NAVY FOUNDATION DAY "CRESWELL ORATION"
105th. ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Address by Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders AO RAN, Chief
of Navy, on 1st March 2006 - 105th. Anniversary
of the Australian Navy's Foundation Day (1st March 1901)
Vice Admiral Russ Shalders AO RAN
afternoon and it is indeed a pleasure to be here.
Thank you, Elizabeth Sevoir for that kind introduction, and let
me say it is quite befitting that the grand-daughter of the first
Director of the Commonwealth Naval Staff should introduce the
current Chief of Navy on the 105th anniversary of the Royal Australian
May I also sincerely thank all here present, for your interest
in, and dedication to, matters pertaining to your Navy. I have
no doubt that there are amongst you, many who would know the history
and unique contributions of Rear Admiral Sir William Creswell
far better than I. Notwithstanding, I would like to try to provide
some background on Creswell's fight to form an Australian navy
before I attempt to draw some parallels between the challenges
he confronted, and those which face me a century on.
Creswell began agitating for the need for adequate Australian
naval forces to supplement the Royal Navy Squadron based at Sydney
in 1886. He argued that it would be better to develop local forces,
instead of subsidizing the British squadron. While such views
had been raised earlier, Creswell's articles stimulated much debate.
His recommendations for enlisting Australians in the Royal Navy,
and to establish a Royal Naval Reserve in Australia for British
squadrons east of Suez, were rejected and Creswell later abandoned
them. In 1899, at a conference of Australian naval officers here
in Melbourne, he recommended instead the raising of an Australian
With the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia on 01 January
1901, the Constitution gave Parliament the power to make laws
for the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth. The States
transferred their 'naval forces and everyone employed in their
connection' to the Federal Government on 01 March 1901.
It is that anniversary we celebrate today.
The Army claims today as their birthday. I had great pleasure
in signalling the Chief of Army this morning to offer my congratulations,
but to also remind him that the Senior Service is also one year
Parliamentary debate in the ensuing years showed that Creswell
was not alone in advocating an Australian navy. He came to be
regarded as the nation's chief spokesman on naval matters, and
in December 1904, he became Director of Naval Forces. Through
frequent changes of Defence Ministers, Creswell consistently pressured
and preached for new ships and increased manpower for the Commonwealth
Naval Forces. He ardently believed that adequate Australian naval
forces were needed to open careers in which Australians could
render that personal service necessary for the country to contribute
to Empire naval strategy. His advocacy was persistent and obviously
Creswell was promoted to Rear Admiral and became the first naval
member of the Australian Naval Board on 01 March 1911.
Some see this as the Birthday of the RAN but not me! I continue
to debate that point with the Chief of Army.
I am aware that the original intent of the Creswell orations has
been to examine the effects of our early Navy heritage. I intend
to do the same, with particular emphasis on manning the Fleet
in those early years. But, like the presenters of the past two
years, VADM Chris Ritchie and RADM Raydon Gates, I will use also
use this opportunity to compare and contrast between Creswell's
navy and mine. I have always felt that we ignore the lessons of
our past at our peril and I want to highlight the similarities
of the challenges faced and overcome by Creswell, with those I
deal with 100 years later.
Now, if I may move back to the early 1900's… The Australian Naval
Defence Act passed on 25 November 1910 provided the clear legislative
authority necessary for the Navy. The key provisions included
the creation of a new Board of Administration, the establishment
of colleges and instructional institutions, the division of the
Naval Forces into the Permanent Naval Forces and the Citizen Naval
Forces; and provisions relating to service conditions, such as
pay, allowances, and discipline. In large part, that early legislation
remains intact and is the source of my authority as today's Chief
Sir Reginald Henderson, RN was invited by the Government to visit
Australia and provide advice on naval infrastructure. His subsequent
report advocated a progressive expansion of the RAN extending
over a generation. By 1933 he estimated a Fleet comprising 8 battle
cruisers, 10 light cruisers, 18 destroyers, 12 submarines and
15,000 personnel. This Fleet was based upon the expected population
growth rate, and lacked strategic and financial rationale. Henderson's
report covered both policy and administration, and many of his
recommendations were initially accepted.
It's interesting to draw a comparison between Henderson's vision
and what we now have. I'd submit that, ignoring technological
changes, he was seeking about the level of capability that I am
The acquisition of ships of course is a relatively simple matter
- the far greater difficulty, then and now, is to recruit and
organise the personnel to man them.
