The federal opposition’s spokesperson for Defence personnel, Luke Howarth, has suggested tapping into migrants who have “stronger faith in God” as part of a plan to drive recruitment for the Defence Force.
In a speech to the Defence Reserve Association’s national conference last month – a recording of which was published on YouTube earlier this month – Mr Howarth appeared to champion religious belief as a virtue for Defence Force recruits as he made the case for encouraging migrants to join.
His speech focused on how to boost recruitment opportunities to the Reserves and to the permanent Defence Force and urged the government to revisit past programs such as Ready Reserve and Gap Year.
Mr Howarth highlighted the case of members of a South African family who migrated to his electorate of Petrie in Queensland, and how they were keen to serve in the Australian Defence Force.
“In relation to the Gap Year, that’s an important program, as well. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for government there – and I was just talking to the Chief about it, as well. I know in my own electorate there’s a migrant family that migrated to North Lakes…from South Africa,” he said.
“There are a couple of things about migrant families that I’ve noticed when I’m at swearing-in ceremonies: 1) they all have a much stronger faith in God than what the Census currently shows. I think in the last Census we had 44 per cent of Australians that identify as Christian; 54 per cent that identify as people of faith.
“But often at these ceremonies, when you get up and you have all these new citizens, 90 per cent of them probably swear under God their allegiance to Australia. But it’s interesting, too, because they also are more, I think, ready to serve.”
Despite the surge in Defence personnel identifying as not religious – with official Defence data showing that, as of January this year, 64 per cent of Defence personnel had no religion – some analysts have pointed the finger at Defence’s conservative Christian culture as a drag on recruitment.
In an article in Rationale magazine last month, former Army Colonel and Defence statistician Phillip Hoglin said the observance of Christian traditions without regard for the diversity and lack of religiosity among its members meant that it would continue to “appeal only to the diminishing demographic of white Christian conservative males”.
Mr Howarth, a Christian, has been a vocal advocate for religious-based chaplaincy in public schools. When he was Assistant Minister for Youth during the Morrison government, he called for more funding of religious chaplains to help school children deal with climate change anxiety. In comments on social media this month about school chaplaincy, he argued: “Without people of faith people would be a lot worse off.”
In his speech to the Defence Reserve Association, Mr Howarth also said that people needed to stop “talking down” Australia.
“We do need to explain our values and not talk down the country. There are plenty of leaders that want to talk about changing everything about Australia – that Australia isn’t the best place to live. And I think that’s an issue.
“We’ve really got to talk about our values. Everyone in this room knows how good Australia is. And, if you continue to talk down the country, youth won’t want to serve.”
Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.
Photo: Luke Howarth (Facebook)