Tuesday, 9 May 2023
Questions without Notice
Australian Defence Force
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I refer to the government's recently announced retention bonus for ADF personnel who have just completed their return-of-service obligations or initial mandatory period of service of four years. I draw the minister's attention to the numerous bonuses offered by both Liberal and Labor governments over the last 25 years. These include retention bonuses for Army specialists, bonuses and increased pay for submariners, and category retention bonuses for the RAAF. Despite all this, the ADF is still struggling to attract and retain personnel. Why will this bonus system work when all others have failed?
I thank Senator Lambie for the question and acknowledge her many years of contribution both in this place and beyond in relation to matters associated with defence, and in particular her deep concern always for members of the ADF, including veterans. She is right to point out that the ADF has, under governments of both political persuasions, not been able to recruit and retain at the level that we seek. She's right. I don't pretend that there is an easy answer to that, and the government has been seized of this issue.
Obviously there has been a lot of work on the DSR as well as AUKUS, and in the context of the budget we're very focused on trying to work through how we might deal with some of these recruitment and retention issues. We note the previous government made some very substantial announcements about increases to the ADF but were not on a pathway to deliver them, and we are looking at a range of ways in which we might seek to do that.
I don't come in here, Senator Lambie, and tell you that somehow, magically, all of those challenges associated with recruitment and retention will be resolved by one policy only. I suspect they won't be. I think it will assist, but I think more needs to be done. And I'd make the broader point that it's not just an issue for the ADF. Obviously, there are a lot of sectors of the economy where we have labour shortages. There are a lot of sectors of the economy where skilled staff are hard to both attract and retain, and the— (Time expired)
This bonus appears to be available only to persons who have recently completed their return-of-service obligations or their initial mandatory period of service of four years. This means, in a practical sense, that this will only be offered to the most junior ranks across the military. This will be a slap in the face to junior leaders, like corporals and sergeants and their colleagues in the Navy and the RAAF, who are attractive employees to civilian organisations. These are the ones you need to retain. Why doesn't the government want to keep these junior leaders in the military? (Time expired)
Senator Lambie, in the time while I was seeking to answer your first question, I was provided with a little more information, and I might provide you with that. As part of this year's budget, the government is announcing funding of an ADF continuation bonus. The advice is that this is critical to influencing career decisions when the member is approaching their first opportunity to make a decision to stay in or leave the Australian Defence Force. We obviously have been, as I said, considering a number of the recommendations in the DSR. There were four recommendations relating to recruitment and retention, and the government is developing options to respond to each of those four recommendations. The bonus that we are discussing is the immediate response to the DSR in order to continue to invest in the growth and retention of a highly skilled Defence workforce. (Time expired)
I'm not sure who's writing the policies, but they got it completely wrong. This bonus is reported to be available to just 3½ thousand Defence personnel out of some 60,000 over three years. That's just over a thousand per year. Defence reported in its 2021-22 annual report that about 11 per cent of its personnel, some 6½ thousand, left the military that year. Why is the government offering a retention bonus to so few of our men and women in the ADF when the problem is so much greater than just a few thousand?
I think in my response to the first question I did acknowledge that the problem is greater than the capacity of one measure to respond to it, and, as I said, the DSR did contain a number of recommendations in relation to recruitment and retention. We will work through them, and Defence will provide options to government for them. However, the immediate response was what's been described as a continuation bonus. I'm advised that the eligibility for the bonus includes: permanency; nearing completion of the initial minimum period of service; having completed or will complete a minimum four years of service; agreeing to recommit to three years of full-time service; and not already being in receipt of another bonus for the same commitment reason. I think the senator's question is: why is this continuation bonus narrowly cast? It is for the reasons that I identified in my previous answer.