The Defence Reserves Association – 2008 to 2018

Please click on the link below to download a PDF of the Presentation.



The aim of this presentation is to review the key activities of the Defence Reserves Association (DRA) over the last ten years and to assess the impact of those activities on the significant policy changes relating to the employment of Reservists that have been implemented over the same period of time. 

The presentation concludes with a brief review of the Total Workforce Model (TWM) and a recommendation for a detailed study of the employment conditions of the part-time component of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The DRA 2010 National Conference Keynote Address  

At the October 2010 National Conference, the then State President of DRA-Vic, MAJGEN Greg Garde, gave the keynote address; ‘ADF Reserves, Strategic Directions for the Future’. In this address he outlined the top ten strategic ideas that should be considered for an independent review of the Reserve. These ten ideas serve as an excellent starting point for this review.  The ten ideas and the key points relating to each topic were as follows:

  1. The Need for Hypothecation of Funding and Sound Financial Management

Whilst each individual service operating budget is substantial, at least 85% of these budgets are immutably allocated to fixed costs including salaries for permanent members.  Funds for the employment of reservists on either Training Days or Continuous Full Time Service (CFTS) reside in the 15% discretionary component of the services’ budgets.  While this remains the case, the employment of reserves will, at best, remain an uncertain entity, subject to the discretion of the Chief of Service and every level of command down to the level of the individual reservist.  Defence requires a reservist to make a contractual obligation to serve yet it is not prepared to reciprocate this commitment.

  1. Think and Plan for Reserve Capability

“Real capability outcomes (from the Reserve) are achievable, but they need to be planned.  All too often we see Reserve capability undermined, or only partly delivered due to financial expediency.”  Garde 2010.

  1. Introduce a Realistic and Affordable Capability Development Plan for Reserves

“Our active Reserves are very small by any international comparison whether on a national per capita basis or on a capability basis.  This is a disappointing comment to have to make given that we are a lucky and wealthy country with a military tradition and a long-standing Reserve system.  For years we have left our Reserve forces to wither on the vine.  We need to undertake a planned and widely accepted expansion of Reserve capability.  Reserves do not respond well to radical or transformational change so an incremental approach to change is necessary given the part-time nature of Reserve forces.   They need to progress steadily in the right direction even if the march is a long one.”  Garde 2010.

  1. Bring Surge back into the Reserve

In the years prior to 2010, Reserves were absorbed into operations and commitments such as disaster relief on an individual and piece-meal basis.  They were used principally for the ‘sustain’ role which whittled away at the ability of the Reserve to provide a ‘surge’ capability.  This is an insidious dilution of the true capability to be found in the Reserves and should be an important consideration for force development planners.

  1. A Flexible Approach to Upfront and Continuation Training

This is a perennial problem given the ‘time poor’ nature of Reserve service.  It is all too easy to say that a new technology, a new capability or a new piece of equipment is beyond the Reserve because of the length of time to train and maintain the new innovation.  Courses need to be structured and delivered on a basis that is conducive to completion on a part-time basis.

“There is nothing wrong with entry into a Reserve unit which is only open to applicants who already hold specified civilian professional or trade qualifications, doctors, nurses, medical assistants, engineers, pilots, technicians and mechanics being obvious examples.  Not nearly enough consideration is given to accessing advanced civilian skills.”  Garde 2010.

  1. A Fair Go for High Readiness Reservists

This issue was articulated very clearly in a contemporary paper by Nick Jans who said “use them or lose them.”

  1. Ensure Interoperability between Regulars and Reserves

Due to differences in the allocation of equipment such as weapons, systems, communications and vehicles between Regular and Reserve units, when we call on our Reserves to provide a capability, they often need to spend critical time in re-training in order to do so.  Interoperability between Regular and Reserve components should be a fundamental tenet of force planning.

  1. Gain Leverage off Civilian Skills and Industry

“Use of civilian skills and industry in development of Reserve capability would seem to be such an obvious course as to need no mention.  Yet it is rare to hear of new initiatives that specifically target civilian skills or industry.”  Garde 2010

Sponsored Reserves have been the subject of discussion for many years, yet little has been achieved in this area.

  1. A Modern Workplace Remuneration System is a “Must”

The current remuneration system for Reserves is a laughably antiquated, cumbersome and inflexible legacy of a bygone era.  The use of a 365 day divisor to determine the daily rate of pay is iniquitous and the argument that the tax-free status of Reserve pay precludes a Reservist’s eligibility for superannuation is specious at best.  A ‘grass-roots’ review of the Reserve remuneration system is essential if we are to attract new recruits who have many alternative options for part-time employment.

  1. Use Due Process to Manage and Achieve Effective Change

“Use of due process and transparency to achieve effective change is a basic function of modern government practised by departments and agencies at both federal and state level.  But it is one function the Defence does not do well.”  Garde 2010.

