Journal article

Religious diversity in the Australian Army: the next diversity frontier?

6 Sep 2013


Over the last decade Army has seen an increasing emphasis on diversity, including strategies for the recruitment and retention of women and indigenous personnel. There is no doubt that these are necessary and important from a variety of perspectives ranging from maximising the possible candidate pool, reflecting the values, demographics and expectations of the wider Australian community, and ensuring that Army is well placed to remain a balanced and focussed organisation. However, despite an emphasis on resolving the gender balance and increasing the number of indigenous personnel in the Australian Regular Army, the lack of religious diversity has gone largely unnoticed.

That Army’s religious diversity has attracted little attention is something of an anomaly in the current climate, particularly given that the extent of under-representation is relatively large and comparatively visible. Frequent deployments to, and multilateral exercises with countries with high proportions of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus have not yet attracted a wider narrative concerning Army’s lack of religious diversity and any limitations this may place on its ability to operate effectively. However, this is unlikely to remain unnoticed for much longer and the need to address aspects of religious diversity is gaining momentum. Nationally, this has been recognised in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper which, in reference to cultural and religious diversity, states that ‘there are gaps in participation in some of Australia’s institutions and organisations, such as in our parliaments, businesses, labour movement and civil society organisations.’ The 2013 Defence White Paper notes that, within Defence, ‘specific activities are underway for improved recruitment of women and diverse groups … from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.’ In addition, the 2012–17 Defence Corporate Plan describes the strategic target of increasing the ‘representation of women and multicultural Australians to better reflect [the] Australian community.’ In many respects the strategic intent to increase religious diversity might already exist, but this has not yet permeated through other aspects of Army’s policy.

This article introduces the case for a more deliberate approach to religious diversity in Army. While strategies for increasing religious diversity are not presented, the article discusses differences between Army and the broader population, the recent history and trends within Army, and describes opportunities that may result from increased religious diversity. Finally, in order to inform a broader dialogue, this article closes with a short discussion on whether Army should proportionately reflect the demographic characteristics of the nation or simply reflect its values. This article argues that, once Army has progressed its gender and indigenous personnel strategies, there may be sound justification for focussing more on religion as the next possible diversity frontier.

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