Page last updated at 06:04 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Australia navy off for Christmas

Australian navy ship HMAS Adelaide - file photo
Australia's navy currently has around 2,000 vacancies

Most of Australia's navy is to be given two months off over Christmas as part of a new strategy to cope with crew shortages, the defence minister says.

Joel Fitzgibbon said the extended break was a way of encouraging sailors to stay in the service.

The number of sailors who stay aboard docked ships will be reduced, to make sailors' duties more family-friendly.

Mr Fitzgibbon rejected claims by the opposition that the move would affect national security.

The opposition said the venture was an admission that the government had failed to recruit enough sailors.

'Innovative ways'

Mr Fitzgibbon said: "We're doing a lot of work trying to find new and innovative ways both to retain skilled people and recruit new people."

The stand-down will not impact operations
Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas

But David Johnston, the opposition spokesman on defence issues, said the strategy amounted to an admission of government failure.

"I've never seen a defence force charged with the protection of Australia saying we're going to have six-to-eight weeks off over Christmas because we think it's a good thing for the mums and dads," he said.

Naval chiefs have said the move would not leave the country unprotected.

"The stand-down will not impact operations and is to ensure that our people who are not required on operations are able to take a meaningful period of time off and spend time with their families," said Navy Deputy Chief Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas.

The navy has some 12,000 personnel in total - a shortfall of some 2,000.

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