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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2343

Senator MacGIBBON(12.18) —I would like to raise two questions in relation to numbers. The first relates to the permanent members of the Australian Defence Force. What criteria were used to decide that the Australian Defence Force should be reduced by 1,049 members this financial year? Was the decision made solely to save money with respect to manpower costs? If that was not the reason, what are the reduced tasks that the Department of Defence has in mind for the Defence Force. Or what are the enhanced capabilities that the ADF has to compensate for this loss of 1,049 members, which is about 1.5 per cent of a very meagre force, a force that now consists of only about 70,333 members by the Department's estimate?

Secondly, I ask: How were the ratios between the services set? Why was the Royal Australian Navy required to lose 523 members, the Australian Army required to lose 460 members and the Royal Australian Air Force required to lose 66 members? How were those figures arrived at? It has been suggested, rather unconvincingly, that the run-down in the Navy was to compensate for the loss of the carrier and the Fleet Air Arm. What the Navy did, with great gusto, was to disband the amphibious squadron in Brisbane, a squadron composed of HMAS Tobruk, as a heavy landing ship, and the five landing craft that formed the amphibious squadron at HMAS Moreton. The amphibious squadron is particularly important to Australia. It has been disbanded. Tobruk will be transferred to Sydney; two of the LCMs will go to survey vessel duty which is a very essential function for the Navy considering it has said on many occasions that at the present rate of progress it will take up to 50 years to update the charts of the Australian waterways; and the other three will go into reserve. But the function of the amphibious squadron was to provide training for the Australian Army.

Under the training program for the Army, first brigade trains in mechanised and airborne operations at Holsworthy; third brigade in the operational defence force does the light scale and jungle warfare training but sixth brigade in Brisbane provided the training in the amphibious role. There is no alternative way this training can be provided now that the amphibious squadron has been disbanded. The proposal to disband the amphibious squadron was fought as strongly as it could be by the Army. That was confirmed by Brigadier Badman when the Estimates Committee E asked him whether the Army had opposed it. Then we had a statement from one of the witnesses, Air Vice-Marshal Funnell, that just left the Committee incredulous. I will quote from page 201 of the Estimates Committee E Hansard. He stated:

I do not think that this is a correct conclusion--

referring to the loss of capability when the squadron was disbanded--

to draw from these decisions. Capability has not been lost. Tobruk will now be home ported in Sydney; Tobruk has not been laid up. The three LCHs that were taken from HMAS Moreton have been placed in reserve status and can be brought back into full operation within 21 days notice being given.

Capability has been lost. Once the squadron is disbanded, the crews are lost. Crews cannot be posted to other posts within the Navy and maintain their competence as crews. That squadron cannot be put back together in 21 days. It is just not possible. The skills are lost; the expertise is lost and the familiarity with it. I do not believe that that equipment, after it has been inhibited for a year or two years up in Cairns where three of the ships are going, could be put back into service in 21 days however well it was maintained. But the essential point is that the Estimates Committee was more than a little disturbed that witnesses-it was not only Air Vice-Marshal Funnell, there were other witnesses-maintained that capability was not lost, that because we owned the hardware, the machinery in the form of the ships, they would be around somewhere and within 21 days we could re-establish the amphibious squadron. Finally, I ask the Minister: What effective proposals does the Department have in mind to provide the adequate level of amphibious training for the Army now that this squadron has been disbanded?