Future ADF service chiefs could be given 4-star rank to match departmental secretaries, global counterparts

By The Mandarin

Thursday October 24, 2019

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, AO, RAN. Photo: Department of Defence.

Much like Queen Victoria was given a rank-bump to Empress of India in 1876 to match status with the other major powers of the day, plans are afoot to make the Australian Defence Force service chiefs share equivalent rank with their global counterparts.

The change would also place the service chiefs, who command personnel numbering in the tens of thousands and control annual budgets in the billions of dollars, at equivalent rank to Band 4 departmental secretaries in the Australian Public Service.

If the rank-inflation plans are endorsed by the Morrison government it would bring the ADF in line with service chief rank structure used by the British Armed Forces. Under such a structure, the professional head of all the armed services, vice chief, and the individual service chiefs all share four-star rank; the deputy service chiefs are three-star rank, and other key leadership roles flow down in rank from there.

There has been no announcement from the Department of Defence. Rumours around Defence headquarters in Russell suggest an announcement could come before the end of the year.

Following such an announcement, the Chiefs of Services Committee, the peak military decision-making body in Australia will be packed with four-stars for the first time in its history, with a full Admiral as Chief of Navy, a full General as Chief of Army and an Air Chief Marshal as Chief of Air Force.

Presently only the Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell wears four-star insignia, equivalent to the highest ordinary NATO rank of O-9.

The Navy, Army and Air Force service chiefs, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, Lieutenant General Rick Burr and Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld respectively, hold three-star rank along with the Vice Chief of the Defence Force Vice Admiral David Johnston and Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton. Their equivalents in the Defence APS are the Band 3 deputy secretaries.

Remuneration would not immediately change as a result of the new ranks, as the salaries for their positions are specified in determinations from the Remuneration Tribunal.

Per the latest determination updates from October, the three service chiefs are entitled to a “total remuneration” of $581,940, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force to $609,640, and the Chief of the Defence Force to $864,580 — intentionally matching the Secretary of Defence, one of the highest paid public servants in the Australian Public Service. The Tribunal’s calculation does not include additional ADF entitlements available to all other service members.

If the service chiefs’ salaries were to rise to match the lowest of any departmental secretary ($720,480) it would still represent a payrise of nearly $140,000.

The militaries of the globe’s major powers typically have multiple commissioned officers at four-star rank, allowing the chiefs of their navies, armies and air forces to wear four-star insignia. Meanwhile, the militaries of middle powers usually only have one four-star.

The United States has the most four-star generals, numbering 41 at present. China has 17, Britain has 5 in ordinary circumstances. Australia’s other NATO and Five Eyes allies typically have only one, including Canada and New Zealand.

Correction: updated the number of China’s PLA generals to include four-star positions in all five branches.

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