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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1563

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - The National Service Bill which is before the House is necessary to implement the Government's decision to reduce the period of national service training from 24 months to 18 months. National service was introduced to ensure that the level of Army manpower was maintained at a strength consistent with our defence requirements and, of course, with the population of this country. While the Bill provides for a reduction in the time to be served in the Army by a national serviceman it will not reduce the reserve of over 20,000 trained men whom national service has made possible and who are available in the event of an emergency arising in the defence of this country. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) has made some points. He said - and I agree - that there is a wide difference of opinion as to what dangers Australia may happen to face. I think I understood him correctly. He said that the Australian Labor Party wanted to see Australia well protected. That is the very reason why we have introduced national service - so that the numbers will be brought up to a figure which will ensure that Australia is well protected. He also said that we did not want to throw young Australians into battle untrained. Again this is the reason for our national service requirements. We want to have an effective and sufficiently strong force operating and to have trained men in reserve so that at a time when they might be required - we hope the situation will not arise - they will be available.

As has been pointed out the national service scheme has provided more than 50,000 trained men. The honourable member for Brisbane referred to the Citizen Military Forces and said that it has been adversely affected by national service training. That is a matter of opinion. At 30th June last 12,000 men were serving part time in the CMF as an alternative to national service. In addition to that number some 2,000 had already completed their CMF obligation. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) said in his second reading speech:

Notwithstanding that fewer national service registrants have been opting for Citizen Force service, optees stilt comprised 35 per cent of the CMF at 30th June Inst.

So it is not correct to say that national service has had an adverse effect on our Citizen Military Forces. I recognise, and I think the Government recognises, that it is desirable that Army manpower should be obtained by voluntary enlistment if it is available to us. If we had sufficient volunteers in our Army it would not be necessary to have national service call-ups. As I mentioned earlier, at the same time it does provide that reserve which is an added strength to the ordinary serving forces of the Army. To that extent it is an additional benefit. But if there are insufficient volunteers to maintain the Army at the required strength, the numbers have to be brought up in some way and national service is designed to do just that.

There is no doubt that in a country where good opportunities are readily available for the future of the young men of that country there is less attraction to an army career. So one of the reasons why there has not been the number of volunteers going into the Army in Australia has been the great opportunities that are available to young men in this country and this has been brought about by the sound and progressive policies that have been constantly followed by this Government. This situation is in contrast to what has happened in some other countries. The Government has had a policy of full employment and when one compares Australia with other countries where perhaps a greater number of volunteers are available it will be seen that the reasons why they are available are because of the unemployment level and because the opportunities for them were not there to the same extent as they have been in this country. I suppose it would be possible that if a Labor government was returned to the treasury bench - I hope this will not happen - it could get sufficient volunteers in time because its policies would not provide the employment opportunities that exist now. This may be one way a Labor government could increase the number of volunteers. The Government has adopted this measure as a means by which the numbers can be provided and because the experts who have considered it felt it was the fairest way of providing the number of young men required to keep the Army manpower up to the desired level.

The Government does not desire to disrupt the careers of young men any more than is absolutely essential to maintain adequate numbers in our defence forces. It has made provision for young men to continue their studies until they reach degree standard. It has deferred the obligation to enter national service training for reasons that I need not enumerate in full but those seeking exemption have to prove that their reasons are sound and that hardship will result if they were to be called up at a particular time. A great deal of consideration has been given to avoiding any unnecessary disruption to careers or any undue hardship for the young people of this country.

In addition to that the Government now recognises that present circumstances allow a reduction in the period of service from 24 months to 18 months and this is what this Bill is designed to bring about. The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) said it was simply a matter of the Government not being able to finance the present national service programme. That is an absurd suggestion because there would be no doubt that this Government on its record down the years has ensured that priority in expenditure was given to maintaining an adequate defence for this country. The honourable member also said that a professional Army of 28,000 men - I think that was the number he mentioned - would be more effective than the Army under the system that is operating now but he entirely overlooks the great value of the reserves that are provided under this system. He overlooks the ' fact which was mentioned by the honourable member for Brisbane that we do not want to tend young men into Army service who are untrained. 1 might mention that although the term of service has been reduced from 24 months to 18 months, the period on active reserve has been increased from 3 years to 3i years. So the numbers are still available if required. It is not a reduction in numbers but a reduction in the time of training. These men are still available if required in any emergency. .

