Radio interview, ABC Hobart Mornings with Leon Compton

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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 June 2024

SUBJECTS: ADF Opens Recruitment to Non-Australian Citizens.

HOST, LEON COMPTON: Why is it that the Defence Force is 4,400 troops short of its requirements? What could we do about it? And is recruiting international soldiers the answer? Matt Keogh, the Federal Minister for Defence Personnel. Matt Keogh, good morning to you. 

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: Good morning, Leon, and great to be with you. 

LEON COMPTON: Is it time to have a conversation about national service as a pathway to more troops in the ADF? 


LEON COMPTON: Simple answer. Does recruiting international troops suggest a failure in the ADF to make its case domestically for a career then? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, I think, Leon, first, we need to be very clear about what our announcement today is actually about. It's recruiting permanent residents already in Australia. These are people that have not been serving in a foreign defence force. And it is about certainly growing the pool of people that we can recruit from here in Australia. And they're people that have clearly already exhibited a commitment to Australia and that they've moved here and they are already permanent residents. But it does reflect that we have record low levels of unemployment in Australia at the moment. And that has made it very difficult for the Defence Force to be able to recruit people. And so to make sure that we are able to grow the Defence Force to the levels we need to, it's important to expand that pie that we can recruit from. 

LEON COMPTON: On mornings around Tasmania, when will this begin? My understanding is that it's still at this point not possible for New Zealand nationals living in Australia who haven't been in the ADF before or their military to sign up. When will that change? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So from 1 July this year, New Zealanders that are permanent residents in Australia that have been here for one year already will be able to join the Australian Defence Force. Obviously, just like any Australian, they'll need to meet the usual security and vetting requirements. 

And then from the 1st of January, that will be expanded to Five Eyes countries and other countries. So permanent residents from any other country in Australia would be eligible to apply if they meet the conditions and they would also be required to apply for Australian citizenship after they've served in the Defence Force for 90 days, which is when they would become eligible. 

LEON COMPTON:  On mornings around Tasmania, 4,400 troops is quite a lot of people. What are the projections of how many additional soldiers, sailors, air people might be added by allowing these internationals to join? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So this change to allow permanent residents in Australia to be able to join, we anticipate will be seeing an increase in recruitment of around 350 people a year. So obviously it doesn't bridge the entire gap. We're taking a number of steps to increase our recruitment of the Australian Defence Force, but this is a key step that we are taking as well. 

LEON COMPTON: 350 a year goes nowhere near, of course, getting the 4,400 that our news is reporting is the shortfall currently. So what's the solution to the rest of it? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So there's a number of other things that we are doing. We've taken some significant steps to look to speed up the process of recruitment generally for all Australians and going forward from July permanent residents so that the time taken to go through the medical assessments and mental health assessments and interview processes, etc., is much quicker because we've been losing people that have been on the journey along the way and that, sees us lose a significant number. The other thing that we have also done is reviewed the medical and fitness requirements to make sure that they are up to date. And that means using modern medical science. It means making sure they're fit for purpose for the types of roles that we see in the Defence Force now. And those changes, things like if you had broken your bone as a child, that meant you couldn't join the Defence Force. If you had acne, that meant you couldn't join the Defence Force. That's just silly. There are some things, obviously, that do need further investigation and that can happen through the recruitment process. But knocking out making changes that have been stopping people from joining for frankly silly reasons, we think will see an increase in an additional 2,000 people able to come through the recruitment pathways as well. 

LEON COMPTON: Matt Keogh, as our guest this morning, Federal Minister for Defence Personnel. Matt Keogh, to what extent do you think the reporting around former or veteran suicides and the poor treatment of retired Defence personnel by Defence are contributing to people saying I'm not sure this is an organisation I want to be part of. 

MINISTER KEOGH: I think certainly where we see negative reporting about people's experiences in the Defence Force or afterwards inhibits our capacity to recruit. 

LEON COMPTON: Can I just stop you one minute? It's not negative reporting. This is negative experiences of leaving the Defence Force. The reporting is just about the experience. So the fact that people seem to have been mistreated or not properly or fairly treated is a big issue here. 

MINISTER KEOGH: My apologies Leon, my point was that when it's something as clear in the public domain and therefore people are present to what those things have been, that creates an atmosphere that is not conducive to recruitment. And I agree with you about that. And that is something where we are hopeful that the changes that we are making and we're not making these changes for these reasons. We're making these changes because they're necessary and the right thing to do. But the changes we're making around getting through the backlog of veterans' claims that we inherited from 42,000 claims that had not even been looked at by anyone in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and now claims are looked at within at least 14 days. So significant change there. Improvements in transition for people that are leaving the Defence Force, we’ve made significant changes there to support people on their way out of Defence to make sure that they can have the most successful life in their civilian life post-Defence, the cultural changes that have been going on within Defence. Now I'm not saying everything is solved but there certainly have been improvements over time. That's an important message to get out as well in the context that you raised.

LEON COMPTON: We've got to leave it there. I appreciate you talking with us this morning. That's Matt Keogh, Federal Minister for Defence Personnel. 


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