Soldiers during Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2021.
Recruiting defence personnel from overseas is being considered to grow Australia's forces. Image by HANDOUT/DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE
  • politics

Foreign soldiers ‘an option’ to boost defence numbers

Andrew Brown January 5, 2024

Residents of Pacific nations could be allowed to join the Australian Defence Force under a proposal to boost military numbers.

Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said the government was considering ways to grow Australia’s armed forces amid recruitment issues.

An option was to allow people from foreign countries to serve.

“We are certainly looking at all options that we need to look at in terms of how we can grow our defence force, and that includes looking at how we might be able to grow it from friendly forces from other countries,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.

“(It includes) looking at opportunities for people to come to Australia, or who are already in Australia from other countries to join our defence force.”

While the defence force already allows transfers for those already serving in the UK or US armed forces, Mr Keogh said countries in the nearby Pacific would be considered.

“Certainly we’re looking at the Pacific, but we’re also looking more broadly than that, because we recognise the importance of growing our defence force,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone wants us poaching people out of their defence forces, but when people come and visit Australia … I’m sure the attractiveness of coming to work in Australia is pretty self-evident as well.”

A file photo of Matt Keogh
 Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh says all options are being considered to grow the force. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

The federal government is yet to indicate when a decision would be made on the defence recruitment method.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government was seeking to have the defence force work closely alongside allied countries.

“We are looking at increasing interoperability, and it’s one of the things that AUKUS is looking after,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“We want to make sure that our national sovereignty is protected at all times, but we are looking at increased co-operation.”

The prime minister said Australia was also examining greater military co-operation with New Zealand’s defence forces.

It comes as large numbers of defence personnel have signed on to receive a one-off retention bonus payment of $50,000.

About 85 per cent of eligible personnel have received the payment for the commitment to stay another three years with the defence force, following their initial period of service.

The payments were set aside in the last federal budget, with $400 million earmarked to address the exodus.

A separation rate of 11.2 per cent from the defence force was recorded in 2022/23, with the military also failing to meet its retention goals.

Mr Keogh said the payments would help to address the number of people leaving the army, navy and air force.

“It’s certainly going to have an impact, and is having an impact on keeping people in our defence force longer,” he said.

“What we are trying to do here is to improve the attractiveness for defence force personnel to stay in for a further three years after they’ve finished their initial service obligation.”