Part III: Transition, 1976 - 1985

The Fraser Coalition Government formally endorsed the tri-Service academy project on 12 October 1976. The new institution would cost of $45 million. The agreements with UNSW would continue until ‘Casey University’ opened in 1982. The Australian Vice Chancellor’s Committee and the main union representing academics were opposed to the Academy having full university status. Their preferred option was a continuing arrangement with UNSW. Opposition continued when the project was referred to the Parliament Works Committee in March 1978 for detailed consideration.

Exceeding its usual brief which was to examine proposed expenditure and ensure the Commonwealth received value for money, the Committee took the unusual step of considering the project’s merits. After the most protracted hearing ever conducted by the PWC, its conclusion was unanimous: the academy project should not proceed because the expenditure of public funds could not be justified. In late 1979, the Government rejected the Committee’s recommendations but quietly approached UNSW with a request that the partnership continue at the new Academy.

Despite insisting agreements with the Navy and the Army were finite and autonomy for the new institution was crucial, the Vice-Chancellor of UNSW, Professor Rupert Myers, agreed to establish a ‘University College’ in Canberra. He assured the Minister that:

...there is general acceptance of the belief that the experiment with RMC and the Faculty of Military Studies has been very successful... it is indeed possible to work cooperatively and fruitfully with both civilian and military officers of the Defence system to develop a first-class education program for the preparation of Defence Force officers. I am confident that the goodwill and understanding that has been built up during this process and the experience we have gained will stand us in good stead as we proceed to the next important stage.

As the Academy would not open for another four years, the UNSW academic faculties at RMC and at RANC continued to teach undergraduate and postgraduate students, and to assist Defence with a number of research projects that demonstrated the accumulated experience and expertise of UNSW faculty.

On 19 February 1981, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser unveiled a plaque to mark commencement of building work at the Australian Defence Force Academy site in the Canberra suburb of Campbell. There was no turning back. The Academy would be built. The University College would consist of 150 academics, 130 technical and general staff and another 100 staff engaged in administrative and support tasks. Many of the staff had formerly been employed at Jervis Bay, Duntroon and Point Cook bringing their familiarity with negotiating the complexities of the Defence Department with them.

Plaque marking ADFA commencement of work, unveiled 18th February 1981 by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (right).

Construction commences - view from RMC Duntroon 1982