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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1556

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service) - The speaker who preceded me before the suspension of the sitting was the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) and I should like to make some reference to his speech before making my own contribution to the debate. The honourable member for Corio questioned the Government's sincerity in its introduction and continuation of national service. I suggest that this legislation proves, firstly, that the Government still considers, as it has always considered, that national service is an essential and integral part of Australia's defence policy and, secondly, that it adopts a flexible attitude to the actual working of the national service scheme. On the other hand, the honourable member for Corio and the Australian Labor Party have made it completely clear that they adopt a totally inflexible attitude - that is, they are totally opposed to providing adequate, defence forces for Australia by means of national service.

The honourable member for Corio referred to the small proportion of the community which is called upon to carry the burden of defence. He mentioned specifically the 12,000 national servicemen who are in the Army at any one time. He did not mention the large component which is serving in the Citizen Military Forces. He did not mention those on the active reserve or those who, although no longer actually on the reserve, have been fully trained since the introduction of the scheme. I intend to return to this aspect a little later in my speech*. I was somewhat shocked and rather surprised to hear the honourable member for Corio refer to the treatment of conscientious objector applicants as brutal. I consider that this is a gross reflection on the integrity of those who bear the appeals of conscientious objectors, approximately 80 per cent of which are successful.

I think it is just as well in our national Parliament, depending as it does on the party system, that occasionally we should debate an issue on a piece of legislation which clearly delineates the differences between the parties. I do not think it is recognised that much of the legislation coming into this place is largely bipartisan in nature. Of course, there will be differences in emphasis and different degrees of support but, by and large, both sides of the House agree on the actual objectives of the legislation. However, occasionally an issue arises which shows clearly the difference between the two major parties and I think it is a good thing that this is so. Over the last several years, no issue has more clearly defined the differences between the sides of the House than the defence issue. 1 suggest that the attitude of members of the Australian Labor Party to the defence of Australia can be summed up in the phrase: 'They hope for the best'. This is illustrated clearly in the extraordinary tenet of the Labor Party's defence policy - that Australia's strategic frontiers are her natural boundaries. This is a head in the sand attitude. It refuses to take account of the fact that, whether we like it or not, things will happen beyond the low water mark of Australian shores which are of vital concern to this country - things in which we will be concerned. But members of the Opposition say: 'We refuse to take account of these outside influences and we hope for the best.'

The attitude of the Government has always been to face realities. Australia is in a potentially volatile and unstable area of the world. For that reason, since the major withdrawal of British forces from this area, Australia has entered into an agreement not only with the United Kingdom but also with other small countries of the region for our mutual security - the Five Power Agreement. To give the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) his due, prior to the decision of the Australian Labor Party conference, he did say that he supported the concept of at least Australian naval and air forces being stationed outside Australia. But since the edict went forth that this is no longer acceptable to the Labor Party Federal Conference, of course the Leader of the Opposition has had to toe the line and oppose the stationing of any forces outside Australia.

The next point I should like to mention is that concerned with the actual forming of the armed forces - the way we raise our armed forces. Members of the Australian Labor Party have always said, and have reiterated again during this debate, that they favour a completely voluntary system. However, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has admitted on previous occasions that it takes at least 6 months to train a man adequately and, at the present voluntary rate of engagement in the Australian armed services, it would take approximately 12 years to reach the number in the Army which our defence advisers consider essential for the adequate defence of this country. Again, this is a policy of hope for the best. The Labor Party hopes that nothing will happen in the intervening period, either in the sense of an emergency in raising and training armed men in 6 months, or, in the sense of the long term, the 12 years it will take to raise our forces to an adequate level. The Opposition hopes for the best that nothing will happen in this interim period.

Members of the Opposition referred to the possibility of raising the required number of men quickly. On many occasions they have mentioned the report of the Gates Commission in America relating to relying on a higher rate of pay to attract more men into the services. As the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) has reminded us, the unemployment situation in America is very different to our own. However, 1 do not think that it is generally recognised that the rate of pay of the Australian private in his initial period of service is a good deal higher than that of his American counterpart. One of the points made in the Gates Commission report was that an effort should be made to raise the service pay to a level commensurate with civilian equivalents. Of course, this has already been done in Australia. We are a long way ahead of America in that respect.

