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Army recruitment criteria to change slightly: -

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Army recruitment criteria to change slightly: Leahy

At Tuesday's Cabinet meeting the Federal Government committed $10 billion to recruit 2,600 extra
soldiers. Lieutenant General Peter Leahy explains what challenges this poses for the Army and how
they plan to recruit that many people.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, they certainly spent some money at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting - $10 billion to
be precise. That's what it's going to cost to add two extra battalions to the Australian Army -
2,600 extra soldiers. That's a huge recruitment challenge for the Army. To talk about that now, I'm
joined, from our Parliament House studios in Canberra, by the head of the Army, Lieutenant General
Peter Leahy. Good morning and welcome.


BARRIE CASSIDY: You're basically talking about 500 extra soldiers a year. It may not seem a lot,
but it is a lot when you're losing numbers now.

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: It is a lot, Barrie, but it's achievable. We can improve our recruiting
performance. And certainly, with those soldiers we have in Army, if we keep them for just a little
bit longer, that will help solve the problem as well. It's a very achievable problem, but it's a
necessary one.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But there's already this presentation that to do so you'll have to start dropping
standards on weight and health and things like that.

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: We can have a look at some of the entry standards, but I think what's
important is that we recognise it's not about what you are before you join the Army, it's what you
become in the Army. Sure some people might be a bit overweight, but we're good at getting people
fit and taking the weight off them. I know that a lot of young women and men try drugs
recreational. We have a zero tolerance inside the Army. We have an active regime of random and
targeted testing, and when I talk to soldiers, I know what they're saying to me is very clearly we
don't want people doing drugs in the Army. So, it's about the culture inside the Army, the way that
we see each other and the way that we work together. And again, I think that's achievable.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And what about with asthmatics, for example? That's come up during the week. Are
you now prepared to take people with that problem?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: Well, I think the treatment regimes have improved and we can make sure
that people have the facilities to be able to make sure that they're fit. Clearly, we won't be able
to take people who suffer very badly from asthma, but for those who might have had it as a child or
might be just suffering on the edges, again concessions can be made and we can make sure that
they're fit and healthy, but, again, do the job in the Army.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But do they have to be capable of doing all jobs, or are you able to say because
you're an asthmatic you'll do a desk job, for example?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: Well, we'd like to think that most people are deployable for all sorts of
activities, but - you've got to look at me: I'm a little bit older than most people in the Army,
I've been lucky to keep my health and my fitness. So, there are some areas, and particularly with
the support we get from the Army Reserve - the surgeons and the lawyers and other professionals who
come and support our deployments - they're doing very specific jobs and we're able to make some
concessions, particularly in the case of surgeons, on age, they're very skillful and they help us
out and we're very grateful for that. But it is a young man's job - out there in the field in Iraq
and Afghanistan, you need to be fit, you need to be hearty and pretty healthy and get on with the

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, you've already said it's not only about recruitment it's about retention. In
that sense, how important is wages? The Prime Minister did say on Friday he hadn't ruled out the
possibility of increased wages. Is that an important element?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: I think that is an element and clearly when we look at the package that
the Cabinet has put together for us, announced by the Prime Minister and the Minister, there are
bonuses for retention, there's ways that we can support our people more. We're saying, in regard to
retention, that you recruit the soldier and you retain the family. We recognise that as our
soldiers grow up and their families grow that they're looking for posting tenure, they're looking
for more stability in one location, so the kids can get to school and stay there. And our families
all recognise that. So, there's a whole range of activities and pay is part of that and we'll see
what comes of that. But what I see is soldiers don't talk so much about the pay - they talk about
the opportunity to serve the nation, to do a challenging job, to be part of an organisation that
the country can be proud of. So there's a whole package there and we'll be working with our
soldiers to see what can keep them in the Army. Because, if we can just keep them for a year or two
longer, it will make the whole problem a whole lot easier.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You concede that rotation is a problem. Are you saying that that's something you
now have a grip on?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: No, I wouldn't say we've got a full grip on it yet, but we're taking some
steps. For example, about a month ago, the Army issued a directive that instead of a normal
two-year posting, we're going to go for three-year postings. That will allow a bit more stability.
We're also looking at - with the changes occurring in a number of battalions - at our forced
disposition, to try and make larger base so that instead of moving around the country all of the
time from base to base, we'll be able to keep people in the one geographic area. And I think
there's a lot of promise in that sort of area. Some people like to move. Those who are not
comfortable with that, well, we'll try and keep them in the one area for as long as possible. But
it's about a career of advancement - you do more channelling jobs, you get promoted. You need to
move about a bit. We can work on the balance just a little bit more.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, I think you would concede that the military generally has a less than perfect
history, in terms of dealing with internal complaints over the years - particularly with bullying
and matters like that, and a lot of parents have raised that as an issue. Do you think you can
persuade the community that you're getting a grip on that one?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: I think we are getting a grip on that. The Senate are supporting us there,
the Government's supporting us there. And I will acknowledge - and I've done it previously - that
we make mistakes. It's like any community, we can make some mistakes. But we are very clear to our
soldiers that we have a zero tolerance for harassment and for bullying, a zero tolerance for drugs.
Some people get it wrong every now and again and we'll deal with them. But I think the culture
inside the Defence Force - inside Army, in particular - is a strong culture. And I'm very confident
and very proud of our soldiers, as I travel about, to see them committed to serving the nation and
being part of the Army. Where mistakes occur, we'll be right onto them to try to make sure that it
is about the individual and that they understand this is wrong, don't do that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, what about the bottom-line - it's certainly the bottom-line issue with me -
the fear of being killed or injured? I mean, there was a time when parents would send their kids
off to the Army and they'd think, "Well, they'll get a trade and it will be useful for the future."
But now, there's a real chance they'll actually see conflict.

