Proposed actions to enhance availability of Reservists to serve


It’s a great pleasure to be here today and to be back in the fold of the Reserves. As Paul Irving mentioned, before going into politics I had my own business for 10 years, largely consulting in Defence.  I went through the merger and creation of the Defence Materiel Organisation from the Defence Acquisition Organisation and Joint Logistics Command, and SCA.

I also spent four wonderful years working with the Australian Defence Force Cadets. I’m a huge fan of cadets because I have seen the transformation it makes in young Australians. I’ll never forget a little guy down at Nowra. I asked him ‘what do you love about cadets?’ He said before he went to cadets he was a straight D student and now he was getting As and Bs. Cadets had transformed his life.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. I would also like to acknowledge the many distinguished guests here today.

I recently took on Reserves and Cadets again in my own Shadow Assistant Ministry portfolio after my colleague, the Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel, Amanda Rishworth, was promoted. We decided that given my background and interest in Reserves and Cadets I’d get back to being involved.  Some of you may recall that I attended a number of your conferences - at Olim’s Hotel and at Brighton Le Sands.

Back then, one of the big issues was getting a handle on the inactive service numbers. After my first and very welcome briefing this week from Rear Admiral Kafer, it would appear your planned consolidation of those numbers has now been finalised. I want to thank the Minister for Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, and Rear Admiral Kafer for that briefing, and also for the update on Defence’s youth development programs.

I also want to thank Major General Irving for taking the time to brief me about today’s conference and discuss the issues that you are currently concerned about.

Since the last time we spoke I have had the enormous privilege of participating in a parliamentary exchange with RFSU which, as you know, is mainly Reserves. I went out on an overnight surveillance trip with them and did a surveillance exercise around the mangroves around the back of Cairns. It was terrific to get an understanding of the issues that they are facing. I must admit that everyone was very focused on the mission so they weren’t really out for small talk with a strange politician who had no idea how to use the can opener.

Whenever you speak to Reserves, the depth and breadth of the background is just astonishing. We have an extraordinary group of talent in Reserves. That’s why it’s vitally important that conferences like these allow us the opportunity to maximise their potential because they make an invaluable contribution. We need to provide the structural and systemic support to maximise their potential.

For me, today is about listening to you. Listening to you to get a readout on the issues and gaps that need to be addressed. Listening to you to get a sense of what is working and what is not. Today’s conference and discussions over coming months will inform Labor’s Reserves policy that we will take to the next federal election.


Since Federation, the Australian Parliament considered the defence of the new Commonwealth to be a democratic army in which there would be a small permanent component, with the bulk to be made up of part-time citizen forces.

In 1909, Andrew Fisher and George Foster Pearce introduced legislation to provide for a defence force based on a small number of permanent military staff and a large citizen force. When the Great War erupted in 1914, this citizen force provided much of the leadership of the 1st AIF, from senior commanders through to non-commissioned officers.

Reserve service is as valid and relevant to the defence of Australia today as it was 100 years ago. It continues to uphold the concept of a ‘democratic army’ proposed by our fathers of federation. One of the most important characteristics of Reserve service is that a Reservist is both an ADF member and a civilian simultaneously. They provide a valuable cultural link between the community and the barracks. They give back to their community through the skills acquired in the ADF – skills of leadership, first aid, navigation, survival, teamwork and self-discipline.

Any Australian Government has an inescapable obligation to protect the security of the Australian people and the integrity of Australia’s territory. Like most areas of national security, this is a largely bipartisan mission. We agree Australia must contribute to a peaceful and secure world where all people have a right to live with dignity, freedom, safety and prosperity. The Australian Defence Force - through its Permanent and Reserve force - is at the forefront of this mission.

In anticipation of today and in addition to my conversations with RADM Kafer and MAJGEN Irving, I have also consulted Reservists from a range of ranks. Needless to say they weren’t backward in coming forward, but thanks to their training they were constructive.  In a nutshell, they were focused on the continued external and internal structural and systemic barriers to service and the need to explore more opportunities to integrate civilian life and Reserve life.

External Barriers

The Defence Reserve is the definition of a flexible working arrangement. It allows our citizens to make a long term commitment to their family, their career and to their nation. When we get this right, it works beautifully.  However, external and internal structural and systemic barriers still exist to that service and are still posing impediments to Australia maximising the potential of the talent in the Reserve.

My consultations have revealed that many Reservists are still using their annual leave to undertake continuous training periods. This is despite the increasing understanding that both employees and employers benefit from the skills acquired from the time spent in uniform. Under the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 employers are compelled to release Reservists when they are required to undertake periods of service, including any training to prepare for that service - so the legislative barrier isn't there.

But I understand this is not translating to the workplace because businesses are still not required to have a Reserve leave policy, or where policies exist, they are inconsistent. Some businesses have a policy where leave for Reserve service is accounted for in annual leave, others include additional time periods. This is not just an inconsistency in policy but an inconsistency in communication. Such information is not required to be disclosed to employees prior to the commencement of their work.

A Defence Reserve policy lets Reservists consider all their options relating to their service before they choose their employer. A clearly defined policy ensures both employees and employers are clear about their rights and responsibilities.

Structural and systemic barriers are not limited to workplaces. During my recent briefings, I heard that universities are also discriminating around Reservists. There have been times when a Reservist goes to serve their nation for an extended time and then been asked to restart their university course again.  This is not what we want in 2018. We want a highly trained Reserve force that is well integrated into civilian life.

