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Tuesday, 21 August 1973
Page: 29

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) -The speech made by the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes), the shadow Minister for Defence, was extremely interesting from a number of points of view. He started by saying that the Opposition supports the Bill. Then he launched an attack on the Labor Government for its entire defence policy, particularly in relation to manpower and equipment. I found his speech interesting because one does not have to be very old to recall the parlous state of Australia's defence forces in 1963, at the time of confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia, and the situation that was arrived at after 14 years of Liberal-Country Party rule. The Labor Party in government does not pretend that it can sort out the problems of Australia 's defence forces in a very short space of time. It will take quite a number of years to overcome the effects of the policies of the previous Government and its neglect of equipment, accommodation and decent working conditions for our armed forces, together with proper pay scales and a decent defence forces retirement benefits scheme. But that is the task to which the Government has set itself and the honourable member for Barker has correctly predicted that some of these aims will show forth in the Budget when it is introduced tonight.

I remind the honourable member for Barker that manpower limits in the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy were set by the Gorton Government so that limits on the armed forces are not new in Australia. The new proposals of the Government will be the subject of statements to be made by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) in this session. The honourable member referred to the motivation of the Labor Government in promising better conditions for the armed forces. We could well consider what would have happened if the Liberal-Country Party Government had continued in office and was in office now. The stories which the honourable member is putting before us tonight are symptomatic of the previous Government's attitude to the armed forces. The honourable member made it quite obvious that with the present satisfactory recruiting rate this legislation would not have been introduced by the previous Government. That Government would not have given permanent servicemen these improved conditions because it would have had all the recruits that it needed. The recruiting position is actually better than the honourable member for Barker suggested. The number of people who are being declined is actually greater because a much higher standard of recruit is offering at this time. The previous Government would not be improving the conditions of the armed forces because it would have continued national service. It would have taken young people away from industry, from rural pursuits and from studies if they were not full-time students in order that it might avoid its responsibility to improve the conditions of people in the permanent armed forces.

The honourable member for Barker made no mention of the improved pay scales. I venture to say that under the previous Government that improvement would not have happened. One recalls that the report of the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation, which was chaired by the previous honourable member for Latrobe and of which the Deputy Chairman was the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) who is now the Treasurer, was brought down last year but that it was not accepted by the previous Government. We have been treated to the story of the fate of the armed forces under the Labor Government. One can only speculate as to their fate if a Liberal-Country Party Government had continued in office. I think that one can only judge the previous Government by its record.

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in the Australian Labor Party policy speech, stated:

The defence forces must be shown to be as necessary, and their conditions as attractive, as any other pursuit in the community. The way to attract and retain regular soldiers in peacetime is to guarantee that they and their dependants will be and after discharge will remain, on a par with civilians of the same age. Defence pay and allowances will be automatically adjusted each year to preserve their purchasing power. The report of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Committee, on which our shadow Minister for Defence and Treasurer served, will be adopted without equivocation or delay; those who have greater benefits under existing legislation will retain those benefits. We will appoint a military ombudsman. We will pay a $1,000 bonus to any serviceman accepted for reengagement. Members of the services should be given War Service Homes, repatriation health benefits, civilian rehabilitation training, scholarships for their children and generous retirement and resettlement allowances.

Mr Barnard - That has all been done.

Mr CROSS -Yes, that has all been done. I point out that this measure which has come on for debate and which has been brought down by the Government is the first item of business of the current session. That indicates the importance which the government attaches to keeping the promise made to. the defence forces of Australia in the policy speech which I have just read. All members of the regular forces, including members of the Citizen Military Forces and reserves, on continuous full-time service who are honourably discharged after 3 years continuous service- or earlier if they are discharged on medical grounds-now will be entitled to postdischarge vocational training, re-establishment loans so that they might be properly reestablished in civilian life, rehabilitation treatment and training for disabled ex-servicemen without a means test and repatriation benefits. All members of the regular forces including CMF and reserves on continuous full-time service who serve beyond 3 years will be entitled to war service homes benefit while continuing in the service and re-engagement bounty for other rank members of the regular forces.

The Labor Government believes that those fine Australians who choose to serve this nation through a service career should be treated no less generously than were national servicemen who were given no choice by the previous Government. The date 2 December 1972 was a watershed in the history of the defence forces of this nation. Prior to that time we were told by the Opposition that as national service would be abolished under a Labor Government there would be insufficient recruits for the Australian Regular Army. One can remember these things being said by honourable members opposite a year ago to this day. Of course now we have the shadow Minister for Defence talking about the fact that the Government has the luxury of more recruits offering for the Australian Regular Army than are actually needed. The number of recruits offering has exceeded the Government's best expectations and this is at a time of near full employment. We are able to select the best of the young men and women available with all that this means to the Army and the quality of its serving personnel and the fact that it no longer has within its numbers those national servicemen who did not choose to serve, is, of course, another factor which will improve its morale and standard of service.

The Government has appointed an inquiry into the CMF and while we anticipate that many benefits will follow that inquiry it will be some time before the CMF recovers from the effect of national service. I think that we all recall the earlier days when serving in the CMF was an honoured occupation and many fine men chose to serve as officers and as other ranks in that body. National service had an extremely harmful effect on the CMF in the sense that many young men who did not wish to have their lives interrupted by undertaking national service opted to go into the CMF. The CMF contained a large number of young people who were not really interested in the CMF but were there to avoid the possibility of the national service ballot. This Government does not pretend that these disabilities can be overcome in a day, in a year or in a short term. But they will be overcome in the long term. The men who now join the CMF again now do so from a desire to serve their country and not to evade national service.

I have referred to the new pay scales introduced by this Government and, as the Minister for Defence who is at the table has correctly said, in this legislation- and this will be reflected in the Budget that comes down this evening- all of the commitments made to the serving forces of this country will have been carried out by the Labor Government. I would like to take the opportunity of paying a tribute to the Minister for Defence for the vigorous way in which he has given leadership to the defence forces of this country. In the comparatively short period of time that he has been the minister he has brought to his duties a capacity for hard work, a clear understanding of the defence problems of this nation, a sympathy for serving personnel and an understanding of the problems of our defence forces. As a result of this the defence forces of this country are about to make very great progress under the Labor Government.

We followed the comments that were made by the honourable member for Barker, the shadow Minister for Defence, who was the previous speaker, about the results of the last election. We do not do these things for political purposes. But I believe that when the armed forces of this country go to the polls again they will realise that they have been well served by a Labor Government.

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