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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1290

Mr PEACOCK (Kooyong) (Minister for the Army) - In a civil emergency the resources of the Army may be used to assist the civil authorities in their task of dealing with the emergency. I think it is also fair to point out that care must be exercised to ensure that the resources of the Army are not exploited, that they are used only when essential. Many emergencies are in fact predictable. The one indicated by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby), which concerns grasshopper plagues, probably falls into that category. On other occasions there are droughts, and so on. It should be normal in these cases for the State authorities to seek assistance through the normal channels. I do not want to sound as though I want to bog down with red tape, but the honourable member is dealing with Government instrumentalities and calling for their assistance. Therefore, I think he would agree that what he has done tonight is to alert me and the members of this House to the problem, as he sees it.

I am sure that the granting of a request for Army assistance would, in normal cases, be one of the last measures adopted, but it may well be, as the honourable member says, that we are coming to that situation. If we are, this would be what could be described only as a form of State civil emergency. 1 do not want that to sound too high, but this is the normal descriptive term that is used on important occasions such as this. As honourable members will be aware, there are procedures, to which I have just referred, laid down for requests of this nature to be channelled through the State authorities on to the Army. I have taken note of what the honourable member has said. I do not want to surround it with red tape. I know that he wanted to point out and to alert me to this position. He in turn knows that the request could be made through these normal channels. The Army is prepared to act, as I say, generally as a matter of last resort and provided it is within its facilities and capabilities to assist. Having just heard the honourable member's speech I am not in a position to assess whether this is so in this situation at this juncture. However, when the request comes through from the responsible authority, I will examine it as thoroughly as possible.

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