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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1559

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - The Bill before the House is like any piece of legislation that affects national service, which is an emotional issue in a community because there are wide differences of opinion in our society as to what level of threat Australia faces at the moment or will face in the near future and how Australia ought to respond. It is of the nature of things in a political forum like this chamber that honourable members will make party political points - real or imagined - that suit their own advantage. But I think that thoughtful members of the Parliament will agree when they sit back that every member in this place wants to see Australia well protected by well equipped and properly trained armed forces. None of us wants to see young Australians thrown into battle without proper training or equipment whenever a threat might occur at some time in the future.

The debate on this Bill really revolves around how these competent well trained and well equipped armed forces are to be developed and whether they should be brought together, partly by people who volunteer and partly by a system of national service. Only time will prove - and, of course, only circumstances will prove - whether it is possible to raise an armed force consisting entirely of volunteers. I think one ought to say in fairness to all our compatriots in Australia that whenever a threat has been obvious and whenever a war has been on our threshhold and Australia seemed to be threatened, young Australians and indeed perhaps even middle aged or old Australians have rallied to the colours. Australians rallied in the Boer War and the First World War. 1 make the point here that I did not see this but I have heard about it. However, I certainly saw how Australians rallied to the colours during the Second World War. I believe that young Australians are not lacking in patriotism or loyalty to their country. I believe that they would rally again should any threat to this Australian nation of ours develop in the future. But happily we have no threat at this time. All of us have fresh in our memories statements by Ministers and former members of the Government, not least of them the previous Prime Minister and the recent Minister for Defence who stated in several speeches which were circulated to honourable members that Australia faced no challenge in the next 10 years, that happily we were in a situation where it seemed that we would not be threatened in what one might almost say the foreseeable future.

This is no reason for anyone to be complacent because it is of the nature of things that it is a fundamental responsibility of every government to ensure the survival of the nation, the society to which we belong. So whatever the threat or lack of threat may be, it is a responsibility of any government to ensure that the armed forces of this country are maintained at such a level that they could respond to any challenge which may arise and would be capable of being expanded to meet any challenge which may develop. This is what we are debating tonight. In the circumstances of a withdrawal from Vietnam - that means a great reduction in the Australian commitment overseas - and in the realisation that the people in time of peace will be more reluctant to accept sacrifices in their own personal lives, in their association with other members of the family, and in their business interests and the like, than they would be in time of war, the Government has decided to reduce the term of national service from 2 years to IS months and is proposing to make certain other adjustments to the National Service Act.

I would like to talk for a few moments about some of the things that have been said about this legislation by the two previous speakers from the Government parties. The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) suggested that the Labor Party would sell Australia out. He referred to Pearl Harbour and Singapore and he gove us a count down of the years before World War II. He quoted to us speeches made by various Labor members of the Parliament at that time who suggested that wc in Australia ought not to be carried away by emotionalism and devote too much of our resources to defence. In reply to this, I would like to say that at any time that this country has been involved in a major war - there have been only two of them; World War I and World War II - the people of Australia have in their wisdom called a Labor government to the Treasury bench because they have realised that a Labor government, better than any other government, will ensure that the resources of the country are mobilised behind a war effort. It is true that if honourable members go through the Hansard record they can single out speeches made by Labor members before World War II who suggested that it was undesirable to devote too much of the resources of this country to a defence effort. But those members were typical of their day, and incidentally, they were in opposition. The Government which governed Australia from 1932 until 1941 was a government of the same complexion as the present Goverment.

While one may point to speeches made by Labor members, they are in most ways typical. In some ways they are not as extreme in view as were speeches made by honourable members on the Government side. We all remember the late Mr Hughes, a former Prime Minister and member for Bendigo and later North Sydney. He was one of the few people on the Government side of the Parliament who saw the threat posed by the Second World War. While some things have been said about our very highly esteemed former leader, Mr John Curtin, it is true to say, if one analyses the Hansard record, that for several years before the war, Mr Curtin called for a massive investment of money in the Air Force and the Navy in order that Australia should be protected against the threat that he saw as Leader of the Opposition and as leader of the Australian Labor Party at that time. I think it is completely dishonest to suggest that the Labor Party would sell Australia out because the record is entirely to the contrary.