Major DRA Activities

The major activities of the DRA over the subject period (2008 to 2018) have been as follows:

DWP2009, DWP 2013 and DWP 2015   The National Committee of the DRA has made major submissions on Reserve issues to all of the Defence White Papers prepared by various governments over the period 2008 to 2018.  These have met with varied success; however our politicians and service chiefs have been constantly reminded of Reserve issues and, more generally, the importance of their Reserves by these submissions.  For several years now, all three service chiefs have said that they cannot operate effectively without significant input from their respective Reserves.

Enhanced Capability    This has been a catch cry of the DRA for many years. The quote from MAJGEN Greg Garde in point 3 of his keynote address (see above) says it all. This will continue to be a major focus for the DRA into the future.

Army’s Plan Beersheba      The DRA has been a strong supporter of Plan Beersheba since its inception. For Army, Plan Beersheba addresses a number of the issues raised in the Garde address.  These are points 2,3,6,7 and 10; i.e. ‘Thinking and Planning for Reserve Capability’, ‘The Introduction of a Realistic and Affordable Capability Development Plan for Reserves’, ‘A Fair Go for High Readiness Reserves’, ‘Ensuring Interoperability Between Regulars and Reserves’ and ‘The Use of Due Process to Manage and Achieve Effective Change’. Plan Beersheba has given the Army Reserve a renewed sense of purpose and has been well received by Reserve individuals and commanders alike. Reserve and Regular units working together on a routine basis is the best, and arguably only, way in which the misconceptions and prejudices in both components of the force can be dispelled.

To a large extent, Army’s three year Force Generation Cycle also addresses the issue of certainty of training day and equipment allocations, without going as far as removing Reserve salaries from the discretionary component of the budget and hypothecating Reserve salaries. Even with this initiative, there is still no guarantee in any of the services that Reservists will be allocated sufficient training days to qualify for entitlements such as long service medals or the defence home ownership assistance scheme where a minimum number of days per year is a requirement.

Plan Suakin and the Total Workforce Model.    Plan Suakin had its genesis as a project in Reserve Division to address the issue of flexible working conditions for Reserve members. The DRA was strongly supportive of the concept and was actively involved in the initial stages of this project. The scope of Plan Suakin was subsequently expanded to include the entire defence workforce (including deployed civilians) and came under the auspices of the Defence People Group. 

The DRA applauds the project team on producing a single, coherent, contiguous system of service categories from the hotch-potch of previous options, but laments the fact that the options under SERCAT 5 have been so diluted that, for the Reserve, the current implementation is little more than a name change.  Flexibility for Regular members has been achieved with the introduction of SERCAT 6, but the current Total Workforce Model does not seriously address the issue of flexible working conditions for Reserve members. The DRA believes that, while the current Total Workforce Model is a good start, what is needed is a change in mind-set that sees Reservists as a part-time work force rather than a casual workforce. This issue will be addressed later in this presentation.

Training Requirements and Course Durations      This is a perennial problem that is constantly being addressed by the DRA. The DRA continues to lobby for recognition of current competencies (RCC) and recognition of current learning (RCL) as ways of reducing the time in training required for Reservists to reach competency (and hence pay) levels. There is still no consolidated approach to the identification and recognition of civilian qualifications.  As we enter the cyber age, this will become a real issue for defence.  Welcome to the world of Private Geek.

Ongoing Issues

This section of the presentation deals with those issues that are ongoing and continue to attract the interest and efforts of the DRA at national and regional levels.  These are as follows:

Review of the Reserve Service Protection Act     This issue has now been resolved (it was passed in Nov 2017), however it is included here to highlight the glacial speed with which the wheels of change turn.  This was a simple, non-controversial, bi-laterally supported amendment that took eight (yes 8) years to pass through parliament.  The DRA continued to raise the issue at successive conferences and every other opportunity, which would appear to be the necessary action to achieve the desired outcome.  The DRA is patient if nothing else.

Superannuation & Tax Free Status of Reserve Pay       This chestnut seems to come up during every discussion relating to Reserve pay and conditions of service.  From an historical point of view, Figure 1 below shows the effect of the last time that the government of the day decided to tax Reserve salaries. The strength of the Army Reserve dropped from 33,131 to 23,772 (a 28% reduction) virtually overnight.  AND WE HAVE NEVER RECOVERED. 

In its first year of office, the Hawke/Keating government decided to tax Reserve salaries.  It was applied unilaterally and it did so without consultation, without any alternative or option and without any compensatory changes. Even though the decision was relatively quickly reversed, the effects were devastating.

Reserve forces remain the only group of employees, government or private that are not entitled to superannuation payments and the DRA will continue to lobby on behalf of Reservists to rectify this situation.

Reserve Leave Entitlements     The issue of leave entitlements and other conditions of service for Reservists invariably relate to the mode of employment. Reservists in all three services are regarded as a casual work-force as opposed to a part-time workforce, without the benefits that would normally be associated with a casual work-force. This status is reinforced by the ‘daily rate of pay’ system that has been used for many years and the discretionary nature of the allocation of training days that has already been mentioned.

Further, the Reserve has long since ceased to be a reserve for the ADF in the true sense of the word; if indeed it ever was. The decision by the ADF and the government of the day to introduce conscription rather than activate the Reserve for service in Vietnam is a classic case in point.  It is recommended that the term Reserve be discontinued and replaced with the more accurate term of ‘part-time component’.

