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A recruitment and retention crisis in the ADF

By Robert McClelland - posted Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Frequent rotations to military postings can cause havoc to defence families. For this reason, it is increasingly common for serving members to keep their family in the one location while they fulfil their posting obligation at another.

This week the Federal Government introduced measures to facilitate defence families having this sort of stability. Providing accommodation assistance and funding for limited return visits is welcome. But the government is missing the point. Defence families should not have to choose between military and family life - regrettably this is often the case.

It is unreasonable that we expect defence families to retain normality through six visits a year. That is the limit of travel that will be funded for a serving member living away from their family.


Despite a number of inquiries, the government is yet to implement measures to reduce posting turbulence - too many enforced moves. As the Armed Forces Federation has highlighted posting turbulence has emotional, educational, financial and employment implications. Is it any wonder that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is facing a recruitment and retention crisis?

Research indicates that every ranked officer who leaves the ADF may result in five to six  rotations to fill that position and backfill the vacant positions created by each move. This is a major cause of postings turbulence. It also has a massive cost. Aside from loss of valuable skills, a 2 per cent increase in separation means that the ADF must recruit and train an additional 1,000 people.

The issue is of such significance that it is time the ADF appropriately resourced senior ranks to address specific problems that may be motivating a decision to leave the ADF.

If remuneration is an issue, then this should be recognised. Just as occurs in the private sector, the ADF may need to have regard to comparable rates in the private sector with a view to formulating a remuneration package that recognises serving member’s particular skills, including the total cost to the military of replacing those skills.

Equally, if family pressures are a reason for parting company with the ADF, a genuine attempt should be made to address those. Greater flexibility may be required to accommodate special circumstances.

For instance, it is not unreasonable for an ADF family to be kept in the one location during the period that their child completes senior years of schooling. It may also be appropriate to defer transfer to enable a budding young athlete to compete in a representative team.


Obviously there are any number of family pressures that, in the context of global conflict, may not appear all that significant, but for a defence family it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The point is that we need to develop a culture where the two are not seen as mutually exclusive.

The failure of the government to implement a number of constructive proposals to address the recruitment and retention crisis is symptomatic of why there is a problem in the first place.

For instance, it is estimated that less than one fifth of defence families own their own home, a major source of future financial security. Yet the Defence Home loan scheme provides subsidised interest to just $80,000. This clearly fails to recognise the reality of the modern housing market.

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This is an edited version of an address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs - Queensland Branch on October 5, 2006. The full text can be found here.

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About the Author

Robert McClelland MP is Shadow Minister for Defence and Federal Member for Barton (NSW). Previous ministerial positions include Shadow Attorney-General, Shadow Minister for Justice and Community Security and Shadow Minister for Homeland Security.

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