Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1049

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Defence)(3.57) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill proposes a variety of amendments to Acts dealing with defence matters. Some of the amendments made by the Bill are of a minor nature. Details of these amendments will be found in the explanatory memorandum being distributed to honourable members. There are, however, more important amendments which fall into six groups. These are:

Provision for peacetime call out of the reserve forces;

Introduction of long term enlistments for sailors, soldiers and airmen;

Extension of the circumstances in which an accused member undergoing trial may have the option of being punished by a court martial or a Defence Force magistrate;

Amendments designed to clarify the operation of the defence force retirement and death benefits legislation;

Provision to enable transfer of employees from the Government Aircraft Factories to Aerospace Technologies of Australia;

Termination of the Services Canteens Trust Fund.

Provision for Peacetime Call Out of the Reserve Forces

A significant feature of the Bill is its changed provisions governing the call out for continuous full time service of the reserve forces.

Existing legislation provides for reserve forces to be called out, but only in circumstances of time of war or proclaimed defence emergency. This provision was introduced in 1964 and had regard to the then strategic circumstances, in the view of the government of the day. Within the Bill before the House there is provision for reserve forces to be called upon to render continuous full time service in situations short of a time of defence emergency.

Honourable members will be aware of the significant, far-reaching initiatives that this Government has identified as being essential to the formulation of a realistic defence policy for Australia. It has been under the Hawke Government that there has been a fundamental change in our conception of the role of the reserves, reflected in such measures in recent years as integration and affiliation in the Army of regular and reserve units, creation of regional surveillance units in remote areas, and proposals for greater involvement of reserves in a range of tasks including northern defence, mine countermeasures, and tank warfare and artillery. The utility of reserve forces in a wider role has been made clear. This development is of course bound up with the notion of defence self-reliance for Australia. There is, I believe, general agreement on the role of the reserves in an era of self-reliance. It comes, I think, from an appreciation of the need to draw on all the resources available in the community if we are to provide effectively for our own defence. This means, for example, co-ordination of defence and civilian resources in transport, telecommunications and engineering, and encouragement of civilian industries relevant to the defence effort. It also means a greater role for the Defence Force reserves, not just as a base for expansion, but in the more immediate defence tasks this nation faces. The legislation makes this possible.

While the reserves will continue to be an expansion base for a force designed to meet major threats, they will also be a major part of our capability to counter the more credible yet demanding lower level threats. This is essentially the approach adopted by the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities. My major defence policy statement tomorrow will endorse that approach, and it will make clear the future role of the reserves, and in particular the Army Reserve. The reserves will play a challenging and exciting role in meeting Australia's defence needs. The future holds very challenging prospects for the Army Reserve. A role or real responsibility in defence of the north, a major part in maintaining expansion capabilities in tank warfare and artillery, and continued emphasis on integration and affiliation of reserve regular units to enable the development of skills and knowledge-the future shape of the Army Reserve will, I believe, give its members an abiding sense of purpose. For the Army Reserve, this Government has identified a much more relevant and responsible role in preparing for the most credible threats this country could face. These are most likely to be located in the remote north or north-west of Australia. The Army Reserve will have a critical role in the early assumption of the protection of key areas, releasing regular units to conduct more offensive operations. Such key areas would include protection of the Darwin/Tindal region, and the Learmonth, Derby and Cape York airfields. Specific regional wartime tasks will be identified and allocated to particular reserve units for their peacetime training. This will greatly facilitate their effective use in time of war and, as an important bonus, give them an increased sense of purpose which will foster morale.

It is proposed that individual reserve units in southern States will be allocated specific towns and installations in the north which they would be deployed to defend in an emergency. In recent years increasing emphasis has been given to regional surveillance units in the north and north-west with a substantial reserve element. Access to local knowledge and skills in remote areas of Australia could well prove vital for the early detection and countering of a military threat. The establishment of regional surveillance forces such as Norforce, the Pilbara Regiment and the Far North Queensland Regiment are important initiatives. The Government will encourage their further development, including the acquisition of specialised equipment for mobility and surveillance. The identification of exciting and challenging new roles for the Army Reserve will help overcome in a most material way what has been a repeated and well publicised difficulty in recruitment.

