Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 21:32 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 21:32 | SYDNEY

Pacific Island Gurkhas


Rodger Shanahan


21 April 2008 16:02

While the issue of Pacific labour mobility has gained traction with the election of the new Labor Government and was also featured at the 2020 Summit, another related but separate issue is the recruitment of Pacific Islanders into the Australian Defence Force. The issue was first raised last year by Hugh White and Anthony Bergin, and got a run again last weekend in a Hamish McDonald piece in the SMH.

As with all grand schemes, the flaws in the argument rest in the details. Gaps in the current force do not rest in the relatively unskilled military trades such as infantry riflemen, where the army’s raising of two new battalions remains on track with our current recruiting base, even in boom economic times. The fact is, many Australians are attracted to the army to be in the combat arms. The shortfalls in the military remain in the technical trades, particularly in the navy where ships are increasingly technically complex beasts to run. The difficulties in retaining qualified submariners in the midst of an economic boom are reflected in the low number of submarines ready for operational service. And recruiting Pacific Islanders is not likely to increase the deployability of naval, air or army aviation assets, where trade vacancies also exist.

The other issue rests with the ability to deploy military elements into any theatre. The British Army is able to recruit hundreds of Fijians into their army because it is extremely unlikely they will be deployed to Fiji on operational service. On the other hand, the political situation in Fiji in recent years has seen ADF elements prepared to assist in evacuation operations in that country. Large numbers of Fijian soldiers having to potentially deploy to Fiji as ADF members would be a headache that operational planners could well do without. Similarly, British Army Gurkhas were never deployed to Northern Ireland because of caveats put on their employment by the Nepalese Government. The British Army has been large enough to absorb this limitation, but the Australian Army could never contemplate a situation where some of its troops are not deployable because of source country concerns. 

People advocating the Pacific Islands as a recruiting centre for the ADF should first look at where the ADF’s vacancies are, and also the potential operational implications of recruiting large numbers of foreign soldiers from within our region.