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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2016


Mr STAPLES(5.44) —The Defence Legislation Amendment Bill covers several areas of amendment to defence forces legislation. One of those provisions relates to the peacetime call-out of the reserve forces, to which much attention has been paid tonight. The Bill also covers the introduction of long term enlistments for soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel, and the extension of circumstances in which an accused member undergoing trial may have the option of being punished by a court martial or defence force magistrate. The amendments cover other areas as well.

I would like to concentrate in this debate on the sections relating to the call-out of reserve forces, principally those in Division 4 of this Bill. I draw the attention of the House to my credentials to speak in this area. I served for nine years during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a member of the Citizen Military Forces, during which time it changed its name to the Australian Army Reserve. In many respects that was a quite valuable experience for me. Going in as an innocent youth, it helped me to mature and learn about myself in a variety of areas and to learn some skills along the way that I have been able to apply in other areas of my life. Of course, it also helped me financially at that time. It taught me much about the military, military minds and the life of the ordinary soldier or Defence Force serviceman or servicewoman and his or her family. I came into contact with a lot of people in that situation, particularly regular servicemen attached to the CMF or Australian Army Reserve units. I also saw very graphically the effects that the experience of going to the Vietnam war had on the individual soldier, his family and the armed services generally.

I have maintained a close interest in the conditions of service of the defence forces since that time because of that experience. That was one of the reasons that prompted me to set up, in conjunction with the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Tickner) who is in the House, the Defence Forces Action Committee. It was an initiative of the members of the Hawke Government in recognition of the need for attention by back benchers, as well as government, to the conditions of service and situations that many service families find themselves in right around Australia.


Mr Tim Fischer —Are you sure it is not just window-dressing?


Mr STAPLES —It is not window-dressing, as the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs called out. I expect that from him, as that has been echoed by several journalists. If he cared to talk to some of the people we have talked to in the Armed Forces Federation of Australia and many other organisations, he would find that they had that view at the beginning also, but in discussions with the Defence Forces Action Committee of Labor back benchers over the past weeks and months, that attitude has begun to turn around. I refer the Shadow Minister to some of the articles that have been written. We are determined to look after the people in our elec- torates. That is what it boils down to. I consider the insinuation of window-dressing to be quite false and rude, but I will let time tell the story. The record will speak for itself.

I feel very strongly about this issue and about the situation of people in the armed forces, because so often soldiers, sailors and airmen around the world have been used as political playthings by international politicians. It is not the rich and powerful who suffer; it is the ordinary digger and his or her family who suffer, particularly in war. Days such as Anzac Day are important, not because they relive some great heroic battle, but because ordinary Australians were blown to bits or had their minds ruined, their families and futures ruined by political decisions. Ordinary Australians died and suffered because of that.

The Australian Labor Party, in particular the left wing, holds that view very strongly and is very concerned about the people who have been involved in war and the effects on them. This is not a flag-waving, breast-beating or sabre-rattling exercise in the way we hear so much about defence and patriotism from the other side, but the Labor Party is concerned for the individuals involved. This Government's record on defence and determination to build Australia's defence capability should be recognised by those opposite. In many respects the contributions that have been made by those opposite recognise the role of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), but they should recognise also that we are building a defence capability for Australia which we have not had before-not only through the wise purchase of hardware but also through looking at and seriously doing something about the conditions of Defence Force personnel and their families, about training and, importantly, about industrial development, which is often forgotten in defence debates. Without an efficient, active and vital steel industry, without an efficient, growing shipbuilding industry, without a heavy engineering industry and without a car industry, we cannot have a defence industry, we cannot have a Defence Force and we cannot have Australia's self-reliance and defence capability. This Government has not only created jobs to help to build the economy; it has also built in a defence capability that extends right down to the civilian sector which, if it had to be called upon, would be able to produce the goods. This is in contrast with the industries that were left after the years of the Fraser Government and the governments that preceded it.

While the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) is sitting in the House, another thing that comes to mind is that the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Gietzelt, is very widely respected by the veteran community. He has achieved that respect against some considerable odds and disadvantages at times. He has shown tremendous commitment to the veteran community both in terms of fighting in Cabinet for them in times of severe economic restraint and certainly in dealing with the Vietnam veterans and the problems that they have had, whether they were volunteers or conscripts.

