4 Jun 2024

Australian Defence Force recruitment to be opened to foreign citizens

8:57 pm on 4 June 2024

By Evelyn Manfield and Tom Lowrey

Close up of New Zealand and Australian soldiers side by side in uniform with their country flag on their sleeves.

From January 2025, citizens from US, UK and Canada will be eligible. Photo: NZDF

Foreign citizens with permanent residency in Australia will soon be able to serve in Australia's armed forces, as part of an effort to boost sluggish recruitment.

But the government has been forced to clarify confusion around its plans after different ministers spelled out differing policies on exactly who was eligible.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is facing a shortage of about 4400 workers.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said expanding applications to include eligible permanent residents was "essential" to meeting Australia's security challenges in the years ahead.

From July, New Zealanders who are permanent residents and have been living in Australia for at least a year before applying will be able to join the ADF.

Applicants must also not have served in a foreign military in the preceding two years, and be able to attain citizenship.

From January 2025, citizens from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada who meet the same criteria will be eligible, so long as they meet required security checks.

Those three countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, make up the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network.

Earlier, Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh laid out a different plan, suggesting recruitment would be opened to all countries from January.

That left his senior minister, Richard Marles, to clear up the confusion in parliament, suggesting expansion to other countries was a possibility in future - but not an immediate prospect.

"We are, in walking down this path, doing so in a careful, slow and calibrated way," he said.

"From the 1st of July, with those conditions in place ... if you are from New Zealand you'll be able to join the defence force.

"From the 1st of January, that will be extended to other 'Five Eyes' countries. In the future, we are having an eye to the Pacific. That is what we are doing."

Keogh also earlier suggested that once people had served in the ADF for at least 90 days they would be eligible for Australian citizenship, and would be expected to apply to become Australian citizens

Clarification has been sought from the defence minister's office as to whether or not that is correct.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton slammed the new policy and the confusion surrounding it, labelling it the "biggest change" to defence recruitment in Australian history.

"We've got Minister Marles at odds with Minister Keogh, we don't know the detail," he said.

"We know from the director-general of ASIO that we operate in an environment where there is an incredibly high level of foreign interference - that's the case in Five Eyes countries more generally.

"We don't know the full detail of how many people ... it's a dog's breakfast."

Kiwi interest - but NZ Defence Force not worried about poaching soldiers

Keogh hoped the change would lead to an extra 350 people joining the force annually - an increase from the current foreign transfer program, which sees about 70 people join the ADF each year.

The government has attributed that expected increase to significant interest from New Zealanders living permanently in Australia.

Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said the move highlighted the government's "failure" to recruit and retain personnel.

"We should be seeing more Australians have the confidence to sign up," Birmingham said.

"Why don't people have the confidence to sign up and wear the uniform with pride? Because of a dysfunction in defence policy that has been mired in review after review after review."

New Zealand Defence Minister Judith Collins said she did not expect the move to affect its own ranks.

"Given the eligibility criteria the Australian Defence Force has put in place for New Zealanders to join, including that people have to have lived in Australia for at least a year and cannot have served in a foreign military for at least the two previous years, I do not see this as having a direct impact on current NZDF," she said in a statement to ABC News.


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