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Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 3086

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - (Mr Locock)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr BARNARD - The Minister for the Army (Mr Katter) has made a fairly lengthy statement on the implementation of the Hassett Report which recommended sweeping structural changes in the organisation of the Australian Army. It is difficult to assess the content of what the Minister has told the House without reference to the principal document, that is the Hassett Committee's report. For some absurd reason this report has not been tabled to the House nor has it been made available on a confidential basis to members of this House interested in defence topics. This makes it almost impossible to make any sort of rational comment on what the Minister has said. To a very large extent this statement is directed to the few people fortunate enough to read the report. That is, it is directed to the Department of Defence and senior officers of the Army and the Department of the Army.

There seems a lack of willingness on the part of the Government to recognise that this House is quite capable of dealing with complex military matters. This ignores the fact that a select committee of this Parliament has just spent 2 years grappling with one of the most complex military matters known to man, that is the Australian Defence Forces Retirements Benefits Fund. In light of their efforts on this question, it is ridiculous to suggest that honourable members such as the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) have not the nous to assess the reorganisation of the Australian Army in view of their contribution to the DFRB report. Far too many of these military reports are never released, supposedly for irrelevant security reasons. The most notable is the Morshead report on the reorganisation of the defence departments which was made in 1958 and never made public. Very soon it will be covered by the conditions for the release of historical documents. Other inquiries of a similar nature which have been completed and not disclosed are the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the integration of the Armed Forces, the study of army establishments post-Vietnam and the study of the armed forces of Papua New Guinea.

It is very difficult to conduct any sort of an informed defence debate in the absence of detailed information. On the specific topic dealt with by the Minister it seems that satisfactory progress is being made in the rationalisation of the army structure. It seems that the recommendations of the Hassett Committee are being introduced very cautiously. For the reasons I have stressed, it is difficult to quibble with this. Certainly the old organisation based on State commands was antiquated and outmoded. In essentials it was much the same as the organisation which took Australian forces through the Boer War. It was illogical that the Ah" Force and the Navy could develop flexible and functional commands while the Army persisted with the old imperial structure. The sweeping away of this obsolete structure was long overdue.

There are some curious aspects of the statement made by the Minister. It is difficult to comprehend how a functional organisation can be achieved without considerable movement of personnel. It is implied in the statement that there will be few movements from State to State. In effect the number of personnel in each State will remain substantially the same yet there is to be a rationalisation on functional lines. One would have thought that the essence of a functional organisation was concentration of personnel in a few key areas. This is certainly the case in other military services.

It is equally true that the Minister does not agree with some of the points I am putting in relation to this matter. I would be very happy, as I know the honourable member for La Trobe would be - and I exclude the Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns) who, of course, is not interested in these subjects - to have a full scale debate on this question. There are members on the other side of the House as well as on this side of the House who would welcome such a debate. I say to the Minister that he has deliberately introduced into this House in the dying stages of this Parliament a very important statement in relation to reorganisation merely because he wanted to be able to make his first statement to the nation as the Minister for the Army.

This is a very important subject. I want the Minister to tell the House why honourable members who are interested in these matters are not given the opportunity, for example, to debate the Hassett report. Obviously this report contains very valuable recommendations. The Minister has referred to it but it is not available to those honourable members who take an interest in this subject.

I have just referred to the ridiculous situation that has persisted in this Parliament since 1958 regarding the Morshead Report. This very valuable document has never been released to those who take an interest in the defence of this country and who want to be informed on these matters. I believe it is time that the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn), who has some responsibility in these matters, informed the Parliament why so many of the reports which are made by many committees of inquiry set up by this Parliament, the Department of Defence or the Minister for Defence, whichever one one may wish to choose, and which deliberate and consider recommendations that ought to be made to bring Australia's defence structure into line with some of the more advanced countries overseas, are not presented to the Parliament. For some unknown reason, as in the case of the Morshead Report, this latest report is used extensively by the Minister to make his first statement in this House but is not available to those who give urgent consideration to this subject and who believe that they are entitled to be informed on recommendations which affect the whole structure of the defence forces in Australia.

In the absence of the Hassett report there is some reason for scepticism about how fundamental this reorganisation is. Another absence from the Minister's statement is any reference to economies which a rationalisation would normally be expected to produce. There is not the slightest hint that the new structure will mean economies in the very large part of Army spending which is now going to administration. It is implicit that the new organisation will cost just as much and absorb just as many men in administrative duties as the old structure. This is unfortunate because the whole concept of rationalisation is to make savings, both in manpower and money. It is of crucial importance that all of the defence services find ways of diverting resources away from the long administrative tail and getting them to the areas such as weapons replacement where funds are badly needed. With the Army in particular scratching for manpower and the Government insisting that it can not make do with one man fewer than 40,000 it is a pity that the reorganisation should not have freed many more men from administration to service in training, specialist and combat roles.

Another aspect of army administration largely ignored by the Minister is the future of the Citizen Military Forces. He made a short reference to it in his statement. It is a very important matter for consideration by this Parliament. Late last year the former Minister for the Army made a comprehensive statement on the future of the CMF and outlined a number of excellent suggestions for reform and improvement. When the Hassett Committee reorganisation was announced there were claims that its provisions would have a very serious impact on the CMF. It was even said that the new organisation would sound the death knell of the CMF. We have had no enlightenment on this subject from the Minister.

Certainly it is difficult to reconcile the programme announced by the former Minister with the implications of the Hassett Committee report and today's statement by the Minister. If the new functional organisation has had a serious impact on the CMF then the Minister has a duty to spell this out to the House and outline what the Army proposes to do to cushion the impact on the CMF of these structural changes. The Minister did make one interesting point towards the end of his statement when he indicated the closer relationship the changes would bring to the commands of the 3 Services. He referred to the much closer liaison the new structure would bring with the Australian fleet and the Royal Australian Air Force. The Minister is correct in stressing this as a notable advance. It is to be hoped that the 3 Services can be brought even closer with a reorganisation of the cumbersome defence administration structure at

Russell Hill. In conclusion, I hope it is possible for the House during the Budget session to debate the issues raised by the Minister at greater length and with the greater knowledge provided by access to the Hassett report.

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