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Palau president welcomes ADF foreign soldier push

Australia must ensure citizens from the Pacific nation of Palau are given adequate support services under any proposal to allow them to join the defence force, its president says.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr has welcomed the idea of citizens from Pacific nations being able to join Australia's military, with a similar scheme in place with US armed forces.

The government is considering allowing foreign citizens to enlist as a way to boost military numbers amid low recruitment and declining retention.

Mr Whipps said any proposal allowing Palau citizens to join Australia's military would have to guarantee assistance for people following their deployment.

"We believe that we have a role in the world, that we should do all we can to defend freedom," he told ABC Radio on Monday.

"But in doing that, and helping other nations and working together, we also expect that they be treated and taken care of."

Palau's president said some citizens who had served as part of the US military had been unable to access support, like mental health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, following their service due to them not being on American soil.

Should Australia opt to have a scheme where foreign citizens could join its armed services, Mr Whipps said they should not be forgotten once they return home.

"It really comes down to, at the end of the day, treating the citizens as fellow Australians would be treated if they served in the defence force," he said.

"Don't just use our children and not take care of them as they fought to defend democracy for all of us and they should be treated with dignity and taken care of."

Mr Whipps said the relationship between Australia and the Pacific nations was strong and that the defence proposal was a way to further boost ties in the region.

In 2022/23 the ADF experienced a separation rate of 11.2 per cent, as the military also failed to meet its retention goals.

One-off cash bonuses of $50,000 have been made to large numbers of defence personnel in a bid to get them to stay.

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James, who is opposed to the proposal, said there were key issues that needed to be addressed.

He said a country whose citizens weren't willing to protect it, didn't deserve to be defended.

"That problem needs to be tackled first," he said.

Mr James said while Australia had backed the independence and sovereignty of Pacific countries, the nation had no right to assume people from those states should join the ADF.

Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh said the government was yet to indicate when a decision would be made on the defence proposal.

Andrew Brown and Tess Ikonomou - AAP


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