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RSL raises grave concerns over proposed cuts to Defence Force personnel jobs

PETER CAVE: The RSL has expressed grave concerns about the possible loss of 7,000 jobs from the Australian Defence Forces. In a moment, we'll be speaking to Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan, about reports that he's planning to slash the jobs and replace some of them with civilians. First though, to RSL Deputy National President, Rusty Priest, who says the cuts would be savage and would leave Australia with a weaker Defence Force, with a reduced ability to operate overseas in peacekeeping missions and to respond to national disasters. He spoke to John Taylor.

RUSTY PRIEST: Well, it would leave them very thin on the ground because there are all sorts of issues to be considered from time to time. In the past, we've had commitments because of our obligations to the United Nations; we've had peacekeeping forces go to Rwanda and other places such like that; we've had national disasters occur, and we've seen a pretty good example of that just recently - bushfire commitments; we've seen the commitment of Defence Forces to Papua New Guinea and the drought relief; and you've still got then people training in the various units, people going on leave, people in all sorts of reasons why your units are not up to strength. And to start to cut them, of course we'd view with great concerns.

JOHN TAYLOR: Cuts of such magnitude would make international efforts, such as you just listed, quite hard to do and Australia to fulfil their obligations?

RUSTY PRIEST: They would leave the Defence Force very, very thin on the ground. And if you've got one, two of them - two commitments - I'd doubt very much whether we'd have the capacity to fill. And also if national disasters occur, as they do from time to time, when the requirement is there for the Defence Forces to assist - bushfires, floods - who can predict?

JOHN TAYLOR: Will it mean a weaker Defence Force, even if we say that more resources are designated towards combat positions and increasing and improving the technology that the Australian Defence Forces have, will it generally mean, though, that it will mean a weaker Defence Force just because of the sheer numbers in the Armed Forces?

RUSTY PRIEST: Well, if you decrease the numbers and increase the technology, you've still got to have someone to use the weapons, someone to man the units. And if you're going to start cutting of that magnitude, where are you going to cut? They have to be base units and they have to be front-line combat units. It's all very well to say, well, we'll rely on civilianisation, but civilians have a habit of knocking off at five o'clock in the afternoon and not wanting to start till half past seven or eight o'clock next morning. So what happens if something blows up overnight or the weekend?

PETER CAVE: The RSL's Deputy National President, Rusty Priest.