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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1569

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) (Minister for Defence) - I was sorry to hear the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) make some rather snide attacks on Government supporters. He made a snide attack on the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess). He said that the honourable member was always advocating that people should go out and fight for their country but that he did not give after sales service and see that they were properly looked after. All I can say to the honourable member for Burke is that there is noone else in this House who has done as much for ex-servicemen as the honourable member for La Trobe. The honourable member is today chairing an all party committee inquiring into the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund. He is chairman of the Government members defence committee. In one case he worked extremely hard for a naval officer whom he felt had been wronged and he did his best to right that wrong. He asks questions on defence matters. AH I can say to the honourable member for Burke is that if at the end of his parliamentary career which, I believe, will not be a very Jong one, he can say he has done one quarter as much for exservicemen as the honourable member for La Trobe he can be extremely pleased with himself.

The honourable member for Burke also made a snide attack on the Melbourne Club. We cannot avoid this sort of thing. People talk of the Establishment and it is thought that members of the Melbourne Club sip their beer and send someone else off to fight for them. Of course, in actual fact - I do not know whether the honourable member knows but many other people would know it - an extremely high percentage of the members of the Melbourne Club fought and died for their country.

Mr Keogh - Including you.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Yes, including me. I did not die, or at least I have not died yet. But anyway, this is a Bill relating to national service and not to Vietnam. The honourable member for Burke spent most of his time speaking about Vietnam and he showed his complete ignorance of the Services. He spoke about one ship in the Royal Australian Navy being sunk and half the Navy going to the bottom. Of course, he does not realise that we have 55 ships in the Navy. But never mind, this is a good laughable story. I suppose it goes over well with people who do not know anything. But let us get back to this topic of national service and not concentrate on Vietnam because that is another subject and we have already heard a debate on it.

We know, of course, that members of the Opposition are opposed to national service. They have never made any secret of the fact even though they themselves had to use national service during the last World War. But they are opposed to a great many attempts made by the Government to try to improve Australia's defence.

Mr Foster - That is a lot of rot, and you know it.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Let me quote a few of them. First of all, they are opposed to national service. If we oppose national service we immediately cut the size of the army by one third. Members of the Opposition are opposed to assisting any of our allies. This is an extraordinary thing, is it not? A small independent nation asks for help and the Labor Party says: 'Oh, no, we are not going outside. Let us stay at home. They can be overrun. What does it matter?'

Mr Barnard - You know that is not true. What about Korea and the United Nations?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Of course this was so in Vietnam. The Labor Party has done this. The Opposition is opposed to American bases in Australia. We do not know why because the reason is ambiguous at the present time but the Opposition says that it is opposed to any bases in Australia. We know perfectly well that after the Second World War the Labor Party prevented the American Government from maintaining the magnificent base at Manus Island. We believe that the Opposition would prevent the American bases now established in Australia from carrying on. This is the contribution that the Labor Party makes to Australia's defence.

The attitude of the Labor Party to service in our defence forces is that there should be complete volunteer service. That is very good because the present Australian Government believes that we should have a maximum number of volunteers. But the Labor Party has persuaded itself, with its head in the clouds, that all you have to do is to put up the salary a few dollars a week and we will get all the volunteers we want. This is completely against any experience that this Government has bad. In 1963 there was a 30 per cent increase in salaries for servicemen and we received a marginal increase in the number of people who volunteered. There was a slight increase in the re-engagement rate. Recently there has been another considerable increase in wages for servicemen. The first 2 reports of the Kerr Committee - and there are more to come - recommended an additional $30m a year for Service pay. What has been the result of this recommendation? Admittedly there has only been a short time in which judge the result but as far as we can see there has been no apparent increase in the recruitment rate but there has been a slight improvement in the re-engagement rate. However there is a limit to the number that can be re-engaged because of promotions within the Services and younger people moving into higher ranks.

Naturally we are looking at every possible way to improve the attraction of the Services. We have been not unsuccessful. We have built the numbers up but there is a limit. We are looking at housing, retirement benefits, repatriation benefits and a reduction in excessive postings. There are many ways in which we hope to encourage more people to join. Under this Bill the period of full time national service will be shortened and the number of national servicemen in the Army will be reduced. The reasons which have allowed the Government to make these adjustments to the national service scheme were outlined broadly by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in his speech to the House of Representatives on 18th August 1971 concerning the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam.

