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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2010

Mr LINDSAY(5.06) —The Defence Legislation Amendment Bill amends a number of Acts dealing with defence matters. I refer firstly to the provisions relating to the calling out of the forces. Section 50a of the Defence Act 1903 provides that any element of the reserves can be called out for the continuous service by proclamation `in time of war or in time of defence emergency'. This provision was introduced in 1964 by the Menzies Government, which had regard to the then strategic circumstances, that is, the possible need to commit troops to a limited war in South East Asia. This Bill proposes to amend the Defence Act 1903 and related legislation to enable the call-out of the Army Reserve forces in situations short of a declaration of defence emergency and to enable those forces to be available to meet low level contingencies. Dr T. B. Millar, in a paper `The Defence Force Reserve' given at a conference in 1983 on `The Civil Infrastructure of the Defence of Australia: Assets and Vulnerabilities', had this to say:

The Army Reserve today must be seen as part of the Army in being, with the same basic roles and functions as a regular army although usually only committed after the regular force has been used. . . In any concept of the defence of the Australian continent, which is our necessary current primary defence concern, it is quite essential that the Army Reserve be an integral and continuing component of that defence first.

The Committee of Inquiry into the Citizen Military Forces, chaired by the same Dr Millar, recommended in a report presented to Parliament in 1974:

. . . the role of the Army Reserve be strengthened and given more immediate relevance by making the Reserve directly responsible with the regular Army for the ground defence of the Australian continent.

The Hawke Government has acknowledged the force of this recommendation. The creation and development of Army Reserve regional surveillance units in remote areas is well advanced. Indeed, the 1987 defence White Paper of the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley) contains a number of proposals for greater involvement of reserves and a range of tasks including northern defence, mine countermeasures, tank warfare and artillery. Paragraph 4.106 of the defence White Paper states:

Our requirements for land warfare cannot be achieved without extensive Reserve participation. Accordingly, the Army Reserve structure is being reviewed and changes will be implemented progressively . . . It will now. . . be required to contribute to operations which might arise in the shorter term as part of the total Army at a level commensurate with achievable degrees of training and readiness.

This legislation ensures the availability of the reserves in credible contingencies. Dr Millar has stressed three reasons for the need for legislation for calling out the reserves, or a part of them, in situations other than war or defence emergency. First, he suggested the reserves and their equipment may be urgently required in a natural disaster. Secondly, he mentioned the situation of a low level threat such as a terrorist attack in an area where there may be one policeman but 30 men in an Army Reserve platoon. Thirdly, he suggested that the Government might decide, because of the international situation, to increase the standards of training of the reserves quietly and without signalling the kind of urgent apprehension characterised by a defence emergency.

Dr Millar observed that there can surely be few other countries where the Government denies itself the right to call out its reserves for extra training or for civil emergencies. Paul Dibb, also acknowledged at page 158 of his Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities, that it might not be politically or diplomatically feasible to declare a defence emergency in a low level conflict. He also urged the need for legislation to permit restricted call-out of reservists in circumstances short of a declaration of a defence emergency. Dibb further maintained that it is precisely during a period of tension potentially leading to a low level conflict that some elements of the reserve forces would be most likely required.

Although the concept of a single total force or one Army was recommended as long ago as 1974 by the Millar report, progress towards integration of the Regular Army and the Army Reserve has been limited. Indeed, the ready availability and capacity provided by the reserves are most important in the defence planning for the lower level conflict and more substantial situations. Clearly, the reserves are destined for a wider role as part of the total Australian Defence Force and are absolutely essential for the achievement of defence self-reliance for Australia.

The Army Reserve's 11 Field Force Group, based at Jezzine barracks, Townsville, has a key role in providing effective surveillance in far north Queensland and has an integral working relationship with the Regular Army's 3rd Brigade based at Lavarack barracks, Townsville. I believe that 11 Field Force Group is, at present, the most viable and combat effective Army Reserve formation in Australia. Its units extend from Bamaga in Cape York to Gladstone-a distance of about 1,700 kilometres or approximately the same distance from Sydney to Townsville. I hope that 11 Field Force Group is soon established as a brigade to allow it better to perform the functions of a regional security force in north Queensland and, as required, in remote areas of Australia. The structure for a new 11th brigade should include a brigade headquarters; a brigade signals squadron; two infantry battalions, that is Townsville's 31st Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment and Rockhampton's 42nd Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment; a regional force and surveillance battalion, that is, the Cairns based 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment; an engineer squadron; a transport squadron; a field ambulance; a field workshop; a supply company; and a combat supply company.

At present, 11 Field Force Group, under the command of the outstanding Colonel George Mandford, AM, is rapidly developing plans and concepts to operate in north Queensland as a regional security force. This involves key point security, patrolling within the north Queensland region and quick deployment exercises from, for example, Rockhampton to Weipa for weekend activities in conjunction with patrols by the 51st Battalion, far North Queensland Regiment. These exercises and studies currently in progress have given all members of 11 Field Force Group a sense of purpose in belonging to an Army Reserve formation which is committed to national security. This sense of purpose is reflected in the 100 per cent turnout of troops for each activity and, most importantly, retention rates of trained personnel average around 85 per cent.

The 1987 defence White paper has enunciated a firm and clear direction for the reserve forces. They will now have a very real responsibility for the defence of northern Australia. They will also have a major part in maintaining expansion capabilities in tank warfare with a regular Army tank squadron being converted to Army Reserve; increased artillery capability with the acquisition of 46 new 105-millimetre guns for the Army Reserve; and a significant role in mine countermeasures for the Navy Reserve. In addition, commercial pilots will be encouraged to augment the Air Transport Force and, above all, as the Minister said in his second reading speech, there will be `a continued emphasis on integration and affiliation of reserve and regular units to enable the development of skills and knowledge . . . and an abiding sense of purpose'.