If one looks at the book that recently was published to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force one will see that it is divided into 3 sections. The middle section relates the tremendous build-up of the Royal Australian Air Force in the situation of the Second World War. I am not taking any credit away from the Menzies Government of that time because with the Empire Air Training Scheme the Menzies Government laid the basis on which later development occurred. But it is equally true to say that great development took place under a Labor government. I do not think we should try to make party political capital out of some of these things because my Party, the Australian Labor Party, has nothing to be ashamed of in the attention that it has devoted to the defence of Australia at any time that this country has been threatened. My friend, the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street), said that the Labor Party hoped for the best. He said that members of this Party had said that Australia's frontiers lay at its natural boundaries, that the stationing of defence forces overseas was no longer acceptable and that we would not accept the advice of the chiefs of staff or the senior people in our defence forces.

He said that we took a position which was anti-Australian and he suggested that many of the young people who object to national service today have as their purpose the overthrowing of parliamentary democracy. He rather suggested that we had some sympathy or association with these young people. Of course, it is realistic to say that Australia's frontiers are its natural boundaries. But no nation is an island and this country has commitments. It has international commitments to the United Nations. It has close associations with the Commonwealth of Nations and certain treaties with the United Stales of America and with New Zealand all of which are accepted and acceded to by the Labor Party in its policy. Whilst our attitude to some of these situations may be different from that of the Government parties, no member of this House can say that the Labor Party has ever deserted its responsibilities in regard to any of our treaty commitments. It is not true to say that the Labor Party hopes for the best and is prepared to gamble on Australia's future. The Labor Party believes that by giving members of our armed forces decent pay and conditions and a challenging role, many more young people will join the armed forces than at present. One of the criticisms that we make of the present Government is that in its commitment to Vietnam - quite frankly, we have never agreed with the commitment to Vietnam in the way in which the Government members have spelt it out - no young person in this country has ever been given the opportunity to volunteer to serve in Vietnam. In the early 1950s young men were invited to enlist to serve in Korea. They served in an Australian component of a United Nations and British Commonwealth force in Korea.

Mr Barnard - They were all volunteers.

Mr CROSS - Yes, they were all volunteers. This Party supported that commitment. But no young man was even given the opportunity to volunteer to serve in Vietnam. He could join the Army but he could well end up peeling spuds in a camp anywhere in Australia. There was no way in which he could specifically enlist to serve in a task force in Vietnam. That just was not on.

The Government introduced national service. Of course, it introduced national service against a background of confrontation with Indonesia in Malaysia. No member of this House would deny . that this was a situation of great concern to Australia. We all know that we were fortunate in that changes in the administration in Indonesia took place late in 1965. We have all been heartened by the improved economic position in Indonesia and the continued good relations with Australia. I think that every member of this House is heartened by the fact that over recent years good relations with Indonesia have been maintained. This probably has been the high water mark of Australian diplomacy. But given that national service was introduced in those circumstances and that it was continued in the situation of a Government commitment to the war in Vietnam, the question now arises whether national service is the most effective way to maintain Australia's armed forces in the future.

The hard, cold facts of life are that this Government is not prepared to trust the young people of Australia. The right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) has said that Australia faces no threat in the next 10 years. Is not this the time that the Government, given the fact that it has appointed 2 committees to look at Service pay and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund, should try out its own policies and see whether it can develop responsible policies which would encourage decent young Australians, physically fit young Australians, to join the armed forces and serve their country in this way? But the Government does not trust young Australians. It does not believe that it can persuasively present a case or that it can provide the incentives to encourage young people to join the Army. So it continues this system of national service. One then comes to the position: Is this the most effective way to use our manpower? I think that anybody who looks at the situation will say that it is not. The current Labor Party policy as found at page 33 of "The Australian Labor Party Platform, Constitution and Rules' states:

All forces should be made up of volunteers and conscription as such shall be abolished. In the national interest however, the right must be retained to raise a° national service force should the security of Australia be threatened.