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: Well, the history of the Army and the Defence Force, in particular, is
about service to the nation and the acceptance of risk and challenge. The Anzac legend was born in
Gallipoli when many soldiers were killed and wounded. It carried through in the Second World War in
Malaya and Korea and Vietnam. Yes, there are dangers in military service, but in the way we prepare
our soldiers, the way that they are trained and equipped and the way they work together under
strong leaders - these days in Iraq and Afghanistan - we're able to recognise those risks. And when
I talk to the soldiers before they deploy, they know that the risks are there but they know they're
ready and they are prepared and they're prepared to face the challenge. It's something they're very
proud to do on behalf of Australia.

BARRIE CASSIDY: When you get bogged down in something like Iraq, and you're doing it essentially in
support of the United States, that can't help, either. Are there any instances where you know that
soldiers have left the Army because of that?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: I'm not aware of any instances, and I've just come back from Iraq where I
saw... overwatched a battle group working down in the south of Iraq. And they're all very proud.
They're very positive. They're very much aware that they're helping the people of Iraq. And the
province that we're in is making great advances. The Iraqi security force have been able to take
over control for the security of the region. We've stepped back a bit into overwatch and we're
seeing advances. I've seen, on numerous visits now, great advances in the economy. A lot of
building going on, a lot of people out there trying to rebuild Iraq and we're very happy to be part
of that; very happy to help the people. And that's one of the things that I think motivates our
soldiers - they know they can make a difference and they see that difference occurring.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, the Prime Minister puts a pessimistic picture on regional stability and says
the country could face even worse situations than we faced recently in the Solomons and East Timor.
Do you share that pessimism?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: I think what we've got to do in the Defence Force is make sure we're able
to cope with the potential for strategic volatility in the future. We've got to make sure that we
can deal with the sorts of problems that we're seeing now. If you look at the type of activities
the Defence Force are involved in, there's a very great scope of them. It used to be just about the
defence of Australia - and we'll do that and we'll do that absolutel,; that's our primary task -
but the assistance to disaster missions in Sumatra, to Pakistan, peacekeeping and peace operations,
humanitarian operations, the counter-terror role. What I see is its decision to increase the size
of the Army and I should add there are some increases, some smaller increases, to the support
available to us, from the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy. It means that
we're able to provide the Government with a greater range of options, so that they can deal with
the problems as they arise.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And the Federal Police are recruiting as well. Are you going to be competing with
them for the same pool of labour?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: I think there's a slightly different labour pool there. My understanding
of the Federal Police - and I heard the Commissioner say the other day that they've got plenty of
applicants for their 400-odd positions - they tend to be a little bit older than our soldiers:
probably 27, 28, people who've had a bit more life experience, because they're going to be dealing
much more closely with the population, they're in doing that policing role. We're after the younger
guys. We certainly want them to be mature and responsible and act as ambassadors for Australia, but
I don't think there's a direct competition between the two forces.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Is there a competition in terms of demarcation when you go to a place like the
Solomon Islands or East Timor, for example? Or are your responsibilities clearly defined?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: We're working really well together and a lot of people probably don't
understand what's happening over in the Solomon Islands. That's actually a police mission. The
Army, Navy and Air Force went there in support of a participating police force. We've been working
very closely with them and it's a great cooperation there. And, similarly, up in East Timor, we're
able - because of the nature of the Defence Force - to deploy quickly, to take our logistics and
our command and control and deal with the problem quickly. But the Federal Police and other police
from around the world were there pretty quickly. We work cooperatively and we work well. We're
training together and I'm very confident that in the future we'll be able to make a very seamless

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, there was news over the weekend that the UN Security Council has authorised an
international police force for East Timor - 1,600 in total. What will that mean for Australia's
military presence?

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: It means that the sum total of security and the police and other UN
agencies will be able to build a secure and stable future for East Timor. The police and the UN
agencies will concentrate on the governance, they'll concentrate on the police and those aspects of
government life and the life of the people. We'll be there as a security force. We hope to be able
to take a back step and move away and not be as prominent on the streets, because, with 1,600
police, they should be able to cope with most of that. We'll cooperate with the UN mission, but I
expect that we'll be able to be a little bit quieter, because it now is very much about rebuilding
and stability and sustainment and that's a police and civilian mission.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Does it mean, though, that you'll be able to start reducing your numbers almost

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: We've been reducing our numbers fairly gradually now for about a month,
and I'm confident - and we've got a new force lining up to go - and we'll be able to bring some
fairly substantial elements out. We'll make sure that those security forces in country - and it
won't only be Australia - but those security forces in country are able to cope with that. But as
we've seen if there's a need to deploy quickly we've clearly demonstrated we can do that. But I'm
confident that the path that the East Timorese people and their government are on is one where that
won't be necessary.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy, thanks for your time this morning; appreciate it.

LIEUT. GEN. PETER LEAHY: It's my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me on.

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