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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10392

Mrs VALE —My question is addressed to the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence. Minister, can you inform the House what role the reserves will play in maintaining the Australian Defence Force capability to support the deployment in East Timor?

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (Veterans' Affairs; Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Hughes for her question. The government's Defence Reform Program has produced a Defence Force more combat ready than it has been for a quarter of a century. The coalition's focus on combat capability has seen a shift of resources from the administrative areas to the sharp end. Because of this there are more regular Army personnel in combat related roles than when the coalition came to government. These are the facts. We have brought a second brigade sized group—1 Brigade in Darwin—to a higher state of readiness at 28-days notice to move. In December 1997 we introduced to the Army individual readiness notices. What that means is that personnel must now meet set fitness requirements and be ready to deploy, focusing on the individual soldiers and their need to be combat ready. So we are in a very strong position to support this deployment.

The deployment is relying primarily on our regular forces, although reserve specialists like medical officers are a vital component. Of course, in our overall defence capability reservists do fill an important role. We have at the moment some 23,000 regular Army personnel who have the basic soldiering skills required for deployments like East Timor. Our active Reserve numbers are significant. The Army has some 20,000 personnel, the Navy some 1,300 and the Air Force some 1,600.

Over 2,500 of the Army reservists are recent trainees who have been through the same level of basic training as our regular forces, through the common induction training. This means that they are available and are useful if needed. We do have a sizeable pool of skilled personnel to draw on in our Reserve ranks. Having said that, we will continue our existing recruiting program for reservists and also for regulars, particularly at this time of the year as the school year and the academic year ends. It is obviously an ideal time to be out there recruiting, as has been happening for many years, and looking for the skills that are needed in a modern defence force. In the medium and longer term, an increased recruiting effort and more flexible training will continue to ensure that we have sufficient part-time and regular ADF personnel to meet our nation's needs.