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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1264

Mr HODGMAN(4.31) —The great Sir Winston Churchill once said that no parliamentarian had a higher duty than to ensure the defence of the nation. I wish to speak in this debate as a former member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserves and as one who unashamedly has a commitment to the defence of Australia . I support the remarks made by the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), in his capacity as shadow Minister for Defence and the remarks made this afternoon by my colleague the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) in relation to what will happen to the reserves in Australia following the decisions taken in the Budget by the Hawke socialist Government.

Before dealing with the reserves I publicly confess one bias; that is, I am very much biased in favour of the Royal Australian Navy. It is not just because of my own association with the Royal Australian Naval Reserves, the fact that my father served in the war in the Royal Australian Navy or the fact that I have a brother currently serving in the Royal Australian Navy, but because I have a fundamental belief that the world's largest island continent can properly defend itself only if it has proper and adequate naval forces and equipment with which to do so. I therefore deeply regret the decision by the Hawke Government that Australia will not be acquiring an aircraft carrier. I further deeply regret the decision by the Hawke Government by which the Fleet Air Arm, with 50 years experience, has been disbanded and the fixed-wing aircraft component of the Royal Australian Navy will no longer exist.

I now turn specifically to what the Hawke socialist Government has done in the Budget in relation to the capacity of men and women in this country to defend this nation. Effectively, as a result of the Government's decisions announced in the Budget, Australia's regular forces will be reduced by some 732 members, the reserve forces will be reduced by 1,572 members and civilian employment will be reduced by 340 members. That gives us a grand total reduction of 2,644 people as a result of the decisions taken by the Government and announced in the Budget. This represents a cut of one per cent in the regular forces, a cut of 4.3 per cent in the reserves, mainly the Army reserves, and a cut of 1.4 per cent in civilian employment numbers. Earlier this year the right honourable member for New England wrote to the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) in relation to the question of training days. The Minister for Defence replied in a letter dated 15 September. I wish to quote from that letter because I believe the people of Australia are entitled to know the thinking of the Minister and the Hawke socialist Government on the question of reserve training. The Minister says:

In relation to the Army Reserve, a significant resource demand is generated by training days. The annual allocation of 38.25 training days per Reserve member was introduced in 1980 to provide for increased activity in relation to the expansion program.

It was agreed that this allocation should continue for two years to permit consolidation of the increase.

I specifically refer to what now follows:

Judgments have now been made that sufficient levels of readiness can be achieved by allocation of resources based on an overall national average of thirty-six days per member . . .

A little further on in the letter the Minister says:

. . . it has been determined that the minimum annual training requirement for Reserve members to be declared 'efficient' is twenty-six days.

A miserable 26 days! If we take the current standing of the reserve forces-the Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve and the Air Force Reserve-we see that the Government has cut over 80,000 training days per annum. I believe that that is a scandalous situation. My mind, like that of the honourable member for Bradfield, goes back to 1980 when the then Prime Minister, along with such people as Mr Kerry Packer, went on television to appeal to the men and women of Australia to join the reserves and to participate in the defence of this country. I cannot line up that approach in 1980 with the approach of the Hawke socialist Government in 1983. But, as if that was not enough, the tax exemption in relation to reserves pay is to be withdrawn for the sake of a miserable $5m this year and $20m in a full year. The worst thing about that is that the remuneration for reservists has been fixed on the basis that it will be tax free . So we already have a level of remuneration which is lower than it would have been had tax been imposed. The men and women of Australia who have accepted the invitation to join the reserves find that a remuneration, which was determined on the basis of being tax free, now becomes taxable. The honourable member for Bradfield is quite correct when he says that what this is doing to morale in the reserve forces is unbelievable. It is not a question of the money; it is a question of the principle.

Is it the intention of the Hawke Government now to wipe out the school cadet corps? Is there truth in the persistent rumours that the people who wish their children to engage in the school cadet corps will have to pay for it out of their own pockets? If that is the Minister's intention, I urge and beseech him to reconsider his position. I simply say that for him to come out publicly against the school cadets following his action in relation to the reserves is the greatest incitement that I can think of for people not to become involved in the defence of this nation. I would have thought that, across party lines, the Minister's commitment would have been to encourage as many men and women, including the young and all others who can serve, to participate in the most noble aspiration of all-the defence of the nation. I appeal to the Minister, because I genuinely believe that his heart is not in some of the decisions which have been announced by the Government following the Budget. I commend the Minister in his efforts to ensure that justice will be done in relation to the iniquitous proposals of the Hawke socialist Government with respect to superannuation and Defence Force retirement benefits and the impact they will have on the defence forces of Australia. I believe that honourable members on both sides of this House will support the Minister and hope that his submissions will at least strike oil and that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) will recognise what will happen if they proceed with the proposed intention to tax those presently serving in the forces, crucifying them with the superannuation and DFRB tax impost which is quite unjust. I will support the Minister, and I hope that he will receive support from both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) will support the Minister for Defence in putting the case to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and getting justice.