Television Interview, Sky News

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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4 June 2024

SUBJECTS: ADF recruitment.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining the panel now, Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite. Is it all countries from January next year or just Five Eyes nations?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: So, from July this year, it's New Zealand and it's people that have been here for at least one year as a permanent resident and are eligible to become Australian citizens. Then from the 1st of January next year, again, people who have been here for one year as permanent residents from Five Eyes nations. That's the process. What we're trying to do is open up to more potential recruits for the Australian Defence Force from trusted allies, but people who've been here for quite a while and importantly, they have to pass all of the necessary security checks, so they have to go through an Australian Government Security Vetting Agency check and be on the pathway to citizenship. And they have to take up that citizenship 90 days after they join the Australian Defence Force.

CONNELL: Okay, so what was Matt Keogh talking about earlier, then? He said all countries. That was clear.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we do have a view to opening it up, particularly to Pacific nations in the future. But at this stage, the announcement is from the 1st of January…

CONNELL: So, it’s not all countries…

ASSISTANT MINISTER: From the 1st of January, it's Five Eyes nations.


KIERAN GILBERT, CO-HOST: He said repeatedly in the news conference in the press gallery that it would be any other country. He said it explicitly. Is this just a stuff up?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The policy is New Zealand from July, Five Eyes nations from the 1st of January. But we do have a view to opening it up, particularly to Pacific nations at some stage in the. But at this stage, the announcement is those two categories, New Zealand and Five Eyes.

CONNELL: And maybe Pacific. Would it not make sense to ever make it every country? I mean, obvious ones, China, Russia. That would never, you'd never be able to have enough vetting processes. Or is that being unfair? What's your view on that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, obviously we want to try and prioritise Australians joining the Australian Defence Force, but there are people who come to this country who are on a journey to citizenship and it reflects our multicultural nature and that's what we're trying to do in the Australian Defence Force, open it up to potentially more people. The other point about this announcement that was made today that hasn't got as much attention is the categories of injuries that prohibit people from joining the Australian Defence Force at the moment will be much reduced. So, at the moment, if you've broken an arm or a leg when you're a kid riding a skateboard, you can't join the Australian Defence Force. If you've got braces on, orthodontic braces, you can't join the Australian Defence Force.

CONNELL: So, if you’ve broken your arm, that's a blanket rule, no matter what?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's right. You can't join.


ASSISTANT MINISTER: If you suffer from endometriosis, you can't join the Australian Defence Force. So, there's a whole host of these injuries that rule people out. We're going to…

GILBERT: The Minister for Defence Personnel said today that anyone from any other country from January 1 would be able to join. Now, we're told it's the Five Eyes country. I just want to clarify. He's the Minister for Defence Personnel. I know people make mistakes, but this is the announcement of this policy, and he stuffed it up a number of times in this news conference just out here in the press gallery. So, what's gone on there? Is that just a mistake?


GILBERT: Did the plan change throughout the day? What's gone on?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: No, no. The announcement is pretty clear. It's 1st of July for New Zealanders, 1 January for Five Eyes nations. But we've got a view to expanding it, particularly to the Pacific later on. That's the announcement.

GILBERT: So, the Minister made the mistake?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I think that's what the Minister for Defence Personnel is...

OLIVIA CAISLEY, CO-HOST: But this is two in two days now. Yesterday, Andrew Giles had to say he got it wrong on drones. Now, Keogh today, why are we seeing these communication issues where the wrong information is being essentially told to Australians in these press conferences or in interviews?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I don't think they're wrong information. I think what you're seeing is the government's commitment to fixing recruitment issues within the Australian Defence Force. This has been going on for a long time. We've known that we've had an issue with recruitment in the ADF in a tight labour market that's very competitive. It's been difficult to recruit. Now, the previous government did nothing about it. We're attempting to fix that with this announcement, with the $50,000 retention bonus that's paying good dividends at the moment in terms of reducing the number of people leaving the ADF, we're doing a number of things in terms of reviewing housing offerings for ADF personnel to make it more flexible. We're supporting families in a bigger way and we're currently looking at what we can do to expand other options for careers within the Australian Defence Force as well. So, we've got a whole suite of policies aimed at ensuring that we're recruiting more Australians to the ADF to grow it.

CLENNELL: It's looking pretty desperate, though, to take these measures, isn't it? How desperate is it in terms of recruiting personnel?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I don't think it's desperate at all. I think it reflects the fact that we're in a tight, competitive labour market. And it's not just the ADF, Andrew, you know yourself many employers are struggling to get particularly younger Australians at the moment in a very competitive labour market and the ADF has to be able to compete. So, I think reducing some of those areas and criteria that can rule people out because of previous injuries or illnesses, it was a great start. We anticipate that that will allow about 2000 more people to be recruited to the ADF. Of the people that are rejected from the Australian Defence Force, 70 per cent of them are because of the 14 injuries or illnesses that we're now removing as a barrier to recruitment. And I'll say this, the previous government did nothing about this. We're acting to make sure that we open up and expand the Australian Defence Force to grow it.

CONNELL: You've got a division, so you better get out of here.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I better go, thank you. Cheers.

GILBERT: Thanks.


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