Australian Defence Force (ADF) members have renewed calls to address what they're calling the "Anzac myth", which they believe is hurting the army’s efforts to recruit woman, gay people and people from ethnic backgrounds.
Executive Director of Australia Defence Association Neil James said "Anzac mythology" and the stereotype of the Australian soldier as a white male was impacting poorly on recruitment efforts among people from ethnic backgrounds.
Mr James told ABC Radio on Thursday that defence opinion polling had pinpointed particular ethnic communities who remained resistant to defence force careers, particularly among first generation immigrants.
“This tends to break down in the second and third generations, but the defence force has bent over backwards in the last 20 years to increase its take up from ethnic communities,” he said.
“They’ve had some success, but in certain ethnic communities they’re still not having much success at all.”
His comments follow renewed calls by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison to address the popular image of the Australian solider as “a roughhewn country lad, invariably white, a larrikin who fights best with a hangover and who never salutes officers.”
In a speech delivered to the Harvard Club this month, he said the stereotype could become a double-edged sword as it posed a challenge in recruiting people outside that description.
Ben Wadham, a sociologist at Flinders University and former ADF member, said there were attitudes within the army that remained resistant to cultural diversity.
He said some believed change would “threaten the institution”, but said it was needed if the ADF wanted to continue to be sustainable.
“It’s around about 87 per cent male and most of them are from English speaking, Anglo backgrounds,” he said.
“So at the moment, it’s quite a strong monoculture and the Anzac myth is one of the key pillars that upholds that.”
Listen: Ben Wadham speaks to Stephanie Anderson.
Dr Wadham said he had seen some “very male dominated” views during his time as an ADF member.
He said the army, which he left in 1992, had a significant challenge ahead to portray modern soldiers as culturally diverse and sensitive.
“We live in a very different world than we have when the Anzac legend was more relevant,” he said.
“… It’s over the next year and moving into the centenary celebrations that we need to offer the different representation of the Australian soldier and war effort and really diversify our understanding of what it means to be an Australian soldier.”