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Wednesday, 16 October 1991
Page: 2124

Senator NEWMAN(11.48 a.m.) —-First of all, I would like to mention that we have not been able to review the annual report of the Department of Defence. No such report has been made available to the Committee in time for the Estimates and the report has not been received, in fact, in time for this Appropriations debate.

Mr Chairman, you would be well aware of the fact that the Senate does not view with much favour departments that are unable to get an annual report to the Senate in time for this important annual debate. I would hope for an explanation as to why the Department of Defence has not provided its annual report this year to the Senate by now. I also wish to raise some matters relating to the ready reserves. Perhaps the Minister might like to respond to the annual report after I deal with the ready reserves issue.

Yesterday, during the second reading debate, I spoke on the question of the force structure review. Of course, I have spoken on the force structure review many times in this Parliament since the Minister made his statement last May. I have also taken every opportunity that I have been able to get publicly outside the Parliament to talk about the matter because the Opposition has very serious concerns as to what is happening to the defence of this country as a result of force structure review. I do not intend to go on at

any length about that now except to flag that our concerns have not been satisfied.

I turn now to the Ready Reserve. During the Estimate Committee hearings we asked a number of detailed questions about the Ready Reserve and particularly about costings. Although I do not intend to pursue this matter now, it remains a contentious issue which I do not think will be resolved until the figures are in.

Today I want to talk about what happens after the money has been spent; after the reservists have actually been trained. What guarantees do we have to ensure that they will stay and do what they have been trained and paid to do? The answer is simple: we have no guarantees. There is no legislation in place to ensure that trained and paid ready reservists will be required to render the specified service that the Government has set down for them in its new force structure. They do not have a return of service obligation. One wonders how this could have been introduced without the taxpayers' interests being protected.

It has always surprised me how easy it is for a government to spend other people's money without concern for what happens after it has been spent. This Government spends a great deal of money on paying for the final year of education, often an honours year, of promising university students who are brought into government departments as cadets after they have graduated. But there is no obligation on those who win this final year of government sponsorship and financial gain to take a cadetship in a government department. I have heard of some students who have never even been to Canberra and set foot in the department which sponsored them, although they retained all the payments and were given a Public Service number, associated benefits and accrued holiday leave.

It strikes me that the Ready Reserve incentives are in the same league--a lot of dollars are being thrown about with no guarantees. This worries me because I have heard that the majority of ready reservists already enlisted were unemployed before entry. I understand that this is the case with the majority of those who made formal applications. I wonder whether they will stay around after the recession lifts or whether they will go back into their chosen career options.

What worries me further is the sloppy approach by the Government and by senior military officers who claim that the ready reservists can serve overseas in peacekeeping activities such as those in Cambodia. Minister Bilney and General Gration have both said this publicly. Minister Bilney in his press release of 3 October said:

. . . by replacing two, understrength, under-equipped Regular battalions with three, fully manned and equipped Ready Reserve battalions--able to be deployed, including overseas on the same basis as Regulars.

The Mercury of 3 October states:

The Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Gration, said Ready Reserve personnel would be equipped after 12 months of training to handle overseas deployment.

I believe that that is simply not true. At least, it will not be true unless an amendment is made to the Defence Act. I have been told that this is not necessary.

Call-out of the Army Reserve under the Defence Act is defined under sections 50E and 50F and it applies to the Ready Reserve as part of the Army Reserve. Section 50E defines call-out in a time of war or defence emergency and section 50F defines call-out in a time other than in a time of war or defence emergency. By this definition, peacekeeping would obviously fall under section 50F but, in both sections, call-out can occur only where the Governor-General considers it desirable to do so for the defence of Australia.

In the Act, the phrase `the defence of Australia' is not defined. However, it would be reasonable to assume that United Nations peacekeeping is not undertaken for the defence of Australia. Certainly, this would be open to challenge. An important point to remember is that Australian reservists who serve overseas in any capacity, as they did in the Gulf war and in peacekeeping in Namibia, are individual volunteers. They are not called up. The concept is one of Ready Reserve units replacing regular battalions, not individual reserves filling places in regular units.

I now turn to questions that I would like to ask the Minister in relation to the legislative backing for the Ready Reserve. My first question is: if we are to rely on ready reservists to volunteer, how can the Government guarantee that whole Ready Reserve units will volunteer?