In 1964 when national service was introduced we had a Regular Army of less than 23,000. Hostilities were taking place in several areas in South East Asia and the situation was deteriorating. A comprehensive review of our strategic situation covering existing commitments and likely contingencies revealed a need to . increase the strength of the Army to some 40,000 in less than 2 years. The recruiting campaign, as I said, was stepped up, servicemen's pay was increased and moves already in train to improve conditions of service continued. These measures increased re-engagement rates to some extent, but the effects on recruiting were marginal. It was apparent that the required increase in Army strength could not be obtained by voluntary means alone in a time of full employment within the time scale dictated by the strategic review. It was decided reluctantly that there was no alternative to introducing selective national service. Remember that this decision was made 2 years before we made a decision to go into Vietnam. The Army had to be increased to meet our overall requirements. Only one-third of national servicemen called up have been sent to Vietnam, and the bulk of our servicemen deployed in that area have been members of the regular forces.

Since 1964 when the national service scheme was introduced political stability >n South East Asia has improved and there have been other qualitative changes in the region which are encouraging. There are, however, developments within and without the area which complicate the strategic situation, particularly the withdrawal of American forces and the reduction of the number of British forces in that area, which point to the need to maintain our defence capability. This capability must be such that we could develop it in adequate time should more immediate threats to our security arise, and for these purposes the Government considers that the scheme as now adjusted is an important element in our defence preparedness. The fluid strategic situation in which we find ourselves demands flexibility in our strategic policies and the progressive development of selfreliant forces and an evident defence capability. The national service scheme is an important element in this capability and in the retention of a readiness for various situations which might require the involvement of our forces.

Following withdrawal of our combat forces from South Vietnam we can reduce our full time Army from 44,000 to 40,000 men. The strength of our defence forces is not measured solely by the numbers actively serving. A secondary, but important, purpose of national service has been to insure against emergencies by building up a reservoir of trained soldiers. Every year since 1967 some 8,000 national servicement have been added to the Regular Army Reserve after 2 years service. This has meant already an increase of 40,000 in the numbers of fully trained and experienced men available. In addition, many people of military age joined the Citizen Military Forces and were trained there, having selected the CMF as an alternative to national service. The importance of this asset of skilled manpower is considerable. Defence services can not be turned on and off like a tap, as the honourable member for Brisbane seemed to imply. It takes time to train soldiers and to give them experience with formed units. We cannot wait until an attack on Australia is imminent before we do this. By providing Australia with fully trained and experienced reservists national service has had an impact on our defence potential far beyond increasing the strength of our full time Army.

Alternatives to the national service programme range from abolition of the callup to universal service. The first would have been disastrous by preventing us meeting our commitments and depriving us of a steadily increasing strength of trained exservicemen. Universal service would be unnecessary and would not be practicable. It would require the call-up of men in excess of our needs. It would also be wasteful economically by diverting from their normal occupations many men for whom there would be no worthwhile military tasks. There must be a balance and the numbers called up each year have been assessed on the highest professional military judgment as those required to meet known military needs.

National service as implemented has been an outstanding success in achieving its purpose. National servicemen have been integrated completely into the Army. They receive the same conditions of service as regular soldiers, their training is identical and national servicemen are indistinguishable from other members of the Army. They have acquitted themselves with credit on active operations and in general service in the highest traditions of the Australian serviceman. Many national servicemen have been trained as specialists in various fields, and every effort is made to make full use of civilian acquired skills where compatible with military needs. Despite the clamour against national service by an organised and vocal minority, opposition to the call-up has not been shown by those affected directly. As at 30th June 1971 6 men had been imprisoned for failure to report and render service and 96 others had failed to report and render service. Some of these latter cases had not been finalised. These minuscule figures compare with 51,000 young men called up and enlisted. There is the alternative of joining the Citizens Forces for those who do not wish to render full-time service.

The Government has taken all reasonable steps to reduce disruption to the careers of national servicemen by deferring call-up until completion of studies or on family hardship grounds, and by guaranteeing restoration in civil employment on completion of service. Resettlement provisions include full-time training for up to 12 months or part-time training for 2 years.

All fees, books and equipment are provided and a living allowance is paid to those undergoing full-time resettlement training. Loans for business or agricultural purposes are available where appropriate for resettlement.

