Chief of the Defence Force (Australia)

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 for Defence. The current Chief of the Defence Force is General Angus Campbell, who took office on 6 July 2018.

Chief of the Defence Force
Angus Campbell

since 6 July 2018
Air Chief Marshal
Member ofAustralian Defence Force
Reports toMinister for Defence
Term lengthFour years[1]
Formation23 March 1958
First holderLieutenant General
Sir Henry Wells
DeputyVice Chief of the Defence Force
WebsiteOfficial website


The CDF commands the ADF under the direction of the Minister for Defence and provides advice on matters that relate to military activity, including military operations.[2] In a diarchy, the CDF serves as co-chairman of the Defence Committee, conjointly with the Secretary of Defence, in the command and 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 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 General Angus Campbell.

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 serves as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Service Committee, composed of 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), as is the VCDF.


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.

No. NameTook officeLeft officeTime in officeDefence branch
Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee
Wells, HenryLieutenant General
Sir Henry Wells KBE, CB, DSO
23 March 195822 March 1959364 days Army
Dowling, RoyVice Admiral
Sir Roy Dowling KBE, CB, DSO, RAN
23 March 195927 May 19612 years, 65 days Navy
Scherger, FrederickAir Chief Marshal
Sir Frederick Scherger KBE, CB, DSO, AFC
28 May 196118 May 19664 years, 355 days Air force
Wilton, JohnGeneral
Sir John Wilton KBE, CB, DSO
19 May 196622 November 19704 years, 187 daysArmy
Smith, VictorAdmiral
Sir Victor Smith AC, KBE, CB, DSC, RAN
23 November 197023 November 19755 years, 0 daysNavy
Hassett, FrankGeneral
Frank Hassett AC, CB, CBE, DSO, LVO
24 November 19758 February 197676 daysArmy
Chief of Defence Force Staff
Hassett, FrankGeneral
Sir Frank Hassett AC, KBE, CB, DSO, LVO
9 February 197620 April 19771 year, 70 daysArmy
MacDonald, ArthurGeneral
Sir Arthur MacDonald KBE, CB
21 April 197720 April 19791 year, 364 daysArmy
Synnot, ArthurAdmiral
Sir Anthony Synnot KBE, AO, RAN
21 April 197920 April 19822 years, 364 daysNavy
McNamara, NevilleAir Chief Marshal
Sir Neville McNamara KBE, AO, AFC, AE
21 April 198212 April 19841 year, 357 daysAir force
Bennett, PhillipGeneral
Sir Phillip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO
(born 1928)
13 April 198425 October 1984195 daysArmy
Chief of the Defence Force
Bennett, PhillipGeneral
Sir Phillip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO
(born 1928)
26 October 198412 April 19872 years, 168 daysArmy
Gration, PeterGeneral
Peter Gration AC, OBE
(born 1932)
13 April 198716 April 19936 years, 3 daysArmy
Beaumont, AlanAdmiral
Alan Beaumont AC, RAN
17 April 19936 July 19952 years, 80 daysNavy
Baker, JohnGeneral
John Baker AC, DSM
7 July 19953 July 19982 years, 361 daysArmy
Barrie, ChrisAdmiral
Chris Barrie AC, RAN
(born 1945)
4 July 19983 July 20023 years, 364 daysNavy
Cosgrove, PeterGeneral
Peter Cosgrove AC, MC
(born 1947)
4 July 20023 July 20052 years, 364 daysArmy
Houston, AngusAir Chief Marshal
Angus Houston AC, AFC
(born 1947)
4 July 20053 July 20115 years, 364 daysAir force
Hurley, DavidGeneral
David Hurley AC, DSC
(born 1953)
4 July 201130 June 20142 years, 361 daysArmy
Binskin, MarkAir Chief Marshal
Mark Binskin AC
(born 1960)
30 June 20146 July 20184 years, 6 daysAir force
Campbell, AngusGeneral
Angus Campbell AO, DSC
6 July 2018Incumbent1 year, 163 daysArmy

Living current and former Chiefs of the Defence Force

The honours listed below are updated as the former/current living chief receives them.

GeneralSir Philip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO27 December 1928 (1928-12-27) (age 90)
GeneralPeter Gration AC, OBE, FTSE6 January 1932 (1932-01-06) (age 87)
AdmiralChris Barrie AC, RAN29 May 1945 (1945-05-29) (age 74)
GeneralThe Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, CVO, MC28 July 1947 (1947-07-28) (age 72)
Air Chief MarshalSir Angus Houston AK, AFC9 June 1947 (1947-06-09) (age 72)
GeneralThe Honourable David Hurley AC, DSC, FTSE26 August 1953 (1953-08-26) (age 66)
Air Chief MarshalMark Binskin AC20 March 1960 (1960-03-20) (age 59)
GeneralAngus Campbell AO, DSC



  1. "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. Archived from the original on 27 April 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  6. "Chief of the Defence Force: Previous Chiefs". Department of Defence. Archived from the original on 30 January 2009. 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. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012.
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