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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10181

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (11:03): I rise to support the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. I want to commend the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for his remarks in relation to the reserves. I think they were wise words about the government and the Defence Force's ability to have a list and register of civilian interests in our reserve forces, and I want to commend his experience and knowledge in that regard. It is a shame, of course, that he is hamstrung by the government that he is a part of in relation to defence matters, because we have seen such a chequered history with cadets. I want to endorse the comments of the member for Fadden on cadet units and the history of the way they have been treated by successive federal governments over the years. In raising matters particularly related to this bill, I refer to the James Ruse Agricultural High School Cadet Unit, which is just outside my electorate in Mitchell. Indeed, it is one of the high schools where I had the fortune of growing up. This unit has been in operation since 1961, with a proud history of service. It has a strength of usually about 60 to 90 cadets, all members of the school, and it has functioned for decades very successfully. All of the things that you would find in a cadet unit go on here: discipline, leadership, military training, first aid, rifle drill, parades, all kinds of mountaineering and orienteering and, of course, weapons training. In the history of the unit I think it is quite important to understand what has occurred in cadets over the years in Australia, because it is relevant to policy today. What we saw was a unit that had been well-functioning and viable since 1961. It notes on its website that in the 1970s there was no slowing in enthusiasm for cadets at James Ruse, despite the fact that in 1975 the federal government withdrew financial support for school cadet units. This funding was eventually restored.

It was the Whitlam government that decided school cadets were not for the federal government at the time and it withdrew the funding for them around the country, which was a retrograde step for school cadets. Something which is seen as being so obviously beneficial today by people like the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who just spoke, or others here who are endorsing their school cadet units, was very controversial in 1975. In 1984, the Hawke government disconnected the vital link between local military units and the local cadet unit—another retrograde step in the progress of cadets in Australia.

I want to endorse the role of the local military unit, having served as a reserve member myself as an officer with the 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers. The 1st/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, which is a combination of the 1st Armoured Regiment and the 15th Armoured Regiment, has the highest amount of battle honours as a combined regiment of any unit and regiment in the Australian Army. That, of course, is the parent unit today of James Ruse Agricultural High School Cadet Unit, and served in that function for many years until it was disconnected from it by policy decision of the Labor government in 1984.

This goes to the heart of the matter that we are discussing today. The administrative arrangements in this bill are appropriate and necessary and they are seen as improvements—they are non-controversial. In some senses we wonder why these arrangements need legislation to be enacted, but they do, and we support that. But policy in relation to cadets has been controversial. This is yet another example of how Labor has adopted basically all the features and improvements of the Howard era—we see it in every area. The Howard government brought cadets back into being in 1998 by restoring those vital links between the local military unit and the local cadet unit. A cadet unit is a precursor for military training. It allows those individuals who are interested at a young age to get involved in some military experience, try it out and benefit from it. It is a valuable resource and a valuable thing to have in schools, recognising that the best way to defend our country is to have a vibrant and active citizen military. All free societies have been dominated by a citizen military force, not by a standing military force. That is a difficult concept to grasp sometimes but it is the concept of the ADF Reserves: individuals interested in the defence of our nation do the job by participating in reserve service and citizen military service. Most of Australia's military achievements, and all of the ones that we laud, whether it be Gallipoli in World War I, or World War II, were achieved by citizen military forces, not our standing forces. They were people prepared to volunteer, sign up and fight for our country.

That is why cadets are a component of that great concept that has produced such a great and vibrant history in our nation's military history. Cadets are a vital component. Reserve service is a vital component. It was encouraging to hear the parliamentary secretary endorse reserve service, because it is under a certain threat today from policy of both the Army and, to a lesser extent, within the government. Having a strong and vibrant reserve culture based on local recruiting, local regiments and local units is a vital part of our nation's defence future, and local cadets are an important component of that. This bill is important to ensure that we do enshrine that connection between young people getting experience at cadet level and young people then deciding to go and serve in our nation's military or serve in reserve forces, as appropriate, recognising that with our small population we can never maintain a standing army that would be sufficient to defend our country if a conflict ever emerged. What we require is a large and vibrant voluntary military force who are trained in an ongoing fashion which can sustain us in years to come.

In terms of policy I am glad to see that Labor is adopting all of the best features of the Howard era, including our endorsement of cadets. The cadet program came into full swing under the Howard government, and I fully endorse Prime Minister Howard and the record of the defence ministers in doing that. It has come back to strength now. We should not regress again or endorse any move to weaken the connection between school cadets and our military. That connection between local cadet unit and local military unit is so important for recruiting purposes, for maintaining interest and for generating a sense of local community. Those sorts of items really contribute to the social fabric of our country and have been very important parts. When you go to any single country town around this country or any single local community and you look at their town square or town centre, you find a memorial, usually for local people from those communities. This concept has formed such an important part of Australia's social fabric. We should not allow it to be weakened.

I also want to endorse the role of the Baulkham Hills High School Army Cadet Unit, which was formed in 2000. It is a much more recent one, formed during the rebirth of cadets under the Howard government, and it parades every Thursday afternoon. The Commonwealth government, the Department of Defence, the department of education and the principal undertake to train members of the unit in military custom, navigation, communication, drill, bushcraft and all aspects of Army life. It is open to males and females today and we have an equal amount participating. This concept at local high schools and schools around our nation allows those young men and women who want to get experience with military service at an early age to find out what it is like and also make some great improvements in their leadership and training skills. It gives them that opportunity and it works so well.

It is also available down in Dundas, the headquarters of 8th Brigade at the Timor Barracks. That is where I had my first experience of cadets when I was younger person, visiting there and looking at what they did. I did not actually get to join, but I joined the Army Reserve a few years later. I endorse the work that they do at headquarters 8th Brigade in Dundas.

This is non-controversial legislation. I simply wanted to take a moment to endorse the record of all our local cadet units and the progress of the Labor Party in coming to the realisation that cadet units are very, very important. I know the member for Chifley feels that way about cadets. Indeed, I know that he in particular finds the Howard government a very worthwhile journey from point to point in this regard and that progress has been made.