I stress that this legislation limits the use of reserves to tasks of direct national defence against an external threat to Australia. The legislation does not permit the call-out of reserves in aid to the civil power. For example, the reserves could not be used in relation to industrial disputes. Furthermore, the existing provisions contained in the Defence (Re-establishment) Act 1965 relating to protection in civil employment, also apply to service under the provisions of this Bill regarding the calling out of the Reserve forces.

I now refer to other provisions in the Bill. New section 123 of the Defence Act provides that members of the Defence Force are not bound by laws of the States or Territories that would require members to have permission to use, have in their possession, or register vehicles, vessels, animals, firearms or any other things belonging to the Commonwealth or to do anything in the performance of their duties as members. The new section will replace existing regulations under the Defence Act. The reason for incorporating these provisions in the Act is to avoid the possibility that the existing regulations might override Territory laws made at a later date.

I now refer to clause 34 of the Bill. In column 2 of Table A or B in schedule 3 of the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982, as amended, the term `elective punishment' refers to the more severe punishment that may be imposed on a convicted person by a superior summary authority or a commanding officer. These authorities may impose an elective punishment on a convicted person only in the circumstances described by section 131 of the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982. Normally this would occur where the authority has given the accused an opportunity to elect to be tried by court martial or Defence Force magistrate, but the accused has chosen not to exercise this right of election.

The 1973 working party on the Defence Force Disciplinary Code recommended that an accused be allowed to elect trial in circumstances where the accused had entered a plea of guilty or where a summary authority considered that a higher level of punishment would be imposed on conviction. The Defence Force Disciplinary Act 1982 only allows the accused to elect trial where he has entered a plea of not guilty. But, under the present Act, an accused who has entered a plea of guilty and who has been convicted, cannot then be tried by another tribunal. The amendments contained in clause 34 of this Bill ensure that where an accused has entered a plea of guilty and been convicted, and where a summary authority intends to impose an elective punishment-being a higher level of punishment-the accused may elect to be punished by a higher tribunal.

Other amendments include new section 36 which will allow a person to volunteer for service as a soldier for a fixed period or until attaining retirement age. The present enlistment practice provides for engagement for service for a fixed term and, on or before the expiration of an engagement, to re-engage for a further prescribed period. The present practice of enlistment contains a number of disadvantages, principally the inability of the Services to offer a guarantee of permanency to the more highly skilled members of the Defence Force. This amendment gives a much needed flexibility to Service administrators in their application of enlistment practices. The Bill also makes fresh provisions for a member of the Defence Force to elect discharge by giving the appropriate notice.

The Minister's second reading speech on this Bill has already very adequately dealt with other important aspects of this Bill. To sum up, this Bill is further written evidence of the resolve and commitment of the Hawke Government-an authentic Australian government-to the all round improvement of Australia's defence forces. I contrast that with some of the remarks that have already been made in the debate on this Bill. As a member speaking in this House on defence issues, one of my disappointments is that the political rhetoric of some honourable members takes away the honesty of debate.

I take this opportunity to highlight just some of the achievements of the Minister for Defence in two areas which are of vital concern to the Australian Defence Force. The first is pay and conditions of service for Service personnel. Every Service person in 1982 will vividly remember the callous and brutal disregard by the Fraser Government for Service personnel during the wage pause program when it denied them an increase in pay, despite a recommendation for an increase from the Committee of Reference for Defence Force Pay. There were soldiers and airmen in my electorate whose families were denied a pay increase because of the Fraser Government's disregard for them during the wage pause program.

It was the honourable member for Swan, the Minister for Defence, who introduced the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal to ensure that there was an independent tribunal to fix pay and service conditions for serving defence personnel. The Tribunal's decisions are binding on government. It was a landmark in Defence Force legislation in this country. Within a short space of time a reference was made to the Tribunal and it awarded a 5.9 per cent increase in pay to all defence personnel. Yesterday, the Tribunal passed on the national wage case increase to Defence Force personnel to take effect from 19 March 1987. The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal has been sitting this week to determine certain conditions of service that may apply to Defence Force personnel.

These are the real benefits brought in by one of the best Ministers for Defence that this country has ever had. On behalf of the service personnel in my electorate, I can assure the House that they are forever grateful for the initiatives taken to establish the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. So long as that legislation remains operative, Service personnel can have confidence that their pay and conditions of service will be determined by an independent tribunal whose decisions are binding on government. If one were to seek one great achievement of Minister Beazley, how could one ignore the commitment of $750m to upgrade Defence Force Housing throughout Australia?

During the last parliament I was a member of the Joint Committee on Public Works. We visited Darwin to inquire into the upgrading of housing at the Royal Australian Air Force Base there. In all the years that I have been associated with the defence forces, I have never seen such poor conditions of housing for the RAAF personnel as I saw located at Darwin. Whatever the reasons may have been for neglect, it is unforgivable, because the defence personnel have always trusted the Government, as their employer, to do the right thing by them, to provide proper housing conditions.

I am proud to say that Defence Force housing in the Townsville area is the best in Australia. I pay tribute today to the efforts of Colonel Peter Desmond, Commander, District Support Group, Lavarack Barracks, whose responsibility is the maintenance and continual upgrading of Defence Force housing for Army personnel. He has done an outstanding job. I take pride in welcoming any visitor to my electorate to inspect the conditions of Defence Force housing in the Townsville area.

I congratulate the Minister for Defence on his indefatigable efforts to rebuild the Australian Defence Force. He has been outstandingly successful in ensuring that Australia has, and will continue to have, a strong Defence Force. The people of Australia thank him; they are obliged to him. Australians will forever be in his debt.