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PM approves military expansion -

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PM approves military expansion

Broadcast: 24/08/2006

Reporter: Greg Jennett

The Prime Minister is anticipating disruption in the Pacific region in the coming years and has
approved an expansion of the Australian military.

Transcript

TONY JONES: Forecasting regional instability over the next two decades, the Prime Minister has
approved another surge in Australia's steady military build-up. The Army will be bolstered by
another 2,500 soldiers, at a cost of at least $10 billion. John Howard says more Pacific states
face the risk of failure in the years ahead, and Australia must be prepared to take the lead in
mounting military interventions. From Canberra, Greg Jennett reports.

GREG JENNETT, REPORTER: Serving around the globe, but with not nearly enough to go around. That's
the dilemma faced by the Defence Force - one the Government now wants to resolve.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: The Government has decided to raise two additional battalions to bring
the Australian Army to an 8-battallion strength.

GREG JENNETT: The first of the new battalions will be based in Adelaide, the second to come later
in South-East Queensland. It'll take more than a decade and an extra 2,500 soldiers to make it
happen.

JOHN HOWARD: The cost of the two battallions will be something in the order of $10 billion.

GREG JENNETT: Behind the plan lies a grim assessment of the security outlook in the Asia-Pacific,
and a belief that - as a middle power - Australia will always be called on to do more.

JOHN HOWARD: I believe in the next 10-20 years Australia will face a number of situations the
equivalent of or potentially more challenging than the Solomon Islands and East Timor.

GREG JENNETT: Papua New Guinea features on his list of unstable places which might call for
intervention.

ROSS BABBAGE, DEFENCE ANALYST: If the Government is going to have the option to do some of the
things which really may well be required in the region in the medium term, we do need these
additional troops.

GREG JENNETT: the Army's expansion will raise the number of Light Infantry soldiers, literally
giving Defence boots to put on the ground in regional hot spots. But not all observers are
convinced the force will be heavy enough.

NEIL JAMES, AUSTRALIA DEFENCE ASSOCIATION: The days of the Light Infantry soldier strolling around
the South Pacific and South-East Asia, equipped only with his shirt, and now the addition of body
armour, are long gone. We need an army with infantry fighting vehicles.

GREG JENNETT: On top of tanks, huge ships and new planes already on order. Today's announcement
fits into the country's biggest military build-up in three decades. Getting Government approval and
funding was the easy part, now defence has to find 500 extra men and women each year. An ambitious
goal, considering it's failed to reach recruitment targets, and the military has actually shrunk in
recent years.

MARK THOMSON, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE: It's gonna be difficult. Australia's
unemployment rate is hovering around 5%, young people have an awful lot of opportunities out there
to travel overseas, to pursue exciting careers elsewhere.

GREG JENNETT: Defence analyst Mark Thompson says today's announcement, coupled with an already
announced plan to expand the Army, means 5,000 new troops will be needed.

MARK THOMSON: Last financial year Army achieved only about 80% of their enlistment targets.

GREG JENNETT: The Defence Minister is close to unveiling a shake-up in recruitment, with more
advertising, faster processing of applications and a relaxation of rules on health and personal
appearance, which have barred some from entering the military.

BRENDAN NELSON, DEFENCE MINISTER: I am quite confident we can substantially improve our recruitment
performance.

KIM BEAZLEY, OPPOSITION LEADER: If he's going to do this, he needs not only to make the billets
available, he also needs also to do the right thing by the working conditions of Australian
soldiers.

GREG JENNETT: The Prime Minister's also thrown his support behind Brendan Nelson's idea to
reinvigorate school cadet activities, giving would-be troops an early taste of life in uniform.
Greg Jennett, Lateline.