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Wednesday, 8 December 1971
Page: 4339

Mr BARNARD (Bass) - The Minister for the Army (Mr Peacock) has made a generally sound and sensible assessment of the present state of the Citizen Military Forces. There is general agreement that the CMF is facing a period of extreme pressures. This has been to some extent the result of an end to the Vietnam commitment. Certainly the Vietnam war swelled the numbers of the CMF, but this was only an artificial stimulus. Quite a number of the new recruits were not bona fide militia men; they were able to take advantage of the CMF to avoid the impact of selective conscription on their lives. It was a sane and rational course for young men to take, but of course they were not motivated to serve in the CMF. This has been reflected in the high wastage rate of the CMF in recent years. The numbers are now declining, but this is a healthy sign. At least those who join the CMF now and serve in it for their full terms will be motivated predominantly by the simple wish to serve in the Army. Undoubtedly there will still be a component recruited from those who want to avoid the consequences of an 18-month call-up on their professional and personal lives. But with the Vietnam commitment out of the way this component should be much smaller.

In a sense the CMF is finding its proper strength bythe hard necessity of supply and demand functions. The implicit forces of moral pressures are fading, and hopefully will disappear completely. The end of the Vietnam war will have other important effects on the CMF. It will free more regular Army personnel and much equipment for use by the CMF. In particular, it will allow much closer co-ordination of policy designed to promote the effectiveness of both regular and civilian wings of the Army. The CMF has been neglected during the 6 or 7 years of the Vietnam commitment. Now it is time to start to redress this injustice and give the CMF structure its proper weight in the military establishment.

The main change of policy announced by the Minister was the approval in principle of a Ready Reaction Force. It is difficult to comment on this proposal because of the very limited information the Minister has been able to give the Parliament. It seems the concept has some elements of the British ready reserve and incorporates also some features of an elaborate proposal put forward by the Citizen Military Forces Association. The proposal from thai Association had some very useful features. However, it was based on expansion of the CMF to 50,000 by the extension of the conscription ballot to CMF 5-year service.

The moral objections which apply to the present selective ballot for the regular Army would apply just as strongly to its use to increase the CMF. Aside from these objections, which are the basis of Labor Party standpoint on conscription, it would not be practicable even on the Government's terms to extend conscription in this way. The theory of selective conscription is that it picks young men by random sample and brings them together in consolidated units for training. This could not be done with the CMF which has a far-flung structure based on drill halls and small units scattered throughout Australia. Obviously these units could not be increased by random sample unless the ballots were cooked. The only alternative would be to concentrate on forming conscript CMF units in the major centres of population, which would negate the principle of the CMF. Besides, as the Minister has pointed out, the only areas where recruitment. of other rank personnel has increased are Darwin, northern Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

I have dealt at some length with this issue of conscription for the CMF because it is not explicitly excluded from the Minister's proposal. His suggestion that a Ready Reaction Force would be based on sub-units drawn from parent units throughout Australia implies that conscription for the CMF is not a goer. However, it is up to the Minister to clarify exactly how these sub-units are to be manned and whether the Government has any intention of extending conscription in this way. No indication has been given of the potential strength of this ready reaction force. The force projected by the CMF Association was of at least task force size. It was based on a CMF of 50,000 men, a target which seems unrealistic without conscription. Until more information is available about the size and composition of the ready reaction force, there is little point in speculating about the fine detail of the project. In the main the concept of the ready reaction force is a good one, if it is followed through with vigour by the Government.

In the past 15 years the CMF has been a principal victim of chopping and changing in defence policy. It has been reorganised because of the abolition of universal national service in the late 1950s, the introduction and then the abandonment of the pentropic organisation, the selective conscription scheme, and the Vietnam commitment. Now another major reorganisation is to be imposed on the CMF. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the CMF will crumple unless there is consistent planning. In particular, it would be a disaster to the CMF if an extensive reorganisation were undertaken and then the role of the CMF was abruptly revised for the umpteenth time. If a ready reaction force can be established with volunteers organised into a number of sub-units it would give a fillip to the worth, effectiveness and morale of the CMF. But the Government must ensure that it is firmly committed to this form of organisation and that this commitment is reflected in long term planning. That is the most important aspect of CMF policy raised by the Minister. 1 agree with most of the other points raised by the Minister. In particular, it is welcome that better equipment and clothing is to be made available for civilian soldiers. It is very difficult to maintain the morale and interest of civilian soldiers if they are trained with outmoded equipment and dressed in garb which to the modern eye often looks as antiquated as suits of chain mail. The Army has made a useful start in getting modern equipment and clothing to the CMF units. I hope that that is the start of a comprehensive programme to re-equip the CMF.

