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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1543


Mr BARNARD (Bass) - This is a machinery measure designed to reduce the period of national service from 2 years to 18 months. The substance of the Bill is contained in 2 sentences of the second reading address of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch). He went on to outline changes in the national service scheme which did not require legislation. The rest of his speech is padded out with a rambling discourse on the philosophy of national service and the Government's conception of the role of the Army. Not content with confining himself to the administrative matters within the ken of his Department, the Minister ranged broadly over issues of defence policy which surely fall within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) who, of course, is absent from this debate this afternoon.

Apparently the Minister does not see himself in the nuts-and-bolts cum jailor role which strictly speaking is all he and his Department are supposed to administer in national service. His speech was in many ways the speech of a de facto Defence Minister. All sense of demarcation and continuity of responsibility seems to have been lost in a Government which chops and changes its senior personnel so relentlessly and ruthlessly.

At any rate the Minister made a series of sweeping assertions which warrant examination before I pass to the more pressing task of foreshadowing amendments the Opposition will move to this legislation in the Committee stage. He devoted much time to the national service and defence policies . of the Australian Labor Party. In the main he stated them accurately enough although one could cavil at the absence of context. But some of the comments the Minister passed oh these quite explicitly stated policies were most extraordinary. He said that Government and the Opposition both accepted compulsory military service in principle; neither was opposed to compulsion as such. However the Labor Party had adopted an approach to conscription which was rigid and dogmatic while the Government had adopted a flexible policy. Apparently it is rigid and dogmatic to oppose conscription except where Australian security is threatened; I would have thought this was neither rigid nor dogmatic because it allowed graduated response based on the degree and nature of the threat.

However, according to the Minister, the Government was flexible in its approach because it wants conscription at all times and in all circumstances. How this can be interpreted as a flexibe approach beggars, I believe, the imagination; it seems to me to be both dogmatic and inflexible. The most charitable explanation for the Minister's confused terminology is that he got his parties back to front when writing his speech. He concluded this garbled analysis with the following remarkabe statement:

The Labor Party's attitude is one of rigidity; it is therefore inadequate and this is one of the lessons of history.

He does not specify what is inadequate - the Labor Party, its attitude to conscription or its rigidity - nor is there any account of what lesson of history is referred to by the Minister. One would hope that he is not referring to the period when the last government of his own colour was in power during the Second World War. If be was referring to that period of history he will be quite familiar with the state of the defences of this country when the Curtin Government came to power. The Minister went on to say: it-

That is the Labor Party - would use a force in the national interest only under threat of defence emergency.

On the face of his words the Minister is saying that the Government would use the defence forces in the national interest in circumstances other than a threat to defence emergency. If I read the Minister rightly, he is criticising the Labor Party because it would use defence forces in the national interest only when Australia is threatened by a defence emergency. The Minister went on to say that this is because of 'dogma imposed on the Party from outside'. However, the Government's more flexibe approach would allow it to use the defence forces in the national interest in other circumstances, and for this reason conscripts are always needed.

Perhaps the Minister did not intend these sinister overtones; perhaps he can explain this fuzzy thinking in his reply. If not, he ought to exercise this sore of pretentious and meaningless wordage from his speeches and concentrate on the bare bones of the legislation he is presenting to the House. The Minister went on to make the bland assertion that conscription was necessary because we could not get enough volunteers, even if we paid them more money. Again, this argument was put forward without a jot of evidence to support it, except that it did not work in 1964. He did state one concrete fact, that even in the difficult military market of the late 1960s it had been possible to increase the volunteer component by a thousand a year. This was achieved even though pay and conditions were inferior and in a period when the labour market was light and high selection standards were applied.

It is worth while to look at the figures on Army manpower put by the Minister. In 1964 when conscription was introduced we had an all-volunteer army of 23,000 men. Now we have 44,000 men made up of 28,000 volunteers and 16,000 conscripts. However, with Vietnam over, the Government finds it can cut the Army by 9 per cent to 40,000. The Minister says that conscription was not introduced for Vietnam; however with Vietnam over, we do not need as big an Army. With an Army of 40,000 it has been possible to cut the term of conscription by 6 months; that is, the number of conscripts serving at any one time will be only 12,000. According to the Minister it was necessary for defence preparedness that Army strength be maintained at 40,000. Anything less would put our defence interests in jeopardy.

