Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 9 May 1957


Mr CRAMER (Bennelong) (Minister for the Army) . - I do not propose to take to task the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) or to traverse in detail all that he has said, nor do I propose to criticize in detail what has been said by other honorable members who have expressed dissatisfaction, although 1 might mention some of their statements. The debate so far as it has. gone has shown clearly that the Australian Labour party as a whole is opposed to national service training. It has shown also that, on the Government side of the House, there is some dissatisfaction because the intake of trainees is to be cut down to 12,000 when many honorable members would like to have seen that number larger. In other words, honorable members on this side of the House have agreed to an extended system of national service training while the Labour party opposes national service training altogether.

Of course, that is the traditional attitude of the Labour party. At all times throughout its history it has opposed compulsory national service training. It has opposed such training particularly in recent years since the supporters of the Labour party became socialists.

This bill merely puts into effect the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) which was debated earlier. It provides for national service training to be continued in the Army but not in the Navy or the Air Force. That decision has been reached for a very special reason. Although that was not fully explained in the Prime Minister's speech, it should have been obvious to anybody who thought about it. It has had the effect of reducing the intake into the Army from 29,000 to 12,000 and it has made a major change in the periods of service. Under the old order, the initial training was a period in camp of 98 days and then there were two terms of 21 days each in the C.M.F. over a period of two years, making a total of 140 days. Under the new system, the trainee will have 77 days of initial or basic training in camp and then, within the next three years, three periods in the C.M.F. of 21 days each, making the same total of 140 days. There is no difference in the aggregate number of days, but there is a good deal of significance in the fact that from now on the trainees will be in the C.M.F. for three years, instead of two years. As the Minister in his speech said, that should have a big effect upon the inculcation of the spirit of the C.M.F. into the trainees, who will spend three years there, instead of two years.

I dispute with any one who says that the national service training scheme, up to this point, has not been a great success. In my opinion, it has been a magnificent success throughout Australia. It is true that, for physical reasons, it was not possible to give national service training to every young man who had reached the age of eighteen years, but 180,000 young men have received valuable training, both for defence and from the civic point of view, during the period that the scheme has been in operation. That statement will be verified even by members of the Opposition. I heard an honorable member opposite say this afternoon that he agreed that the scheme has done a great deal for the young men of this country. Of course, it has helped the Army also, because it has helped to sustain the C.M.F. Although I agree that it has not had a great deal of military value as such, it has been very helpful up to this point, and the new scheme will be even more helpful.

Although this was not the reason for its introduction, the scheme has been of amazing citizenship benefit to the young men who have been trained under it. I have observed, as no doubt all honorable members have, that lads who began their period of training quite undisciplined and resenting the fact that they had to undertake national service training, were entirely different lads after their first 98 days. They were imbued with the spirit of the scheme, and the discipline to which they had been subjected made an enormous change in their outlook on life.

The conduct of the national service training scheme has imposed a tremendous burden upon the officers of the Regular Army and, indeed, upon many of the C.M.F. officers. The number of Regular Army personnel in this country is limited. We now have some 22,000, and included in thai number are the staffs of the commands and other head-quarters. A tremendous burden has been imposed on the Regular Army to maintain the training of national service trainees. I pay tribute again to those officers who have gone far beyond the scope of their normal duties in carrying out the work of training these young men. Australia cannot thank them too much for the work that they have done. I know of many cases in which instructors worked themselves into the ground training these young men, purely from a sense of loyalty and duty. They have done a magnificent job.

In the debate it has become quite evident that there are tremendous misconceptions about this scheme. Some honorable members want the national service training scheme to be abolished, but others want it to be increased. Many people seem to think that the Government is half-hearted in this matter and is reducing the number of trainees to 12,000 just to keep the scheme going. No one seems to have implanted in his mind the fundamental reasons why the number is to be limited to 12,000 and the selection of trainees is to be made in the way that is proposed. The fact is that the Government intends to preserve the system of national service training. I think the Prime Minister made that perfectly clear. The Government has no intention whatever of abandoning this scheme. At this point we can accommodate only 12,000 trainees, but who knows what the future holds? Some people in Australia may think that this new plan is simply a case of scaling down the number of men who are to be trained. That decision has been made for a very special purpose. I will explain why the number is to be 12,000, but I repeat that the Government has no intention of abandoning the national service training scheme.

