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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1664

Mr HUGHES (Berowra) - Let me first assure the House that 1 do not propose to respond to the alluring invitation that has been extended by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren).

Dr Klugman - When is your preselection ballot?

Mr HUGHES - I am going to win that anyway, without the honourable member's help - and I know that he wants to help.

Mr Calwell - I understand that you are at odds on.

Mr HUGHES - I am at long odds on. I can survive the neo-Cromwellian revolutionary. I remain depressed by the course that this debate has taken - I say that with considerable respect to my 2 friends sitting on the front bench of the Opposition - because it is about time that members of the Opposition, if they will permit me to say so, addressed themselves to this question without regard to the very understandable emotional involvement which they have about Vietnam.

Mr Uren - Does the honourable member think that death is not emotional?

Mr HUGHES - I said that I understand the emotional involvement of members of the Opposition in regard to Vietnam. I believe, as members of the Opposition disbelieve, that our commitment to Vietnam was a proper commitment.

Mr Birrell - It was crook; you know it, too.

Mr HUGHES - I do not know it. I believe strongly to the contrary but I would defend to my last dying breath the right of the Opposition to maintain a contrary view. What I am trying to say, despite the friendly interjections from the other side of the House, is this: We have to face up to the question of how to maintain at a proper level the strength of the Army now and for the foreseeable future, without regard to what I would describe as emotional hangups about Vietnam.

Mr Foster - That is a nice way to regard it. The matter does not even get an expression of sympathy from the other side of the House.

Mr HUGHES - The honourable member who has just interjected does not want to tolerate any attempt at a dispassionate discussion of an important problem. I do wish that he could bring to himself a little tolerance on a matter that I regard as terribly important. What is the basic problem? At no stage - I did not hear the honourable member for Reid or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) say it - has the Opposition propounded or dared to- propound the idea that a defence force or a regular army of only 28,000 men is adequate for our present purposes.

Mr Barnard - You must admit that I did not propound that. Indeed I went out of my way to show that the numbers would be increased.

Mr HUGHES - Precisely, and I give the Deputy Leader of the Opposition credit for propounding that view. I applaud him for it. He said that the size of the Army should be increased. The Government's present stand is that we can live - 1 doubt whether we can live for very long - with an Army of 40,000 men.

Dr Klugman - Well, reduce the number.

Mr HUGHES - As usual, there seems to be a little division within the Opposition. Some honourable members say increase the numbers and other honourable members say decrease them. However, I suppose there are divisions on questions of principle within every Party.

Mr Charles Jones - Tell us what it is like on the back bench.

Mr HUGHES - I am enjoying myself on the back bench.

Mr Calwell - You would like to get off it.

Mr HUGHES - No, I am content where I am. The front bench members of the Opposition say we should increase the size of the Army. The Opposition is adopting a curious and inconsistent stance, for it has moved in this Committee an amendment, the immediate effect of which, on 1st January 1972, would be to decrease at one fell blow the size of the Australian Regular Army from 40,000 men, which my friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says is not enough, to 28,000 men. Where is the sense and the consistency in this attitude? 1 think that this is the basic question to which we must address ourselves and when we arc addressing ourselves to it let us look at some contemporary and relevant facts, one of which is that in this country - thank goodness - we are passing through a salutary social revolution in the field of education. More and more young people are advancing not only to higher secondary education but also to tertiary education. The percentage of young people going into tertiary education is increasing year by year and nobody in this House would do other than applaud this situation. It is a thoroughly good thing. But what are the consequences of this fact in relation to maintaining the size of an army? An army must be maintained at a size and of a structure necessary to cope with possible future threats. We must maintain a capability. One of the consequences is that in the nature of things, a career as a private or as a non commissioned officer in the Army is not a way of life that appeals to people who have gone through to tertiary education or perhaps even to higher secondary education. This is not a matter of complaint; it is a simple fact of life. As we go on increasing the pool of our educational resources amongst the. young - as they go on improving themselves in increasing volume - the plain fact is that the number of people who would find an Army career appealing or attractive diminishes.

Mr Garrick - We might progress so far that one day we will not have an Army.

Mr HUGHES - That is a monumentally fascinating contribution. The honourable member, who is sitting temporarily on the front bench, does not want to have an Army at all. Do we have to put up with that degree of inane thoughtlessness? My honourable friend will forgive me if I use rather extravagant words to describe that interjection.

Mr Garrick - That is not what I said.

Mr HUGHES - 1 thought it was what you said. If the pool from which we can attract recruits is diminishing, what is the consequence? The consequence must be a system of conscription as equitable as circumstances will demand. I 'passe' the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) who suggested that we shrink from this word 'conscription'. I adhere to it because that is a true description of what this legislation does. I agree that national service is a euphemism. Conscription is what it is all about. I will maintain as long as I am in this place that in present circumstances it is the only viable option open to a responsible government. With all respect to the men of great sincerity on the other side of the House who hold a contrary view, I would characterise this amendment as basically irresponsible.

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