Relaxed fitness standards could make the defense force more attractive as the department admitted it was “struggling” to meet its recruitment targets.
The Australian Defense Force has revealed more personnel left the force than were recruited between the start of the financial year and October 1.
As of June 30, there were 58,642 permanent ADF personnel. Three months later, in October, there was a shortfall of about 1,400 staff.
Greens senator David Shoebridge said if the trend continued it would be “devastating” for defence.
“We are not meeting our recruiting goals,” Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Natasha Fox acknowledged in Senate estimates Wednesday.
A new recruitment agency, Adecco, was brought on board to help address the cuts, but Lt-Gen Fox said the ADF was still about 800 people below target.
He said new models for recruiting people to join the ADF included rolling out a new mobile career center to regional communities.
“We remove the disadvantage or the elements where there are barriers to service,” he said.
The one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment, including fitness requirements, has been relaxed for certain roles, such as in the cyber force.
“It doesn't remove the requirement at the moment for fitness testing in the Australian Defense Force, but we are reducing the requirement at different levels depending on the role and where it is safe to do so,” he said.
The ADF also now pays for specialist reports if a potential recruit has certain medical conditions.
It comes after the department's annual report revealed the ADF would be cut by 1,161 personnel in 2022-23 and more than 3,400 short of its workforce target.
Defense Secretary Greg Moriarty admitted the ADF was struggling to attract and retain personnel.
“It is important that we recognize the scale of the challenges we face in an environment where employment is very high in this country,” he said.
“A lot of people, the cohort that traditionally looked to the ADF for a career, are finding employment elsewhere and a lot of people are moving away because they're finding great opportunities in the private sector.”
Asked by Liberal senator Simon Birmingham whether the growth targets were realistic, chief financial officer Stephen Groves said the ADF “certainly hoped” they were.
“It's quite disturbing … the response I'm getting is that we're hopeful,” Senator Birmingham responded.
Labor leader Jenny McAllister, appearing before Defense Secretary Richard Marles' committee, insisted the government's approach was realistic.
“We absolutely agree that a realistic, fact-based approach is the way we should approach this,” he said.
“This is in stark contrast to the many commitments made under the previous government that have not been fulfilled.”