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Wednesday, 21 September 1983
Page: 1088

Mr SCHOLES (Minister for Defence)(3.52) —Mr Speaker--

Mr Hodgman —The man who hates Tasmania.

Mr SCHOLES —When a man who is so incompetent that he does not know that a government of which he is a Minister is planning an attack on his own State he should not interject, expecially not from another member's seat in the House. I do not think I have heard a poorer and more misleading presentation of a case on defence matters in this House. I think, unfortunately, that it sets the scene; the Opposition's activities will be the same as they were between 1972 and 1975. It is quite clear that the Opposition intends to use any device necessary in order to reduce morale in the defence forces, to mislead the Australian public into believing what is not true and to score cheap political points from the defence debate. I think I should deal first with some of the major assertions which have been made by the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair ). The substance of his remarks, as I understand them, comes from newspaper articles, which are at best unreliable sources of information. He stated categorically that the Government has announced a decision to reduce the number of people in the reserves. I challenge the right honourable member to substantiate that statement. It is untrue. Yet that is the basis of an attack on the defence policies of this country. The number of persons authorised for the Army Reserve when we came to office was 30,000. The authorised strength of the Army Reserve now is 30,000, as set out in the Budget. The number in the Reserve is set at a maximum of 30,000. The authorised strength for recruitment and maintenance of efficient personnel in the Reserve is 30,000.

Mr Newman —Orders are being issued in Tasmania today to reduce the strength of every Reserve unit and its hours. What do you say to that?

Mr SCHOLES —We can have only one debate at a time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! Honourable members will cease interjecting.

Mr Hodgman —What about spy flights over Tasmania?

Mr SCHOLES —Perhaps I should sit down while the honourable member makes a fool of himself. The number of reserves in the Navy this year will increase by about 48. That is not a cut.

Mr Sinclair —Tell us about the Army Reserve.

Mr SCHOLES —I have just said that the authorised strength of the Army Reserve is exactly what it was when the right honourable member's Government left office. The reserves of the Air Force will increase by 390 this year. That does not seem to be a cut. If the right honourable gentleman checks the statement relating to training days that was made in the post-Afghanistan situation he will find that it was stated in this House on that occasion that there would be an increase of two in the number of training days for a period of two years in order to cater for the increase from 24,000 to 30,000 in the number of reserves who would be authorised.

As with all elements of the defence forces, because of the low rates of resignation that have taken place and the attractiveness of the additional income to people on low incomes and the unemployed, all sections of the defence forces have been running over their authorised strengths. This has caused a slow down in recruiting because it is not practical for people to be automatically removed from the Force before they have reached the age of retirement. It has caused some difficulties in recruiting establishments. The situation is being redressed. The reserves, similarly, have been over-strength because of greater anticipated inefficiency than did occur with the result that there has to be a slow down in the numbers recruited in order to achieve authorised strengths. I reiterate that there has been no change in the authorised strengths. The basis of the right honourable gentleman's argument is fallacious. He has presupposed in order to make an argument-the old aunt sally activity-that there have been changes to the detriment of the defence forces and decisions made to reinforce them. Again, he relies on the newspapers which are not always accurate. Tax measures on superannuation were changed. I invite the right honourable member to tell me of one occasion when the Government changed a tax measure and exempted the military forces.

Mr Sinclair —So they are better off than they were when you came into office?

Mr SCHOLES —The right honourable member has presupposed that they will not be better off in order to cause problems in the defence forces and to cause a drop in morale so that his predictions can be proven right at the cost of the defence forces. In the short time I have available let us look at the real record of the so-called defenders of the defence forces opposite. I refer to the fourth report of the Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay. It stated:

In these circumstances it is essential that a review of Defence Force remuneration commence, and be in a position to be completed, by the end of 1982.

The Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay was able to operate under the existing law only by the approval of the Minister. Did the previous Minister, who is now sitting at the table, grant that recommendation? No, he did not. He refused to make the reference so that the review of Defence Force pay which was recommended by the Committee of Reference could take place. He said he refused to make the reference because the current salaries of members of the Defence Force were adequate. They had waited for the Government of members opposite from 1972, when a reference on working conditions was made, to 1980 before their work value cases were reviewed. Because of the cumulative effect of that this Opposition saviour of the defence forces who gutted their conditions when in government said that members of the forces were paid too much and that he would not review the matter.

Mr Sinclair —So you reduced them further.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —The Deputy Leader of the National Party was heard in silence. I ask him to extend the same courtesy.

