Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2033


Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(8.58) —I move:

Clause 22, page 10, proposed section, 50f, omit sub-section (1), substitute the following subsection:

`` `50f. (1) Where:

(a) otherwise than in time of war or defence emergency, the Governor-General considers it desirable to do so for the defence of Australia;

(b) the Governor of a State has proclaimed that a natural disaster emergency exists in the State and requests the assistance of the Defence Force in dealing with that emergency;

(c) the Administrator of the Northern Territory has proclaimed that a natural disaster emergency exists in the Territory and requests the assistance of the Defence Force in dealing with that emergency; or

(d) a natural disaster emergency exists in a Territory (other than the Northern Territory) and the Governor-General considers it desirable to do so in order to deal with that emergency;

the Governor-General may, by Proclamation, call out any part of the Reserve Forces for continuous full time service.''.

There are two aspects of this clause that I would like to address. Obviously, I do not intend to respond to the comments of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) on the second reading, although there are some distortions in it that need to be understood. But, within the call-out provisions, there are two areas of concern to the Opposition. The first is that the emergency forces are being restricted in the manner of their call- out. We do not object to that, although we think that the object probably is to ensure that they and the reserve forces should be called out in the same circumstances. We are suggesting an amendment which, by adding an additional requirement, is designed to allow the reserve forces, as distinct from the emergency reserves, to be called out in circumstances where there is a natural disaster. We did wonder whether it would be a good idea to include the emergency forces. We have not done so only because it is something that I find a little difficult to determine in opposition.

The purpose of the Reserve force call-out extension is that we think a number of events need to be taken into account when considering whether we should use the reserve forces. While such circumstances are not immediately foreseeable, I have suggested in this amendment that they should embrace events not dissimilar to Cyclone Tracy. Such an event could well take place in a State, particularly, of course in Queensland, the Northern Territory, northern Western Australia, or in one of the island territories of Australia. While one would hope that in the normal event this would not be necessary, if an event similar to Cyclone Tracy occurred, for example, one could foresee that if reserve forces were available in the area-say, Norforce or some other element of the reserves-it might well be more convenient for them to be used than the permanent forces in the area, or it could be that we would need to supplement those permanent forces. We believe that it is necessary for the call-out provisions to be extended in this sense. They are certainly conditions that do not amount to a defence emergency but to what we have termed a natural disaster emergency, and this would ensure that all available resources could be applied in those circumstances.

As a consequence of this amendment we hope that the reserve elements called out will be dealt with sympathetically by the Government to ensure that the number of hours necessary to maintain proficiency and whatever in the unit to which they belong are not affected by the time that has been spent in the call-out, particularly if it is in a natural disaster emergency as distinct from an emergency relating to some type of defence contingency. I have expressed concern in this House on other occasions when I have said that the Government has dealt with the reserves parsimoniously on their training requirements. There is no doubt that the initial action by the Government to tax the reservists' pay-first halved and now finally restored to its proper position of being tax exempt-affected recruitment within the reserves. I am delighted that at long last the Government has recognised the disability caused by its action. It is disappointing that although the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal has been set up to deal with reservists' pay, the Tribunal really has not dealt with the whole range of circumstances in the way in which we believe it should have in the four years that the Labor Government has had responsibility for the defence forces. Although a wage freeze was applied it was not peculiar to the Services and it is a great tragedy that the Government took two years before doing anything about reservists following its election to office. That is one of the problems involved in recruitment.

On the general character of the use of reservists, I put to the Minister that I think it is necessary that there be a change in the use of the reservists as set out in the amendment I have moved. As they will be integrated within the overall Australian Defence Force, it may be more appropriate to use reserve forces than permanent forces, particularly given that signal elements might be the preferred units to use. Therefore, I suggest that there be an extension in this form.

The report of the Millar Committee of Inquiry into the Citizen Military Forces is the basis for much of the planning of the future use of the reserve forces. I look towards an increased and enhanced role and opportunity for reservists generally. As I remarked earlier in my speech at the second reading stage, I believe we also should consider an extension of Army, Navy and Air Force reserves as each of those elements have been relatively small. Although there is to be a significant extension in the Royal Australian Navy in the minesweeping and mine search area, I believe that a great deal more can be done, particularly with available civilian assets. We could utilise people in the civilian area to build up the capacity in the defence forces.

As an example I refer to Norforce, the reconnaissance unit in northern Australia. In that area I believe it is appropriate to use general aviation pilots and the masters of fishing vessels recruited into Norforce so that in their normal day by day operations they can put on a Service hat and report on any unusual movements they see. The capability of Norforce would be significantly improved in this way at very little expense. It might well broaden its ability beyond anything that is now considered. Given the unusual circumstances in the area, people flying in general aviation and serving on fishing trawlers and other private vessels operating in the area could be utilised to overcome the enormous difficulties of patrolling those large stretches of Australian coastline around the Timor Sea to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In that way the reserve forces could enhance significantly the permanent forces.

I suggest to the Minister that an amendment along the lines I have moved is a way to ensure the appropriate utilisation of the assets available if a natural disaster emergency should occur. As I have suggested, the emergency forces might have to be used in the same way as the reserve forces. We are not moving specifically for anything in that area for I think that is more a matter for the Minister to consider. Whilst we do not intend to divide on the amendment, I put to the Minister that this type of extension seems a rational extension of a common objective of both sides of the Parliament-that there be a total integration of the reserve forces with the permanent forces in order to meet whatever type of contingency the Australian Defence Force might need to meet.

The Minister, in his response to the second reading debate, spoke about low level threats. Of course, low level threats are one of the contingencies against which the reserves need to be prepared to make a contribution. I see such threats as being less likely than terrorist threats. One disability in the Defence Force is the degree to which the lessons of Kangaroo '83 on the co-ordination and co-operation with State police forces and the civilian elements of the national and State emergency services and the degree to which there is co-ordination between State legislation and Federal legislation have largely been ignored. While this matter might not be specifically related to this clause, the Government has been notably deficient in acting since Kangaroo '83 when the first exercise against low level contingencies was successfully conducted. Unfortunately, the necessary amendments have not yet come to light.