Internal Barriers

There are also a number of internal barriers. In the military, it’s widely understood that the greater your time commitment, the greater the chance of promotion. This stands in the way of those who are considered carers of children, family, dependents and foster children. This stands in the way of women. It creates a barrier in advancing your career if you don’t have the opportunity to participate, given your role as a carer. While this affects anyone that cares for another, it becomes an issue of gender imbalance if one gender accounts for more than two thirds of carers in Australia.

Women make up 51 per cent of the Australian population, but just 17.5 per cent of Reserves and, the figures vary between the forces, but we're talking a range of 13 and 20 percent for the permanent ADF. We need to encourage more women into Reserves. In 2011, a survey of more than 10,000 Reserve and Permanent members of the ADF found: Reservists want more opportunities to contribute, predictability of work pattern and enhanced career management, while Permanent ADF members would like greater service options.  Project SUAKIN was designed to tackle this.

Project SUAKIN

The project was a Labor-lead initiative described as “a whole-of-Defence Total Workforce Employment Model designed to contribute to capability by giving Defence more flexibility in managing the ADF workforce”.

SUAKIN aimed to move flexible employment arrangements to a longer term solution, offering ADF members casual, part-time and full-time work options. To allow those serving with carer or personal commitments more room to move within their role.

During a review into the treatment of Women in the ADF in 2012, Defence was advised by the Australian Human Rights Commission to reconsider the recommendations outlined in Project SUAKIN. This review, once again, highlighted the dire need for flexible service arrangements.

The Chiefs of Service Committee approved the implementation of Plan SUAKIN on 25 May 2012. The Assistant Minister stated that the SUAKIN ‘service model’ would be in place by 2014, but that full implementation would take some years.

I was under the impression this reform had stood still as the information available about its implementation was hard to find. However, I was pleased to hear this week that Project SUAKIN is well and truly on track. Service Category six, defined as a flexible service arrangement for members of the Permanent Force, will be finalised by November this year.

SUAKIN was and is a big project, but for all of those involved I really want to congratulate you because it was a major initiative and it will involve significant cultural and behavioural change. But it does send a very strong message that both the permanent ADF and Reserves are committed to being as flexible and responsive to the needs of the modern world and modern workforce.

We have got to make the environment for our Permanent and Reservist forces more flexible – to respond to an ever changing environment, to diversify the workforce and to maximise the potential of our serving men and women. We have to continue to identify those structural and systemic barriers and keep kicking them down.

Barriers for Women

When I was in Defence I also worked on a project looking at women and women who were, or were trying to do part time work. The project focused on the structural and systemic barriers that were interfering with their ability to do that. Things have changed a lot but unfortunately, that part time review highlighted the fact that there are still those systemic barriers in place that did not allow for part time work.

How can you have a part time house? How do you have part time healthcare?  I’m not saying that any of this is easy to solve. Most of the time you go part time for a couple of years and then to full time - how would this work within the ADF?

Another suggestion from my Reserves consultation came from a single mum who has had a terrible time trying to keep up her service. She can parade but she doesn’t have anyone here to  look after her children. She wants to participate, to serve her nation, and she still wants to be active. But the way that the system is structured means that she can’t - without childcare assistance.

Other suggestions included:

  • provision of career management to all soldiers and officers regardless of their SERCAT status;
  • mandatory performance reporting, regardless of SERCAT status;
  • Reserve training review with a view to increasing facilitation of RPL;
  • promotion panels to include 50 percent women; and
  • transparency across promotion panels including reporting on panel composition and outcomes.

Cyber Security in Reserves

As the Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence, I am increasingly aware of threats to our nation beyond land, sea or sky. The physical weapons that threaten our national security are no longer the only artillery on the ground. Cyber attacks are on the rise across the world and as a nation.

The shortage of cyber security professionals is having a significant impact on our ability to address these challenges as industry and government all compete for limited talent. It’s forecast that by next year there will be 6 million jobs in cyber security globally, and only 4.5 million people with the skills to fill them. That’s one and a half million jobs that will need filling globally in the next few years –19,000 here in Australia in the next year.

Most cyber security specialists in Australia sit in the private sector because government struggles to pay the market rates for these skills. That's why there have been legislative changes in the ASD to make them more responsive in a highly competitive environment. Currently, the military doesn’t have a career path for cyber professionals, especially those in Reserve roles.

As my colleague Dr Mike Kelly, stated at this exact conference last year: we need to think creatively about the national capability in this highly technical space, and the human resources that we are going to need to bring to bear.

I do think that for us to address the threat, we do need to think very laterally about what we do with Cadets and with Reservists in terms of Cyber. There is so much talent out there in both the private and government sector. We need to capitalise on this. Again, I would be interested in your thoughts on that because a lot of those people who fight on the cyber front are keen to serve their nation.


Reservists make up 20 percent of the Australian Defence Force. Not only are they crucial to our national security, but also to our communities. Labor went to the 2016 election with the commitment to ensure that the Reserves are a critical component of Australia’s defence capability that needs to be able to contribute to any sort of operation in which Australia might participate. Labor is therefore committed to maintaining recruitment and retention of Reserve members and to integrating fulltime ADF and Reserve elements in a total force structure where the different role of all components is properly understood, valued and utilised effectively.

Labor recognises the invaluable contribution and skills Reserves bring to the ADF. We will work with you to shape ideas and policies to ensure we live with dignity, freedom, safety and prosperity and maximise the invaluable contribution made by Reserves.

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