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A look back at Australia’s Chiefs of Defence Force (Part Two)

As General Angus Campbell, AO, approaches one year in the role of Chief of the Defence Force, Defence Connect is going to examine the history of the position since Sir Phillip Bennett assumed responsibility for Australia’s defence in 1984.

As General Angus Campbell, AO, approaches one year in the role of Chief of the Defence Force, Defence Connect is going to examine the history of the position since Sir Phillip Bennett assumed responsibility for Australia’s defence in 1984.

The Chief of the Defence Force has primary responsibility for the command of the ADF, with the role arising from section 10 of the Defence Act 1903, where the Chief of the Defence Force commands the ADF under direction of the minister. 


The Chief of the Defence Force is also the principal military adviser to the minister and provides advice on matters that relate to military activity, including military operations.

Previously, the position was known as Chief of Defence Force Staff, between 1976 and 1984, and before that was called Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, which began in 1958 with Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wells.

However, this article will focus on the individuals who filled the "Chief of the Defence Force" role, with part one featuring Australia's last two Chiefs.



General David Hurley, AC

GEN Hurley served as Chief of the Defence Force from July 2011 to 2014, after entering the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as an officer cadet nearly four decades earlier (1972).

Graduating from Duntroon in 1975, he was first posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), and eventually promoted to captain.

GEN Hurley went on exchange to the 1st Battalion Irish Guards with the British Army following this, and upon return, served with the 5th/7th Battalion.

In 1989, GEN Hurley served as Mechanised Infantry Adviser for Australian Army Project Team Malaysia, and in 1993, assumed command of 1RAR while as Lieutenant Colonel and led Operation SOLACE (Somalia), for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

GEN Hurley was then promoted to Colonel and attended the US Army War College from 1996-1997, coming back to Australia as a Military Secretary to the Chief of Army.

In 1999, Hurley was promoted to Brigadier, and assumed command of the 1st Brigade in Darwin.

Two years later, he was appointed Director General Land Development within Capability Systems, Head Capability Systems Division and Land Commander Australia, where he served until 2003, when he was promoted to Lieutenant General in the role of Chief of Capability Development Group and in 2007 was appointed Chief Joint Operations Command.

In 2007, he took responsibility as Chief of Joint Operations, and the next year was appointed Vice Chief of the Defence Force.

Three years later, GEN Hurley was promoted to general and succeeded Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston as Chief of the Defence Force, and celebrated 40 years of service to the ADF in 2012.

GEN Hurley retired from the Army in 2014 and was succeeded as Chief of the Defence Force by Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.

Later that year, GEN Hurley was sworn in by the NSW Premier as Governor of New South Wales, and in December 2018, was announced as the next Governor-General of Australia, commencing in June this year.

Air Chief Marshal A.G. 'Angus' Houston, AC

ACM Houston first joined the RAAF as a cadet pilot in 1970, and granted an eight-year short-service commission with the rank of Pilot Officer the next year.

Promoted to Flying Officer in 1973, he spent the his early days in the Air Force flying helicopters in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and received a permanent commission in 1975 before being promoted to Flight Lieutenant later in the year.

After his graduation from Flying Instructors Course, ACM Houston conducted several instructional tours on Macchi MB-326H, British Aircraft Corporation Strikemaster and Iroquiois aircraft, before being posted to Singapore's Air Force from 1976-78.

From here, he was posted to No.9 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley, before going on exchange to the US Air Force to Hill Air Force Base Utah, where he swapped flying duties with a US Air Force Helicopter Unit.

In 1979, ACM Houston conducted an open sea rescue in gale force winds off the NSW Coast, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross the following year.

In 1982, ACM Houston was promoted to squadron leader, and posted as Executive Officer at No.9 Squadron, before being posted to the Department of Air, Development Division, where he was involved in the Black Hawk helicopter project.

He assumed command of No.9 Squadron in 1987 to introduce the Black Hawk, as well as relocating the unit from Amberley to Townsville and transferring the capability to the Australian Army, and for his work, was admitted to the Member of the Order of Australia.

In 1992, ACM Houston was promoted to group captain and assumed the post of Director Air Force Policy (following his graduation from Joint Services Staff College), and negotiated the establishment of the RSAF Flying School at RAAF Base Pearce.

ACM Houston then commanded No.86 Wing from 1994 to 1995 following the conversion of a C-130H Hercules in 1993.

He would then attend the Royal College of Defence Studies in London in 1996, before being posted as Chief of Staff, Headquarters Australian Theatre from 1997 to 1999, and Commander Integrated Air Defence System from 1999 to 2000, as well as Head Strategic Command from 2000.

In 2001, ACM Houston was appointed Chief of Air Force where he served until 2005, when he was promoted to Air Chief Marshal and appointed Chief of the Defence Force.

ACM Houston served as Chief of the Defence Force for nearly six years, before being succeeded by GEN Hurley.

He retired as the second longest serving Chief of the Defence Force.

General Sir Peter Cosgrove, AK, MC

Sir Peter graduated from Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1968 and was sent to Malaysia as a Lieutenant in 1RAR.

He was then posted to Vietnam with 9th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (9RAR) shortly afterwards.

After successfully commanding a rifle platoon during the Vietnam War, he was awarded a Military Cross in 1971 for his performance and leadership during an assault on enemy positions.

Following his service in the Vietnam War, Sir Peter was posted as an instructor at the Infantry Centre, before being promoted and placed in command of 1RAR, spending time in the US, Britain and India.

In 1990, Sir Peter was named Director of Infantry and Commandant of the Infantry Centre, and in 1997 became Commandant at Duntroon.

Two years later, Sir Peter rose to fame after being appointed Commander of the International Forces East Timor (Interfet), which was responsible for overseeing East Timor transition to independance.

Following his leadership in this position, he was promoted to Companion in the Military Division of the Order of Australia (AC), and the following year, was promoted to Lieutenant General and appointed Chief of Army in 2000.

After his promotion to General, Sir Peter served as Chief of the Defence Force from 2002-2005.

Following his retirement in 2005, Sir Peter served in a variety of roles, including chairing the Council of the Australian War Memorial, before being sworn in as Governor-General of Australia in 2014 and being knighted at the same time.

To be continued.

A look back at Australia’s Chiefs of Defence Force (Part Two)
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