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Pacific President insists on providing support services for foreign ADF soldiers

He underlines the significance of ensuring people from Palau receive appropriate support if they contribute to the ADF.

Adequate support services must be provided for citizens of Palau if they are to join the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the president of Palau said.

Australian Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said the government was considering allowing foreigners to join the Australian military to address low recruitment and dwindling retention rates.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. said any proposal allowing Palau citizens to join the Australian military must ensure support services for veterans after deployment.

“When they do finish their service, it’s about them getting the services, treatment and the benefits once they return to Palau,” he told ABC Radio on Jan. 8.

“We believe that we have a role in the world, that we should do all we can to defend freedom, but in doing that, and helping other nations and working together, we also expect that they be treated and taken care of.”

He said it came down to treating the foreign soldiers as fellow Australians if they served in the defence force.

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A proposal allowing Palau citizens to join the Australian military would mirror a similar system already in place between Palau and the U.S. armed forces.

However, Mr. Whipps noted issues Palau nationals faced after returning home from serving in the U.S. military and feared similar problems if they joined the ADF.

He explained some citizens who served in the U.S. military could not access mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after their service because they were not on American soil.

“We lost a veteran that had PTS because he couldn’t receive treatment, and we don’t want to see those kinds of things happening,” he said.

“Don’t just use our children and not take care of them as they fought to defend democracy for all of us, and they should be treated with dignity and taken care of.”

He was also concerned about a population decline in Palau.

“That’s probably our biggest concern these days because, since our independence from the U.S., 40 percent of our population has moved out of Palau,” he said.

“A big part of that is that U.S. military recruitment in Palau every year, they’re probably taking at least 10 percent of our graduates or more, and that’s concerning.”

Nevertheless, he said a plan with Australia would further strengthen the “strong” relationship between the two nations.

“It will allow the citizens to continue to work together based on the principles and values that we have,” he said.

Proposal Targets ADF’s Top-Heavy Structure, Dwindling Retention

Mr. Keogh mentioned the government hadn’t established a timeline for deciding on the new defence proposal.

It comes after the ADF had an 11.2 percent separation rate and did not meet its retention goals in the 2022/23 financial year.

Mr. Keogh said the government is considering broadening recruitment efforts beyond the Pacific to improve retention.

“We’re looking at the Pacific. But we’re also looking more broadly than that because we recognise the importance of growing our Defence Force,” he explained.

He explained the ADF needs the appropriate people in suitable positions spanning all three services.

“We need to make sure we’ve got access to the right sort of people, the people that are able to bring what we need to our defence force.”

Meanwhile, he said many defence personnel received a one-time continuation bonus of $50,000 (US$33,600) to encourage them to stay with the ADF after their initial service period.

“As we grow our defence force, as we make sure that we’ve got the people we need in the areas that we need them … that will see that ratio adjust as we go through that process. And that’s what things like this continuation bonus, improving the attractiveness of staying in defence, and recruiting more people will do,” Mr. Keogh said.

Opposition Urges Government to Enhance Capital Cities

Yet, the opposition contends that the government should maintain and strengthen the army presence in capital cities.

Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie expressed concern about the recent relocation of army units to Darwin, Townsville, and Adelaide.

“This decision disintegrates the Adelaide-based 9th Brigade through the redeployment of the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) to Darwin and the removal and consolidation of personnel and armoured equipment to Townsville,” he said.

“The Australian Army will be impacted by this decision. Our soldiers and their families will face serious disruptions to family life, schooling, local connections, networks, and spousal employment. This will damage morale.”

“This will make us weaker,” he said, noting the nation is reducing land forces to just one armoured brigade.

He said the government’s cuts to the Infantry Fighting Vehicle program from 450 to 129 resulted in the reduction of armour capability.

“These cuts to Australian armour degrade our land power and weaken our ability to win the close fight,” he said.

“The ADF has a vital mission, and failure is not an option.”

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