There are aspects of the crude manpower analysis put by the Minister that cry out for clarification. He said that the volunteer element of the Army had been increasing in round terms at around 1,000 a year. This had produced a strength of some 28,000 men at 30th June this year. There seems no reason why, even under present Government policies, net recruitment should not continue al this rate or even higher. At the rate projected by the Minister it would take 12 years - that is, until 1983 - to bring the Army up to the level considered by the Minister as essential for defence preparedness. At present recruitment rates, which have many deficiencies, the need for conscripts would be progressively eliminated over 12 years. That is to say, without any positive initiative by the Government or action beyond what it is doing now, the conscript element would fade away. Even this target figure of 40,000 is rather illusory, because a substan tial percentage of it depends on conscription. These are the men who are absorbed in the administration and training of the conscript element of the Army. I do not know what percentage of the present force is absorbed in this way but any reasonable assessment would be at least 5 per cent. On this basis at least 2,000 of this 40,000 force would be in non-effective roles because of the need to train the conscript component. An all-volunteer army of 37,000 to 38,000 men would have the same effective fighting strength' as a mixed force of 40,000 volunteers and conscripts.

On another projection, in 4 years time, in 1975 the volunteer strength of the Army would be 32,000 if present recruiting rates are maintained. The target level on present figures when discounted for the elimination of conscripts would be 37,000 to 38,000. Under these conditions if conscription were abolished the strength of an all-volunteer army would not be significantly below the target strength defined by the Minister as constituting defence preparedness. However, the Minister made much of the fact that 4,000 fewer men were needed now because of the changed situation from that which existed in 1964, when national service was introduced. To quote the Minister's jargon: "That the overall framework within which defence manpower requirements are determined should change is inexorable'. If this is the case, then there is no reason why these requirements should hot change again in the next few years. Accordingly, there is no reason why, once the dust settles from Vietnam, a peak requirement of 36,000 or even 32,000 may not be the norm of Army manpower requirements.

On the figures I have quoted, it would be possible to form an all-volunteer Army by 1975 not significantly different from the terms of defence preparedness set out by the Minister. This could be done even with the present unsatisfactory rate of voluntary recruitment. If the present manpower patterns changed or Army standards' of selection were varied, it could be done even more quickly. Even on the Government terms, conscription will dwindle year by year - it must do so if the Government considers an army of 40,000 to be adequate - and the volunteer element is increasing at a rate of 1,000 a year from a base of 28,000. By the logic of the Government's policy the term of conscription should fall as the number of conscripts needed to fill the 40,000 ranks falls from 12,000 to 10,000 to 6,000 and ultimately withers away. This sort of examination exposes the falseness of the Government's argument that not enough volunteers can be found and that this country automatically is doomed if we do not have an army of 40,000 in 1972, 1975 or 1980. The point is that the Government has never seriously tried to form and maintain a volunteer army since 1964 when the imminent Vietnam commitment prompted a hasty resort to conscription. This has thrown the emphasis from the volunteer component of the Army where it should properly lie to the induction and training of conscripts. Regular soldiers have suffered from this distortion of priorities. Pay and conditions of members of the Army deteriorated at a quite alarming rate until the Government was coerced into appointing the Kerr Committee, not by regard for the military, but by a threatened revolt of a substantial section of its back bench.

The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) who is keen to interject will remember only too well that I raised this matter in the terms of a motion before the Parliament to appoint a joint select committee of the Parliament to look into the pay and allowances of serving members of the Forces and other matters related to their conditions including housing for serving members of the forces, education and scholarships for the children of- those who are serving in the forces and the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. The honourable member for La Trobe will remember very well that although the Government was not prepared to accept my motion, because of the attitude of those who at that time showed in this House that they were not prepared to tolerate these circumstances any longer and threatened a revolt, the Government introduced its own motion several days later. But the fact remains that the Government even had to be coerced into this. It was prepared to allow these conditions to apply, even though they had prevented proper recruiting. The Minister for Labour and National Service who has accepted the role of the Minister for Defence, as I pointed out when I commenced to speak on this matter, remains silent on these matters. And well he should, as should other members of the Government, because it is no credit to them that they have allowed the conditions of serving members of the forces to deteriorate and that, together with the question of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, they have refused to accept their responsibility. The honourable member for La Trobe is very well versed in this matter. He knows that this was a matter of complaint and dissatisfaction among those already serving in the forces. We say emphatically that the Government has never really set out to provide for this country an army based on a system of voluntary enlistment. It is possible to obtain recruits for the Royal Australian Air Force and all the recruits needed for the Royal Australian Navy. Again the Minister for Labour and National Service, who has accepted the role of spokesman for the Minister for Defence in this matter, remains silent on the question of recruitment. One hopes that some of this hypocrisy which Government members indulge in when they speak in this House on the matter of conscription will be explained by those who refuse to accept their responsibility in relation to some of the more important aspects of recruitment of the defence forces of this country.

