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Thursday, 8 December 1994
Page: 4289

Mr BEVIS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (11.16 a.m.) —Regrettably, the 15 minutes available to me today does not allow me to digress from the important comments I wish to make in reply to some of those statements that have just been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Downer). I would be delighted if the opposition wanted to extend to me the courtesy of extending my time today or, indeed, allowing me to speak when the debate resumes, because I would welcome the opportunity to put to rest the misleading statements that have just been put to the House by the Leader of the Opposition. It might in short, though, demonstrate the point to recall that, as a former shadow spokesperson for defence, the Leader of the Opposition took to the people of Australia an opposition policy which promised reductions in defence outlays of substantial amounts, indeed, far greater than the reductions that have been implemented by this government in the last budget.

  Let me turn to the substance of the important questions before the House in this white paper. Since the last white paper was released in 1987, we have seen an end to the Cold War, the growth of economies in Asia and the Pacific, and the increased modernisation of the military forces of countries throughout our region. The 1994 white paper, Defending Australia, describes how our defence policy will adjust to this new, much more complex and demanding strategic environment. Our defence policy recognises that, in future, the relative strength and quality of our forces will depend increasingly on the quality of our people—the military, civilians and contractors who together form the Australian defence organisation.

  As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence, with specific responsibilities for our reserves, I will focus my contribution today on aspects relating to the reserve forces. Defending Australia, as the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) has pointed out, includes the most comprehensive and significant statements on reserves ever made by an Australian government. For the past 150 years, the defence of Australia has relied on some form of citizen based military component. For all of this period, these citizen soldiers, sailors and aircrew have served the community in peace and war with great courage and distinction.

  The period following World War II saw a move away from citizen based defence towards more regular forces. Reserve units were, in the main, held as an expansion base for the development of a larger force, without meaningful roles in lesser contingencies. This is no longer so.

  Consistent with trends around the globe, today's reserves are no longer simply a backup to the regular forces or an expansion base; they are an integral and essential part of the force structure, comprising nearly 40 per cent of the uniformed strength of the Australian Defence Force. As a result, reserves are now allocated specific and important roles in the defence of Australia.

  To achieve a truly integrated total force, though, all elements need to have a similar standard of individual training. The distinction between regulars and reserves will then only be one of relative difference in military experience and availability. The government is committed to individual training for regular and reserve members being conducted to a common core and to the same standard. In the same way, there is a need to increase the experience levels of reserve officers and senior non-commissioned officers. The government will provide the opportunity for selected individuals to develop more experience through extended part-time service or by serving for periods on a full-time basis.

  Army reserve training will be targeted for special attention—both individual and collective training will change. Many of the responsibilities of reserve training groups will be transferred to centralised training establishments. The standard of reserve basic officer training will be increased and will be conducted under the control of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Recruit training will increase and will be the responsibility of the recruit training battalion. Initial employment training will be in line with regular training courses at a level consistent with likely operational tasks. Responsibility for the initial employment training of reserves will rest with the relevant corps.

  These measures will see a change in the method of delivery of training for reserves. Whilst training groups will be maintained to assist in the delivery of these programs, responsibility for the programs will rest with the central training establishment. Following these changes, training groups will not be responsible for the structure or standard of training programs. Indeed, it is likely that an increased number of these programs will be conducted centrally although there is clearly an important need for regional training to continue to be available, facilitated through training groups.

  The effect of these and other changes announced in the white paper are designed to further develop reserve capability. This will ensure reserve units are capable of undertaking the roles and tasks assigned to them as part of the total force within the required readiness periods. I expect the implementation of this goal will also require an enhancement in availability and type of equipment for reserves. The implementation of these new measures for training and equipment will continue to receive my close attention.

  Although not subject to call-out for United Nations peacekeeping or humanitarian relief forces, reserves with the necessary skills and military training have made, and will continue to make, a valuable contribution to such operations. As reserve training, skill level and capabilities improve I would anticipate that the opportunity for reserves to contribute to such deployments will increase. In meeting these new challenges, greater flexibility will be sought in lateral recruitment particularly from ex-regulars. The government will examine whether further incentives or some form of obligation might positively assist in the transfer of regulars to the reserves. Transfer between full-time and part-time components will be made easier.

  In the context of these enhanced roles for reserves, and the review of army structure to be undertaken next year, consideration will also be given to the appropriate availability of reserve depots. The location of some reserve depots reflects demographic characteristics which existed during and after the Second World War and they need to be consolidated to meet the current demands of collective training. Those no longer required will be assessed for suitability for use by local community groups.

