Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 17 August 1972
Page: 402

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (Minister for the Army) - I want to talk tonight about the need for national service, why we must have an Army of 40,000, why we cannot achieve this by voluntary enlistment and briefly what effect the abolition of national service would have on the Army. In 1964 we had a regular Army of fewer than 23,000 men. Hostilities were taking place in several areas in South East Asia and the situation was deteriorating. A comprehensive review of our strategic situation, covering existing commitments and likely contingencies, revealed a need to increase the strength of the Army to some 40,000 in less than 2 years. The recruiting campaign was stepped up, servicemen's pay was increased and moves already in train to improve conditions of service continued. These measures increased re-engagement rates to some extent but the effects on recruiting were marginal.

It was apparent that the required increase in Army strength could not be obtained by voluntary means alone. It was decided reluctantly that there was no alternative but to introduce selective national service. Remember that this decision was made before any commitment had been undertaken to send battalions to Vietnam. The Army had to be increased to meet our overall requirements. At the height of the Vietnam commitment tnt Army was increased to some 44,000 men. Following withdrawal of our combat forces from South Vietnam we reduced our full time Army to about 40,000. I should explain here that the Army must ensure that it has in being a field force of a size sufficient to meet its assigned roles. Much has been said by the Opposition on the number of infantry battalions required. Let me make this clear: The Army does not assess the size of force it requires in terms of infantry battalions, but rather on the size of the formations required.

The need is for the framework of a division which in turn means the framework for 3 task forces each of 3 infantry battalions, although this can be varied to suit particular circumstances. We have in being the organisational framework for 9 battalions and this provides the potential for units to be trained collectively in a divisional setting. In addition, the 9 battalions provide some 1,800 officer and non-commissioned officer positions. These in turn provide the training ground for some 1,900 similar positions in command, administrative and training establishments. It is important that the professional careers of infantry officers and NCOs be built around a balanced experience between staff and regimental appointments. If we reduce the number of battalions we automatically reduce the scope for regimental experience, with the result that the balance is tipped in favour of staff and training appointments. This is undesirable, particularly as infantry - with armour and artillery - represents the primary combat element of the force.

Members of the Opposition should take particular note of the fact that Sir Thomas Daly, who is highly recognised as a military expert and who has no reason to be anything but impartial, supports this kind of structuring of our Army. He recently stated that the present attitude of the Australian Labor Party would in ali probability cut our Army by half if it were ever implemented. The strength of our defence forces is not measured solely by the numbers actively serving. That is a most important point. Apart from filling the Regular Army ranks to the level of 40,000 required, a secondary but most important purpose of national service is to insure against emergencies by building up a reservoir of trained soldiers in the community, as was mentioned quite specifically by my colleague the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) in his splendid speech last night. Every year since 1967 some 8,000 national servicemen have been added to the Regular Army Reserve on completion of their full time service. This has meant that we have a reserve already of 40,000 fully trained and experienced men. In addition, many men of military age joined the Citizen Military Forces and were trained there, having selected the CMF as an alternative to national service. The importance of this asset of military manpower is most considerable.

The point 1 wish to stress is that you just cannot create an army overnight. It takes time to train soldiers and to give them experience with formed units. As far as numbers are concerned, there must be a balance. The numbers called up each year have been assessed on the highest professional military judgment as those required to meet known military requirements. National service as implemented has been an outstanding success in achieving its purpose, and national servicemen have been integrated completely into the Army. I think that most of them are very proud to be in the Army. They receive the same conditions of service as regular soldiers. Their training is identical. National servicemen are indistinguishable from other members of the Army. They have acquitted themselves splendidly with credit on active operations and in general service, in the highest traditions of the Australian serviceman. Many national servicemen have been trained as specialists in various fields, and every effort is made to make full use of civilian acquired skills where compatible with military needs.

Despite the clamour against national service by an organised and vocal minority, opposition to the call-up has not been shown by the overwhelming majority of those directly affected. It has always been this Government's aim that as large a percentage as possible of our forces be volunteers. No Service can be an effective force without those experienced officers and NCOs with the training and experience that comes from long service. The Government has taken considerable initiative to improve pay and conditions of service and other aspects of Service life to assist in attracting voluntary recruits to the Regular Army. Recent improvements in voluntary enlistments have had only a marginal effect on Regular Army strength. Whilst most encouraging, the improvement has not as yet been sufficiently sustained to be taken as an indication that the upward trend will necessarily continue - we hope to God it will - to the point where a wholly volunteer army of the size required could be achieved and maintained. Under these circumstances national service remains a vital requirement to bridge the gap between the volunteer element and the necessary total of about 40,000.