There are certain limiting factors that honorable members need to be aware of when they are considering this scheme. The first of the limiting factors is that the Government has only a certain sum of money to spend on defence. It has £190,000,000, of which the Army's quota is something like £60,000,000. That £190,000,000 is the total amount to be spent on defence in Australia in the next year. That is laid down in the statement of the Prime Minister which has been debated in the last couple of weeks.


Mr Ward - That is a fair wad of money.


Mr CRAMER - I agree that it is a fair wad of money, but it is not enough to do some of the things that many honorable members want to have done. However, it is the sum that the Government, in its wisdom, has allocated for defence. The Labour party, in fair weather and foul, has tried to suggest that the Government should clip £50,00*0,000 off the £190,000,000. but

I have not heard that argument used in the recent debate on defence. Honorable members opposite did not say anything about money then. In fixing the sum of £190,000,000, the Government has taken into consideration, its commitments for national development, social services, immigration and all the things that make up the cost of running the country. It is on the basis of spending £190,000,000 on defence that the Government has fixed the rate of taxation for the people. If honorable members opposite want more than £190,000,000 to be spent on defence, will they agree to an increase in taxation? I do not know of anybody who wants taxation to be increased at this stage. I think that most people are of the opinion that we are paying full and plenty in taxation at present. The fact is, of course, that the whole scheme is guided by the fact that a limited sum of money is available to be spent on defence.

The next factor - and this must be considered in terms of national service training - is that the first Army priority is a front line field force - a brigade group of 4,200 men. As honorable members know, we have 1,430 men in the Strategic Reserve in Malaya. These are front-line troops numbering almost 6,000 and they have to be culled from a total of 22,000 regular army personnel. Tt is very difficult. The House should remember that this total of 22,000 takes in everybody in the Army including those in the commands, in the islands, in the women's units and all the rest; it takes in the whole lot. It is not easy to get more than 6,000 from a total of 22,000. It would appear, and we are working on the basis, that on an average taken over the next three years the number will be about 21,000.

A number of speakers have suggested that we should have two brigade groups. It is not possible to get two brigades out of the existing number. I remind honorable members opposite that the whole system of the regular army and the C.M.F., other than for national service trainees, is a voluntary system. Australia is unlike the countries that have been referred to which have their national service trainees on an entirely different basis. In this country the whole system of service outside of Australia is a voluntary one.

The third factor, of course, is the C.M.F. itself. It is the very core of the

Army. There is a brigade group, which, of course, gets first priority, and that must be established out of the personnel in the Army. The build-up or the real core of the Army is actually the C.M.F. and without it there can be no proper defence for this country. Let us be perfectly clear about that. The core of the Army is the C.M.F.


Mr J R FRASER - Does the Minister mean that the core of the Army is comprised of volunteers?


Mr CRAMER - I mean that the C.M.F. is that body of people which forms the structure on which we can mobilize the nation in time of war. The C.M.F., then, is the core of the defence system so far as the Army is concerned. Surely no one in Australia, and especially in this House, would say that we should completely destroy the structure of the C.M.F. I think that would be furthest from the minds of the people of Australia.

I remind honorable members that in this scheme the total number of C.M.F. personnel is 50,700. That is divided up into three divisions at two-thirds strength. It is quite possible that if war did break out, because we have a large number of almost fully trained and fully trained men in the C.M.F. we would be able to get a division away in reasonably quick time, within five or six months, that could back up our brigade group, lt would be possible to put a second division in the field within six months and a third if necessary, under this scheme in, say, nine months. This is the body of the Army which, in any conflict that may take place, will back up the front-line troops engaged in the first place. So, the structure of the C.M.F. is vital in the interests of the build-up of the Army.

I may remark at this stage that it has been argued that we should carry this on as a voluntary system. As I said last night, the Labour party tried that in 1947. It did exactly the same thing as we are doing to-day. It provided for 50,000 volunteers in the C.M.F. and went out to get them by every means in its power. How many did it obtain? All it got was 13,000. There has to be some means by which the C.M.F. is built up because, as I pointed out last night, the C.M.F. is the ground upon which the officers and non-commissioned officers are trained. Officers and non-commissioned officers cannot be trained unless they have troops, so it is necessary to have a national service training scheme.

