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Facts about Frontline

By AIRCDRE Ken Birrer

THERE is some confusion and a number of “urban myths” about Frontline Defence Services.

Frontline was established as the Army and Air Force Canteen Service under the Army and Air Force Canteen Service Regulations in 1959 to supply goods, facilities and services to or for the entertainment and recreation of Army and Air Force members, people working at Army or Air Force installations, their dependants, visitors and members of the Australian Army Cadets or the Australian Air Force Cadets.

It later became the Australian Services Canteen Organisation before being renamed Frontline Defence Services. The idea was for the canteen service to enhance the living conditions and social environment of Army and Air Force personnel.

Conducted on a commercial and self-supporting basis, its aim was to generate suffi cient profi ts to allow surplus funds to be distributed for the benefi t of Army and Air Force members.

During the past 10 years, $6.1 million (more than 80 per cent of Frontline’s profit) has been returned to members in the form of dividends to local welfare and amenities funds.

A further $700,000 has been provided in sponsorship. The popular Pay Plan payment scheme is, in effect, an interest-free loan to purchase goods at competitive prices. This facility is available on Frontline’s e-business site at

As Frontline is “owned” by Army and Air Force, a Board of Management controls it.

The Board is made up of two Army offi cers (not below brigadier rank) appointed by CA, two Air Force offi cers (not below air commodore rank) appointed by CAF, three people appointed by the Defence Minister, at least two of whom have had extensive business or commercial experience, and the managing director.

The Minister appoints one of these to be chairman of the board.

To ensure all members have access to an acceptable level of services, the Chiefs require Frontline to operate at several locations that are small, remote or not commercially viable. Implicit in this is the adverse effect the non-profi table locations have on Frontline and the need for larger and profi table bases to cross subsidise the non-profi table bases.

As well, from time to time, Frontline is required to provide services during exercises and to deployed troops, through a joint venture with No. 1 Joint Amenities Unit, often in remote or difficult conditions.

This level of service could not be provided by a private organisation operating on a commercial basis.

Over the years, the Board has instigated many improvements to the way Frontline does business. This is to ensure that it remains profi table and that surplus profi ts are returned to Army and Air Force personnel.

Further restructuring is now required to improve its operations and maximise the amount of dividends returned to welfare and amenities funds.

The key elements of this restructure are:

  • a national liquor pricing policy, designed to ensure messes and clubs can purchase on base at prices equal to or lower than the nearest off-base outlets,
  • convenient online and 1800 ordering for all registered messes and clubs, including a loyalty scheme and competitive prices,
  • upgrading facilities at several major centres, starting with RAAF Base Richmond and Lavarack Barracks,
  • expanding services to include national and international businesses such as Subway and a branded coffee shop,
  • providing a total site vending option, with commission returned directly to the base,
  • tailoring the goods and services available at each site to better suit the size, nature and location of the base, and
  • expanding the range of products available online for messes and clubs, members and the wider Defence family.

It is worth remembering that the amount of future disbursements to support local welfare and amenities funds depends on Frontline’s profi tability.

It is our retail service, established by regulation to service Army and Air Force personnel, so everybody – individuals, clubs and messes – is urged to use its services, and maximise returns to our bases.

AIRCDRE Ken Birrer is a director of Frontline, appointed by CAF to represent Air Force members’ interests.




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