For the Navy Reserve, the Government has endorsed a significant role in mine countermeasures. Australia is especially vulnerable with our heavy dependence on shipping for internal movements of Australian goods and our large number of ports through which high value cargoes are exported. A role for Naval reserves in this activity establishes them at the centre of a critical area of our security.

Turning to the Air Force Reserve, this Government will encourage commercial pilots to augment the Air Transport Forces. There will also be recruitment into the Air Force Reserve of additional maintenance personnel to provide sufficient back up should higher rates of flying be required from the Royal Australian Air Force. If the value of the reserve forces is to be exploited fully in providing an effective defence capability for Australia, there is a clear case for legislative provision permitting limited call-out of reserves short of the declaration of a defence emergency. If the concept of a `total force' is to have any meaning, and if integration is to be effective, the Defence Force must be able to plan on the employment of any component of the force, including the reserves, in situations which fall short of a declared emergency. I think it is clear that in low level contingencies governments would be understandably reluctant to take the seemingly escalatory if not reactive step of declaring a defence emergency. Yet it is precisely during a period of tension potentially leading to low level conflict that some elements of the reserve forces would most likely be required.

There are some other points I wish to make. Firstly, the Bill provides only the legislation within which the reserves may be required to render continuous full time service at some future and indeterminable date, and in presently unidentifiable circumstances. It should not be seen as an intent to call out the reserves. The Bill contains safeguards and provision for parliamentary scrutiny comparable to those currently provided for call out in time of war or time of defence emergency. Importantly, the reserves will be employed only in tasks of direct national defence in responding to an external threat to Australia's security. It is not relevant to call-out in aid of the civil power. Such assistance would be effected under section 51 of the Defence Act which contains a prohibition against call-out or use of the reserve forces in connection with an industrial dispute. I should also say that existing provisions contained in the Defence (Re-establishment) Act 1965 regarding protection in civil employment would be applicable to service under the new provisions. This call out provision being introduced today will be seen by reservists to be directly related to their national role in our defence. Along with the assumption of more relevant and immediate tasks, it will provide the reserves with a real sense of purpose, a lack of which has led to problems of organisation, recruitment and training. The introduction of this legislation will do much to increase the value and flexibility of the reserves as an integral part of the Australian Defence Force.

I turn now to the other provisions of the Bill.

Long term enlistments for sailors, soldiers and airmen

It has been the practice, for many years, for a sailor, soldier or airman, on enlistment, to be engaged to serve for a period prescribed in regulations and, on or before the expiration of an engagement, to re-engage for a further prescribed period. There are advantages for service administrators in this arrangement. It is at the discretion of the service administrator whether or not to offer a member a further period of service. A steady turnover of personnel in the lower ranks is desirable, particularly in infantry units and ships. However, there are disadvantages for both service administrators and members. The services cannot offer a guarantee of permanency to the more highly skilled members. Indeed, the re-engagement system requires the member to formally consider and decide, every few years, whether he wishes to bind himself for another period. There is also considerable administrative effort devoted to re-engaging members. The Bill proposes to amend the Defence Act 1903 and the Naval Defence Act 1910 to allow the service administrators to offer members enlistment for a period to retiring age, or extension of service to retiring age, as an alternative to a fixed term. Corresponding amendments in respect of the Air Force have been effected by amendments of the Air Force regu- lations. The degree to which each service avails itself of the new scheme of long term enlistments in either the permanent forces or the Reserve forces will be for the administration of that service to decide, according to the perceived needs of that service. It will be open to a member to elect early discharge by giving appropriate notice.

