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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 358

Dr FORBES (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Defence and Minister for the Army. He will be pleased to hear that it has nothing to do with his credibility or with the confidence we may have in him. Did he say, in answer to a question from the honourable member for Paterson last Wednesday, that the Government whilst in Opposition had expressed the view that the appropriate strength of the Australian Regular Army was 31,000? Did he also say that an interdepartmental inquiry is currently being conducted into the appropriate level of personnel in the Army in years ahead? So that there can be no breath of suspicion that tha Government has prejudged this important matter about the future strength of the Army to, vindicate its decision to abolish the national service scheme, will the Minister make public the advice he receives from the interdepartmental inquiry?

Mr BARNARD (BASS, TASMANIA) (Minister for Defence) - I will begin in much the same vein as did the honourable member for Barker. I have no intention of referring to the fact that he advocated in Hobart some years ago that there was no need for conscription and shortly afterwards was removed from his then office because conscription was introduced. I hope the honourable gentleman does not mind my making the same kind of reference as he made. As to the question, I indicated during the course of the last election and before it that it was the opinion of the Australian Labor Party that the strength of the Army should be about 31,000. My advice is that the strength of the Army today - I am referring now to those who are serving as regular soldiers and national servicemen who have elected to complete their period of duty - is over 30,000 and that by June of this year it will be over 31,000. As the honourable member has pointed out, there is currently a study being undertaken by officers of my Department not only into the size of the Army and what the strength of the Army should be in the 1970s and beyond but also into other matters relating to the responsibilities and duties of the armed forces. The honourable member and this Parliament may be assured that as soon as I have received the result of that study and considered it and the Government has considered it I will be making a full statement to this Parliament.

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