The Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has completed its examination on the Department of Defence Annual Report 2021–22. The examination focused on themes of Defence workforce recruiting and retention, Defence support to domestic crises, Space Command and capability and other issues as communicated to Defence.
Defence Subcommittee Chair, Mr Julian Hill MP, explained the Committee had found the “near-persistent” requirement for Defence to respond to domestic crises was unsustainable and had created concurrency pressures that would soon degrade the Australian Defence Force (ADF)’s warfighting capabilities.
“Over 50% of Defence members have been assigned to domestic disaster relief tasks in recent years.
“The climate is changing, and State and Territory Governments need to lift their collective game in building resilience and resourcing natural disaster responses.
“The ADF cannot continue to be seen as some sort of ‘shadow workforce’, especially in circumstances where certain States or Territories have not adequately resourced and increased their own capabilities, and community resilience and responses.”
Concerns were also raised regarding Defence’s response to date to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry (IGADFAI), particularly around difficulties and delays in accessing and making redress to Afghan victims and their families. The Committee has recommended improvements to how Defence addresses these issues.
More broadly, regarding the long shadow of Afghanistan on the Special Air Services Regiment, Mr Hill said it was “time to draw a line in the sand and rebalance our national conversation about this period.
“The events of concern occurred well over a decade ago, yet public discourse and some media reporting in relation to these events has implicitly and wrongly conflated the past and the present.
“The rightful acceptance of institutional and collective responsibility for cultural failings, and the process of holding individuals to account, must not be allowed to tar the reputations of the majority of those who served then and who serve today.
“As a society, Australia risks repeating another Vietnam and callously increasing Veteran suicide if we lose perspective and balance in how these matters are reported and discussed.”
Defence’s continued underperformance in meeting recruitment and retention targets also concerned the Committee, with personnel 5.6% below guidance from the last financial year. 42 workforce categories and occupations were classified as critical by Defence in 2023, an increase of 18 from 2022.
“While acknowledging Defence is taking this seriously and that it is difficult to address in the current strong labour market, the slide in the ADF’s numbers and growth in critical skills shortage areas must not continue,” Mr Hill said.
“If more needs to be done, then more must be done as skilled people are the ADF’s most important fundamental input to capability.”
The Committee visited several bases during its investigation, noting critical infrastructure upgrades at remote airbases and bare bases had been neglected. Committee members were particularly disturbed at the state of disrepair while visiting the pier supporting diesel refuelling of the Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station.
“The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ seems to have been ignored, and urgent action is required within the next few months as this is a critical capability for Australia and the United States,” Mr Hill said.
Australia’s Space Command and capability in relation to warfighting domains was also examined, with the Committee making several recommendations regarding how Australia could best position itself as technology and competition continues to rapidly evolve.
Further information in relation to the inquiry and a full list of its recommendations is available from the JSCFADT’s website.
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