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22 December 1999: transcript of press conference [changes to Defence force reserves]



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Media Release

The Hon John Moore, MP

Minister for Defence

 

Wednesday, 22 December 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

PRESS CONFERENCE - JOHN MOORE, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE - CHANGES TO DEFENCE FORCE RESERVES

 

JOHN MOORE:

 

For some time the Government's been looking at the question of the Reserve training, and the position of the Reserves. Of course this is made more pertinent as a consequence of Timor. There have been a number of requests from the Reservists themselves for ways in which they can more appropriately be involved in such deployments as East Timor.

 

I have to say that the East Timor issue has raised enormous community interest and a lot of interest within the armed services themselves. As a consequence of that we're announcing today that in the New Year we're proposing legislation which will amend the Defence Act, which will allow Reservists to be actively called up for active duty in areas which they are currently proscribed from doing.

 

And that relates in particular to their ability to serve overseas, to serve in a peace keeping operation, to serve in peace enforcement operation as [line drop out] is. Or indeed to perform in any of these civil administrations of civil disaster operations which may occur from time to time.

 

Currently they can only get into this by going to the offices and volunteering to do that, which means they have to move from their current organisational rank or grouping into a different grouping. And that doesn't altogether play, and there has been some, of course, over the years a degree of difference between what is regarded as by the Regular Reservists and the level of their training.  

So as a consequence of this, today I'm just announcing that the Government will be proposing in the New Year in the new Parliament to introduce legislation to enable Reservists to do what they want to do. Because there have been requests for us to meet this requirement, I'm very pleased to be able to say we can do it.  

At the same time I should say that the position of the employers and the employees will be addressed. As to the particulars of that, we need to work that out on discussions with both the employer groups before we can make any firm announcement or the proposed legislation. That will be carried out at the present moment in the New Year.

 

QUESTION:

 

What sort of employer, technically not the right word, what sort of employers and area are you looking at? Are you looking at, for example, the workers being guaranteed of getting their jobs back, wages, those sorts of issues?  

MOORE:

 

Well I think at the present moment employers can see themselves having to meet a very competitive market. Employment demands these days are higher than they were. And as a consequence of that they want to know that if a person is going into the Reserves, what's in it for them?

 

Those are issues which will have to be worked out with employers, exactly what they need. Whether it be in terms of direct compensation or just for the loss of time, which is a possibility, or some other way.

 

QUESTION:

 

If you [inaudible] some employers less reluctant or more reluctant to have employees who are Reservists?

 

MOORE:

 

I would say that the object of the whole exercise is to make the employer more, far more keener to use Reservists in their employment. People who are trained in the military are indeed well trained. Employers readily recognise that when they take them on.

 

But I guess, quite clearly, if they are going to miss out on deployment to East Timor, the employee wants to go to East Timor, the employer at the same time is not so keen on the nine months deployment period, and he would look for some way in which that could be handled.  

Whether it be a compensation factor or whether it would be some other way. Now as I said, we are looking at ways to handle this.

QUESTION:

As for the employees, would they be getting...who are Reservists under the new rules, would they be getting extra benefits, say getting mortgage paid off?

MOORE:

I don't see...they would be paid in exactly the same way as the regular army would be. You get paid, as the people in Timor, there is a special Timor allowance. Indeed, you know, they are very well looked after. They...any Reservists who went overseas would get exactly the same conditions.

QUESTION:

Going back to [inaudible] Reservists who would be [inaudible] paying jobs, suddenly finding [inaudible] to a significant salary cut.

MOORE:

Well one of the things we're looking at, as I said before, we've got to look to both aspects of it, the employees side of it and the employers side of it.

The employers side of it, quite clearly, is the question of how long can employers sustain having one of their...one of his employees away from the business? You know, he has to make changes to cover that.

Now for the employees side, currently one of the biggest elements in the Reserves are university students. And I mean they...going into the military, of course, are paid pretty handsome wages, much better than you're paid at university. And so quite a few people, in actual fact, go from school into the Reserves or into the Regulars, and get enough money to pay themselves through university.

But those that are not in the university area, those not in the university area, that's another...that's an area that, you know, has to be considered. But at the same time you must remember that a person who goes into the Reserve does indeed receive tremendous training.

This is an investment in his future in some respects. But we are aware of any big price differentials*. But look, doctors who are currently in the Reserves who go to Bougainville, who go to Timor, those are Reservist doctors in the main. Not all, but in the main.

QUESTION:

Do you expect a change in policy is going to cause any concerns among our Asian nei ghbours, that more active military...

MOORE:

No, no we're sensitive to that. We've informed all the NEN* nation governments of this announcement today. That's...it was held up for that very reason.

QUESTION:

And no concerns raised by them?

MOORE:

There shouldn't be. I mean this is purely a means in which Australians can use their Defence Forces and their Regulars and their Reserves in times of a peace keeping operation, a peace enforcement operation, or indeed a civil emergency. Currently we can't do that. We cannot call out the Reserves for a civil emergency.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] to Admiral Barry's comment the other day in his announcement what he said. How does all of this announcement fit into those plans of future, after taking a more active role?

MOORE:

No, I think what it fits into is the development of the military in an Australian way which is more flexible, a way in which all members of the military, about three [inaudible] Reserves, can feel more involved.

