Career soldiers' days numbered
By John Kerin
THE days of the lifelong career soldier may be numbered as the Howard Government considers an overhaul of life in the defence forces to tackle the acute recruiting and retention crisis.
John Howard has charged Defence Personnel Minister De-Anne Kelly with addressing the problem, including looking at breaking the notion that the military is a vocation and turning it into a more flexible career.
"We have to look at new and innovative ideas to deal with defence workforce planning over the next 25 years ... everything is on the table," Ms Kelly told The Australian last night.
"Generation Y is quite a different group with quite different expectations about their working lives."
As tearful family and friends gathered at Sydney's Garden Island naval base yesterday to farewell the crew of HMAS Newcastle as it left for a stint in the Persian Gulf, Ms Kelly said the defence force of the future may be one in which the majority of new recruits sign up for five or six years, spend years in a civilian job and some time in the reserves.
They might return to the force or reserves if they wished.
Ms Kelly said a taskforce featuring the three deputy service chiefs in defence had been established to look at all factors affecting defence force recruitment and retention, while the Australian Strategic Policy Institute had also been commissioned to come up with a report on solutions.
Remuneration, childcare, spousal support and the stress of postings and long periods away from home will be studied.
Ms Kelly will draw on these reports to present a range of options later this year to cabinet.
This follows a survey of defence attitudes that found up to one-third of soldiers were considering quitting.
The most often quoted reasons were poor pay and conditions, the lure of better-paid private sector jobs and long deployments that put stress on family life.
The 52,000-strong defence force fell 1000 behind its recruiting target this year.
Ms Kelly said that despite the complaints, the defence force had not been standing still on recruitment, increasing pay by almost 30 per cent since 1996 and also boosting assistance for spouses, childcare and children's schooling.
Responding to the report earlier, Mr Howard said he had requested a report from Ms Kelly on what could be done to boost recruitment and retention, strongly hinting that better pay and conditions might be in order.
"It's always a challenge to retain highly qualified people in the defence forces and that is something that the Government has to keep in mind, and the relevant bodies have to keep in mind when they are setting remuneration levels," Mr Howard said. "We have to meet the market."
Australian National University strategic and defence studies director Hugh White said there needed to be a radical rethink of the traditional defence-as-vocation approach. "Perhaps we want people to have short, useful careers (in defence) and then have them go on to something else," he said.
Labor's defence spokesman Robert McClelland said when "skill levels, morale levels and resourcing levels hit the lows defence are hearing about we've got a big problem".
Additional reporting by Annabelle McDonald
52,000? THat's all they've GOT??
America has been shouldering the West's defense for FAR too long. The rest have become WEAK in in the shadow of our Shield.
But those 52,000 are probably worth 80,000 Americans!
OK, maybe not. But they have certainly gained a reputation as excellent fighters over the last century or so. They pull their weight , considering how small their population is.
I've seen "The Road Warrior"...
Our population is less than the poplulation of New York City IIRC.
The benefits for joining the military are waaaay less than what you guys get, and we get less pay and shitter equipment too (most of the time).
Australia population: 20,090,437
US population: 295,734,134