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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27173

Mr PRICE (5:11 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, I think you may understand why I have not contributed to this debate a little earlier, but I must say that I am very pleased to. I would like to congratulate the honourable member for Gilmore in putting forward this motion. It is a fact that she takes a great deal of interest not only in the defence facility located in her electorate but in defence matters generally.

I wish I could bring to this debate the experience of my friend and colleague the honourable member for Cowan, but I cannot. But what I can say is that I am a great fan of the Australian Army. I think I am the only member of this parliament to have seen the Army in operations in Somalia, Rwanda, Bougainville and also East Timor. It is a matter of deep regret to me that I missed out on an opportunity to see them in Cambodia. Whilst this motion reflects well on every member of the Army, others too from the ADF serve this country exceedingly well.

I will always remember that in Somalia, everywhere we went, the elders pleaded with us for the Australians to stay longer than was their scheduled period of service. They were spoken of so highly not only for the things that they were trained to do but indeed for the things that they were not trained to do—that is for setting up a justice system and for getting the police area of operations functioning. Rwanda was no different. I am pleased to say that I shared a bed there with former Speaker Halverson, and it was an experience quite different from Somalia that I will never forget. Bougainville had its challenges, and of course East Timor, our most recent deployment, was something again very different. They do us proud.

When we talk about our Australian democracy, people who volunteer to serve either in the full-time Army or the reserves are the pillars of this democracy. They do not get a vote as to whether or not they should be deployed. There is no committee system. They are people who are pledged to uphold the will of this parliament without question. Over the years they have done it, and they have done it in a distinctive way, in a very Australian way. In fact, if we want to talk about the Australian character, we cannot really do that without talking about Gallipoli and without talking about the Anzac spirit. They make exceptional soldiers. Again, there was a stark comparison with the Americans in Somalia. The Americans are great nine to five soldiers. They are very reliant on the equipment that they have. Australians, on the other hand, probably do not have equipment as good as the Americans but they are 24-hour-a-day soldiers. They do their soldiering and they take command of the area in which they serve.

As we have cut back our Defence Force numbers, so it is that we have become increasingly dependent on the community. As other speakers have said, and I agree with this, our army enjoys widespread community support. That support is rooted in what veterans have done over the years, whether it has been in the Boer War, which strictly speaking is not recognised in this motion, or in World War I, World War II or the emergencies in Malaysia, Vietnam and some of the other countries that I have mentioned. The Army is dependent on the support of all Australians. I feel very sorry for the veterans of Vietnam, who were given no choice about whether they should or should not go, because that is the nature of service, and were not recognised. (Extension of time granted) I thank the House, in particular the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, who is at the table. Those veterans were not given the homecoming that they deserved. As soldiers they performed exceptionally well in Vietnam, and I think it reflects on all of us that that recognition took so long in coming, but I am pleased to say that it did come.

I think the minister at the table would be the first to concede that I rarely flatter him, but I do want to pass on my sincere appreciation for the access that I have had to the current TV series on the ABC about 100 years of Australians at war. I would commend it to every honourable member: it is an excellent series. I appreciated very much the series on the American Civil War. This of course is more current and I think is even better than the American series, although I must confess I have not seen the last episode. So we really do need to rejoice in the service that has been provided by so many over 100 years. As other speakers have said, there are always spouses or girlfriends or boyfriends involved—there are always families involved—and those Defence people could not do the job that we ask of them without their families' support.

In the remaining time available to me I want to mention a passion of mine, the current situation of our Australian reserves. In that 100 years we have a greater history of citizen military forces than of regular army personnel. The white paper made a very significant change in the role of the reserves: that they would no longer be an expansion force for the regular Army. Everyone concedes that in East Timor they were used as slots to fill places in the regular Army. I think it is a great pity that the minister at the table cannot stand up in this parliament and tell us what the role of the reserves will be. Having spoken to a number of reserve units and a number of state branches of the Australian Defence Force Reserves Association, I can say that their bottom line is that they want to be deployed in formed units. That means that they have to have the equipment, the manpower and the investment to be able to meet the requirements to be sent in formed units.

The problem with slot theory is that, unless they are prepared to take a reduction in rank, the only people that are being utilised are the privates; NCOs and officers are not being utilised. I can say that the reserves association and the reserves are prepared to contemplate quite radical change, and radical change is required because, after all, there is an establishment of something like 27,000 and only 16,000 fronting up and we will have to go beyond those numbers. But it is pointless having a reserve unless we can have formed units. I know that in exercise Tandem Thrust a new role has been tested for part of the Townsville reserve unit, but it is a lesser role than that of the regulars; it is one of protection—a higher readiness required and more training but no extra money. If that is going to be the role of the Army reserve, we cannot have all the reservists in a protection role. I think it is important that the minister at the table stand up and give, as soon as possible, a clear and definite explanation—an outline—of exactly what the role of the Australian Army reservists is to be. That aside, this is a strongly supported bipartisan motion. I know that many Labor members on the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade would have wished to participate in the debate and associate themselves with this motion. I congratulate the honourable member for Gilmore for bringing this very worthwhile motion before the House. I am sure that, if everyone had the opportunity to speak, it would be unanimously adopted.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.G.H. Adams)—Order! The time allocated for this debate has now expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.