At the end of 1911, there were just 400 men in the RAN. To man
the new fleet, the number had to expand rapidly to at least 3400.
The Naval Depot at Williamstown was designated the interim training
depot for general entry recruits. Initial enlistment was for five
or seven years, and those who wished to join as normal entry had
to be 'Smart active youths and young men, between the ages of
17 and 25 years, of very good character'. Entrance examinations
applied to most categories, and particular attention was paid
to volunteers with trades - at least 20% of the Navy needed to
have technical skills. Soon, recruits were coming in so fast the
Navy could not cope.
I would certainly wish to be confronting that problem now! More
on this in a moment!
By March 1913, the RAN had 1004 men under training, and to restrict
further applications, the Naval Board raised the age of entry.
Admission to the Seaman categories was restricted to those recruited
under the Boy Seaman entry scheme.
The Commonwealth purchased an old sailing hulk 'Sobroan' and converted
it into a boys' training ship - it was commissioned in April 1912
as the 'Tingira' and two moths later accepted the first entry
of 37 'smart active' boys ranging in age from 14 ½ to 16.
In June 1913, the RAN's strength reached 2500. Imagine that, doubling
the size of the Navy in less than six months.
RAN personnel were wholly interchangeable with those of the Royal
While it would have been cheaper to send Australian cadet midshipmen
to England, there remained concerns that they might lose their
'unique Australian character'. So, in March 1913, the Royal Australian
Naval College was founded, to ensure the Australian spirit would
be fostered and Australian traditions built up. The original College
was temporarily housed in Geelong and moved to its current site
at Jervis Bay in 1915. Officer training began at a young age -
applications were accepted from boys born in 1899, making them
14 years old on entry. The first entry arrived at Osbourne House,
Geelong on 13 Feb 1913 to begin a planned 4 year course followed
by 6 months sea training. Engagement was for a period of 12 years
after attaining the age of eighteen.
Things really haven't changed that much. We are today in the same
position as that new emerging Navy of Admiral Creswell's - building
for the future, and not really sure if, and how we are to man
it. I'll draw some comparisons in terms of the manpower issues
confronted by Creswell in a moment.
Like Creswell, as he embarked on the birth of our Navy with the
building of his new Fleet, we too are also looking at a new and
exciting capital acquisition program.
Let me briefly address some parts of that program now in order
to highlight that, while things change, many elements stay the
For example, the new Armidale Class Patrol Boats coming on line
will be used to better patrol and protect Australia's coastline.
I note here that this was as much an issue in Creswell's day as
it is in ours! Henderson had proposed 18 destroyers - these days
the patrol boat fleet perform a similar task to that envisaged
for those long ago 'destroyers'. The Armidales are bigger, faster
and far more capable than the Fremantles they are replacing. We
currently have the lead ship of the class in service and the next
two, BATHURST and LARRAKIA were commissioned in Darwin just two
weeks ago. It may be of interest to this audience to note that
the 6th ship of the Class, the ARARAT, is scheduled to be 'named'
in WA on the 6th of May. As a native of that pretty country Victorian
town, I'll take great pride at being present for that ceremony.
A more significant change to that confronting Creswell, is occurring
in the area of Amphibious Ops, arguably the most complex of all
Our two new LHDs, to be called CANBERRA and ADELAIDE, will have
the ability to embark, sustain and deliver in good order by sea,
a combined arms battle group comprising a landing force of approximately
1200 and a support group of 800.
CANBERRA and ADELAIDE will significantly increase our reach, and
our ability to operate as a very effective joint force in the
All of Creswell's Navy of March 1913 could be embarked in just
one of these two ships! Our new Air Warfare Destroyer is the second
major acquisition project occupying much effort and a lot of my
time at present. They will be our primary surface combatants,
giving the RAN an ability to succeed in low level, high level,
conventional and asymmetric conflicts. The capabilities of these
new ships will give us better, or more options than we have previously
enjoyed. These ships of the HOBART Class will be named HOBART,
BRISBANE and SYDNEY.
Sir Reginald Henderson's 8 Battle Cruisers were envisaged to be
the capital ships of the line in 1911. We believe HOBART, BRISBANE
and SYDNEY will fill the same role by 2017.
As I mentioned earlier, we face a similar dilemma to that which
Admiral Creswell faced at the birth of our Navy. We are in the
process of acquiring all this new capability, building our Future
Fleet, and yet, we face problems in being able to recruit and
retain enough people to man this future fleet.