The Labor Party, by eliminating national service, would reduce the Regular Army to below 29,000. The majority of these reductions would be private soldiers, resulting in a serious imbalance in the overall structure. In fact there would be military chaos. It is obvious that with a cut from 40,000 to 29,000- a reduction of about 30 per cent - combined with the elimination of the requirement for training national servicemen at a turnover rate of 18 months, there would be a corresponding reduction in the officers and NCOs required for the reduced force. The Opposition would put a stake through the heart of the Australian military forces. The extent of the redundancy thus produced would have a damaging effect on our Army's morale. Apart from the resignations which would doubtless result it could have the double-edged effect of deterring new and potential recruits and those who might otherwise have re-engaged. The net effect could only be to reduce an Australian Labor Party-type army to a level much lower than 29,000 men.

The Army is not maintained at a certain level merely to provide career prospects for its members, but in modern times this factor is an important aspect of morale and in attracting and retaining the sort of people the Army requires. Hence it is a potent aspect of Army efficiency and its capability of training for whatever form of active operations it may be called upon to meet. A Labor Government would produce a mass exodus of experienced officers and non-commissioned officers from the Army. That would mean a serious loss of the professional and technical skills which have been developed over a long period, which would seriously affect the efficiency of the remnant of the Army. On the operational side the effect of the cut would be to reduce drastically the number of battalions which, according to our best professional military advice, would have serious effects on our capacity to conduct military operations even on a considerably reduced scale. A corollary to this would be that the levels and nature of units remaining would preclude training of the kind required to develop a competent modern Army. Professionalism would most certainly decline and at an accelerating rate.

I turn now to the Citizen Military Forces. The shadow Minister for Defence dwelt quite a good deal on the CMF and the fact that the Minister for Defence did not mention it. Of course he did not, but why did he not do so? Because he knew that one of his ministerial colleagues would be following him in the debate and would deal with it. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) spoke of the deterioration in the role of the CMF. If there has been a deterioration in that wonderfully Australian characteristic of wanting to get into the Army and serve, it has been due very largely to the vicious elements which the Opposition has infused into the community. I remember that just a year or two ago in this House someone mentioned - I cannot recall who it was - that by stimulating cadet training we were making militarists; in other words, from the early beginning the Opposition has been brainwashing our young men not to join the CMF and not to be involved in the defence of this country.

The CMF has received a momentous amount of my own involvement. It might interest those people who take such a lively interest in the destruction of the Australian Army to learn that only last Sunday the best brains in the whole of the nation sat for a full day - for hour after hour - considering the future role of the CMF and making plans which I hope to be able to announce in the near future. The CMF would lose its national service optees and could consequently fall virtually overnight to about 19,000 men if Labor were in office. A CMF at this level could well be no longer viable and would probably require a complete restructuring. The availability of regular cadre staff in support of the CMF also would be reduced. The combined effects of this and a reduced overall CMF strength would no doubt further erode the effectiveness of CMF training and its capacity to attract volunteers.

The CMF, as a back-up force to the Regular Army in times of national emergency, is a vital part of our overall defence structure. It is apparent that in this area as well our defence capability would be impaired if not seriously mutilated. It is no exaggeration to say that the elimination of national service and the reduction of the size of the Regular Army to fewer than 29,000 men would not only emasculate the Army - both the Regular Army and the CMF - and impair its efficiency but also would produce side effects which would militate strongly against subsequent efforts to increase volunteer strength.

Mr Daly - I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister for the Army to offer such violent disagree- " ment with the Governor of New South Wales on this matter?

Mr SPEAKER - I draw the attention of the House to standing order 74, which states that no member may use the name of Her Majesty, her representative in the Commonwealth, or her representative in a State disrespectfully in debate nor for the purpose of influencing the House in its deliberations. Therefore I suggest that all references to the Governor of New South Wales are out of order in debate.

Mr KATTER - May I say, finally, that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, like his Leader and a number of his colleagues who strut around reflecting the jackboottype attitude of their Fuhrer, Herr Hawke, forget that the 'heil, heils' and the false sense of victory are coming from a small minority - the dropouts. I have no doubt that some of the $500,000 that has been amassed by the Labor Party has been compulsorily acquired from the unions, many members of which do not subscribe to its brand of politics. The Labor Party has storm troopers all around the country creating fictitious smokescreens but it has overlooked one thing, that is, the inherent character of the people of Australia and their determination to resist any move which threatens the security of their country. This is but one rock on which the Labor Party will perish at the next election.

Suggest corrections