Australian Defence Force (ADF) has a recruiting campaign with the goal to increase the percentage of women serving in the Army by 50%. With such a significant change there is a reasonable public expectation that underpinning this decision is a compelling strategic reason that will somehow enhance the Defence Force’s primary role and mission of defending the nation. It appears, however, that the Army and the rest of Defence are being used as political playthings. The game is to promote “diversity” agendas as the highest priority, not military strength or combat preparedness.
In March 2013, then-Chief of Army Lieutenant David General Morrison, now Australian of the Year, said that Army for the first time had set specific targets for the recruitment of women, with the goal of increasing those serving from 10% to 12% by mid-2014. In March 2014 there was the launch of a $1.8 million recruiting campaign to raise the number of women in the Army to 15% by 2018. That is a 50% increase over a five year period.
Is the ADF somehow out of step with comparable defence forces around the world? No, Australia already has one of the highest percentages of women serving in a defence force with 15% (Navy 18.6%, Air Force 18.2%, Army 11.8%) compared to other nations. The UK armed forces have less than 10%, German 11%, and Canadian 14.8%. The French and the New Zealand Defence Force are the same at 15%. However the Swiss and Finnish Defence Forces only have around 1% of women serving.
Now consider this: Only 5% of those working in the childcare industry are men. Is there some social good that would be achieved by an increased percentage of men in this sector? Probably, given the number of broken and single-parent families without dads. Further, only 10% of nurses are men. Would there be better health outcomes and care if there were more men in the sector? Probably, given men’s different approach to problem solving.
The percentage of male teachers in government primary schools has fallen to only 19% and continues to decline. Would there be a social good in trying to increase the number of male teachers in schools? Undoubtedly, many children don’t have good male role models in their life due to dysfunction at home.
What conclusion is to be drawn from the above numbers? Men and women have natural inclinations to be drawn toward certain types of roles and jobs, given their physiological and psychological predispositions. Just because there is a gender disparity doesn’t mean there is a problem that needs to be fixed.
There are definitely organisational benefits to women serving in the ADF, bringing their professional capabilities to many areas. However, the overarching role and mission of the ADF is to protect the nation. So Army combat roles require a high level of physical strength and stamina, including the ability to operate under extreme conditions and carry heavy physical loads for long periods of time. Men are best equipped physically to fill these combat roles. Every policy decision must go toward fulfilling the role and mission priority objective of protecting our nation.
Women fill over 40% of the roles within the Department of Defence and the Defence Materiel Organisation. However, there appears to be a natural high water mark globally of around 15% of women that are interested in serving in actual defence force roles. In its efforts to push beyond that point the government will be burning limited resources for a diminishing return on investment, no apparent social good and, worst of all, no strategic gain.
The Australian Navy has a target of 25% women serving by 2023; currently it sits at 18.6%. Yet as of June, 2014, 26% of women in the Navy were classified as non‐deployable, compared to 12% of men. It shouldn’t need to be pointed out that increasing the overall percentage of non-deployable female personnel undermines Defence capacity. As soon as targets were set for women, the compromise to standards and special consideration quickly followed. Special treatment of individuals and/or groups based on factors other than merit become problematic very quickly in Defence.
The Federal Government should make the following changes in order for the ADF to better meet its primary role and mission;
- Recognition that the ADF has a role like no other in society, so it needs the freedom to act in ways that may be considered discriminatory in the broader community.
- Have diversity moved to a low priority objective, not a primary driver of recruiting policy
- Remove recruiting targets for women in the ADF. Allow natural growth and fluctuation in number, taking remedial action only if the percentage falls below a 10% baseline.
- Remove the Australian Human Rights Commission from any ongoing role with the ADF as it creates the impression the ADF is on a diversity supervision order.
- Rescind orders or plans to put women into direct combat duty roles within the Army
If sanity prevails, all these changes will be reflected in the upcoming Defence White Paper.
We have a relatively small Defence Force with very tight budget constraints, our troops being continually asked to do more with less. Every dollar needs to work hard in optimising our defence capacities and building the strongest and most capable fighting force possible. Squandering the limited resources available on social-engineering distractions is not, and never should be, one of them.
Rod McGarvie, a former ADF Combat Engineer, is the lead Senate candidate for the Family First Party in Queensland