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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1643


Mr ROBERT (FaddenAssistant Minister for Defence) (15:17): by leave—The Australian Defence Force, ADF, has been involved in continuous operations for almost 16 years, and as I speak our Defence Force has once more been deployed to a foreign theatre in support of our national interest. Whether as part of global coalitions, supporting regional partners or assisting Australians and others in times of need, the last 16 years has borne witness to an ADF that has grown and developed in a multitude of ways. New equipment, new infrastructure, new doctrine and new attitudes on the battlefield have all shaped the ADF into the organisation we have come to know today.

The most defining feature of the current Defence Force is not its equipment or its bases; it is the extraordinary professionalism and courage, both moral and physical, of its people. To their enduring credit our people continue to change attitudes and behaviours; to adapt to the challenges that befall them and leverage the tremendous benefits that accompany the diversification of the ADF workforce. This is exemplified in Defence's Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture strategy that was released on 7 March 2012. Pathway to Change is Defence's statement of cultural intent and builds on the cultural reform programs underway in the three services.

Importantly, Pathway to Change articulates Defence's cultural intent; that we are trusted to defend, proven to deliver and respectful always. The government remains committed to Pathway to Change and especially to building a culture of respect within the ADF. My edict is a simple one—everyone serves, everyone fights and everyone is respected regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity or sexuality.

The combat power the ADF generates in order to serve the national interest is magnified when all of our people respect the person they fight alongside, knowing that person is qualified and trained for their role. Pathway to Change shows clearly, for example, that the ADF's combat power is enhanced by having more women and Indigenous Australians in our ranks. To this end the government remains committed to the current recruitment diversity strategy with its specific focus on women and Indigenous Australians. The results over the last 12 months have been encouraging.

The next iteration on the ADF's journey to enhance its combat power is to more fully embrace a culturally and linguistically diverse, CALD, workforce. And it is to this end that this ministerial statement will focus. By way of background, as a nation, 26 per cent of our population were born overseas and a further 20 per cent have at least one overseas-born parent. Yet only 5.7 per cent of permanent Defence Force members currently identify themselves as being from a 'non-English speaking background'.

In terms of pure numbers, within our 57,000-strong permanent ADF, only 3,262 members identify themselves as being from a non-English speaking background. A further examination of the composition of the ADF reveals 12.4 per cent, or 7,126 members of the permanent force, were born outside of Australia. But perhaps more critically only 5.4 per cent, or 3,110, were born in countries other than New Zealand, the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.

I acknowledge that Defence has not been standing still on this issue. The latest recruitment data shows an increase in the number of people enlisting who are born in countries other than Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Canada. However the increase has only been 0.2 per cent over the last 12 months. It is clear the growth of a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce, that represents the changing face of modern Australia, is moving too slowly. This is going to change.

The government's direction to the Department of Defence is quite clear. It is to renew efforts on recruiting and developing a larger, more representative culturally and linguistically diverse workforce. This is to start now. There is to be a dedicated recruitment strategy to ensure the ADF has access to the nation's full potential and recruits from it accordingly.

This strategy is not born out of a desire to be seen to be doing something, or a belief in social engineering. It is born out of the stark reality that combat power will be enhanced by widening the national recruitment pool and tapping into the tremendous latent resources that a culturally and linguistically diverse workforce brings to Defence. In many ways this is not dissimilar from ensuring our capability edge through investing in cutting edge equipment or maintaining exceptional training standards.

This new approach, which I term capability through diversity, will ensure we tap into the nation's full recruitment potential to ensure we are able to support the generation and sustainment of combat power into the future. Furthermore, Defence can and will take growing advantage of the national depth of cultural diversity to develop a breadth of cultural and linguistic knowledge and expertise that enhances the ADF's war fighting capability.

A more diverse workforce will further assist Defence engage closely with key international partners—including the United Nations, NATO, ASEAN, and other non-government and independent organisations with an international focus. Likewise, in order to ensure Australia's security in the Asia-Pacific, Defence must have personnel with sufficient depth of linguistic and cultural literacy to engage effectively with our regional neighbours and partners.

As modern military operations evolve there will be a growing requirement for greater interaction with, and understanding of, different cultures. It will be essential to increase the ADF's cultural diversity and cultural competence if it is to harness the advantage on the modern battlefield, on operations and at home assisting Australians in times of need. Take for example the female engagement teams in Uruzgan province. They built relationships with Afghan women to allow them to express their concerns and needs to improve their lives and those of their families in a safe, sensitive and culturally appropriate manner. This capability was vital in accessing a significant part of the Afghan population and unequivocally demonstrated that a diverse ADF workforce had a tangible battlefield advantage in Afghanistan.

There are numerous contemporary examples of where diversity has proven to be operationally essential, and they include:

The deployment of a corporal, who was born in the Ukraine, to provide linguistic support to Joint Task Force 659 in Kiev.

Sending a petty officer who was born in Rabaul to provide support to the Centenary of Anzac commemoration in Rabaul.

Employing a Japanese-speaking flight sergeant as a translator aboard Japanese Ship Kunisake for international humanitarian Exercise PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP.

