Military Wiki
Chief of the Defence Force (Australia)
Incumbent David Hurley

Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) is the most senior appointment in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The CDF commands the ADF under the direction of the Minister of Defence. The appointment shares control of the Australian Defence Organisation in a coequal arrangement (a "diarchy") with the Secretary of Defence, the most senior public servant in the Department of Defence.[1][2]

The position is a fixed-term appointment of three years, and is notionally rotated between the three services (Navy, Army and Air Force). However in practice this has not been the case: of eighteen appointees, ten have been from the Army, five from the Navy and three from the Air Force.[3]

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

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.


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.[4] 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.[5]


Rank and
Term began
Term ended
Time in appointment
Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee
Lieutenant General Sir Wells, HenryHenry Wells KBECBDSO Army March 23, 1958 March 22, 1959 50000000000000000000 years, 7002364000000000000364 days
Vice Admiral Sir Dowling, RoyRoy Dowling KBECBDSORAN Navy March 23, 1959 May 27, 1961 70002000000000000002 years, 700165000000000000065 days
Air Chief Marshal Sir Scherger, FrederickFrederick Scherger KBECBDSOAFC Air Force May 28, 1961 May 18, 1966 70004000000000000004 years, 7002355000000000000355 days
General Sir Wilton, JohnJohn Wilton KBECBDSO Army May 19, 1966 November 22, 1970 70004000000000000004 years, 7002187000000000000187 days
Admiral Sir Smith, VictorVictor Smith ACKBECBDSCRAN Navy November 23, 1970 November 23, 1975 70005000000000000005 years, 50000000000000000000 days
General Hassett, FrankFrank Hassett ACCBCBEDSOLVO Army November 24, 1975 February 8, 1976 50000000000000000000 years, 700176000000000000076 days
Chief of Defence Force Staff
General Sir Hassett, FrankFrank Hassett ACKBECBDSOLVO Army February 9, 1976 April 20, 1977 70001000000000000001 year, 700170000000000000070 days
General Sir MacDonald, ArthurArthur MacDonald KBECB Army April 21, 1977 April 20, 1979 70001000000000000001 year, 7002364000000000000364 days
Admiral Sir Synnot, AnthonyAnthony Synnot KBEAORAN Navy April 21, 1979 April 20, 1982 70002000000000000002 years, 7002364000000000000364 days
Air Chief Marshal Sir McNamara, NevilleNeville McNamara KBEAOAFCAE Air Force April 21, 1982 April 12, 1984 70001000000000000001 year, 7002357000000000000357 days
General Sir Bennett, PhillipPhillip Bennett ACKBEDSO Army April 13, 1984 October 25, 1984 50000000000000000000 years, 7002195000000000000195 days
Chief of the Defence Force
General Sir Bennett, PhillipPhillip Bennett ACKBEDSO Army October 26, 1984 April 12, 1987 70002000000000000002 years, 7002168000000000000168 days
General Gration, PeterPeter Gration ACOBE Army April 13, 1987 April 16, 1993 70006000000000000006 years, 70003000000000000003 days
Admiral Beaumont, AlanAlan Beaumont ACRAN Navy April 17, 1993 July 6, 1995 70002000000000000002 years, 700180000000000000080 days
General Baker, JohnJohn Baker ACDSM Army July 7, 1995 July 3, 1998 70002000000000000002 years, 7002361000000000000361 days
Admiral Barrie, ChrisChris Barrie ACRAN Navy July 4, 1998 July 3, 2002 70003000000000000003 years, 7002364000000000000364 days
General Cosgrove, PeterPeter Cosgrove ACMC Army July 4, 2002 July 3, 2005 70002000000000000002 years, 7002364000000000000364 days
Air Chief Marshal Houston, AngusAngus Houston ACAFC Air Force July 4, 2005 July 3, 2011 70005000000000000005 years, 7002364000000000000364 days
General Hurley, DavidDavid Hurley ACDSC Army July 4, 2011 Incumbent 70002000000000000002 years, 70033130000000000003,130 days

On 19 March 2008, it was announced that Air Chief Marshal Houston's appointment had been extended to 3 July 2011.[6]

On 1 June 2011, it was announced that Air Chief Marshal Houston's appointment would cease on 3 July 2011. Prime Minister Julia Gillard recommended to the Governor-General that Lieutenant General David Hurley take over as Chief of the Defence Force effective 4 July 2011.[7]

Living current and former Chiefs of the Defence Force

Rank Name Born
Air Chief Marshal Sir Neville McNamara, KBEAOAFCAE 17 April 1923 (1923-04-17) (age 98)
General Sir Phillip Bennett, ACKBEDSO 27 December 1928 (1928-12-27) (age 93)
General Peter Gration, ACOBE 6 January 1932 (1932-01-06) (age 90)
Admiral Chris Barrie, ACRAN 29 May 1945 (1945-05-29) (age 76)
General Peter Cosgrove, ACMC 28 July 1947 (1947-07-28) (age 74)
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, ACAFC 9 June 1947 (1947-06-09) (age 74)
General David Hurley, ACDSC 26 August 1953 (1953-08-26) (age 68)


David HurleyAngus HoustonPeter CosgroveChris Barrie (admiral)John Baker (general)Alan BeaumontPeter GrationPhillip BennettPhillip BennettNeville McNamaraAnthony SynnotArthur MacDonaldFrank HassettFrank HassettVictor SmithJohn Wilton (general)Frederick SchergerRoy DowlingHenry Wells (general)

Images – Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee

Images – Chief of Defence Force Staff

Images – Chief of the Defence Force


  1. Chief of the Defence Force: Roles & Responsibilities. Retrieved on 29 March 2008.
  2. Chief of the Defence Force: The Diarchy. Retrieved on 29 March 2008.
  3. Chief of the Defence Force: Previous Chiefs. Retrieved on 29 March 2008.
  4. Rowell, Full Circle, p. 178
  5. Horner, "Evolution of Australian Higher Command Arrangements".
  6. Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston retained in defence shake-up. Retrieved on 29 March 2008.
  7. New Chiefs for the Australian Defence Force. Retrieved on 1 June 2011.


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