Figure 1 Reserve Strength since 1959

Hypothecation of Reserve Expenditure           This issue has been raised several times in this presentation and need not be laboured here again, other than to say that it remains DRA policy to lobby for this outcome.

Recruiting        The DRA does not want to see a diminution of the standards for general enlistment, but the convoluted nature of the recruiting process, the length of time that it takes to recruit an individual and the limited number of opportunities to complete recruit training remain a serious deterrent for young potential recruits who have lots of other alternatives.  It remains DRA policy to lobby for a more expeditious recruiting process, particularly for the part-time component.

Recognition of Reservists in Awards     The representation of the part-time component in the biannual Service and Order of Australia awards remains disproportionately low.  To some extent, this is because of the poor quality of the nominations that are received, but it is hard to urge busy commanders to spend a great deal of time on an activity that is, demonstrably, most unlikely to produce the desired outcome.  DRA policy is to encourage and assist commanders in the nomination and follow-up procedures for these awards.

Sponsored Reserves, Specialist Reserves and Reservists’ Civilian Qualifications and Experience These three issues are considered together because, collectively, they represent a diverse and largely untapped source of potential capability for the ADF.  To quote Garde again;

The sponsored Reserves scheme has been under study for over a decade to my knowledge. We have ‘talked the talk’.  It is high time to ‘walk the talk’ or better still ‘walk the walk.’ Garde 2010.

Eight years on, we are still ‘talking the talk’ when there is enormous potential for sponsored part-time forces in areas such as railway transport for 1 Bde, vehicle maintenance, aviation servicing and the like.

In the current mode of thinking, ‘Specialist Reserves’ means doctors, lawyers, dentists, psychologists and others; all residing in medical units, legal units, dental units, psychology units and the like. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot have specialist individuals such as computer engineers, cyber specialists, robotics technicians, drone operators and a plethora of other highly skilled individuals that will become increasingly important to a high-tech defence force in coming years. Such individuals could be posted to an appropriate unit (such as a signals squadron) for administrative purposes but their employment would be strictly limited to their specialist area. Arguably, their recruiting standards, training requirements, rank on enlistment, pay and allowances and other criteria could be ‘non-conventional’ to expedite access to their specialist skills.

On the subject of collating a database of civilian qualifications and experience in the part-time component, a number of attempts have been made in the recent past, but an accurate, complete and up-to-date solution still eludes us. A simple questionnaire to be completed by individuals at the time of an annual review of contact details and other personal information would appear to be a good start.

How the Services Use Their Reservists

Generalisations relating to the part-time component of the ADF are fraught because each of the services use their part-time members in profoundly different ways as the following notes suggest:

Navy  The part-time component of the Navy is predominantly (almost 90%) made up of ex-permanent members who are fully trained and who remain current for a number of years after leaving the regular force. Billets are generally filled on an individual basis, many on short-term continuous full time service (CFTS). Consequently, Navy has no, or very little, training obligation for its part-time component. Further, Navy’s part-time component provides little or no collective capability. The exceptions to this last statement are part-time Navy bands and, until recently the part-time Dive Teams.

Air Force  Approximately 60% of the Air Force part-time component is ex-permanent members.  Individuals are administered by local part-time Air Force squadrons but are posted against and generally employed in Air Force’s war-time establishment. Air Force therefore has some training obligation for its part-time component, particularly for those members who have not been part of the permanent force.

Army  Most members of the part-time component in Army are “ab initio” recruits, though there is an increasing number of ex permanent members, particularly at the more senior levels. Army therefore has a very large individual training obligation for its part-time component from recruit training through to promotion and specialist training.  Further, Army’s part-time formations and units are required to provide significant collective capability under Plan Beersheba.  This establishes a strong demand for certainty of part-time salaries and resources.  Adherence to Army’s three year Force Generation Cycle goes a long way to establishing this for members affected by Plan Beersheba but there remains a degree of uncertainty and scope for mismanagement for units outside the 2nd Division.


It has been stated several times throughout this presentation that the current remuneration system for the part-time components of all three services is outmoded and completely inappropriate.  Rather than “fiddle around the fringes” with such issues as superannuation entitlements, eligibility for the Defence Home Owners Assistance Scheme, the 365 day divisor and leave entitlements, it is proposed that a “grass roots” review of the remuneration system for the part-time component be undertaken by a working group comprised of representatives of the DRA, Reserve and Youth Division, the Directors General-Reserves of each service and the Defence People Group. The following is suggested terms of reference for such a working group:

‘To undertake a detailed review of the feasibility, advantages, disadvantages, costs and other considerations of employing Reservists under Part-Time Conditions of Service as opposed the current Casual Conditions of Service.’


About the Author

MAJGEN (Rtd) Wilson AM, RFD is the current National DRA Vice President-Army, he is a former Assistant Chief of the Defence Force-Reserves and a former Commander of the Second Division.  He has also served as the President of the DRA-SA for many years.

Share this with your friends