Radio Interview, 6PR Perth Radio

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Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Media contact

Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

Release content

4 June 2024

SUBJECTS: ADF Opens Recruitment to Non-Australian Citizens; NZYQ; Estimates – Speechwriter in DSS

HOST, GARY ADSHEAD: OK, let's get into this issue though where there's been a decision now of the Federal Government which is in and around Defence recruitment. It's a big decision. Let's see how they arrived at it and that is to start recruiting people who come from – they're not citizens of Australia but they are permanent residents of Australia and they come from countries like New Zealand and Canada and so on. Let's have a chat now to the Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh who joins me on the line. Thanks very much for your time Minister.


GARY ADSHEAD: Well so I suppose the obvious question is how do we get to a situation where we can't recruit enough personnel ourselves?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well the key thing is the economic circumstances we find ourselves in. We've had record low unemployment for some time now that makes it very difficult as a recruiting environment and so we're in recognition of that doing a lot of things to expand our recruitment of Australian citizens but in order to make sure that we can grow a Defence Force that we need in the strategic circumstances we face, we're now going to also be open to recruiting permanent residents that have been in Australia for at least one year but you know they've already shown a commitment to Australia. It'll give them a fast track to citizenship but of course they've also got to meet all the usual security and vetting requirements as well. 

GARY ADSHEAD: So in other words once they sign up then they do have to go through a process of becoming a citizen as well or not necessarily? 

MINISTER KEOGH: They do and so part of the eligibility for this process is as I said permanent resident, been here for over a year, would otherwise be eligible for citizenship, got to meet the security vetting requirements. Once someone has served 90 days in our Defence Force they are then eligible for citizenship and then these people would need to take out or apply for that citizenship.

GARY ADSHEAD: Alright so New Zealand I know is the first cab off the rank and that's from July this year, that's quick. 

MINISTER KEOGH: That's right. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Just explain how many years. So you know that there's obviously a lot of Kiwis that live here that are not citizens so how do you encourage them to join our Defence Force all of a sudden? 

MINISTER KEOGH:  So we've actually had a lot of interest from Kiwis for a long period of time to join the Australian Defence Force and recently we made changes to make it easier for Kiwis that have already been here for some time to be able to become Australian citizens because previously it was actually very hard for a New Zealander to become an Australian citizen despite how easy it was to come to Australia. 

But this then opens it up for those who have been a permanent resident for one year here in Australia. We'll be communicating that through our normal Defence Force recruiting channels which most people don't see because it's largely targeted around social media. We're targeting younger members of society obviously for Defence Force recruiting but you also see the ads and everything else but we're making it clear on the website from today all that information there about this expanded eligibility. 1 July for New Zealanders, 1 January for other permanent residents to be able to apply. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Just so people understand what was the reason that's existed previously to stop anyone from New Zealand for example or Canada if they were residents here from actually signing up to our Defence Force? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So the Australian Defence Force has been operating under a policy that was only citizens could join our Defence Force and so that's the policy that we're expanding that out, recognising that if you serve in our Defence Force for 90 days you are actually eligible to become a citizen but also recognising that we want to make sure that we're in expanding this eligibility pool because Australia does have a large number of permanent residents that these are people that have already shown a commitment to Australia. They're already in Australia. This is not a migration pathway. This is a fast track if you like to citizenship to expand the pool of people eligible to join our Defence Force and we need to grow our Defence Force given the strategic circumstances that we are now facing. 

GARY ADSHEAD: And what would still make them ineligible though? I mean just because they are a PR but from New Zealand what would make them ineligible? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So they can't have served in a foreign Defence Force in the previous two years. They have to have 10 years of provable history for the purposes of normal security vetting and that applies to an Australian citizen as well. They've got to meet the obviously character test, they've got to be a fit and proper person and that looks at people's backgrounds and criminal histories and all of those sorts of things that would normally apply to an Australian citizen we also bet will be vetting for permanent residents as well. 

GARY ADSHEAD: And so New Zealanders, Canadian, UK, US, Pacific Islanders, when would all of that start to come into play, the other categories? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So, New Zealand from 1 July and all other countries from 1 January. 

