Chief of the Defence Force (Australia)

Chief of the
Australian Defence Force
Mark Binskin

since 30 June 2014
Style Admiral
Air Chief Marshal
Member of Australian Defence Force
Reports to Minister of Defence
Term length Four years (renewable)[1]
Inaugural holder Lieutenant General
Sir Henry Wells
Formation 23 March 1958

The Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) is the professional head of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the most senior uniformed military adviser to the Minister of Defence. The CDF commands the ADF under the direction of the Minister of Defence and provides advice on matters that relate to military activity, including military operations.[2] In a diarchy with the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the CDF shares control of the Australian Defence Organisation.[3] The CDF is the Australian equivalent position of what in NATO and the European Union is known as the Chief of Defence, in the United Kingdom is known as the Chief of the Defence Staff, and in the United States is known as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although with the latter prohibited by law from having operational command authority over the US Armed Forces.[4]

Constitutionally, the Sovereign's Australian representative, the Governor-General of Australia, is the de jure Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force. However, in practice, the Australian Government de facto exercises executive power via the Federal Executive Council.[5] The CDF is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of his/her ministers. The appointment is politically neutral, as are all military positions, and not affected by a change of government.

Since 4 July 2014, the CDF is appointed for a fixed four-year term under the Defence Act (1903). Prior to this date, the appointment was for three years.[1] The position of CDF is notionally rotated between the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force. However, in practice this has not been the case; of eighteen appointees, nine have been from the Army, five from the Navy and four from the Air Force.[6] The current Chief of the Defence Force is Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.

During peacetime, the Chief of the Defence Force is the only four-star officer in the ADF (admiral, general, or air chief marshal). The CDF is assisted by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF) and the service chiefs: the Chief of Navy (CN), Chief of Army (CA), and Chief of Air Force (CAF), all of whom are three-star officers (vice admiral, lieutenant general, and air marshal).


Prior to 1958 there was no CDF or equivalent; a Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) existed but no separate position was established as its senior officer. Instead, the senior service chief served as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.[7] In March 1958, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wells was appointed Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, a role independent of and notionally senior to the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs. However, Wells and his successors did not command the Australian armed forces in any legal sense; the chairman had only an advisory role in the running of the separate services. In February 1976, COSC was dissolved and the new position of Chief of Defence Force Staff (CDFS) was created with command authority over the ADF. In October 1984 the position was renamed Chief of the Defence Force to more clearly reflect the role and its authority.[8]


The following list chronologically records those who have held the post of Chief of the Defence Force or its preceding positions. The official title of the position at that period of time is listed immediately before the officers who held the role. The honours are as at the completion of the individual's term.

Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wells, the first Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee
Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Scherger, the first Defence chief promoted to four-star rank
General Sir Phillip Bennett, the last Defence chief knighted in office
Rank Name Post-nominals Service Term began Term ended Time in appointment
Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee
Lieutenant General Wells, HenrySir Henry Wells KBE, CB, DSO Army 23 March 1958 22 March 1959 364 days
Vice Admiral Dowling, Sir RoySir Roy Dowling KBE, CB, DSO, RAN Navy 23 March 1959 27 May 1961 2 years, 65 days
Air Chief Marshal Scherger, Sir FrederickSir Frederick Scherger KBE, CB, DSO, AFC Air Force 28 May 1961 18 May 1966 4 years, 355 days
General Wilton, JohnSir John Wilton KBE, CB, DSO Army 19 May 1966 22 November 1970 4 years, 187 days
Admiral Smith, Sir VictorSir Victor Smith AC, KBE, CB, DSC, RAN Navy 23 November 1970 23 November 1975 5 years, 0 days
General Hassett, FrankFrank Hassett AC, CB, CBE, DSO, LVO Army 24 November 1975 8 February 1976 76 days
Chief of Defence Force Staff
General Hassett, Sir FrankSir Frank Hassett AC, KBE, CB, DSO, LVO Army 9 February 1976 20 April 1977 1 year, 70 days
General MacDonald, Sir ArthurSir Arthur MacDonald KBE, CB Army 21 April 1977 20 April 1979 1 year, 364 days
Admiral Synnot, Sir AnthonySir Anthony Synnot KBE, AO, RAN Navy 21 April 1979 20 April 1982 2 years, 364 days
Air Chief Marshal McNamara, Sir NevilleSir Neville McNamara KBE, AO, AFC, AE Air Force 21 April 1982 12 April 1984 1 year, 357 days
General Bennett, Sir PhillipSir Phillip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO Army 13 April 1984 25 October 1984 195 days
Chief of the Defence Force
General Bennett, Sir PhillipSir Phillip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO Army 26 October 1984 12 April 1987 2 years, 168 days
General Gration, PeterPeter Gration AC, OBE Army 13 April 1987 16 April 1993 6 years, 3 days
Admiral Beaumont, AlanAlan Beaumont AC, RAN Navy 17 April 1993 6 July 1995 2 years, 80 days
General Baker, JohnJohn Baker AC, DSM Army 7 July 1995 3 July 1998 2 years, 361 days
Admiral Barrie, ChrisChris Barrie AC, RAN Navy 4 July 1998 3 July 2002 3 years, 364 days
General Cosgrove, PeterPeter Cosgrove AC, MC Army 4 July 2002 3 July 2005 2 years, 364 days
Air Chief Marshal Houston, AngusAngus Houston AC, AFC Air Force 4 July 2005 3 July 2011 5 years, 364 days
General Hurley, DavidDavid Hurley AC, DSC Army 4 July 2011 30 June 2014 2 years, 361 days
Air Chief Marshal Binskin, MarkMark Binskin AC Air Force 30 June 2014 Incumbent 2 years, 160 days

Living current and former Chiefs of the Defence Force

Rank Name Born
General Sir Philip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO 27 December 1928 (1928-12-27) (age 87)
General Peter Gration AC, OBE 6 January 1932 (1932-01-06) (age 84)
Admiral Chris Barrie AC, RAN 29 May 1945 (1945-05-29) (age 71)
General The Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, MC 28 July 1947 (1947-07-28) (age 69)
Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston AK, AFC 9 June 1947 (1947-06-09) (age 69)
General The Honourable David Hurley AC, DSC 26 August 1953 (1953-08-26) (age 63)
Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC 20 March 1960 (1960-03-20) (age 56)


Mark Binskin David Hurley Angus Houston Peter Cosgrove Chris Barrie (admiral) John Baker (general) Alan Beaumont Peter Gration Phillip Bennett Phillip Bennett Neville McNamara Anthony Synnot Arthur MacDonald Frank Hassett Frank Hassett Victor Smith John Wilton (general) Frederick Scherger Roy Dowling Henry Wells (general)


  1. 1 2 "New Australian Defence Force Command Team" (Press release). Office of the Prime Minister of Australia. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  2. "Chief of the Defence Force – Roles and Responsibilities". Department of Defence. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  3. "The Secretary and Chief of the Defence Force – "the Diarchy"". Department of Defence. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  4. 10 USC 152. Chairman: appointment; grade and rank
  5. "Federal Executive Council Handbook". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Commonwealth of Australia. September 2009. ISBN 0-9752387-2-8. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  6. "Chief of the Defence Force: Previous Chiefs". Department of Defence. Retrieved 29 March 2008.
  7. Rowell, Full Circle, p. 178
  8. Horner, David (2002). "The Evolution of Australian Higher Command Arrangements". Command Papers. Canberra: Centre for Defence Leadership Studies, Australian Defence College.

External links

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