More Generals, fewer troops, Australian Defence Leadership topples over with the weight of gold braid


Figures compiled for the Greens by the Parliamentary Library show a tremendously top-heavy Australian Defence Force with the number of flag officers almost doubling since 2003 from 119 to 219. 

This means there is a one star level officer for every 260 full-time uniformed members. This is way out of whack with comparable militaries around the world.

The most senior level of officers in the ADF with a ‘star rank’, Generals, Admirals and Air Commodores, have multiplied while enlisted numbers have gone backwards falling from 62,429 in 1983 to 41,079 in 2023.

This is part of a broader trend towards a top-heavy military with the proportion of officers to enlisted members doubling from 14 to 28% between 1983 and 2023. International comparisons on senior pay and numbers are below.

Senator David Shoebridge, Greens Defence Spokesperson, said: 

“When you have so much gold braid and so few troops it feels like a satire, not a military.”

“‘Senior Defence leadership have failed to meet a single recruiting target for the last decade while they have quietly doubled their senior ranks. This is literally rewarding failure. 

“The ADF has a whole lot of people with gold braid bossing around a shrinking group of enlisted members in khaki, blues and whites. It is like the Vatican with dozens of Popes running around decked out in the fanciest regalia for a few hundred priests.

“It is no wonder the military is struggling to find new recruits when there is this bloated and unaccountable leadership class searching for relevance in a shrinking defence force.

“For too long the response from Defence to every national security issue, backed by Liberal and Labor governments, is to stick a star on someone and pump up their paycheck. Every time a new program is announced there is a rush to appoint a fresh admiral, a new general or a shiny air marshall, and it's always years before we see a new ship, tank or plane.

“If fancy flags kept us safe then Australia would certainly have a world-leading military.” Senator Shoebridge said.

International Comparisons

International comparisons show just how braid-heavy the ADF has become:

  • For every one of the 219 star-ranked officers in the Australian Defence Force, there are just 260 other officers and enlisted members, 
  • For every one of the 863 star-ranked officers in the US military, there are 1,500 other officers and enlisted members,
  • For every one of the 115 star-ranked officers in the UK there are 1,200 other officers and enlisted members.

It’s not just numbers where the Australian military topples over at the top, it’s also on pay.

  • The Australian Chief of Defence Force is paid $1,062,702,
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff is paid $330,000 AUD,
  • The UK Chief of the Defence Staff is paid $530,000 AUD.

*Sources can be provided on request.