One could speak at great length on this matter. Having had an opportunity to visit Army establishments or defence establishments in every State and to talk to those who are in a position of responsibility in relation to these matters I believe that a great deal of dissatisfaction exists within the Services. The responsibility for that dissatisfaction can be placed fairly and squarely at the door of this Government. Again I emphasise that since 1964 this Government has never seriously tried to form and maintain a volunteer army. Regular soldiers have suffered from this distortion of priorities to which I have referred. The Government thought it could let the pay and conditions of the Army drag behind the civilian workforce because it had the tool of conscription; it could make up any shortfall in volunteers by exploitation of the machinery of selective conscription. In short it made the conscript element the most important in the Army.

This was dangerous folly in more ways than one. As I have pointed out it alienated volunteer soldiers. It introduced a large element of waste into the training of soldiers. It produced heavy social costs which do not show up in conventional accounting of defence spending; for example the cost of detecting and punishing offenders under the Act. Above all it induced Government lethargy in the need to stimulate a greater flow of volunteers to the Army. Instead of tackling the question of recruitment in a sensible way, the attraction of more volunteers was shuffled into the too hard basket. The Minister made a great deal of the statement of the Gates Commission in relation to an allvolunteer Army for the United States. He said that this had greaty influenced members of the Labor Party in their cry for an all-volunteer Army. The Minister went on to discount the significance of the Gates Commission report for Australia. Of course our manpower and employment patterns are vastly different from the. United States. The United States has a much larger pool of unemployment to draw on, though it must be conceded that the Government is doing its best at the moment to make up the leeway.

Of course different situations exist in Australia and America and the conclusions of the Gates Commission cannot be automatically applied to Australian conditions. But the Commission's report has relevance to Australia nonetheless, not least because of its scathing account of this Government's failure to tackle the recruiting problem in the early 1960s. There is a very great lesson for Australia in what the Gates Commission has done; that is, analyse future manpower trends in the United States to see how the draft can be ended and what would need to be spent to form an all-volunteer army. It is remarkable that the Minister should have to refer to an American report for a comparative study of wage and labour conditions. This is the sort of manpower analysis using mathematical techniques and models which should be assayed by his own Department. We had no information on future population and workforce trends from the Minister beyond a vague reference to current research indicating that elasticity of supply of volunteers to our Army was lower than the United States. It is shameful that this should be the level of analysis the Minister brings to this problem, bearing in mind the statistical information and other resources available to his Department. In his concentration on the Gates Commission the Minister ignored the volume of research on military manpower research done in Australia. Two examples are the work done by Mr A. D. MacGuarr, a former systems analyst in the Department of Defence and Mr Glen Withers of Latrobe University. It is a blot on this Government that studies of this sort should be left to outsiders and that the Minister should have to use the Gates Commission as a yardstick.

At the moment we just do not know what impact higher pay and better conditions would have on the flow of volunteers to the Army. We do know on figures used by both the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and the Minister for Labour, and National Service that in the difficult period from 1964 to 1970, net recruitment to the Army was at the rate of 1,000 a . year. Even in a period of relative affluence and high employment, even with a rejection rate of 2 in 3, even with Government discouragement of volunteers, it was possible to increase the strength of the volunteer component from 23,000 to 28,000 men. In the next few years we are unlikely to have the same prosperity and the same tight labour market. Moreover traditional patterns of labour and employment are changing and contracting. Recently the Minister introduced a scheme for rural retraining. This made the point that employment prospects on the land are diminishing. There is no reason why the Army with its emphasis on out-door life should not be appealing to workers who are forced off the land, particularly as better pay and conditions flow from the recommendations of the Kerr Committee. There seems, also, to be a real need for re-assessment of selection standards; the Army may no longer be able to enjoy the luxury of the high rejection rate it now applies.

