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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2034

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Defence)(9.07) —The Government will not accept the Opposition's amendment-not because it is without merit but because at this stage it is probably a little premature. The first factor that we have had to be conscious of in introducing this legislation is that it poses difficulties for the employers of reservists in terms of the Government serving notice on the employer that we assume a right, in the appropriate circumstances, to take his employee away no matter what he may think. There is a fine balance as to how far we should pursue this in changing legislation before a point is reached-although never openly admitted publicly, nevertheless in action conducted surreptitiously-where there is an active campaign of some employers against an involvement by their work force in reserve units.

I must pay tribute to the enormously effective work done by the committee of employers that has so effectively assisted us in persuading employers that the tasks performed by our reserve forces are vital for national defence. To be quite frank, I do not want to have to turn it loose again to explain that employees ought to be drawn out on the same basis for national emergencies, which unfortunately in this country can be absolutely guaranteed to take place somewhere around the country virtually for four or fives months of the year. I think there would be a sufficient level of confidence among employers that reservists would not be called upon for even low level contingencies. When they are called upon for low level contingencies we are faced with major damage to national interests. Therefore, any reasonably patriotic employer ought to accept that call-out. Whether employees would accept call-outs for national emergencies, given their increased frequency, in the same way I think is highly problematic. If we were to accept the Opposition's amendment at this stage, some problems in the area of recruitment would be likely to emerge which would be very difficult to identify. We would like to see how the call-out propositions that we have put forward work in that regard before we did anything such as the Opposition has suggested.

The second factor involves a question of economy. The Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) rightly identified that in calling out the reserves we actually call on a specific pay period, a training day. We find it convenient, for example, in most of the northern regiments to operate only about 30 training days a year. That may be regarded by some as inadequate, but I have talked to members of those units and their commanding officers and they do not ask for more training days simply because they are not confident, with the vast distances that their units have to travel, that they would not be able to get their men and women to be committed for a lengthier period. As the right honourable gentleman pointed out quite correctly, in those areas one would be highly likely to confront these sorts of national emergencies and training days could very rapidly be put upon in a substantial way.

Honourable members opposite might say: `Give us an extra couple of hundred thousand training days to make up for it'. However, training days cost money and these are tough times. If we were to do that we would very rapidly start to eat up training days, which are quite desperately needed, and will be desperately needed over the next five years, to make sure that the reserves can do the tasks we are assigning to them. The amendment is well motivated and put forward for very sensible reasons but to carry it out at this stage would create diseconomies, and some difficulties in relation to selling the proposition to employers which the Government at this stage would not want to take on.