GARY ADSHEAD: All right. And what are you hoping to achieve with it in terms of targets? I remember, I think it was probably a year or so ago, there was talk of the need for an extra 18,500 by 2040. Is that what you're trying to get to? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So, what we're looking at from this particular initiative will be an increase in recruitment of about 350 a year. But of course, this is just one initiative that we're undertaking about expanding our recruitment and also increasing our retention. And I'm happy that our retention initiatives mean that we are now back at a level of retention that is the same as the long-term average we've had across the Defence Force. It had spikes that we were losing more people. That's now come down. So, that's a really good thing. We've also made changes to the physical and medical requirements for joining the Defence Force. That's about modernising the requirements that were there. Some of them were quite out of date. Some of them were using American tests instead of Australian tests. We had circumstances where if you had acne, you weren't allowed to join the Defence Force. If you'd broken a bone as a child, you automatically weren't able to join the Defence Force. Obviously, there's some things that would require further testing or analysis, but just having these blanket bands, removing that, we'll see an additional 2,000 people able to go through the recruitment pipeline. So, these are initiatives that all add up on top of each other to create a situation where we're able to start growing the Defence Force in the way that we need. 

GARY ADSHEAD: You talked about a couple of issues there that would preclude you before. What about, I mean, I remember someone, you know, peanut allergy, they got ruled out on. 

MINISTER KEOGH: Yeah, so, these are the sorts of things we need to look at and these policies have been updated for. And it also, as you would appreciate, if we're going to put you out on the front line and you've got a condition that requires regular medication and that supply line might get cut off, that's a problem. But equally, there are so many roles now that are not front line roles. They could be hoodie in a basement type roles, or they could be always based in Australia type roles, or they're going to be in a forward base that will always have good supply lines. Then we can address that with each of those role types and that's what modernising these health policies is about. So, we can bring in more people where there's no realistic reason to have to exclude them. 

GARY ADSHEAD: What about fitness scenarios? Will that change at all? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So, we've looked at different fitness parameters now. So, in the Navy in particular, this started the beginning of this year where what we recognise is the people who may not be meeting the fitness standards as they used to be but can get fit. If there's one thing the Defence Force is really good at, it's physical training. We can get you fit. So, we've got a pathway through that issue and so, being more open to who we recruit to deal with those sorts of things means that there are a greater pool of people that we can recruit which means we're able to start growing the Defence Force in the way we need to and of course getting people through that pipeline of recruitment as well so we don't lose them along the way to other jobs and things also means that we're able to grow that Defence Force. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Just off the text line and you know I'll put this in a way that perhaps is kind of worthy of your response but in terms of where we look at the - at the moment in Australia for people to join our Defence Force, do we have any boundaries around people that have come from China? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So, the key thing with Australia at the moment has been that you have to be an Australian citizen. 


MINISTER KEOGH: And you have to pass all of the normal security and vetting requirements and you've got to have 10-year provable history. So, we don't take a country by country of you know where you were born approach. We look at what's the security situation of that person as an individual and that's what we'd be applying going forward on the basis of permanent residence. But of course you've already - in order to be eligible here you have to have already lived in Australia for the last year as a permanent resident and that means you've already had to jump several hoops to even get to that status in the first place as well. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Just before I let you go I've got to ask you about this drone situation. I mean now that the Immigration Minister has admitted that there were not drones being used to surveil people who had been let out on that High Court decision in relation to detainees with criminal records. How could he make a mistake like that? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, he was given information about footage that was provided to his Department and sourcing of that and he relied on that information that was given to him and he then clarified that when that information, there was an update to that information from the Department and I think it's entirely appropriate that he's able to rely on and should be able to rely on the information that had been given to him by the Department. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Right, just finally Bill Shorten has a contracted speech writer. Is it up to him to know that an agency like NDIS, whether it be through a subcontracted group within the Government, are supplying people that are being paid $600,000 to write speeches? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, firstly I'm pretty convinced that Bill writes all his own zingers but this was contracted through Services Australia, not NDIS and it's not contracted to Bill and this is a person that's providing a range of communication services to Services Australia and they may well also be doing some speech writing but the engagement of a contract, whether it's a contractor or a public servant or whatever performing that role, is a matter for Services Australia. That's not something ministers decide on. 

GARY ADSHEAD: So in other words, your speech writer, you're saying should be from within his own Department? 

MINISTER KEOGH:  Well Services Australia is Bill's Department as well. My point is that that person is not just doing that work, they're doing broader work and how they're engaged and the conditions of their engagement is a matter for the Department. 

GARY ADSHEAD: Okay, we'll wait and see how that plays out. Appreciate you joining us today, thank you very much for that. 


GARY ADSHEAD: That's the Minister for Defence Personnel. 


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