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Australian Defence Force Cadets


The Australian Defence Force Cadets (ADF Cadets) is a personal development program for young people, supported by the Australian Defence Force in cooperation with the community. The program benefits the nation by developing the capacity of Australian youth to contribute to society, while fostering an interest in Defence Force careers and developing ongoing support for Defence.

Australian Air Force cadets disembark a C-130J Hercules during their visit to RAAF Base Richmond.
Australian Air Force cadets disembark a C-130J Hercules during their visit to RAAF Base Richmond.

The ADF Cadets ‘enterprise’ comprises three Cadet organisations administered by the Navy, Army and Air Force, and a newly established ADF Cadets Headquarters, which is tasked with the governance of common elements of the three organisations’ programs.

Approximately 26,000 cadets are currently enrolled in the three Cadet programs; 3,200 officers and instructors of cadets and ‘approved helpers’ supervise and support the young people engaged in the programs; and there are 508 ADF Cadets units across all states and territories. Cadet units occupy facilities in Defence establishments, Defence-owned or leased buildings, schools, and buildings leased by individual units.

Major influences and issues in 2016–17

Two major influences have driven significant changes across the ADF Cadets enterprise in 2016–17. On 1 July 2016, significant changes to the Defence Act 1903 came into effect, which included a particular focus on increased responsibilities for the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force in the administration of the ADF Cadets program.

And in mid-2016, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse undertook its Defence hearings, during which survivors of child abuse within the ADF Cadets organisations provided compelling testimonies that highlighted flaws in the programs’ youth safety regimes. The Vice Chief of the Defence Force was the senior Defence witness in these hearings and he committed Defence to substantially improving its youth safety policies and practices.

Defence Youth Safety Framework

Development of the Defence Youth Safety Framework commenced in 2015; however, the Royal Commission’s assessment of Defence’s performance as a ‘child-safe’ organisation has given it much greater impetus—particularly within the ADF Cadets program. The framework comprises four interwoven streams of effort:

Youth safety governance—development of systems and processes that support Defence being a youth-safe organisation.

Youth safety training—development and rollout of the Defence Youth Safety Training Continuum.

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Caption: Over 1,000 cadets and staff form up in front of the Sydney Opera House at the conclusion of the Freedom of Entry to the City of Sydney parade by No. 3 Wing Australian Air Force Cadets (New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory).

Youth safety assurance—development of a youth safety toolkit, which includes the Youth Safety Standards and the Youth Safety Maturity Model; and the completion of a pilot youth safety status assessment.

Youth safety culture—inclusion of youth safety in every aspect of Defence activity where adults interact with young people under the age of 18.

The framework’s development will be completed by September 2017.

‘One Cadet’ reform program

In October 2016, the ‘One Cadet’ reform program was initiated to standardise the governance of common elements of the three Cadet organisations’ programs, with a focus on youth safety. A key element of the program was the formation of the ADF Cadets Headquarters, which was formally established on 1 February 2017. It is led by a two-star officer (Commander ADF Cadets), who is directly accountable to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force for:

  • development of common policies and procedures
  • implementation of the ADF Cadets assurance regime
  • coordination of a number of enabling functions across the ADF Cadets enterprise, including training development, utilisation of common ICT systems, and coordination of support for aspects such as security, facilities and legal assistance.

The headquarters of the three ADF Cadets organisations will collocate in the ADF Cadets Headquarters in August 2017. The primary purposes of this collocation are to enable synergies inherent in having all headquarters staff in a single location, and to drive standardisation of the three programs’ elements where coherent and consistent implementation is necessary. Approximately 110 Defence staff will be working within the headquarters in direct support of the ADF Cadets enterprise.

Current initiatives and activities

Within the three ADF Cadets organisations, a number of initiatives are being implemented to enhance the programs and provide a better developmental experience for participants. These include the Australian Army Cadets Transformation Program and the Australian Air Force Cadets Aviation Program.

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The Australian Defence Force Academy’s first-year officer cadets and midshipmen visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra for the annual Napier Waller Reflection Ceremony, to reflect on the sacrifices made by those who have served before them and their own service in the Australian Defence Force.

Australian Army Cadets Transformation Program

In 2016, the Australian Army embarked on a substantial transformation program to professionalise, modernise and grow its Cadet program. These three lines of effort gained significant momentum in 2016–17. Increased Defence staffing levels for the Australian Army Cadets have contributed to improvements in governance, accountability and training delivery; new resources and electives, such as robotics, are being added to the cadet training continuum; and growth in cadet volunteer staff is continuing. Progress has also been made in establishing new units to support the Army’s diversity objectives.

Australian Air Force Cadets Aviation Program

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is providing increased opportunities for members of the Australian Air Force Cadets to gain exposure to aviation activities through its aviation program for cadets.

The RAAF has purchased a fleet of 22 gliders, and is leasing eight powered aircraft, to facilitate the aviation program. Australian Air Force Cadets flying training is being reviewed, with consideration of a ‘flying continuum’ that includes advanced flying to a recognised level of competency, which could be recognised for civil or military training.