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Wednesday, 29 September 1971
Page: 1671

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) . - Unlike the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), I intend to deal with the amendment and not to indulge in name calling. This is a serious matter. It is of- very great moment for a small but important section of the Australian people - those people who have turned, or who will turn in the near future, 20 years of age. The honourable member for La Trobe has said the

Opposition is suggesting that an Army of 28,000 is adequate, whereas the Government believes that an Army of 40,000 is adequate. I think that someone on the government side should have explained how an army of 40,000 would be adequate and why it was desirable to reduce the numbers in the Army from 44,000 to 40,000 if, as honourable members opposite have been saying, there are great threats facing Australia at the present time.

In fact, this Bill will reduce the strength of the permanent Army by 4,000 men. I think it is also fair that this Committee should clearly understand the reasons why that reduction is taking place. It has absolutely nothing to do with military strategy or defence policy. It is purely because the defence estimates, when presented to Cabinet, were in excess of that amount which could be fitted into the Budget, and it was felt that a reduction of 6 months in national service would be the easiest and most popular way in which to accommodate a reduction in defence expenditure. It was done to fit into the Budget strategy of the Government. I think that we should be clear on that point. Honourable members opposite should not stand up in the chamber like heroes and support national service at a certain level.

I think we ought to deal a little more realistically with this figure of 40,000. The honourable member for La Trobe said that an army of 28,000 men does not represent an army of 28,000 fighting men. I suggest that the additional 12,000 national servicemen do not represent 12,000 additional fighting men. I think that we should be a little realistic about this matter. When a former Prime Minister spoke in this chamber on 10th November 1964 and outlined the way in which national service was to be introduced - the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) introduced a Bill the next day - he stated the reasons why it was necessary to have 2 years national service. He made it quite clear that 2 years national service was necessary because it was felt it was unrealistic to place a person into the armed forces for an effective service period of less than 12 months. He made it quite clear that the anticipated training period of men called up would be 6 months. He said that matters such as recreation leave, assimilation, transfer, travelling time, etc., would dissipate a further 6 months. Therefore, out of 2 years national service there would be an effective service period of only 12 months. So the proposal in this Bill to reduce by 6 months the period of national service in fact reduces by 50 per cent the effective period of service which these men will serve in the Army - unless, of course, "the former Prime Minister and other honourable members opposite have deliberately misled us since the Bill was first introduced. So if we take the figures as they are quoted, we are in fact talking about a difference in Army numbers between 28,000 and 34,000- not 40,000. That is the reality of the situation. If the Government's own figures are correct, then there is a difference of 6,000 effective national servicemen, not 12,000. In fact, I think it is less than that.

The Government keeps harping on the fact that it cannot get recruits. The honourable member for Berowra (Mr Hughes) said that educational standards in the community are higher; therefore, people who are educated are not prepared willingly to serve in the Army in the lower ranks. That may or may not be true. But it is fairly obvious that people without the highest educational standards who are not prepared to serve in the lower ranks are prepared to serve in the Army. The number of recruits who are rejected on educational grounds is astonishing. I suggest that while this nation is in its present situation the Government should consider educating those people who wish to serve in the Army but whose educational standards are marginally below those required for entry in to the armed services. The Government has made no attempt to do this because it is cheaper and easier to deal with the matter by conscription. It does not matter to the Government that conscription destroys a young man's future; it does not matter that quite often it deprives a young man of early family . life with his wife and children'; and it does not matter that it can destroy the opportunities of a man for the rest of his life.

The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) said that the Army makes men out of these young people. We do not have people wearing armour and riding white horses any more. There is no evidence to suggest that service in the armed forces is any more likely to build character than any other type of service in the community. It is a doubtful proposition to suggest that polishing another man's boots is morale building or character building. It is also a doubtful proposition to suggest that a trained police officer should be called up into the Army to serve behind an officer's mess bar - that seems to be a stupid allocation of priorities in any community - or that a trained teacher should be called up into the Army to clean out lavatories. Does this build character? It deprives the nation of the skills which it needs in order to satisfy by the easiest possible means the requirements of our defence forces.

The Government is not prepared to provide attractive conditions of service, such as housing and other facilities which are necessary. It resorts to the simplest and most authoritarian method of attracting people into the Army. We hear in this chamber about the great need to defend freedom and about abhorrence of totalitarian nations. I suggest that there is nothing more totalitarian in any country than to deprive a man of his liberties and his rights as a citizen of the nation by forcing him against his will and his conscience to serve in any armed force. Men are entitled to speak for themselves. We do not live in an age when the King decrees and all persons must think alike. The amendment provides an opportunity for the Government to remove from the statute book an abhorent piece of legislation which is a denial of the freedom which we suggest we defend. I suggest that Government members should seriously consider my proposition. Retraining of those persons who are deficient in education at the time when they seek to enlist in the Army could provide the Army with a substantial proportion of its required manpower on a longer term basis than would be provided by the continuation of this Act.

I suggest that it is totally cynical to stand in this Parliament and say that this Bill is based on the defence needs of Australia and that these reductions have been made on military advice when we all know that they have been made on the advice of the Budget strategists who drafted this year's national Budget and found that the defence expenditures were in excess of what the Government was prepared to put before the Parliament. Because the Government could not take the odour of not providing the increases recommended by the Kerr Committee it has reduced the period of national service by 6 months. That is the real story. It is a cynical budgetary proposal motivated purely by money. I think the Government should state truthfully why it is reducing the period of national service and should not stand beneath its halo and claim it is defending the country with 40,000 soldiers. In fact we will not have 40,000 but only about 34,000 effective troops.

Question put:

That the new clause proposed to be inserted (MrBarnard'samendment)besoinserted

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