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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2347

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(12.41) —On the question of numbers, I refer to the Rapid Deployment Force in Lavarack Barracks in Townsville. Honourable senators would know that the role of that force is primarily to respond with some degree of immediacy to any kind of emergency. The information that we have been given in the past is that, should there be an emergency, a company group would be at the point of readiness and available in up to seven days. I remind honourable senators that a company group is, I suppose, somewhere between 120 and 140 persons-not exactly a formidable force for an aggressor, even one that is patient enough to wait for up to seven days. As regards availability, I also understand that a battalion, presumably a battalion group, would be available in up to 14 days. Would such a battalion be a depleted battalion-that is, a battalion minus a company, or with, perhaps companies minus platoons-or would it be a full battalion? At a guess, a battalion group could be somewhere between 600 and 900 or 1,000 people. I gather that in one month we could put a brigade group into the field.

These figures have been stated and written repeatedly. They seem to have some element of absurdity about them. If we are to have a rapid deployment force, the very nature of it is that it must be able to respond with readiness. It is very hard to reconcile a permanent army of about 30,000-odd people capable of putting only about 120 persons in the field in up to seven days. Perhaps, over the course of the lunch break and the period until we resume consideration of these estimates, the Minister will be able to throw light upon where the defects are in what I have said, and whether there is any more instant solution. I am aware of the existence of Special Air Service units. But they are specifically not designed to be committed fighting troops; they have special roles. As I understand it, the Rapid Deployment Force is the fighting force, and I believe that the people of Australia could hardly reconcile that kind of program with any sense of urgency or immediacy.

Sitting suspended from 12.44 to 2 p.m.