The Australian Government’s push to increase the total number of defence personnel from 51,000 to 57,000 in the next decade appears to have hit a snag, despite an advertising a blitz in the last 12 months.

Those ads are aimed primarily at getting potential recruits on the phone, into the office or onto the net in a search for more information. At current rates, the govt is paying almost $300 per inquiry.

But it’s the ads themselves, not the number of them, that have failed the ADF, says Minister for Defence Brendan Nelson. Yesterday he labelled them “mealy-mouthed”. Today’s Australian reports:

Dr Nelson has said he thinks the government is not spending nearly enough on advertising for the ADF, which is struggling to recruit and retain personnel.

Defence head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston has previously called declining recruitment the single biggest strategic issue facing the ADF.

Nelson’s belief that more money needs to be spent should be put into context. Defence force advertising has increased substantially in the last three years alone:

2003–04
Expenditure

2004-05
Expenditure

2005-06
Expenditure

Advertising

$5,824,492

$4,473,481

$1,498,316

Market Research

$988,106

$576,659

$706,844

Polling

$23,035

Direct Mail

Media Advertising

$12,409,842

$16,646,527

$29,455,053

Total

$19,222,440

$21,696,667

$31,683,248

Source: Australian Defence Force Budget 2005-2006

But The Australian goes back further, reporting that “Five years ago the government spent $42 million on advertising and had 153,000 enquiries.” Last year the ADF spent $28 million for only 95,000 inquiries.

“The money was cut as a normal round of budget cuts a few years back and it has backfired,” Neil James, Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association Academy told Crikey.

“But it’s not just that the amount of advertising was cut. There was a change to the style of the advertising and its focus that hasn’t really worked. That change was to a style that talked about the Defence Force as just another career and just another job. And the argument is that you’ve actually got to sell the aspect that it’s more than that. It’s an aspect of citizenship, and people do it for more than money.”

Senator Andrew Bartlett has his own theories on why recruitment numbers might be down.

“People know there is a risk of being harmed in the Defence Forces,” he said in August last year, “but they also expect that they and their family will be looked after if something happens to them.

“There are simply too many cases where that has not happened. People who have suffered serious injuries or major mental health problems following deployment often report that they feel they were cut adrift and left to fend for themselves.”

Bartlett also warned that “glossy advertising campaigns and promises of a few pay rises” wouldn’t arrest the slide.

“Unless people believe they will be properly looked after if they come to harm, and that their Government will be honest and will not deploy them for political reasons, you simply will not get the extra people joining up.”

Peter Fray

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