Statement, Capability Through Diversity

Deputy Speaker, I welcome the Assistant Minister’s statement on Capability Through Diversity, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond.

When we talk about our defence capability we often focus on the technology, the hardware, the systems, and the infrastructure.

But I don’t think there is a person in this place who wouldn’t agree that when it comes to capability, our single biggest asset is our people.

The men and women of the Australian Defence Force.

It is their courage, their dedication, their bravery that make our Defence Force what it is.

And so it is vital that we as policy makers do all we can to attract the best people to the ADF, and to provide them with the support they need throughout their career.

Both sides of Government can be proud of the work that has been done in recent years to increase flexibility, inclusivity and diversity within the ADF.

Initiatives such as Project Suakin, which is delivering an enhanced employment model for the ADF by providing consistent access to a range of flexible career options; Plan Beersheba, which is increasing the integration between full and part time soldiers; the Broderick Review and Pathway to Change strategy, which have explored employment pathways for women and implemented measures to promote gender equality in Defence; and the ADF’s Indigenous Employment Strategy.

These initiatives are recognition of the fact that flexibility, inclusivity and diversity are each crucial to Defence’s ability to operate at peak performance and demonstrate maximum capability.

But while we have come a long way, there is still work to be done.

And so I welcome the Assistant Minister’s statement on Capability Through Diversity, which focuses on recruiting and developing a larger and more representative, culturally and linguistically diverse workforce.

Because our Defence Force should reflect the diversity within our society.

Through diversity, Australia gains the varied perspectives needed to face complex problems.

As the Assistant Minister said, 26 per cent of our population was born overseas and a further 20 per cent have at least one overseas born parent. Yet only 12.4 per cent of our ADF personnel were born outside Australia.

In her introduction to the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said “Predicting the future is fraught with risk, but the greater risk is in failing to plan for our destiny. As a nation, we face a choice: to drift into our future or to actively shape it.”

She was of course talking about the need for Australia as a nation to have a clear plan to seize the opportunities presented to us from the Asian century.

The White Paper states that one of Australia’s great strengths is that we are a country which welcomes diversity and values respect, understanding and inclusion, which helps connect our people, business, institutions and governments.

Cultural diversity is at the centre of Australia’s identity.

The paper goes on to say that there are gaps in participation in some of Australia’s institutions and organisations.

“Our parliamentary representatives do not reflect fully our diverse population (Anthony 2006; Kennett 2012). In business, while there is encouraging cultural diversity among accounting and business services firms, there is a shortfall in the proportion of senior executives and up-and-coming executives who originate from non-English-speaking countries and who speak languages other than English (Diversity Council of Australia 2011).”

We should ensure, as much as we can, that such gaps do not exist in Defence

The Defence Agency Multicultural Plan 2013-2015 states that “Defence’s professionalism and war fighting strength is underpinned by our ability to problem solve, innovate and adapt quickly. We achieve outcomes by drawing on the different strengths, attributes and characteristics of the many individuals who make up our teams. We understand that teamwork requires we think about how we relate to one another, respect one another, recognise the value of each person’s contribution, are fair and inclusive, and that we work collaboratively to achieve the best results on all days and in all ways.”
“It is important that Defence engages a culturally diverse workforce that not only represents the community in which its personnel live and serve, but that draws from the full breadth of skills available… Engaging with the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community will not only support Defence’s future capability through recruitment but will assist the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community to embrace Defence as a positive and integral part of Australian life.”

As Lieutenant Colonel Philip Holgin stated in his 2013 article “Religious Diversity and the Australian Army – the Next Diversity Frontier?”, there are a range of capability benefits of having a more cultural and linguistically diverse ADF, for example the improved cultural understanding of local populations in likely areas of future operations, including religious sensitivities.

A more diverse ADF will enhance international understanding during coalition operations, multinational exercises and other activities where diverse religions are represented in an international task force.

It will also enhance the effectiveness of domestic disaster relief programs through consideration and understanding of religious customs, traditions and immediate faith-related needs in affected areas.

And it will also further strengthen the high regard our defence forces are held – both in Australia and internationally.

I am pleased that the Assistant Minister has highlighted a number of new initiatives in his speech.

I welcome his focus on recruitment. I welcome the Government’s immediate push to increase the accessible talent pool from which the ADF can recruit individuals with a culturally and linguistically diverse background. This must be done by appealing to the ‘influencers’, being parents, community leaders or teachers of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

I also welcome the focus on cadets, and I’d like to acknowledge the key role that cadets play in widening the recruitment pool for the ADF.

Traditionally cadets have more strongly reflected the multiculturalism of the Australian population. This needs to be nurtured and carried through into the ADF. Labor has a proud track record when it comes to cadets, and it is pleasing to see cadet numbers have steadily increased over the past six years.

I also welcome the Assistant Minister’s steps to identify a part time Islamic Imam to join the ADF’s Religious Advisory Committee, to represent the 96 ADF members of Islamic faith.

But to bring about significant progress will take time. And it will not be easy.

I believe a key factor in the encouraging results we’re seeing in regards to having more women and Indigenous Australians in our Defence Forces has been the commitment by the ADF’s leadership to this task. It has been particularly pleasing to see the Chief of Army David Morrison’s dedication to improving the gender balance within Army. Lieutenant General Morrison set clear KPIs for the Army to attract more women, and the gender balance is improving.

Leadership, at the political level and in the ADF, is crucial – I therefore welcome the Assistant Minister for Defence’s commitment to this. 

We have seen strong leadership from service chiefs on sexism and abuse. 

In becoming Chief of the Defence Force last year, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin said that now is “a time of transformation for the ADF and it's a time for continued reform for the ADF.”

Diversity must continue to be at the centre of this reform.

Because diversity will lead to greater capability, and an inclusive defence force will lead to a stronger Australia.

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