/ 10 April 2024

Johnston’s ship comes in

Vice-Admiral David Johnston

The Squiz

Australia will soon have a new Chief of the Defence Force, with PM Anthony Albanese announcing that Vice-Admiral David Johnston will replace General Angus Campbell on 10 July. It’s a big deal for the Navy because it hasn’t had one of its own take up the role in 22 years. The appointment needs approval from fellow military man/(outgoing) Governor General David Hurley, but it will be waved through with Albanese saying that Johnston’s selection was an “easy decision”. Defence Minister Richard Marles called him a “safe pair of hands” while Johnston says he’s “very conscious of the responsibility that comes with the role”.

Who is he?

Johnston has had a long career with the Navy since joining in 1978. That includes serving on warships HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Newcastle and deployments, including to the Middle East to lead operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Chief role is the next rung on the ladder for Johnston – he’s been Vice Chief of the Defence Force since 2018. Others have also been promoted as part of the announcement, including 3 women – Michelle McGuinness, Natasha Fox and Susan Coyle – who become 3-star-rank officers. Marles called it a “very significant step forward” for the participation of women in senior leadership roles as “this time last year, there had never been a woman who had served at the level of a 3-star”.

What’s top of his agenda?

The big issue is AUKUS, aka the deal with the US and UK to acquire nuclear submarines as a deterrent to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Yesterday, it was confirmed that Japan is being considered as a new member of the security pact, as are some other countries like Canada – something China says it’s “gravely concerned” about. AUKUS has seen Oz commit tens of billions of dollars to acquire the new fleet so it’s a big project for Johnston to take on. There are also internal issues to tackle, including high rates of self-harm within the Defence Forces. The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide found one serving or former member contacts emergency services every 4 hours for help. That Commission will provide a final report on 9 September, so Johnston has plenty to do…

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