Unpacking the Defence Strategic Review

Recommendations from the Defence Strategic Review and the role of the RSL in supporting the people in Defence.

At a glance:

  • The Defence Strategic Review calls for a reappraisal of Australia’s Defence priorities and capabilities.
  • According to Professor John Blaxland, one of those priorities should be to reconsider the historically limited workforce within Defence.
  • RSL NSW CEO Jon Black said that the RSL has a role to lobby the government to increase funding for veterans’ support and services in line with the increase in the number of veterans recommended by the review.
  • A continued focus on the people working within Defence is critical to support the future veteran community.

The Defence Strategic Review outlines the need for a refreshed approach to Australia’s Defence priorities in light of technological and personnel capacity, and recent global geopolitical shifts.

Commissioned by the Australian Government in 2022 and released to the public in late April, the review points to the emergence of distance-based threats such as cyberwarfare and the evolving power relationships in the Indo-Pacific as factors contributing to the call for a new approach to Defence strategy.

The recommended changes have repercussions for the future focus of ex-service organisations including the Returned and Services League.

According to John Blaxland, Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, the review prompts a reappraisal of the role and volume of Defence personnel.

“As high-tech and capable as the ADF is, it’s just so small,” said Blaxland. “We have historically focused on quality over quantity, and I think we’ve used that as an excuse to let the size of our Defence Force whittle away to the point where the quality advantage is negated by the quantity disadvantage.”

He said that even for that relatively small force compared to other countries’, the nature and level of support for veterans has varied.

“Australians have been provided with as much support as they possibly could when they have been deployed, but it’s not been so great upon their return,” said Blaxland. “I think there’s a need for us to not let the cynicism of the recent past [in Middle East conflicts] distract from our focus on the challenges of the future, in which the veteran community has an important contribution to make.”

It is that need for improved wellbeing and retention support for current serving members within Defence that RSL NSW CEO and Army veteran Jon Black  says is so important – as those current personnel are the veterans of the future.

“The current separation rate in Defence is higher than 13% and recruitment targets are not being met, particularly in some critical employment categories,” he said. “Despite the important focus on the future of Defence in Australia in this review, investment in Defence platforms will be undermined if the future workforce issue goes unaddressed.

“It’s a simple message from my perspective. The RSL needs to step up and have a voice in lobbying the government to increase funding for veterans’ support and services in line with the increase in the number of veterans recommended by the Defence Strategic Review. We have a role in helping the government accomplish that.”

RSL Australia President Greg Melick explained that recently announced and pending investment would build capability for current serving and future Defence personnel, and would be critical to the future success of Australia’s military operations at home and abroad.

“The RSL welcomes the results and recommendations of this extensive review,” said Melick. “It is appropriate for the increasingly uncertain strategic environment Australia now faces.

“One of the key issues that Australia must resolve is to increase the Defence workforce, both frontline and support. This means increased investment to ensure the retention and recruitment of personnel.”

Throughout all the discussions around strategic interests and geopolitics, Black said that focus on people is essential.

“The Defence Strategic Review highlights the fact that Australia has major changes to its strategic circumstances, but I’m not sure we have the commensurate investment in our people as we have in our platforms,” he said.

“Ultimately, those platforms will only be as good as the people within them.”

RSL NSW welcomes all current and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force and its Allied Forces to join the organisation, access support and services, and become part of a like-minded community. Become a member of RSL NSW.