Remedial treatment of potential recruits whose literacy is not sufficiently high or who possess othe disabilities which could be corrected would produce more recruits. These techniques have been applied effectively in the United Kingdom and there is no reason why they should not be used here to increase acceptance rate of applicants for the Army. There is no reason why the present net rate of recruitment should not be expanded, perhaps even doubled to 2,000 or more recruits to the permanent strength of the Army each year. For the past few years the Government has wanted an Army strength of 44,000 to sustain a three-battalion task force in Vietnam. Its present pre-occupation is to maintain an army of 40,000, presumably to maintain one battalion or more in Malaysia and Singapore in accordance with its stubborn adherence to the discredited forward defence policy. It also clings to the conscript system on the very dubious ground that it provides defence preparedness. It is difficult to see how a mixed force of 40,000 volunteers and conscripts, with all the waste and effectiveness inherent in the conscript system, provides greater defence preparedness than an all-volunteer army of 34,000 which could be raised in 2 or 3 years. In terms of effective fighting manpower the 2 forces would be much the same. In terms of economic efficiency and elimination of wasteful spending and hidden social costs, the all-volunteer army would be vastly superior.

The Minister made much of the need for a strong army which could be developed in adequate time should more immediate threats arise. It is -difficult to see what the Government means by an immediate threat; any immediate threat would arise from an outbreak of nuclear warfare which would be beyond the capacity of the Australian Army to influence. Any direct threat to Australia based on conventional weapons would have an intelligence leadtime of at least 2 years before it could be considered immediate. In any case the reconnaissance capability of the Air Force and the reconnaissance and protective shield of the Navy would be of much more crucial importance than the Army, whether volunteer or mixed, in the early stages of such a threat.

There would be time to see the threat coming, assess it and prepare for it; it is not like the 50s and 60s of the last century when the eastern seaboard of Australia waited helplessly for the Russian Navy to appear off the coast. Any rapid expansion of the Army would depend on the permanent forces, that is, the volunteer component of the Army.

If large numbers of men were to be trained quickly in response to such a threat it would matter very little that there were a few thousand conscripts in the ranks. Nor would it be of vital significance that there were men on the reserve who had been trained as conscripts some years earlier. The existence of the reserve and the Citizen Military Forces would not be of great significance in forming and training a major army to repell a threat of this size. I make no disparaging remarks about the CMF at all. I would like to deal with that in much greater detail at some time when it is more opportune to do so. I have great faith in the CMF to provide a cadre of trained NCO's in a time of national emergency. So the exitence of the reserve and the CMF is of no great significance. They would be swamped in the general mobilisation. In any case even with trained men who had served 2 years as conscripts the rate of retention of military training would not be particularly high. An example are the veterans of the previous national service scheme which ended in the late 1950s. I do not think anyone would seriously suggest that these men, now in their early and mid-thirties, could be recalled now in response to a threat and turned into effective fighting units in anything less than a year. Veterans of the present scheme would be in a better position because of the length and intensity of their training, but even so considerable retraining would be needed. The same would apply to the CMF; quite obviously it would need several months training to bring it to effective standards. For any major threat to Australia what the Minister calls the defence preparedness provided by a few thousand conscripts in the Army and the pool of trained men on the reserves would not be a decisive factor.

For these and other reasons we will move in the Committee stages for an end to the operation of the Act from 1st January 1972. It seems it is not possible to repeal the Act earlier because of machinery provisions, otherwise we would try to end it immediately. Consequent on the acceptance or rejection of this fundamental amendment the Opposition will move 4 other amendments. The first is designed to provide exemption for conscientious objection on the basis of objection to a particular war. This has been put to the House by the Opposition on several occasions and there is no need for me to elaborate it here. The second amendment is designed to incorporate a new section into the Act which would establish a new procedure for dealing with conscientious objection cases. In short it would establish a uniform framework for hearing these cases throughout the whole of the Commonwealth. This proposal has been put by the Opposition on 2 previous occasions. The third amendment relates to the paroling of perons serving terms of imprisonment under the National Service Act either now or in the future. At present young men gaoled under the National Service Act are denied the provisions for parole given offenders against federal law by the Commonwealth Prisoners Act of 1967. This amendment would enable these young men to be considered for parole according to the law in the State in which they are imprisoned. Right to parole is at present denied to young men imprisoned for offences against sections 51 and 51 a of the National Service Act. The final amendment is designed to secure the release of the 3 men at present in prison under the Act - Charles Martin in Adelaide, Gary Cook in Perth, and Geoff Mullen in Sydney. If carried the amendment will end their terms of imprisonment from the implementation of the Act. These basically are the amendments that will be moved by the Opposition if the first amendment fails, that is, the amendment the Opposition believes should be carried to repeal this Act by 1st January 1972.







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