Deploying a Chinese-speaking Navy officer to provide crucial at-sea liaison with the Chinese People's Liberation Army during the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

To expand on these successes and ensure the future capability of the ADF, it is crucial to increase the accessible talent pool from which the ADF can recruit individuals with a culturally and linguistically diverse background. A recent article on religious diversity by Lieutenant Colonel Hoglin, published in the Australian Army Journal Culture edition 2013 identified the need to:

… gain a deeper and more intimate cultural understanding and appreciation of local populations in likely areas of operations, including religious sensitivities and practices (beyond that possible through cultural awareness training during force preparation).

The article further identified that diversity:

… enhances the effectiveness of domestic disaster relief programs through consideration of religious customs, traditions and immediate faith-related needs in affected areas.

I believe Lieutenant Colonel Hoglin is absolutely correct. To ensure Defence can effectively widen its culturally and linguistically diverse workforce, it must ensure its recruitment practices and wider policies are not limiting access to quality candidates from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It must also ensure its internal policies and practices are sensitive to a broad range of cultural needs. This will assist in developing a deeper culture of inclusivity to support our retention goals, and so that each person can optimally contribute to Australia's defence through their skills, education, knowledge and ideas.

In meeting these objectives of the capability through diversity program, Defence, it is fair to say, will need to overcome some community challenges. After all, culturally and linguistically diverse communities are not homogenous. For example, overcoming eligibility requirements to serve in the ADF and appealing to those communities who have traditionally had less propensity or interest in military service will need to be addressed. I am confident Defence can and will overcome most challenges associated with attracting people from different cultural experiences and backgrounds. In fact research suggests that specialised approaches to marketing, particularly to target the 'influencers', are important to attract or overcome propensity issues for different communities. These influencers may be parents, community leaders or teachers for instance.

A good example of a specialised approach is the establishment of the Navy cadet unit in Western Sydney—'TS Australia'. Cadet units have traditionally been a strong recruitment pool for the ADF. In this case the membership of this unit reflects the cultural make-up of the community in which it operates, which is predominantly Islamic.

All Australians, regardless of their cultural or linguistic background should feel comfortable serving in our world-class Defence Force. Our Defence leaders are taking steps to ensure they have the best cultural advice. The Chief of Navy's recent steps to employ an Islamic adviser within the Navy is a case in point. Furthermore, Australians should feel secure in the knowledge that our Defence Force represents our pluralist democracy. There is no impediment to service based on religion, and our chaplaincy and religious advisory committee to the services are designed to provide such support where required. To this end, I have asked my department to move as quickly as possible to identify a part-time Islamic imam to join the ADF's religious advisory committee to ensure those 96 ADF members of an Islamic faith have appropriate representation. Likewise if other mainstream faith groups have approximately 100 adherents serving in the ranks of the ADF, the same opportunity will be provided for their religious leaders to represent them on the religious advisory committee.

Just as the ADF will require a greater talent pool of culturally and linguistically diverse personnel to ensure future operational success, so too will it require a diverse workforce to ensure that it remains technologically proficient. The future ADF will need a workforce highly literate in science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) skills, skills that are in demand right across the economy. Employment in these occupations is growing at almost twice the pace of other occupations and the employment rates for those with these skills are extremely high—above 80 per cent. Australia, like other countries, is facing challenges in accessing STEM skills. If Defence wants to ensure it maintains and grows its STEM capability, it must attract candidates from the broadest range of educational and ethnic backgrounds in the community.

Recent data indicates about a quarter of Australia's overseas-born, higher education student population is born in China (19 per cent) or India (six per cent), with a further 16 per cent born in Europe and 13 per cent born in Africa and the Middle East. Of those born outside Australia, with higher level STEM qualifications, 10 per cent were born in India and seven per cent in China.

A 2013 report STEM:Country comparisons, states that migrant families do better in Australia than in most OECD countries and that young people born in Australia to immigrant parents are the highest achieving group in Australia. This data indicates increasing representation of culturally and linguistically diverse personnel is a capability multiplier. It not only improves cultural competence and capability, but may increase access to a greater proportion of our talented youth.

Many Australian employers are struggling to recruit those with STEM aptitudes in sufficient numbers, and tend to be focusing on making STEM pathways more attractive to women. With some targeted efforts to recruit those with linguistic and cultural diversity, Defence will get ahead of the curve in terms of recruiting those with a propensity to work in STEM-related fields. Indeed, a vibrant cultural capacity and aptitude in science and technology is pivotal to our future capability.

In closing, the capability through diversity program will better align the composition of the ADF with the broader community. However; this should not be seen as an end in itself; rather, the objective is to increase the ADF's operational capability. Having a culturally diverse ADF does not just benefit the Australian community, it provides a strategic deterrent and battlefield advantage. These advantages would only be enhanced by an increased focus on the recruitment of Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Over the past few years we have focused on increasing the participation of women in the ADF. Gender equality in the ADF is now being rapidly accepted as fact by the community. Capability through diversity is the next iteration, with its focus on attracting those from a range of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Defence must be ahead of the national game. The ADF must further diversify and better reflect the society it serves and represents in order to be competitive in the employment market and to draw on the wider range of skills and experience central to our national security objectives. The generation of our nation's combat power options deserves nothing less. Madam Speaker, I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Canberra to speak for fourteen and a half minutes.

Leave granted.

Mr ROBERT: I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Ms Brodtmann speaking in reply to the ministerial statement for a period not exceeding 14½ minutes.

Question agreed to.