Television interview, ABC 7.30

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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4 June 2024

SUBJECT: ADF recruitment.

HOST, SARAH FERGUSON: Richard Marles, welcome to 7.30.


SARAH FERGUSON: Now, Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said today from 1 January 2025, permanent residents from Five Eyes countries, and I quote, any other countries, will be eligible to join the Australian Defence Force. Did he get that bit wrong?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, firstly, from the first of July, we will be opening up entry into the Australian Defence Force for New Zealand citizens who have been permanent residents for a year. And then from the first of January that will be extended to Five Eyes countries. That's the decision that we've taken. But we do have an eye beyond that to the Pacific, really. And a precondition of all of this will be having been a permanent resident for 12 months at least and obviously passing all the security checks which would apply to any Australian who joins the Australian Defence Force. So, that's the decision that we've taken and it's actually, it's a significant Rubicon that's been crossed by Government policy today. But we're working this out in a very kind of slow and considered pathway, and right now it is New Zealand and it's Five Eyes from the beginning of next year.

SARAH FERGUSON: Slow but considered pathway, he said any other country. So, did he get that wrong?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, we've made clear that a precondition, which is what Minister Keogh has been talking about, is that you have permanent residency for a year in order to qualify for this. But Minister Keogh has spoken this afternoon, made really clear that what we're doing is what I've just described, which is that we are doing New Zealanders from the first of July and Five Eyes from the first of January.

SARAH FERGUSON: It's hard to imagine anything more significant in this announcement that you're making today, that it is absolutely crystal clear who this will be targeted at. Are you ruling out permanent residents from other countries, not Pacific countries?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, that's just not on the agenda, so that isn't happening. What we are talking about is New Zealand on the first of July, the rest of the Five Eyes from the first of January, we have an eye to the Pacific beyond that, to be clear. And that is the pathway that we are walking down. I know there's all sorts of scare campaigns going on, but they are nothing other than that. This is New Zealand, Five Eyes. We have in a more medium term, a view to the Pacific. And that's what we are seeking to do here. But the reason we are doing this is because there has been a challenge in terms of recruitment and retention in the Australian Defence Force. We need to turn that around and we are. But it's not just turning it around. We are looking to grow the defence force through to 2040. And in order to do that, we do need to be looking at a wider pool of people. And this is something that other countries do.

SARAH FERGUSON: Yes, indeed. I just want to stay. Let me just stay with Australia for the moment. The shadow Defence Minister, Andrew Hastie, described it today as a half-baked idea. Were all of the details approved by cabinet? And if they were, how did Matt Keogh allow ambiguity to creep in?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, this is a crystal clear position. I've just articulated it. And Minister Keogh did so this afternoon as well. I mean, in terms of the shadow Minister, last year Andrew Hastie was talking about the fact that we do need to be opening up the defence force to other citizens and that if citizens were coming here and willing to die for Australia, or if immigrants were willing to do that, we should be looking at them coming into our defence force. So, Andrew Hastie has gone to this place himself without much definition. This is a very clear step down this path in the way in which I have articulated it this evening, and that has been repeated by Minister Keogh through the day, and it's a very important step for the Government.

SARAH FERGUSON: Let me ask you this. So, the opposition wants to know, as I'm sure everyone does, what kind of vetting checks will be conducted. Have those details been discussed yet?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Yeah, and it's exactly the same vetting which occurs for Australian citizens, and that was made clear in our announcements today as well. So, essentially, the terms on which people would join and participate in the Australian Defence Force will be as if they were Australians. So, that means all the same vetting checks to join and then exactly the same return of service obligations once they are members of the Australian Defence Force, because our return of service obligations reflect the training which is invested in our servicemen and women, and that's the same training that would be invested in these people. And I should add, what we would be seeking is that those who join become Australian citizens within 90 days, within three months. And so that's an important part of this proposal as well.

SARAH FERGUSON: And in terms of those people who will be fast-tracked to citizenship, as you just mentioned, what exactly will their obligation be? How much time, for example, would they have to serve. What are the reserve obligations? Reverse obligations, sorry.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, it's exactly the same for an Australian citizen.

SARAH FERGUSON: And what are they?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, they vary, is the answer to that question. But to give you what our return of service obligations are about, I mean, you can think about the Australian Defence Force in some respects as a training organisation. We invest in people and train a whole lot of very unique skills, which requires time and cost and energy in terms of doing that. And when we do that, what there is is then a return of service obligation on the people who have been provided those skills. And that obligation varies throughout the defence force, depending on what skills have been invested in you. So, a fast jet pilot will have a longer return of service obligation than a lower skilled person in the defence force. But in terms of what we've announced today, exactly that regime of return of service obligations would apply to these people, because exactly the same training will apply to these people. And so, in that sense, all the security checks going in are the same, all the return of service obligations are the same. But what we are doing is opening up the field of who we can seek to have join the Australian Defence Force. This is a very important step down this path. 

SARAH FERGUSON: Can you reassure the audience that those vetting checks, that you are able to do those vetting checks for citizens from other countries in exactly the same way, with exactly the same certainty and thoroughness that you can do for Australians?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, the answer to that is yes. I mean, if you just look at Australians, there are people who are easier to check their history than others, and that forms part of the basis on which you can be accepted into the Australian Defence Force and you are not accepted into the Australian Defence Force unless you are able to complete a thorough security check. And the same threshold would apply to any of these non citizens.

SARAH FERGUSON: How do you make the ADF attractive to non citizens when Australians are not joining in sufficient numbers?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, we need to be making the ADF more attractive and to Australians as well. And we are doing that. We've improved the housing offer, for example, there's retention bonuses that we've announced and there's a suite of measures that we've taken which have actually had a significant impact on reducing the separation rate and we are starting to turn around the recruitment rate. But I think what we're seeking to do is to enlarge the pool of people, and we do attract, clearly, we attract Australians to serve in our defence force. We believe this will be an attractive offer for those who, in the first instance, New Zealand permanent residents, New Zealand citizens, who we’ll be offering this to in time. I think if you do project forward and we've got to step this out and it will take time, but as we look to the Pacific, obviously it would be a particularly attractive step to join the Australian Defence Force in their circumstances. But there's a lot more work which needs to be engaged in to get to that point. But this is the path we must walk down, because we do need to open up the field of who can serve in the Australian Defence Force. And if I can just finish the answer I was giving a little earlier, this is a Rubicon that has been crossed by other countries. Britain recruit out of Fiji, out of Nepal, the Gurkhas. The US recruit out of Micronesia. Of course, the French have the French Foreign Legion. We have armies and defence forces of like-minded countries who walk down this path. I think if we want to increase the defence force, which is our objective through to 2040, then we are going to need to open it up in this way, but we are going to do it in a very slow, methodical and considered way.

SARAH FERGUSON: Defence Minister Richard Marles, thank you very much indeed for joining us.



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