I can see no reason why we should reject applicants from culturally similar nations such as Britain, New Zealand and Canada. British army people in particular would be very likely to come here. ADF procedures are based on British ones so adaptation to Australia would take no time at all
The idea of enlisting people from Pacific nations such as Tonga and Samoa is a little less obvious but it might be noted that the British army has a large contingent of such people
Foreign citizens could be allowed to serve in the Australian military under options being explored by the federal government as it seeks to fix a recruitment and retention crisis.
The government has set an ambitious goal of adding 18,500 uniformed personnel by 2040, a 30 per cent increase on the current level of about 60,000, but the Defence Force is struggling to maintain its current staffing numbers.
Longstanding defence policy states that only Australian citizens can serve in the military, with exemptions granted only in “very rare and exceptional circumstances”.
Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said on Friday that “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”.
Keogh, who is serving as acting defence minister, told ABC radio the government was looking at “opportunities for people to come to Australia, or who are already in Australia, from other countries to join our Defence Force”.
Asked which foreign nationals could be allowed to serve in the Australian military, Keogh said the government was “looking at the Pacific, but we’re also looking more broadly than that because we recognise the importance of growing our Defence Force”.
A critical shortage of skilled workers has seen the Defence Force offering junior and middle ranks cash bonuses of $50,000 to sign on for another three years.
The idea is a sensitive one, with some senior military figures opposed to foreigners serving in the Defence Force because they believe there should be a direct link between citizenship and military service.
This masthead reported last year that the federal opposition and leading military experts were calling on the Albanese government to consider allowing foreigners to fight under the Australian flag to boost the number of uniformed personnel.
Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said at the time that “with immigration about to increase, we should consider opening service in the ADF as an accelerated pathway to citizenship”.
‘This will make us weaker’: Army restructure faces backlash
“If someone is willing to fight and die for our country, we should take them over a $5 million golden visa any day of the week,” he said.
Other nations allow non-citizens to serve in their militaries, most famously the French Foreign Legion and the British Army’s brigade of Nepalese Gurkhas.
Defence experts have said a shortage of navy personnel is probably one of the reasons why Australia last month declined to send a warship to join an international coalition protecting shipping routes through the Red Sea.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese did not go into detail on Friday when asked about the proposal to allow foreign fighters, but said the government was seeking to boost interoperability with other nations such as New Zealand.
Retired major-general Mick Ryan said the government should consider creating a Pacific Islands regiment and allowing non-citizens from friendly nations to serve in the Defence Force.
“Why shouldn’t a Japanese citizen be able to join the Australian military if they want to make a contribution to the nation?” Ryan asked.
Peter Jennings, a former deputy secretary for strategy in the Defence Department, said the ADF faced a massive problem with recruitment and bold solutions were needed.
“Just doing another advertising campaign during the cricket is not going to cut it,” he said.
The radical proposal to recruit foreigners to fight for Australia
Keogh said there would be complexities involved in implementing the proposal, and any non-citizens would need to be subject to careful security vetting and consultation with other nations.
With the need for skilled workers widely acknowledged as a significant challenge for the AUKUS security pact, the Royal Australian Navy has launched a major recruitment drive to find hundreds of personnel to support the shift to nuclear-powered submarines and make more staff available to train with the United States and Britain.