On 22 March 2017, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Dan Tehan, announced that the 2018 ADF Gap Year program was open for applications, with positions available across the three services of Navy, Army and Air Force. The ADF Gap Year program was revived by the Abbott Government in April 2014, with the first intake commencing at the start of 2015. This article provides an update to the May 2014 Parliamentary Library publication, The Evolution of the Australian Defence Force Gap Year Program, by assessing the outcomes of the program after its first two years of operation.
As part of its 2013 election platform, the Coalition declared that it would ‘rebuild the ADF Gap Year programme, growing to an average of 1,000 places per annum’. After an initial intake of 260 personnel in 2015 across the Army and Air Force, this expanded by over 70 per cent the following year to 445 personnel across all three services. However, the program’s growth has since been much slower with an 11 per cent increase in 2017 (to 495 places) and a proposed 15 per cent growth in 2018 (with 570 places). As the graph below shows, if the current 15 per cent growth rate is sustained, the program will achieve its original aim of 1,000 places a year by 2022.
Source: Parliamentary Library estimates.
Additionally, the Coalition has promoted the Gap Year program as a way of attracting ‘more women to join the ADF’, with the Assistant Minister for Defence, Stuart Robert, claiming in 2014 that the ADF Gap Year program was ‘the most successful female recruitment program the ADF has ever run’. After an initial female participation rate of 17.7 per cent for the 2015 program, this increased significantly the following year, with 36.2 per cent female participation as at 30 June 2016. This was more than double the female participation rate in the permanent ADF (15.5 per cent) and the ADF Reserves (16.6 per cent). Female participation has also largely been evenly distributed across the three services in 2016, with the Navy and Air Force receiving a similar number of male and female participants.
The Gap Year program has also been praised as a gateway for participants to potentially transition into the ADF’s permanent or reserve components. As at May 2012, a total of 2,495 people had participated in the first iteration of the Gap Year program (commencing in 2007), of which 700 were currently serving in the permanent ADF. More recently, of the 260 participants in the 2015 program, 115 subsequently joined the permanent ADF, while another 58 transitioned to the Reserves. Although overall recruitment into the permanent ADF has been strong since the Gap Year program resumed, recruitment of Reservists has fallen during this period and enlistment targets have been reduced.
In terms of costs, the 2014–15 Budget allocated $191.8m in funding for the Gap Year program out to 2017–18. Annual funding has largely grown in accordance with the rising number of places in the program; from an initial cost of $18.3m in 2014–15 to a proposed spend in 2017–18 of $78.5m. However, there has been no publicly available reporting on the actual cost of the Gap Year program since 2014, and while it can be assumed that the program’s funding has been absorbed into the broader Defence budget, it remains unclear as to how much costs will escalate, especially if (or when) the program reaches its stated objective of offering 1,000 places.