It has always been the Government's aim, as. I said earlier and as stated by the Prime Minister at the time national service was introduced, that as large a percentage as possible of our forces be volunteers. No service can be an effective force without those experienced officers and NCOs with the training and expertise that comes from long service. Our Navy and Air Force are entirely volunteer forces. So is the bulk - almost two thirds - of the Army. An allvolunteer Army is not possible at this stage. This has been found to be the case in many other countries. People sometimes talk as though Australia was the only country which had national service. I should like to quote a list of countries which have national service. In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, there is conscription in the army or air force for 2 years and for navy border guards the period is 3 years. France has national service for 12 to 15 months on a selective basis and Denmark has it for a period of 12 months. West Germany has national service for 18 months. Switzerland has national service. In Israel, the period of national service is 36 months for males and 20 months for females. The United Arab Republic has such service for 3 years and South Africa has it for 9 to 12 months. In Taiwan, national service for the army is 2 years and, for the navy, 3 years. In North Korea the period is 3 to 4 years. New Zealand has a voluntary system which is supplemented by selected national service for the army. Singapore has national service for 2 years, North Vietnam for 3 years and South Vietnam for 3 years. Of course Australia is not the only country which has national service.

As the Prime Minister said in the House on 18th August, the Government will review force levels as necessary as part of the 5-year defence rolling programme. It is important against the strategic outlook for the 1970s and the 1980s to have the right balance of equipment and men in the defence forces as a whole. Close attention will continue to be given to all practicable means of increasing voluntary recruitment.

Comparisons have been made by some people with the United Kingdom and Canada which have no compulsory national service. The situations in these countries are not comparable. But are we seeking to have too many people in our armed services? I am sure we are not. It has been mentioned that Australia has a total of about 85,000 in the armed services, which is about 3.5 per cent of men of military age in Australia. This can be compared with France, which has 5.2 per cent of military aged men in the armed services, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which has 6.9 per cent, the United States of America which has 8.5 per cent and Canada, which has 2.3 per cent. Canada's percentage is somewhat less than our percentage, but, as someone has already mentioned, Canada is in the shadow and umbrella of the United States and although it is a Pacific power, it does not seem to have made any attempt to take any active part with its services in the Pacific area.

Comparisons are also made, as I mentioned, with the United States where the Gates Commission has proposed abolition of compulsory fulltime service by 1973. There is no guarantee that this aim will be achieved. The legislative power to call up men for service remains operative in the United States and has just been reconfirmed by Congress. The situation there is also not comparable with Australia. America is reducing her forces considerably - overall, by some 25 per cent. There are other differences. The level of unemployment in the United States over recent years has averaged' 4.4 per cent and has reached 6 per cent. This compares with the Australian average of 1.3 per cent. It is easy to see that there is a relatively larger pool of potential recruits for the services in the United States of America. Further, the main recommendation of the Gates Commission was that pay of recruits be increased from the existing level to about 60 per cent of comparable civilian pay up to civilian pay standards. This also must have some effect on voluntary recruiting. In Australia, servicemen's pay, including the pay of national, servicemen, is already aligned with civilian pay scales with a loading to compensate for the , particular conditions of service life/

The Government has taken all steps possible within reasonable limits to attract volunteers to the Services. Further substantial pay increases have been announced recently and these will have a positive effect on improving recruitment and reengagement rates. More married quarters are being built, or houses acquired, each year for servicemen. A total of 20,000 dwellings is now available. Living quarters for unmarried servicemen are being improved and those now being built are of a very high standard of design and comfort. Postings, particularly for men with families, are being reduced to a minimum necessary for service needs, and this situation will improve further when the unavoidable turbulence caused by unaccompanied service in Vietnam has gone. More attention is being paid to variety in diet, the irksome irritations of service life are being removed, and modern amenities are being provided at all bases. These measures have not been without success. Over the time span covered by national service the strength of the volunteer element of our Services has been increased by over 13,000, some 5,000 of this number being in the Army. Many of these are, or will become, long-term career servicemen.

The Government is not complacent. Much needs to be done and will be done as time permits to make Services an attracticeattractice career. Servicemen and servicewomen rightly have a high standing in the community. We intend to improve that image further. It cannot be assumed however that there is a simple elasticity of supply of volunteers and that the numbers coming forward will increase in direct proportion to improvements in pay conditions. There are many alternative employments available for our young men, and in a peace situation there are not the strongest motives to join the Services. Although there is a steadily increasing strength of volunteers, national servicemen, even at the reduced number of 12,000, will still comprise some 30 per cent of the total Army manpower of 40,000! This is a gap that cannot now be bridged by voluntary recruitment. National Service must remain with us if we are to maintain an Army to meet all assessed military requirements. It will continue to be the success that it has been. I support the Bill.

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