Defence strategic review: Jacqui Lambie’s demand on ADF retention

Crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie has declared she’d have to quit parliament and “pick up a weapon” if a war broke out, because of a shortfall of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel.

The ex-soldier turned firebrand Tasmanian independent said she’d be forced to return to the military if Australia became involved in a future conflict, warning the Defence retention rate needed to be urgently improved.

Senator Lambie made the comments on Today on Monday morning shortly – shortly before the release of a once-in-a-generation examination of Australia’s military assets and the strategic challenges facing the country.

Defence already has a $38bn plan to increase its permanent ranks by 30 per cent to 80,000 by 2040.

But security experts have warned it will struggle to meet its ambitious recruitment and retainment targets.

Senator Lambie has previously called on the government to make improving defence retention as a priority and claimed on Monday that the retention rate was “the worst it’s ever been”.

“People are not joining,” she said on Monday.

“If we have a war, there goes my Senate seat — I will have a pick up a weapon.”

Senator Lambie acknowledged she was yet to see the declassified white paper from the strategic review but suggested increasing Defence spending would mean little without enough personnel.

The review, led by former chief of defence Sir Angus Houston and former defence minister Stephen Smith, is expected to recommend a major increase to the nation’s military capabilities.

The government is expected to rapidly boosts the nation’s missile supplies in response to China’s military build-up and increase stocks of unmanned drones, submarines and cyber capabilities.

Senator Lambie questioned how the federal government would fund its recommendations including whether the army could be downgraded in order to build up the navy and air force.

“I expect … to see a lot of money spent. Where is the money coming from?” she said.

“Are you going to take it out of the land forces? Are you going to take it off army? That is usually what happens.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles on Sunday said the government would outline its plans to fund the review’s recommendations once the white paper was released.

“We’ve made clear that the defence budget will grow. And that, in many ways, is a function of the strategic landscape in which we exist,” he told Sky News.

“In a rational world, Defence spending is a function of strategic threat, strategic complexity — we have both of those, and we’re rational people.”

Australia’s yearly Defence spending is already one of the biggest strains on the federal budget at $48.7bn and it is expected to rise to 2.2 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product in the near future.

The multi-billion dollar AUKUS nuclear submarine program alone is forecast to increase Defence spending by 0.15 per cent cent of GDP.

The government has routinely named Defence as one of the five biggest pressures facing the budget which it must figure out how to balance with the cost of public services such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The Coalition has previously attacked Labor over its record on Defence spending, accusing the Rudd and Gillard governments of allowing the nation’s military capability to decline.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said on Monday he was “very impressed” the Albanese government had said it was committed to funding Defence.

“The circumstances of the world have changed and whether we like it or not we have to match up to the threats that are before us,” he told Sunrise.

“We wish we didn’t have to spend the money on this, but we’ve got to because the alternative is to not do one of our primary jobs — that’s the defence of our nation.”

Originally published as ‘Pick up a weapon’: Lambie’s shock call for ADF to improve retention ahead of defence review

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