure that our Defence Force had the kit that it needs has been a huge frustration for people. And of course, we're going through a process as a result of the Defence Strategic Review now, where we are prioritising, the getting the equipment that we actually need to meet the strategic environment that we now face, which of course, is focused on our region, and looking at things like AUKUS, guided weapons systems, that does mean a refocus in the type of equipment. And I'm sure everyone would understand that when people work in an environment where they feel that they are understaffed, that puts more pressure on people that are working there. And that can create its own retention issues as well, which is why we're making this focus to make sure that we're able to grow the Defence Force in a way that we need, that we're able to resolve this hollowness that we inherited, coming into Government so that we don't, we're not creating additional pressures, on our Defence Force Members by not having enough people to do the work that they need to do.

SALLY SARA: Australia, of course, has signed a partnership with Tuvalu. What about looking at some of the options to bring in recruitment from Pacific nations? We know that, for example, in the British services, they have Commonwealth citizens serving, what about looking to the Pacific? Is that an option you would consider?

MINISTER KEOGH: So, we are looking at a range of options about how we can grow our Defence Force. And that includes looking at how we can use our relationships with our friendly countries, countries that we're friendly with not just in our region, but around the globe. But doing it in a way in partnership with those countries. Because as you would appreciate, we want to make sure that they have good workforces themselves are able to sustain their own Defence Forces. But we are certainly looking at all options that we need to look at in terms of how we can grow our Defence Force. And that includes looking at how we might be able to grow it from friendly forces from other countries and looking at opportunities for people to come to Australia, or who are already in Australia, from other countries to join our Defence Force. And that's a process we need to work through. Because as I'm sure people would appreciate issues like citizenship, background checks, vetting are also important about who we allow to join our Defence Force.

SALLY SARA: How live is that option at the moment? How far have you progressed in having a look at whether that's feasible?

MINISTER KEOGH: It's certainly an issue that we've been working through. It's something that with the presentation of the Defence Strategic Review last year that we have started to look at very seriously. But there are a number of issues that need to be worked through, as I said, there's things like citizenship, things like security vetting for people, how do we address those issues in a consistent way in a way that doesn't cause detriment to other countries, if we're to go down those pathways, but also one that provides us with access to the sort of capabilities we need. People would appreciate modern Defence Forces, very technically complicated pieces of equipment. So we're trying to grow in areas of STEM, in areas of cyber, in areas of quite complex technicality. It's not just, I think, what people used to think of a Defence Force, and we need to make sure we've got access to the right sort of people, the people that are able to bring what we need to our Defence Force as well.

SALLY SARA: And just so I'm understanding what you're talking about, I was talking about the Pacific. But it sounds like Minister, you're even looking perhaps a little bit wider at other countries beyond the Pacific as possibilities even though this process at the moment still in its early stages.

MINISTER KEOGH: Certainly, we're looking at the Pacific. But we're also looking more broadly than that, because we recognise the importance of growing our Defence Force. But this is one of a number of things that we are looking at, obviously, the Continuation Bonus, we've moved on quite quickly, we announced that as part of the last Budget. And that's been a process that's been rolling out and those funds have now started being paid those bonuses this year. And that complements work we're doing in Defence Force Recruiting, it complements the work that we've, as I was talking about before improving the overall attractiveness of being in the Defence Force. And we're also looking at issues like the one you mentioned, how can we attract people, potentially from other countries that are in Australia to join our Defence Force as well.

SALLY SARA: When do you think a decision would be likely on whether the Pacific or other nations might be an option for recruitment for Defence Force? Would that be within this term of government?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, I'm not going to get into timings of those things. There's a lot of issues that we need to work through. As I say, that's just one of the things that we're looking at to see whether that is a viable course of action, as you say, other countries look at that. We already have ways in which we allow for what we call lateral transfer, people moving say, from the UK, Royal Navy, or from the United States or Canada, other countries, friendly countries, Defence Forces that have got experience in the Defence Force will come, and do come, and join our Defence Force already, looking at how can we expand the scope of those sorts of things in a way that of course is consistent with our ongoing good relations with those countries and their Defence Forces as well.

SALLY SARA: Would we be trying to poach?

MINISTER KEOGH: That's exactly what I'm getting at in terms of doing it in a good way. We're not trying to poach, just as I tell Defence industry, I very much appreciate them employing our veterans, but they're not to poach people out of Defence. Similarly, I don't think anyone wants us poaching people out of their Defence Forces. But when people come and visit Australia on maybe a Royal Navy ship or a submarine and they pop up in Perth, I'm sure the attractiveness of coming to work in Australia is pretty self-evident as well.

SALLY SARA: I need to ask you about one final issue and that is we've had many stories Minister about concerns about the ADF being very top heavy in comparison to comparable forces, we have a large number of very high level commanders, compared to the number of troops, are you going to address that issue so that we've got personnel in the right areas rather than having this top heavy structure?

MINISTER KEOGH: So certainly, one of the initiatives we took last year was the creation of a Chief of Personnel, which was one of these senior officers. But the purpose there is to look at making sure we are able to make sure we've got the right personnel in the right roles across the Defence Force, across all three services. But one of the key things about the way we operate our Defence Force is that it is an integrated force. That's something that also has come out of the Defence Strategic Review. And it's consistent with what's been happening for a long time in Defence, where we have most of our operations are conducted on a joint basis across the three services. That means there are senior officers from all three services filling roles in joint operations and in joint capability areas…

SALLY SARA: But our ratios are way out of whack compared to other services, would you concede that?

MINISTER KEOGH: I've certainly seen the statistics that have been put out there by some other Members of Parliament looking at that. And I'm aware of that, but it also is a function of the way in which we conduct our joint operations. And I think what's most critical, and that's what this Continuation Bonus is about, and it's what our recruiting efforts are about is making sure that we're filling the gaps that we see that we're making sure that we are able to grow our Defence Force in the way that we need to. And that's the important effort that we're undertaking. And of course, as we do that, as we grow our Defence Force, as we make sure that we've got the people we need in the areas that we need them as a priority areas that would that will see that ratio adjust as we go through that process. And that's what things like this Continuation Bonus, improving the attractiveness of staying in Defence and recruiting more people will do.

SALLY SARA: Matt Keogh, time is against us unfortunately, thank you for joining us. I know it's an early start for you from the West. So thank you very much.

MINISTER KEOGH: Thanks Sally, great to be with you.

SALLY SARA: That's Matt Keogh, Acting Defence Minister, of course, Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans Affairs.



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