I have heard it suggested at times that we could compare the attitudes of some other countries towards volunteer armies with our own. 1 know that Great Britain and Canada have been mentioned as countries with full volunteer armies. In looking at this question it has to be remembered that the Government of Great Britain has reduced its commitments in overseas service very considerably and has the protection of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation which is still active in that area. Great Britain may feel that the reduction that has been brought about in the numbers of servicemen may not affect very greatly its capacity to defend itself in the circumstances in which it finds itself at the moment. With regard to Canada, it is obvious, of course, that she is geographically situated in a most advantageous position adjoining one of the great powers in the world today. Canada is protected on 2 sides by the United States and protected by great distance although distance is being overcome as the years go by. However, it still forms a very substantial protection for Canada. It is no wonder that a country so situated would be able to reduce its numbers to a level which it feels it requires. There is a protection available to it by being part of the North American continent and in addition to that Canada has the protection of being well situated as far as distance is concerned in relation to countries from which there might be some military threat.

This is very different from the situation in which Australia finds itself. Australia is situated as an outpost of the European community in a South East Asian environment and its associations are quite different. We are a long way from the people with whom we have been traditionally associated although we do have the protection of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation. But this is not sufficient to justify any lessening of the strength that is required to maintain an adequate defence force in this country. One only has to imagine some flare-up in that area to see that Australia would be in a position where it would have to strengthen its defences fairly quickly and by having reserves available in our trained national servicemen Australia could get these people into service and be ready to protect this country in times of national emergency. Also a country is respected much more if the numbers of its defence forces are consistent with what is reasonably regarded as adequate. Prevention is always belter than cure. If we have the forces to defend this country adequately we may not have to use them as we might if we allowed the strength of our forces to deteriorate, which could happen unless we use the forces which are available to us and which the world knows are available to us.

Turning again to the Citizen Military Forces, it is a very effective and very essential part of our defence forces and does provide an alternative for those young men who do not want to serve in a ?articular war and who do not want to undertake ordinary national service training and perhaps be sent overseas. It provides this avenue particularly for young men in rural industries at a time when the engagement of labour is not economically possible in rural areas. They can remain on their properties doing very worthwhile work for Australia and at the same time be trained so that they too, if necessary, can be called up and can play their part in times of national emergency. Many young people in Australia today particularly in the rural areas, have accepted this form of alternative to national service and it has been to their own benefit and to the benefit of Australia. I believe that the reduction in the period of service in the Citizen Military Forces from 6 to 5 years in conjunction with the reduction in the period of national service training from 2 years to 18 months will still allow people who have chosen to serve in the Citizen Military Forces to continue with that type of service in Australia.

I believe that one of the great weaknesses of the Labor Party down the years has been its attitude to defence. One of the things which the Australian people have refused to accept over the years has been the Labor Party's defence policy. The people do not regard the Labor Party's defence policy as having the strength that has always been provided since this Government came into office. Of course, the Australian people are not warlike at all. All that we and I think the great majority of Australians want is a satisfactory defence force, and the numbers which the Labor Party proposes should be in the Army - whether they are professional soldiers or not - are not consistent with what might reasonably be expected that the Australian nation should provide in its own defence. Unless we have this strength in the Army we are asking for possible encroachment on Australia by another country, and we would not be able to offer any ally that might be prepared to come to our assistance the kind of help which it could require in a time of emergency.

Australia has a national responsibility to provide an army and a defence force at a level consistent with what Australia can reasonably be expected to provide. If we are to expect other countries, as I believe we will, to come to our aid in time of need, then we should show our willingness and determination to have in this country a defence force of a strength which we should reasonably be expected to provide. We should be prepared to do as much as and perhaps even more than similar sized countries in the geographical situation in which we find ourselves in Australia. I believe that it is very much in the interest of the Australian people that we should keep our defence forces at least at their present level.

If I were to have any criticism of the Government's policy in this field, it would be that we do not have as strong an army or as strong a defence force as we should have. I believe that Australia's economy justifies even greater strength in our defence forces than exists today, but certainly the position is a long way better than what is proposed by the Labor Party in its amendment to this Bill. However, I believe that the Australian people should have the opportunity to show, as they have done in the past very clearly and decisively, that they require a government to keep our defence forces up to the level which this country can reasonably carry.

If I had any criticism at all of the Government's policy it would be along the lines that the strength of our defence forces is not as great as it should be. This is vitally important. We do not get any warning, as was pointed out earlier in the debate. How do we get a warning? The right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) said that we would not be under threat for 10 years. Who can accept that? Who can be sure that we will not be under threat within 10 years, or within a shorter period of time? We cannot afford to take a risk, so the strength of our defence forces is of vital importance to Australia. What do we have if we do not retain our freedom? Can we expect to have the support that we believe we are entitled to receive if we do not do as much as this country reasonably can afford? That is the basis upon which the strength of our defence forces should be fixed. That is the criterion to be used to decide whether Australia is doing as much as she can in her own defence. I believe that if Australia does that she can confidently expect to get help in a time of emergency. 1 commend the Bill. I warmly support it and I oppose the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

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