Defence Force Discipline

Under the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982, the more severe of the punishments that may be imposed on a convicted accused by a superior summary authority or a commanding officer are called elective punishments. The Act sets out the circumstances in which these punishments are imposed. Generally, this is where the summary authority has given the accused an opportunity to elect to be tried or punished by court martial or Defence Force magistrate. The original policy on which the Act was based made provision for an accused who pleaded guilty before a summary authority to be given the option of trial by court martial or Defence Force magistrate. This was omitted from the Act on the ground that a person who pleaded guilty before one tribunal could not properly be referred to another tribunal for trial. This omission has been found to leave a hiatus. The Bill proposes to include this procedure in the Act but to vary it by providing that the accused is to be given the option of being punished, but not tried, by court martial et cetera.

Operation of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits legislation

The proposed amendments to the Defence Force retirement and death benefits legislation either flow on from other legislation or are designed to ensure that particular provisions give effect to the original policy intention.

Non-effective service

Under the existing legislation, certain periods of service, such as absence without leave, when exceeding 21 days, are treated as non-effective service. When the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 commenced on 3 July 1985, new regulations under section 119 of the Defence Act 1903 regarding forfeiture of salary were also brought into force. The Bill proposes to amend the DFRDB legislation so that periods of non-effective service are largely determined by reference to periods exceeding 21 days in which salary is forfeited. Such periods typically comprise absence without leave or time in custody.

Purchase of prior service

On the introduction of the present DFRDB scheme, contributory service under the old scheme that was continuous with service under the new scheme was automatically counted as service under the new scheme, subject to some conditions. Provision was also made for members to purchase certain other periods of prior service for the purposes of the new scheme. The Bill proposes to amend the provisions relating to the counting or purchase of prior service in order to ensure that they correctly reflect the original policy intention.

Counting of service for deferred benefits

A member who leaves the Defence Force before qualifying for a pension may elect to receive a deferred benefit payable as a pension on the date on which he would have qualified for pension had he remained in the Defence Force. Certain periods of eligible service which occurred before or after the person's defence service may be added to the defence service for this purpose. The Bill proposes to amend the provision relating to the counting of this service in order to clarify its operation.

Amendments of the Supply and Development Act

On 3 December 1986, a government-owned company-Aerospace Technologies of Australia Pty Ltd-was incorporated with the intention of transferring to it on 1 July 1987 the operations of the Government Aircraft Factories. It is intended that the company have the authority to choose, on commercial grounds, which employees of the aircraft factories the company will hire. Public Service Act employees selected by the company will be transferred under section 81c of the Public Service Act. The Bill proposes to include in the Supply and Development Act a provision based on part of section 81c. This will enable employees under the Supply and Development Act to be transferred and avoid the need to retrench them, with associated retrenchment payments, and then have the company re-employ them. The opportunity has been taken to propose changes to the employment provisions of the Supply and Development Act. The terms of the Act require the making of regulations that are unsuitable in some respects. The Bill proposes to substitute more suitable provisions in the Act. The regulations will subsequently be amended.

Termination of the Services Canteens Trust Fund

The Services Canteens Trust Fund was set up in 1947 and was mainly derived from profits and assets of the Navy, Army and Air Force canteens services accumulated during the Second World War and funds of disbanded wartime units. As previously announced in their annual reports tabled in the Parliament, the trustees have been disbursing capital as well as income with a view to the Fund eventually terminating. This point has now been reached and the Bill proposes to repeal Part III of the Services Trust Funds Act 1947 thus terminating the legal existence of the fund. I shall have something to say about the valuable and dedicated work of the trustees of the fund when I table their final report at an early date.

Financial impact statement

The introduction of the scheme of enlistments and extensions of service of servicemen to retiring age is expected to result in some savings from the reduction of administrative effort but no figure can reasonably be estimated. In the case of the amendments proposed to the DFRDB legislation with regard to purchase of prior service, there are no additional costs. If the amendments were not made there could be a requirement to refund to members a once-only payment totalling $1.73m and a further $0.36m could be forgone to revenue. The other amendments are not expected to have any significant financial impact. I commend the Bill to honourable members, and circulate the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lloyd) adjourned.