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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2717

Mr BEVIS —In addressing a question to the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, I draw his attention to an article which appeared in the Canberra Times on 8 November, and I ask: is there a lack of urgency amongst young people about applying to join the newly created Australian Defence Force Ready Reserve?

Mr BILNEY —I thank the honourable member for Brisbane for his question. He has taken a very close interest in the Ready Reserve since attending the launch.

Mr Hawke —He was at the launch in Brisbane.

Mr BILNEY —As the Prime Minister says, he was at the launch in Brisbane three weeks ago. The article in question was by my good friend Frank Cranston—who, I must say to the House, generally speaking gets things right about defence. On this occasion, I think he has got things wrong. In the 22 days from the launch of the scheme until the time he wrote his column, 18,293 young people had inquired about signing up.

Mr Snowdon —How many?

Mr BILNEY —There were 18,293, and of those 3,117 had actually submitted a formal application.

Mr Tim Fischer —How many of those were unemployed?

Mr BILNEY —That is a remarkable response rate. Here we have a wholly new form of service which is being aimed at a relatively narrow and highly competitive section of the population, namely, young, fit, intelligent men and women, and it is being presented to them at a time when most of them are focusing on their exams. Yet we have an inquiry rate which is running close to 1,000 a day.

  Of those who have inquired about the Army ready reserves—this is perhaps in response to the question by the Leader of the National Party—5,468 have indicated they would want to get full time jobs at the end of their initial one year of training, while 5,956, which is more than half, have indicated that they want to go on to university. So the ready reserves are drawing the interest of a section of the community which is distinctly different from those who traditionally apply for conventional military service—and I regard that as a very healthy development.

  It is true that a disproportionately high level of inquiries—almost 7,000—have come from the home State of the honourable member for Brisbane, but then Queensland has always been one of our best recruiting grounds. While Queenslanders will not have to move interstate to complete their full time training, the fact is that for many young people being able to leave home is part of the attraction of joining the Services.

  Already 114 people have been through the entire enlistment process and have been approved for entry to the ready reserves. That is already about 10 per cent of the number we are looking for for this year. The calibre of the new candidates is such that we will not have any difficulty filling all the positions from those who have already applied, but obviously we are still taking applications so that we are able to pick the very best recruits.

  In conclusion, the Ready Reserve scheme was tailored specifically to appeal to the very people who are now applying in large numbers to join it. The Government went to a lot of trouble to ensure that it was a carefully designed scheme with appropriate incentives and we knew it would be a success. Above all, our confidence in the youth of Australia has been rewarded and the Opposition's cries that the Ready Reserve scheme would never work now have a very hollow ring.