In other words the Labor Party does not reject national service if ' the security of

Australia is threatened. But it does not accept national service as being the ordinary state of affairs. The Labor Party believes that service in the armed forces should be so well rewarded in terms of pay,, allowances, training opportunities and the like that young people might select serving in the armed forces as being an appropriate way to make a career and an appropriate way to pay their service to the Australian nation.

Mr Hughes - Can you give us some idea about the level of pay you advocate?

Mr CROSS - Yes. I am happy to see that the Government has responded to an Opposition initiative to look at some of these matters of pay and defence forces retirement benefits. It is not only a matter of pay, of course. It is also a matter of housing allowances for the dislocation of a family because people are travelling from place to place or may be sent interstate or overseas to South East Asia. But whatever the difficulties, the Labor Party believes they should be faced. It is a coward's way out to attempt to gain by a system of national service the armed forces which this country needs. Let us . look at the national service system. With the exception of a number of rare people who comply with the requirements of the present Act and the alarmingly high proportion of young Australians who are not physically fit - again that is an indictment of programmes carried out by the present Government - the national service scheme under a system of ballot calls up people across the board. We all know the situation. Every honourable member in this place knows of young people who have qualified in medicine, engineering, veterinary science, pure science or some other discipline and who are then required to carry out national service when they could probably make a much more realistic and rewarding contribution to Australian society in some field of private employment.

National service is the easy way out. It is the way in which the numbers can be made up without paying decent salaries and wages to people and without giving them decent conditions. In time of war any government can successfully get away with this sort of programme. The future will show whether this Government can get away with it in time of peace. There is no argument from the Labor Party side of the House about the defence of Australia. Every man in this House wants to see Australia well defended. He wants to see Australia's armed forces properly trained and equipped. The Labor Party wishes to see Australia's armed forces at what might be termed the take-off point; that is, sustained at a level which would enable our forces to be expanded quickly if there were any threat to Australia in the future. Again I make the point that the previous Minister for Defence and other honourable members on the Government side have said that they can see no threat to Australia in the next 10 years. So we are not lacking in patriotism. We are not lacking in any desire to see that Australia's forces are properly maintained. What we do say is that there are great iniquities and great injustices in the system of national service in which young people are obliged to serve whether or not they agree that this is an efficient way to use Australia's manpower.

If this nation were threatened national service might be necessary. But it should not be the easy way out. It should be something that is turned to only in the last resort. In other words the Labor Party in no way apologises for its desire to see Australia's fighting forces strengthened, manned and well equipped. The Labor Party believes that this situation should be brought about by paying decent wages and by giving decent conditions. Consequently the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) who leads in this area of responsibility will be moving amendments in this House to bring about such changes in the National Service Act as we seek. Whatever decisions might be made in this Parliament in the next few days, the fact still remains that we think that whatever national service might do this Government has not yet solved the problem of the Citizen Military Forces which has been destroyed by the national service system. The CMF is an important part of Labor Party policy but it has lost a great deal of its prestige because under legislation introduced by this Government it has become the refuge of people who wish to avoid national service responsibility. The Labor Party not only stands for improving the situation of those people in the regular forces but also, by abandoning national service and by giving these incentives, we would restore the CMF to the prestige position it occupied in the past. It is not sufficient to have well paid and well equipped regular forces. It is also necessary to have citizen forces to back up the regular Army. The citizen forces should be capable of being expanded in the event of any threat in the future. Although the situation might be that there does not seem to be any obvious threat in the immediate future it is the responsibility of every government to make sure that Australia is ready to face such a threat should it occur.

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