  Employment of reserves varies between the three services. Whereas reserves in army are mostly members of formed units, navy and air force reserves are integrated as individuals, or in small numbers, into full-time operational and support units. Navy and air force maintain relatively small numbers of active reserves. When combined with inactive members, who bring skills from previous regular service, they enable the rapid increase in rates of effort required for operational deployment and also for the expansion of intelligence, communications and headquarters staff functions for round-the-clock operations. Navy reserves contribute to overall naval capability by providing trained personnel to serve on a part-time basis.

  Reserves manage naval control of shipping and contribute significantly to the intelligence, mine sweeping and diving capabilities. Some areas, such as submarines and surface combatants where high readiness or high rates of peacetime activity are required, are not suited to a high level of reserve participation. Nevertheless, individual naval reserves provide additional capacity to regular crews.

  Air force active reserves provide capability enhancement in the critical functions of air traffic control, intelligence, technical support for aircraft operations and ground support for forward base operations. I will be pursuing with the services the wider use of reserves both as individuals and as formed groups in the navy and the air force.

  The ready reserve is a relatively new scheme, having been introduced in 1991. The ready reserve is an innovative approach to meeting the nation's defence needs on a cost-effective basis. It has generated a good deal of interest in the Australian defence community and, more broadly, in the Australian community. It has also been the subject of interest from the defence community abroad. The ready reserve will reach full maturity in December 1996. In accordance with the arrangements announced at the introduction of the scheme I will shortly be announcing a progress review of the ready reserve scheme, which I anticipate will be completed by mid-1995.

  As members of both the community at large and the Australian Defence Force, reserves provide an important link between the ADF and the community. The government recognises the competing interest that reservists have in balancing their work, personal and defence obligations. Research into employer attitudes to reserve service will be undertaken to determine the most cost-effective means of providing incentives or forms of recognition of the contribution employers of reserves make to defence. Further, an investigation of options to improve the availability of reserves for training will be undertaken.

  Support from employers for reserve personnel is a major element in their ability to serve. In turn, employers and the community benefit from an effective Defence Force, especially from the training its members receive. Reserve personnel themselves also, of course, gain considerable benefit from this training.

  The Defence Reserves Support Committee, which has more than 150 voluntary members throughout Australia, plays a very important role in the relationship between the reserves and their employers. It will continue to receive the government's full support. The government recognises that if reservists are required to defend our country, it has an obligation to ensure that their families are cared for, their civilian employment is secure and their other civilian interests are protected.

  The following specific measures to protect reserves' interests on call-out are currently under consideration by the government. They include: guaranteeing a return to their place of employment, offering financial compensation to employers, deferring tertiary studies and other employment related training or education, reinstating employment related licences, assisting with the member's family home mortgage, providing assistance with the welfare of reserve families and offering a call-out disruption payment.

  In forging closer links between the reserve personnel and communities in which they live, the government recognises the assistance that reserves can provide in time of local emergency. Reserve facilities, equipment and skills have the potential to provide valuable emergency relief assistance to the community in times of fire, flood or other such disaster. Current arrangements for requesting Defence Force assistance allow reserves to volunteer their services, but their immediate availability and the diversion of resources away from military training activities are currently seen as impediments to using them. To increase their availability in emergency circumstances, voluntary reserve participation and funding for such activities will be separated from normal allocations.

  Importantly, the white paper recognises the contribution which Australian industry capability plays in the defence of Australia. The government recognises that industry's contribution to our defence effort will become more important as our strategic environment becomes more demanding. The white paper builds on the government's May industry statement and the parliament's industry committee's report on government purchasing, which I tabled in March this year.

  The white paper recognises the opportunities for Australian industry to supply major items and equipment for defence where it offers value for money but, importantly, taking into account factors including the ability to meet needs arising from our geographic and strategic environment, the development of a capacity for through-life support and assurance of uninterrupted supply. I believe the white paper reinforces the future opportunities for domestic industries to continue to be important suppliers to our nation's Defence Force.

  Finally, I wish to make a few comments concerning the question of resources. The white paper establishes for the first time the government's commitment to the long-term planning of defence budgets with the announcement of a five-year budget commencing in 1996-97. This new arrangement will provide Defence with a much needed long-term consistency and certainty in both capital programs and personnel planning.

  The programs outlined in the white paper will require a modest real growth in defence spending. However, on current economic and strategic forecasts, the defence budget will not need to grow faster than the economy as a whole but will need to maintain an allocation representing approximately two per cent of GDP. Certainly, recent growth in the Australian economy would provide adequate additional funds to meet the real growth requirements set out in the white paper.

  The 1994 defence white paper accurately and clearly sets out Australia's strategic position in our region and in the world. It includes important new initiatives in relation to both personnel and equipment. It places significant and appropriate importance on the links between Australian industry and our defence capability. It identifies our important alliances and their future development and it realistically sets out the resource requirements required to meet our defence needs as identified in the white paper. I commend the paper to the House.