Time for Change
The Defence Act 1903 (The Act) provides legal authority for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to defend Australia. It also provides for the administrative aspects of the Defence Force, the requirements of service, remuneration, liabilities during times of war, security of Defence premises, special powers of the Governor-General, and disputes and offences committed under the Act. The Act provides the legal authority for a number of activities critical to the military defence of Australia, and with a rapidly changing strategic environment, it requires modernisation to meet the needs of the current and future Defence landscape.
Australia’s defence legislation must enable and enhance future capability. The Act is one of the oldest pieces of legislation in the Commonwealth and has not been comprehensively reviewed in its 120-year history. Defence must transition from an era of ‘bullocks and mules’ to address the full range of military capabilities and operational domains, which includes ‘cyber and space’. This year sees the opportunity for reforms to the Act aimed at better enabling the ADF to be an agile and integrated warfighting enterprise. The proposed reforms will consider the cooperation-competition-conflict spectrum, account for new and emerging technologies and capabilities, and better position Australia to meet its strategic needs and key policy priorities.
Australian Army soldiers Trooper Chris Perks (left) and Trooper Sam Menzies with a PD-100 Black Hornet Nano unmanned aircraft vehicle during training exercise at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland.
The reforms aim to build a more robust legal foundation for Australia’s defence and security into the future through three initiatives:
- Supporting the full range of military activities and capabilities required to defend Australia and its national interests: the domestic legal framework must support the full range of activities needed to generate, sustain, and use Defence capabilities to defend Australia and its national interests.
- Designing the law for interoperability with international allies and partners: the domestic legal framework should enable better interoperability between Defence and Australia’s international partners, allowing Defence to learn, collaborate, and achieve far more collectively than it could on its own.
- Improving the security of Australia’s military capabilities: the legal framework should shift the focus from security of defence premises to security of defence capabilities (tangible and intangible), enabling a more comprehensive approach to defence security.
Why reform is important
Defence needs its enabling legislation to reflect the realities of the modern day, facilitate the use of new and emerging technologies to support operations, and anticipate our future operating environment. The ADF must be able to train the way it fights and the laws must enable the use of advanced capabilities both domestically and abroad.
For example, the law needs to provide a clear mechanism for Defence to legally and transparently operate capabilities. This ranges from capabilities we can see and touch – like body worn cameras and drones – through to advanced capabilities reliant on information-based technologies or technologies that don’t even exist yet. The reforms are intended to enable more effective ADF operations and training.
The proposed reforms will also support Defence’s integrated workforce and how they may best be employed in the future. For example, ensuring there is appropriate legal authority if Defence is using contractors for transport or logistics functions, or where we have partnered with Defence industry to develop a particular capability.
The Defence workforce can also be assured that their mules and bullocks will no longer need to be registered! Section 67 of The Act refers to this outdated requirement.
Reforming the Act will enable and reinforce future Defence capability in the ADF to protect the Australian community and Australia’s national interests. For you, the reforms will ensure that the Army and ADF can better meet the challenges of a rapidly changing strategic environment and the realities of a modern cooperation-competition-conflict spectrum.
Want to learn more?
Your chain of command has been asked to provide feedback that represents your organisation, but if you would like to learn more or contribute, you can contact Colonel Fiona Curtis – Army’s embed on the Defence Act Project Team at email@example.com.