Thousands of Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and their loved ones are looking to the May Federal budget announcement this week to understand how they will be supported after several years of increased demand on our military forces.
Why is this Budget So Important for Defence Families?
It has been well publicised that a suite of natural disasters, the pandemic, geopolitical instability, and severe recruitment and retention issues in the ADF have culminated into a culture of continually asking our military personnel to do more with less.
The Department of Defence’s ability to stretch is not infinite. And it comes at a cost. Many mass media and analytical articles state positions on the financial cost of our evolving Defence posture, but the official advisory body for current serving Defence families –
The Defence Strategic Review (DSR) was (strategically?) released on 24 April 2023, the day before Anzac Day. Of the six key recommendations in the DSR summary, one relates primarily to Defence people rather than equipment, technology or force footprint: calling for immediate action for “initiatives to improve the growth and retention of a highly skilled Defence workforce”.
Defence and affiliate led research continually highlights that ADF members perform better and serve longer if their family are stable and well. Family is intrinsically linked to capability, to operational effectiveness and retention.
The delivery of the 2023-2024 Budget on Tuesday, 9 May will show us whether this recommendation has been taken on board.
Defence Force Recruiting advertisements spruik the joys of “work-life balance”, “hav[ing] time for things that matter” (cue family shot), education and training.
What Does a Commitment to Families Look Like?
Further, the Defence community is not satisfied with announcements of reviews as a perceived benefit to them. The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide highlights a trend of reviews that lead nowhere. Of 57 previous enquiries and a subsequent 780 recommendations, barely a handful have been implemented or considered. Further reviews show no commitment to action or change to help ADF members and their families to thrive.
In recent years, changes to the way in which data is collected about why ADF members transition has also led to some instances of skewed or misinterpreted trends. But regardless of whether an ADF member’s reason for leaving full-time service is listed as “time away from home”, “work-life balance”, “family reasons” or other reasons, these all amount to impacts on Defence families being the crux of why members call it quits. This must be recognised and prioritised appropriately in recruitment and retention initiatives.
In saying this, to mitigate undesired second and third order effects, DFA advise against knee-jerk initiatives or those rushed to delivery at the expense of genuine consultation with families. It is unknown, for instance, whether the roll out of selective retention bonuses may lead to increased transition rates of the ADF members under similar pressure but not recognised in the same way as those ADF members working to their left or right.
DFA look forward to unpacking the May budget as it relates to Defence families and ADF member support. Many families are keen to see what their sacrifices are worth in the eyes of the government and Defence. A sustainment or increase in funding or support mechanisms may lead some to hold to support their loved one to serve longer.
Cuts to family support in this budget would run counter to the rhetoric of Defence and Government about the military service of our ADF members, and the family sacrifices and support which enables that service. Cuts would no doubt see some families reach their limit and look at transition options.
Our ADF members achieve remarkable things, and Defence families are proud to support their service. But Australia can and should reduce the instances where these families are at a deficit, whether it be a deficit of time, stability, or wellness.
The Treasurer will deliver the 2023–24 Budget at approximately 7:30 pm (AEST) on Tuesday, 9 May 2023.
What Can You Do?
Write to your local Federal MP, copying in DFA, to give your feedback on the budget as it relates to Defence families. If you support an initiative, let them know. If you don’t see the commitment you were hoping for in the budget, let them know!
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