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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2913

Senator MacGIBBON(6.05) —I should like to comment on the general breakup of funding in the Department of Defence vote. The Government is making a big thing out of spending such a high proportion-around 27 to 28 per cent-of the vote this year on new capital equipment. The truth of the matter is that it simply has no choice in that because it has to meet contractual obligations for new equipment-most of it purchased from overseas-that were entered into by the previous Government and which will not be paid out for some years. Of necessity, about 30 per cent of the Defence vote for the next few years will go to new equipment. To keep the vote sensibly the same-it might have gone up one per cent this year in real terms-the Government has cut back progressively year after year on money allocated for training. That process is now at a point where it is causing serious problems in the Services. When this proposition was first advanced it was on the basis that there would be a temporary cutback in money for training. It was to last two or three years. But we are now locked into something which will run for about a decade. We cannot afford the erosion in skills and capabilities that comes from that.

One of the reasons for the very high resignation rate in the Services at present obviously lies in the way in which the Government has allowed the conditions of service to be eroded. It has not maintained pay scales and allowances at their former levels in real terms. One of the contributing factors in the resignation rate also is the lack of funds for adequate training. There has been a reduction in flying time for the Royal Australian Air Force and there has been a reduction in sailing time in the Royal Australian Navy. Yesterday I was at 1st Division in Brisbane for a field day and I was talking to a sniper. Snipers start out as expert marksmen but they go through a special training course. They are a special type of person. They have to live by themselves in the field. They have highly developed camouflage and concealment skills and individual survival skills. I asked the sniper: `How much range practice do you do to maintain the extraordinarily high level of skills you have as a marksman?' He replied: `Well, sir, until a little while ago we used to do at least a monthly range practice'. I asked: `What are you doing now?'. He said: `Oh, we are lucky if we get two range practices a year'. We are talking about maybe $500 or $1,000 in ammunition. Small arms ammunition for a sniper is really peanuts. If that is an indication of the squeeze on the force at present, we are losing skills, we are disappointing people and we will lose them.