Recall that I mentioned earlier the RAN in 1913 had to raise the
age of entry because they had too many applicants. Conversely,
some years ago we extended the age limits for applicants to 51,
allowing us greater access to the recruiting pool. I make no bones
about it - Recruiting has been difficult. Less than 70% achievement
4 or 5 years ago - in the 80's now - that is 80% of our target.
Demographic trends will work against us in the next 10 to 20 years,
with less people in the recruiting pool. Even now, a buoyant economy
and low unemployment rate makes the recruiting market extremely
competitive. I wish that I had the same challenges as Creswell
in terms of attracting the right numbers and quality of young
men and women to Naval service!
I acknowledge that we are facing, and will continue to face, major
challenges to remain a competitive employer in modern Australian
society. These challenges confront the whole of the ADF, not just
Navy. The Chief of Defence Force recently stated that Recruiting
and Retention is Defence's highest strategic priority for the
next decade. That is a significant difference to the situation
in Creswell's day. The sailors and officers of tomorrow will demand
flexibility in their workplaces and careers. They demand choice
and the freedom to exercise it. They will aspire to a work-life
balance that is acceptable within their terms. Their aspirations
and expectations will challenge some aspects of Navy's traditions,
culture and ways of doing business.
We have accepted that the people joining the Navy in the 1990's
see Navy as a stepping stone to other opportunities, and no longer
look to a life career. Since then, we have struggled, and continue
to struggle with retention. All indications are that the up and
coming workforce, Generation Y as it is known, is even more independent
and autonomous. They are entering the workforce at a time of high
labour demand. They know their scarcity and value in the job market
and are not afraid of demanding what they want, nor of swapping
jobs to maximise personal returns. They are more likely to be
loyal to their lifestyle than to their job.
Like you, I have children in this demographic group and, bless
them, they are different to us, and certainly different to the
labour pool in Creswell's day.
Before I go any further, it's important to emphasise that this
is not necessarily a bad news story. Members of Generation Y value
training highly and they enjoy belonging to teams. They want to
work with other people, to be engaged and to be appreciated. They
crave opportunity, responsibility and the potential for promotion.
They like challenging and meaningful work, and are able to network
and multi-task to an extent not seen before in the Australian
workforce. These attributes match well with what Navy has to offer.
The challenge of course is to attract and retain them! So, what
are we doing about these issues today and for the future?
Navy's current focus is concentrated on what we call the Sea Change
program, a complex and wide-ranging set of over 240 initiatives
that address concerns expressed by our people. Sea Change focuses
on improving individual choice, and on providing better leadership
and management of our people and their careers to provide increased
stability, certainty and satisfaction. They've told us that they
want these things - stability, certainty and satisfaction, and
Sea Change aims to provide exactly that when we can. However,
large and ambitious as the Sea Change program is, it is not a
universal panacea for all our workforce challenges. One reason
for this is, that addressing current issues does not itself include
all of the changes we need, to satisfactorily address the personnel
environment of the Future Navy.
Key to future success in recruiting and retention will be meeting
the satisfaction priorities of new generations. Recruiting and
retention are two sides to the same coin. As important as recruiting
is, this battle for people or the 'war for talent' as it is known,
will be won in the retention arena. For every person we keep;
that's 2 or 3 we don't have to recruit.
To return from whence I began, there is no doubting that Sir William
Creswell deserves the title often given him, that of the 'Father
of the Royal Australian Navy'. He undoubtedly played a major role
in developing Australian naval policy. From the 1880s, he had
begun to press for Australia to take her naval defence seriously
and to contribute adequately to it. He strenuously advocated the
principle that Australia needed her own navy. His accomplishments
as professional head, in organising and administering the new
navy from 1909 to 1919, with all that this responsibility involved,
was no less outstanding.
The parallels I discern between the challenges faced by Admiral
Creswell, and those that face me and the Navy today are very similar.
As I hope you can now understand, addressing 'people issues' is
very high on my 'to do' list.
My enduring priorities include a requirement to lead our people
and manage our resources to deliver efficient and effective capability.
It is with these priorities in mind that I look back in proud
admiration at the work of Creswell and his small team of advisers.
He set the agenda and we who follow can learn and prosper by taking
heed of the aspirations and guidelines he so constructively put
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you again for the opportunity to
speak to you on such an important day in our history. It's been
a great honour to have been able to deliver this address and I
would be equally honoured to try to answer any questions that
you may wish to pose to me.
Thank you for your attention. "