When I first joined the Army Reserve, or Citizen Military Forces, during the McMahon years, we suffered from very poor equipment, poor training and poor morale. That is the way in which the Army Reserve has often been treated. We had old boots, outdated and obsolete equipment and our training was severely restricted. People would do well to remember back to 1939 when the Liberal and National parties' predecessors, the United Australia Party and the Country Party, were in government. How did they treat the militia? At a time when we were going into war with Japan and Germany-a war that we should have seen coming from miles away and on which action should have been taken earlier-people were training with broomsticks. We hear lots of huffing and puffing from members on the other side when it comes to defence. They talk about the Australian Labor Party letting Australia down. But the conservative parties let Australia down then, in a time of peril. They placed Australia in peril. People should recognise that.

I was in Hiroshima last year and that prompted me to look at the situation of service personnel, of soldiers who were prisoners of war in Japan at that time, including prisoners of war who survived the bomb blast at Nagasaki. They survived the bomb but one of the things that really concerned them and hurt them the most was that, while they were working there as prisoners of the Japanese, under appalling conditions-conditions which the Japanese themselves suffered at the end of the war-they were unloading ships, working in steel factories as slave labour--


Mr Tim Fischer —And coal mines.


Mr STAPLES —They were also working in coal mines. What hurt them was that they were handling scrap iron from Australia with `New South Wales Railways' stamped all over the rails. That is what hurt them-that the Australian government of the day, the UAP Government, the Menzies Government, the conservative government, had sent pig iron and scrap steel to our enemies. That is something that people should remember when they look at the record of the conservative forces in this country in their treatment of defence.

This legislation gives the reserves-the Australian Army Reserve, the Royal Australian Navy Reserve and the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve-for the first time a deliberate active role in Australia's defence and security. I believe the members of the reserve forces around Australia will welcome this new role, this new status and this recognition. Reserve messes around Australia will be excited by the new role that they have in Australia's defence and self-reliance. The Minister for Defence, in his second reading speech, said:

. . . the future shape of the Army Reserve will . . . give its members an abiding sense of purpose.

They will play a defensive role in key areas, particularly in the north, which will release regular units for other offensive operations. They will have roles in the southern States, protecting specific towns and strategic installations. The Navy Reserve will have a particular role in mine countermeasures and in keeping our important shipping lanes and ports free.

This Government believes that the Reserves have a very distinct and specific role to play. It is part of our formulation of a realistic defence policy for Australia. We are looking at the Reserves to provide an integration and affiliation in the army of regular and reserve units. Within this new regime of Defence Force recognition for the Reserves, we will be creating regional surveillance units in remote areas. There are proposals for greater involvement of the reserves in a range of tasks including, as I have said, northern defence, mine countermeasures and tank warfare and artillery. We need efficient use of the community's resources and the Government's resources. We need to encourage those in the community who wish to make such a contribution. This legislation goes a long way towards doing it. We need the co-ordination of the military and civilian resources in activities particularly in areas such as transport, communications and, as I have said before, industry.

This new role and status for and recognition of the reserve forces is part of a total force concept. It is timely, responsible and realistic. This Government has recognised that no longer will the reserve forces and the Army Reserve be able to be given the derogatory names such as chocolate soldiers, chocos, weekend warriors and cut-lunch commandos. That has gone. The reserves now have a specific role that they can be proud of and work towards. That should be recognised not only by this House but also by the whole community. They deserve our support because they do a very good job.

Within the legislation are safeguards to protect the length of continuous service and also a definition of defence emergency. What is needed in this country in terms of expenditure on defence is a balance between efficiency and need. That is what this Government has done. Whether it be in the defence force action committee, with involvement of people such as the honourable member for Hughes, who I understand has invited the Minister for Defence to give a briefing on the defence White Paper in his electorate tomorrow, or whether it be in our record in the provision of hardware, or in strategic areas such as the White Paper has provided, it has been proved again that the Labor Government will provide the security that Australia needs, with well researched and developed plans to cope with the changes that occur regularly in our local geopolitical factors.

We believe that building an effective defence industry will contribute to the development of other industries, and those other industries will contribute to the development of our defence. Never before outside the threat of war have we seen such preparedness, such readiness and the integration of these industries with our overall defence needs and those of the community. This Labor Party is building Australia's new economy and protecting our future. This legislation goes a long way towards developing that process.