I mean a lot of the Reservists at the present moment feel, you know, this Timor deployment is interesting. It's good. I mean when you go there it certainly is. I mean people up there really do enjoy it. It's an act of commitment and they want to be in it as well. This will enable that to  

happen.

QUESTION:

If the money's tight, it always is, this sounds like a huge budgetary item bearing in mind [inaudible] you said you haven't spoken to employers, so you don't know what the compo package and that sort of thing will be. Are you going to be able to find the money to do this?

MOORE:

Well I think we wouldn't go into any operation unless the money side of it was covered. Currently there are, in round figures, approximate figures, about 30,000 in the Reserves. You know, as I said, the largest single element is university students. So after that you get into a variety of other fields, doctors, dentists, engineers, all sorts of fields.

QUESTION:

Well if the money side is covered, how much money [inaudible]

MOORE:

I don't know the...what it costs [inaudible]. I mean these are part of the negotiations, the terms that you can come to with both the employers, bearing in mind their problems. It may have problems.

I mean if you're an employee of News Limited or something like that, and you're off for a year or nine months, you know, I'm sure that the proprietor would be wondering whether you're going to come...(A) come back and (B) what's he going to do while you're away.

It's a possible idea that he thinks the productivity curve is such he can do without you, but never mind. I mean we will cover, you know, these aspects will be covered with employers.

QUESTION:

Just a sideline. The troops on Bougainville, amid all they hype and everything that's going on [inaudible] the people of Dili are doing such a wonderful job, the...are you concerned that the people on Bougainville think you've...

MOORE:

...Well, I've seen that comment in newspapers. It's a silly comment because I was there the other day myself and Scott was there some weeks before that. I was during the course of the last month or two there.

The chief and the army was there within days of my being there. The chief of Australian theatre Air Marshall Treloar was there of the order of six to eight weeks ago. Downer was there this time last year. I was there this time last year. Within a couple of months of me taking on this job, in fact, I went to Bougainville.

This particular trip I've...the only comment I've found about it was that...the only complaint was that I had was that they couldn't gofishing that particular day because I was in town.

QUESTION:

They haven't had Kylie Minogue there though, have they?

MOORE:

No, they haven't had Kylie Minogue there. Fishing is better.

QUESTION:

Just getting back to the issue of the Reservists, the fact that you had to contact all those Asian neighbours, how much...how aware is the Government of how sensitive this decision is?

MOORE:

I would have thought that the sensitivity shown by the Federal Government in seeking to inform all your governments of what is a very domestic decision shows, what I were to call, very great sensitivity.

I mean the Government's very aware of some of the comments that have been made around the place. On the other hand I have to say that the reports that I got when I visited defence ministers and prime ministers on a recent overseas trip, a very strong commendation of Australia's action, very strong.

And I don't think that anything we've done in any respect have done anything else but played up the role and the ability and the capability of Australia. And I think this adds to it.

QUESTION:

But this decision today, I guess, has a risk of inflaming some of those critics of Australia's role?

MOORE:

Well we shouldn't be too worried about critics. I mean you must be confident in yourself of what you do. What others think of you, that's for them to think. I'm quite confident this is the right thing for Reservists. I'm quite confident it's the right thing for the military. I'm quite confident it's the right thing for the people of Australia [inaudible] to do with the Government.

ANON. MALE:

Can we just have two more questions please.

QUESTION:

How do you think it's going to affect Reserve numbers? You know, do you think that there are a number of people who like the idea of being a weekend warrior and don't necessarily ever want to see any action?

MOORE:

Look, there would be some who may fit into that category. But I have the feeling going around the Regular military at the present moment that their greatest disappointment, their greatest disappointment is, I may not be able to get to serve in Timor.

It's like that everywhere I've been in Darwin, Townsville, all these camps at the present moment. How long, Minister, are we going to be there? Am I going to get a chance to go? Though when I speak to the Reservists they say to me, oh wish I could have gone.

But see, it's not really they've got to volunteer to leave and to join the Regular army, and join the unit in the Regular army which is going to be deployed in East Timor, you know. And time will run out because we're hoping that phase three in Timor will be implemented by certainly the end of February, which means a fairl

So that I can see their concern that they may not get a chance to go. I have found very few people coming to me and say, oh, I don't want to go to Timor. In fact, I haven't had any.

ANON. MALE:

Can we just wrap it up with this question.

QUESTION:

Just on another issue. The Sue Knowles situation in WA.

MOORE:

Which one?

QUESTION:

None of your colleagues have come out and expressed support. How do you feel about the situation?

MOORE:

That's a matter for the Western Australian parties over there in Western Australia. As a former State President and for many years in Queensland, don't interfere in their affairs, and I wouldn't...didn't seek them to interfere in my affairs.

However, Senator Knowles, as a Senator in Canberra pulls her weight, every member of the party [inaudible] I'm quite sure. I would at least think it's a rather strange action.

QUESTION:

You'll still be welcoming her to the party room?

MOORE:

I'm quite happy to see her, yeah. That's a matter for the Western Australian division.

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(*) denotes phonetic spelling

 

END

 

 

md 1999-12-23  11:57