The Opposition always seems to denigrate the fact that Australia has an army of 8 or 9 battalions. Members of the Opposition say: 'What use is that in time of national emergency'? This illustrates, as few other things could do, the hopeless inability of the Australian Labor Party to understand the problems of defence and the role of national service in defence. I suggest that those who are actually serving in the Army at any one time are merely the tip of the iceberg. The reserves, which, I regret, have been referred to in somewhat disparaging terms, constitute another 20,000 men who have been recently fully trained and who are able to be called up immediately. Since the inception of the national service scheme a further 30,000 men have returned to the community, having passed completely through the training system. They would be available as trained men who would need' very little refresher training. These men are all of military age. They have all been trained under the national service scheme during the last 7 years. In the Australian community we have a reservoir of approximately 50,000 men who are fully trained and able to serve this country in time of national emergency.

This is not a policy of hope for the best. We all hope that there will be no sudden emergency, but, in contrast to the Australian Labor Party, this Government has been prepared to institute policies which will not make Australia rely on pious hopes. As a result of the national service scheme there are 50,000 fully trained men in the Australian community. This, I suggest, is a lot better than pious hopes.

I think it was the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) who expressed this perhaps in another way in a debate on defence in this place some years ago when he said that what we want is that all troops on foreign soil should go home and stay home. I do not think there is a member in this House who would not agree with that statement. But I think we would be stretching our credibility to the utmost if we believed that in fact would happen. We would be delighted if all the North Vietnamese troops went home from South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We all would be delighted if Chinese troops had stayed at home and had not gone into South Korea, Tibet and India, and if Russian troops had stayed at home and bad not gone into Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

No-one doubts the sincerity of those who wish that all troops would go home and stay home. The plain fact is that they will not. If one is not to neglect the very security of one's country one has to take into account the actual realities of the situ ation and not as one would wish them to be. National service was not introduced as a sudden capricious act. It was introduced on the advice of our own expert military advisers. I would like to stress the point to the House that if there should be a change of government the military advisers will still be the same; they will still be giving the same advice to the Opposition as they gave to this Government.

The Australian Labor Party has made it abundantly clear that if it came to power it would not accept advice coming from men having the highest standards of professional military competence that we have in this country. It would neglect and it would ignore this advice and go its own way. This advice is given in the most important policy area in this country. The defence policies are the central pillar around which all of our domestic policies must be built. It is no good having the most gold plated social services policy, health policy, education policy or any other domestic policies if in our anxiety to improve these fields we neglect the very foundation of the country's security. Yet that is exactly what the Australian Labor Party has indicated that it would do. It would put at risk all that we have achieved and all that we hope to achieve.

Vietnam and national service have always been confused. But national service was introduced before Vietnam and it will be continued after our withdrawal from Vietnam for exactly the same reasons as it was introduced. Until now this issue has been clouded by the Vietnam war. However, I think that now it should become clear. What are the real motives of those who until now and from now on are refusing to accept their obligations under the national service scheme? So far they have been able to shelter under the clouded issue of the Vietnam war. But this is no longer possible. Now that we are withdrawing from Vietnam this excuse will be removed from them.

I suggest that these people will be shown up as not merely opposing the Vietnam war, because Australia's involvement there, as I said, is about to come to an end. It is not that they are conscientious objectors - conscientious objection has always been a legitimate cause for exemption from military service. But it is finally becoming quite evident, I suggest, that this microscopic proportion - approximately 0.2 per cent - of the population is in the true sense of the phrase 'anti Australian'. They are not prepared to serve in the Regular Army; they are not prepared to avail themselves of the CMF alternative; and they are not conscientious objectors.

Above all, they do not represent the overwhelming majority of the youth of Australia. They are dedicated to the overthrow of parliamentary democracy in this country. They are unwilling to accept any obligation to the country which has given them more privileges and more opportunities than practically any other country in the world has to offer. So I suggest: Let us put the full glare of publicity on these people and expose them for what they are - a tiny, unrepresentative sample of our young people who are prepared to avail themselves of all the privileges of Australian citizenship but who are not prepared to accept any of the obligations. I think the time has come when the people of this country will find out for themselves that the alleged motives of this tiny proportion of people are far from their real motives and their real motives are inimical to the very survival of the parliamentary system of government in this country.

We on our side of the House make no apology for continuing this system of national service. We make no apology for having in the community 50,000 trained men whom we otherwise would not have. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.

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