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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 552

Mr BRADFORD —Is the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel aware of a recent newspaper report which described the ready reserves scheme as being `in serious trouble'? Is it a fact that there is a serious shortfall in the number of ready reserve recruits in the special categories? If so, is this the reason for the sharp escalation in the cost of the scheme? Finally, when will the government admit it has made a mistake and dissolve this scheme?

Mr PUNCH —I thank the honourable member for McPherson for his question.

Mr Walker —He has a long answer to this.

Mr Peacock —He has got a whole book.

Mr PUNCH —It is not all on ready reserves.

  Government members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The minister might not respond to the interjections from behind him either.

Mr PUNCH —They are the problem, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —I would not give the other side an opportunity to respond.

Mr PUNCH —It is true that Defence is having some difficulty attracting former regular members of the army and the navy to the ready reserve. These are known as category 2 positions and have been popularly termed—also in the article to which I think the honourable member referred—the `category 2 problem'.

  In the short term, the army is considering a number of proposals to address the problem through transfers, retaining some category 2 positions upon which there is an expected limit of recruiting achievement, having experienced direct entry personnel fill some of the positions and so forth. However, we expect that in the longer term the problem will reduce as the ready reserve officers and non-commissioned officers assume the tasks that are proposed to be undertaken by the regular personnel in the irregular format in which the ready reserve was originally proposed.

  The article the honourable member referred to in the Australian also alleged that the cost of the ready reserve had risen to some 75 per cent of that of regular soldiers. I am advised that that is nonsense. However, the original estimated cost of some 42 per cent is now, on its latest calculation, shown to have increased to 54 per cent following the very proper inclusion of some other costs which have been progressively added that should legitimately be, in my view, part of the program.

  There is a difference in opinion between the government and the opposition on the issue of the ready reserve. I noticed the other day that the honourable member for Flinders called for its abolition—or words to that effect. When the ready reserve was originally announced in 1991, Senator Ray foreshadowed that there would be a review after three years when it had had a proper opportunity to find its own worth. That review will commence either at the end of this year or, most probably, early next year. It will give both the government and the opposition an opportunity to make a sober assessment of the worth of the ready reserve. However, I have had the opportunity of going on an exercise—albeit only a half day—with the ready reserves in the jungle region on the border of New South Wales and Queensland.

Mr Reith —It is a wonder you were not left behind.

Mr PUNCH —Mr Speaker, in response to the cryptic comments of those opposite, as you can attest to my footballing abilities, I did for the most part keep up—only for the most part, however.

Mr Sharp —Were you wearing jungle greens?

Mr PUNCH —Yes, I was wearing jungle greens. Having said that, one can only be impressed by not only the readiness but also the capability of these young people. In talking to their senior officers and NCOs, two of whom were ex-Vietnam veterans, they instilled in me a great deal of confidence about the capability of these young people.

  In conclusion: there will be a review commencing either at the end of this year or early next year. We look forward to that being a sensible and sober assessment of the ready reserve.