Fixing Australia’s Self-flagellating Education System Will Help Boost ADF Recruitment Drive, Restore Our Sense Of Self

Written by:
22 May 2024
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In this article, Director of Law and Policy John Storey contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research on national defence, and its role in the Australian way of life.


There was recently a short-lived internet trend where men were asked how often they thought about the Roman Empire. 

Surprisingly the men interviewed admit to thinking about the Roman Empire remarkably often.

I suspect that is not the case with Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles.

During the unveiling of the Federal Government’s 2024 National Defence Strategy, Mr Marles noted the Australian Defence Force is chronically short of recruits.

The ADF has only met 80 per cent of its recruitment goals over the past two years, leaving a current shortfall of 4,400 troops.

In response, he suggested we “need to look at ways in which we can recruit from among certain non-Australian citizens to serve in the ADF”.

To any student of the Roman Empire, this should ring alarm bells.

A central cause of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD was the increasing reliance on “barbarian” mercenary soldiers to fill the ranks of the legions.

These soldiers proved unreliable and destabilising, leaving the crumbling empire vulnerable to external attack, eventually resulting in its destruction.

Recruiting a few thousand foreign soldiers won’t itself bring about the fall of Canberra, but the fact we are forced to consider doing so is clear evidence of a deep rot in Australia.

Rather than scour the world with bribes of money and citizenship to fill the ranks of our depleted military, perhaps the government could turn its attention to addressing why so few Australians are choosing to serve their country.

Mr Marles noted worker shortages as a cause of the recruitment shortfall.

Indeed, Australia does have a severe worker shortage problem, exacerbated by the red tape and taxes that prevent so many citizens from working.

But in an opinion poll commissioned by the IPA in 2022, in response to the question ‘If Australia was in the same position as Ukraine is now, would you stay and fight, or leave the country’ only 32 per cent of those aged 18-24 said they would stay and fight.

Forty per cent said they would leave the country and 28 per cent were unsure.

If less than a third of young Australians would fight for their country, even when invaded, our recruitment problem is not only an economic one but cultural as well.

The central criticism of Mr Marles’ new defence strategy is that promised new funding will only materialise well past the forward estimates.

A dubious promise to build a frigate in ten years is unlikely to deter anyone in the next five.

In that spirit, here are three immediate and concrete steps that could be taken to reverse the recruitment decline.

First, the importance of national security needs to be introduced into Australia’s education system.

There are currently three national cross curriculum priorities – effectively political issues teachers are forced to push in every subject: ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures’; ‘Australia’s Engagement with Asia’; and ‘Sustainability’.

In practice, it is Indigenous issues and climate change that get pushed the hardest.

In effect, our children are indoctrinated into believing that their country is racist, they live on stolen land and the world is going to end.

National security should immediately be made a cross-curriculum priority.

Our education system should instil pride in our country, its people and those that serve it in uniform, rather than constantly talking these down.

Second, it will be much easier convincing Australians to defend their country if they have a real stake in it.

And the best way to instil that is home ownership.

Yet almost every policy lever governments could pull to make it harder to own a home is being pulled with gusto.

Our energy policies are fixated on replacing affordable and reliable energy with expensive and unreliable alternatives, and combined with the re-regulation of the labour market this locks in high inflation and interest rates.

On top of this, Australia’s out-of-control mass migration program and ever more red and green tape is exacerbating the housing affordability crisis.

Little wonder young people are not willing to fight for the country, when the country clearly has higher priorities than helping them achieve a better life.

Finally, it is no coincidence that in the same week our defence minister announced a recruitment crisis, we witnessed some horrifically violent attacks in our community.

It is hard to ask citizens to fight for Australia, when social cohesion is becoming fractured.

Years of failed explicitly multicultural policies cannot be reversed overnight.

But a great place to start would be for the police to take back control of our streets and prevent the violence and bigotry on display every weekend in our capital cities at protests about the war in the Middle East.

Australia had nothing to do with that conflict and has a proud record of opening its arms to millions of people from around the world.

If asking for some gratitude is too much to expect, we can at least demand law and order.

If Australia wants to avoid the fate of the Roman Empire, it needs to get serious about its defence by starting to build some unity from within.

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