Mr SCHOLES —He cannot take it; that is his problem. This man refused to allow the conditions of the defence forces to be examined by the independent tribunal with the result that they were not granted the cost of living increases before the wages freeze was applied.

Let me say something else about the saviours of the Defence Force. When they had the opportunity to do something they rejected in this House an amendment which would have ensured the independence of that tribunal to act on behalf of the defence forces in respect of pay and conditions if it considered that they had deteriorated. This Government will introduce legislation into this House to guarantee that an independent tribunal will examine and determine the salaries of members of the defence forces for the first time ever and will provide, at Government expense, a professional advocate to present argument to that tribunal on their behalf. There was no shilly shallying from us in opposition and there will be no running away in government. The Opposition's record is atrocious. For example, submariners were forced almost into mutiny in order to have their allowances paid. They refused to see the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) when he was overseas in Hawaii because of the shabby treatment given to them by the Liberal Government in 1980. That is the type of treatment the Opposition gave servicemen .

I think that when the Opposition talks about the pay and conditions or the general situation with regard to the defence forces, it may be a good idea if it forgets about trying to cause problems in the defence forces and stops trying to upset or frighten members of the defence forces for shoddy political gain. Members of the defence forces have not lost anything at this stage with respect to commutation. We have not even seen a Bill go through yet. They have lost nothing with respect to commutation. I suggest that, before the right honourable gentleman goes public and tells people what the newspapers tell him is true, he waits until a decision is made on the matter. When a decision is made it will be announced in plenty of time so that it will not have an effect on any condition of service which exists now other than that which is contained in the decision. A number of other matters have been raised in this debate. The right honourable gentleman delivered a tirade about the proposed reductions in the defence forces that have been announced. A Canberra journalist is not the spokesman for the defence forces.

Mr Sinclair —Who said that I was quoting him?

Mr SCHOLES —The right honourable gentleman said that they have been announced and he quoted an authority. Every other statement he made came from that source. There are planned reductions in the Navy, which were announced at the time of the tying up of the Melbourne, and which are added to by the discontinuance of fixed wing operations. There are no proposed reductions outside the discontinuance of those operations within the Navy.

Mr Sinclair —There will be none?

Mr SCHOLES —There are no reductions. The right honourable member is dumb and deaf-I think he is stupid-and he is certainly trying very hard to sabotage the defence of the country.

Mr Sinclair —Madam Deputy Speaker, I take exception to that remark and ask the honourable gentleman to withdraw.

Mr SCHOLES —I withdraw the remark. I have suspicions about people who deliberately mislead the House in a way which is designed to create a drop in the morale of the defence forces by producing supposition, rumour and lack of fact. I shall return to the point I was making. The right honourable gentleman said that there are planned reductions. In fact if he reads the Budget Papers he will find that the strength of the Air Force is authorised to be increased by 200. There will be a reduction in manpower of 100 in the Army and there will be reductions in the Navy by way of wastage in fixed wing and carrier operations. If the right honourable gentleman reads the Budget Papers and the detailed estimates which have been distributed he will be able to ascertain that no other reductions are planned. I can say that I have not approved and will not approve any forward reductions outside those announced in the Budget for the defence forces. The suppositions on which the right honourable member makes this attack on the Government and the defence forces are totally false, as are most of his other arguments.

Mr Groom —What about the hours?

Mr SCHOLES —I responded to that matter a moment ago.

Mr Newman —Incorrectly.

Mr SCHOLES —I suggest that the honourable member reads before he talks. He did not do too well in regard to the Kamaria and Orangeland matters which I think formed the start of this debate.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! I ask that the Minister ignore the interjections.

Mr SCHOLES —There are a couple of things that I should say to the House in order to try to repair some of the damage which has been done by the irresponsible presentation made to this Parliament today. The proposal that Defence Force personnel have suffered as a result of the tax on superannuation payments is untrue.

Mr Sinclair —Grow up.

Mr SCHOLES —I ask the right honourable member to tell me of one person in the defence forces who has lost anything. He said that they have suffered. I said that no person has suffered, and no person should anticipate that anyone will suffer until he hears the decision which has not yet been made. Honourable gentlemen have to get their political points before the truth is known because their points will not stand up when they are examined. I turn now to the matter of reductions because of resignations. The four year average for resignations in the defence forces is 190. Last year it was exceptionally low at 148. It is running below that level this year.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.