That brings me to what I call the fourth factor, the national service training scheme itself. It is quite unfair to say that the Government wants to scrap it and that this is the end of its life, and all that sort of nonsense. The national service training scheme is vital, and, if it were abandoned, it would mean we would not have an effective army. That is the position. These 12,000 national service trainees are the people who enable the C.M.F. to do the things we want it to do. Some honorable members who have taken part in this discussion have not attempted to think in those terms at all. The number of 12,000 is a calculated figure. lt is not a figure taken out of the air; it is not a guess in any shape or form; it is a calculated figure. It is the largest number that we can train with the instructors we have available in the Regular Army. It would be impossible to train more than 12.000 and at the same time provide a brigade group. That is all that can be done with the money allocation that has been made. On the other hand, 12,000 national service trainees are needed to build up the required strength of the C.M.F. to 50,700 and that is why the number 12,000 has been scientifically worked out. Contrary to the arguments that have been used in this House, the 12,000 national service trainees are necessary. They are vital to the whole scheme of the Army and to the defence of this country.

I repeat that the Government is not deserting national service training in any way. Very sound arguments have been put forward from this side of the House in regard to the value of civil defence, but that is another story. We are not dealing with that at this stage. Those arguments are not related to this scheme. The national service training scheme is related to the construction of the Army and nothing else at this point, so those arguments are not pertinent to this matter. As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has said, the Government intends to continue with the full registration of all eighteen-year olds. That is essential. The Minister has already pointed that out, and I wish to emphasize the fact in case there is some misunderstanding t throughout Australia.

Failure by any of these young men to register will mean that they will inevitably be called up. I hope that fact will sink into the minds of the people of Australia, because it will no doubt discourage some who are thinking that because the Government is calling up only 12,000 they may be able to slide out of registration. I hope none do.

Criticism has been offered of the ballot system. Nobody has suggested in this House any fairer system than the ballot system put forward by the Government. Something has to be done to obtain 12,000 from the 60,000 eighteen-year-olds who will register. They all cannot be accommodated. We are not now accommodating all of them. The Army is accommodating only some 29,000 out of 50,000 or 60,000 eighteen-year-olds. No one denies that it would be a good thing if we could, but the circumstances of our economy and the general position in Australia do not enable us to do that. In these circumstances, what could be fairer than this ballot proposal? I think that the Minister is to be congratulated for thinking of a scheme that will be fair and just to every young man. There is nothing unfair about it in any way. Some one has to be called upon to do the job and it has to be done by a system of ballots. Ballots are carried out in other countries in circumstances similar to this. There is nothing unfair about a ballot, and I think it is only cavilling to argue the point about it. I would like to point out that any young man in Australia who is not called up under this ballot system but who feels he would like to volunteer will be very welcome to come in, and there will be a place for him. He will be accommodated, because we do not propose to turn our backs on any young volunteer who wishes to be trained.


Mr Ward Mr. Wardinterjecting,


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for East Sydney must cease interjecting.


Mr CRAMER - I know that there are many young men in this country who will consider themselves unlucky not to be in the draw. Some honorable members opposite have stated that they would be unlucky to be in the draw, but I feel that they will be unlucky if they miss out.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! There is too much audible conversation.


Mr CRAMER - The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Falkinder) suggested that there be one large annual intake in Tasmania instead of two small ones. These things are now being looked at. I know there will be a good deal of turmoil throughout Australia in connexion with this matter because changes will have to be made. Changes will have to be made in relation to the units, but I assure every one that great consideration will be given to the oldestablished units before any of them are cancelled. At the same time, there will have to be training re-adjustments in all the commands because the number is being reduced from 29,000 to 12,000.

The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) laid great emphasis upon the volunteer system. I have answered that largely because this Government is prepared to face up to reality. It is not guesswork at all. It is a reality that unless we introduce this system we will not have the personnel we need to carry out the training and to keep the Citizen Military Forces alive.

The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said that the scheme will not play any useful purpose, and speaker after speaker has spoken in that strain. What useful purpose does it serve? Well, can you imagine anything more useful than that 12,000 young men should go into the C.M.F. each year to build it up and to maintain it at the strength of 50,700 men, ready and willing to defend Australia in an emergency? I cannot imagine anything more important; yet it is said here that we might as well abolish the scheme altogether! Honorable members should know that we cannot abandon it if we are to carry on with the defence plan that we have put before the House, and of which I am sure the majority of the people of Australia approve. It is a plan which is in keeping with modern world conditions, as I told the House last night. It shows that we are abreast of what is happening in the world, and that we are prepared in this country to take our place along with our own friends, particularly in the South-East Asia area, where we may be called upon to defend Australia. Instead of being criticized the Government should be assisted in a difficult situation - because it is difficult to deal with this question. We know the values of national service training and we have to have those 12,000 men each year in order to maintain our C.M.F. and to support the structure as I have explained.







Suggest corrections