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Friday, 24 August 1984
Page: 366

Senator COLSTON —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Defence noted a comment in the national newsletter issued by the Returned Services League which stated, amongst other things, that a national service program of one kind or another would be of value in bringing Australia's regular force battalions to full strength and in building an effective Reserve? Are regular force battalions below strength and is the Army Reserve at present ineffective as suggested in the newsletter? Does the Government have any plans to introduce a national service program?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am advised by the Minister for Defence that since 1975 total Regular Army strength has varied from year to year by no more than a few hundred, from a minimum in 1976 of 31,430 to a maximum of 33,072 in 1983. These fluctuations have not prevented units from carrying out effective training. All battalions are operating at much the same authorised peacetime levels as have applied since the reorganisation following the Vietnam war. The Operational Deployment Force is being maintained at a high degree of readiness. Other elements are maintained at a lower level of readiness but sufficient to maintain a corps of skills for timely expansion should this be required because of changes in our strategic environment. It is normal practice in peacetime to restrict some units to a strength below that which would be required for war. Minor fluctuations in strength occur in all battalions as a matter of course. These result from normal variations in recruiting and initial training patterns and from variations in the wastage rate. The previous Government increased the authorised Army Reserve strength to 30,000 in 1981-82 and the present Government has maintained this level. Manpower priorities are constantly reviewed to transfer manpower from lower to high priority defence capabilities. For example, the Special Air Service regiment is being increased by an additional squadron.

The Government's policy in respect of compulsory military service is that we will continue to rely on our highly trained and voluntary Defence Force as a basis for expansion should the circumstances require it. The regular forces will continue to be augmented by the reserve forces, membership of which is open to citizens who wish to contribute to the nation's defence preparedness. The introduction of national service would divert a significant proportion of defence resources away from essential programs and capabilities. The Government agrees with its military advisers that to introduce national service, notwithstanding any possible advantages for Australian youth, would have no real benefit for Australia's defence capabilities.