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Monday, 16 October 2006
Page: 31

Mr LINDSAY (2:37 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Would the minister outline to the House the government’s initiatives to increase the number of Australians entering the Australian Defence Force and, in particular, what the benefits will be for young Australians in Defence Force service?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Defence) —I thank the member for Herbert for his question and his very strong commitment to the Australian Army, in particular in Townsville. In the last year the Howard government has announced that an additional $11 billion will be invested over the next 10 years alone in putting another 4,000 soldiers into the Australian Army—two more battalions and 1,500 more soldiers for hardening and networking our army to protect our country and our interests, not only on our borders and in our region but also throughout the world.

Very shortly the government will be undertaking major reform of the recruiting process to the Australian Defence Force. There will be significant increases to the funding for the marketing of Defence careers and of wearing the Australian uniform, major reforms to the way in which we go about recruiting young and not so young Australians to the Australian Defence Force and changes to the way in which Defence careers are managed. One of the gaps we have at the moment is that we have 25,000 young Australians who have joined the Australian Defence Force Cadets. If we could have the Labor state governments be more enthusiastic about it, we could have more cadet units in Australian schools. We also have 51,000 Australians who are serving in our three services and another 20,000 reservists. But at the moment there are 34,000 young Australians who, having finished year 12, go off for a gap year. Those young Australians do a variety of things. They work in itinerant jobs, they go overseas and work as nannies or coach rugby teams, they do a whole variety of things, including aid projects—all of which is very good—but one of the things that is not currently open to them is the opportunity to wear the uniform of the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force or Royal Australian Navy, and to do so for a year.

The government, commencing in 2008, will offer up to 1,000 places for young Australians to undertake basic training in Army, Navy or Air Force and then to have further training and service experience in a limited way for the remainder of that year. We will then offer financial and other incentives to those young Australians to continue their service or, alternatively, to come back to Defence within a five-year period.

It is also important to appreciate that the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other employers are looking for the very skills that are provided by service in the Australian military—commitment and courage and integrity and teamwork, access to new and emerging technologies, and all of the things that are important for self-discipline and for team leadership. It is very important to appreciate that not only is it a part of what will be a large suite of measures for recruiting into the Australian military but also it is about building character in young Australians and exposing more of them and their families to Australian Defence Force life. The member for Dawson might be interested to know that when I was reading the Daily Mercury this morning I noticed a quote from Corporal Cadet Phillip Matthews, who is 14. Phillip is a member of the cadet unit in Mackay. He said he would look forward to taking up the opportunity himself in four years. He said:

I think the Army teaches you strong morals and good discipline.

All I can say is that you are right, Phillip, it builds character, and anything that is good for young people and good for Defence is great for Australia.