A novel feature of the statement was the hint given by the Minister that the CMF would become much more involved in community service. This is an approach which should be extended beyond the CMF to the whole Army. The Regular Army is much too remote from community activity. There has been little attempt to develop in Australia the peaceful use of military forces in community work. Work of this sort is fast becoming an important component of other armies, for example, those of West Germany and the United States of America. It is ironical that community work performed by the Australian

Army in Vietnam has gone way beyond what has been attempted in Australia. With an end to military commitment in sight there will be pressure on the Army for a much more productive use of its resources within the Australian community. The Minister has seen the logic of the need for greater involvement of CMF units in the community. 1 hope he will extend his insight to recognise the need for greater participation in the community by the Regular Army.

In summary, the Minister has made some useful suggestions. All the armed Services are facing serious manpower problems. These are reflected in the CMF. lt is impossible to predict future manpower trends, but it is highly likely that much more realistic standards will be forced on the Government than it now accepts. On present trends the most useful areas of activity for the CMF would seem to be the training of officers and NCO's, and the building up of specialist and support skills. The concept of ready response or reaction units may revolutionise the status and operation of the CMF. Until the Minister gives us more information about the proposed scheme, there is little point in analysing it further. No doubt the Minister will give to this Parliament a great deal more information than he has been prepared to give in relation to the very important aspect covered by the statement he has made tonight. The Minister treated, I thought, in a rather frivolous way some of the references I made not only about the equipment that is now being used by the CMF but about the dress of the CMF.

Mr Peacock - I did not treat that in a frivolous way. The contrary is the case.

Mr BARNARD - I hope that I did misunderstand the Minister, but I want to make it perfectly clear that these matters together with other problems have affected the CMF recruiting situation, to which the Minister himself referred in very great detail. The Minister informed the House tonight that the number of personnel in the CMF fell from a peak of 13,800 in 1965-66 to 7,060 in 1970-71. This does not appear to me to indicate that all is well with the Citizen Military Forces in this country. Indeed, it did not require a statement from the Minister for the Army tonight to inform this Parliament and the people of Australia that there has been a general decline not only in recruitment but also in the general standard and the status of the CMF.

I want to make it perfectly clear that while I agree with what has been said by the Minister, 1 believe in a very forthright manner, in relation to the future of the CMF, I hope that what he has indicated tonight as a practical approach will be transformed into action. There are many matters that I believe would contribute and have contributed to the decline in the morale and the effectiveness of the CMF which are not referred to in the Minister's statement. The CMF has played and can and will play in the future under a Labor government a very important role in this country. No-one, particularly a responsible Minister for the Army, can afford to ignore - I am not suggesting that the present Minister for the Army has done so - the importance of the CMF and the role that it played at the outbreak of the Second World War back in 1939. The Minister emphasised that the CMF would provide a cadre of NCOs and officers. Not only did it provide a cadre of NCOs and officers at the outbreak of the Second World War but it also provided other ranks in great numbers. As 1 see the role of the CMF, not only must its status be recognised by this Government but I believe there is a responsibility on the community as a whole to recognise the importance of the role that the Citizen Military Forces can play. 1 have referred to what I believe to be a number of factors that have been involved in the general decline of the morale of the CMF. Perhaps some of it is the result of some of the Government's policies and perhaps some of it may be due to issues referred to by the Minister himself. But on the whole I think the Government has been so preoccupied with 2 issues - firstly, national service and, secondly, its involvement in Vietnam - that it has allowed the role of the CMF to decline. This is acknowledged by those who serve in the CMF. lt is certainly reflected in the large number of resignations from the CMF.

I believe that the Minister's statement is a very timely one. lt is timely because we should now assess the extent to which the CMF can play a role in this country. I speak on behalf of those members in this Parliament who belong to the Parliamentary Labor Party and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party as a whole when I say that there is a far greater future for the CMF than there is for the present programme of national service to which this Government attaches great importance. The present national service programme will go just as every form of national servise which has preceded it has gone. I believe tha; the Government will ultimately r-ach that decision, and that when this dension is reached, as 1 believe it ought to te the importance and significance of the Citizen Military Forces will surely be acknowledged. Any responsible government would acknowledge it.

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