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Tuesday, 26 November 1974
Page: 2706

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. In view of the Minister's continual boasting about the quality of pay and conditions in the Services, for which the previous Government was largely responsible, I ask: Does the unprecedented number of resignations of senior officers indicate that far from being a bed of roses something is seriously amiss with the defence establishment? Is this not highlighted by the impending resignations of 2 top officers in the Royal Australian Air Force? Does the Minister deny that the cause is the Government-created intrusion of non-military personnel into areas which traditionally and rightfully are the domain of trained military men? Can Australia afford such a heavy loss of its military expertise, even at a time when the Government places low priority on defence needs?

Senator BISHOP (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) - This is an important question. I will give the honourable senator the information I have in front of me but I think that after I have tendered it I should ask the Minister for Defence whether he would like to add anything to what I have said. As to the question of resignations generally, it is true that we have maintained that the attractions which the Labor Government has provided in the form of pay, defence forces retirement benefits, annual leave loadings, re-engagement bonuses and various other things have been factors which have helped to retain satisfaction among the Services. Formerly, as honourable senators will remember, pay increases and things like that were always belated. On many occasions the Senate's Regulations and Ordinances Committee raised objections to payments that were made retrospective in order to catch up the backlag. We did a number of things to correct that situation when we first came to office.

The October figures on the resignations of officers are not yet available. 1 am told they will be out this week. I have a report from the Minister for Defence on officer resignations in September. The number of male officers resigning and leaving the service totalled 43 in September, the lowest number since April 1974 when it was 42 and the second lowest since December 1973. Twenty-two of the resignations were from officers who were eligible for a pension under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme. As to the general question of re-organisation, at this stage I can only repeat a notification which was received in a report from the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Sir Victor Smith, which he gave to Mr Barnard. This controversy has reached the newspapers. Of course reporters are speculating as to what is really happening. Various reasons have been given for what has leaked out to the Press. In relation to the briefing which was given to senior officers of the Services Admiral Sir Victor Smith stated:

Except for 2 officers at one or the meetings, whose questions could have been better phrased, there was a genuine interest in what Mr White and I had to say. A newspaper report thai the briefing ended in an uproar is completely false as is the allegation that grounds for courtmartial action were firmly established.

So in relation to the 2 Air Force officers, I think I should ask the Minister for Defence to reply to that question. In relation to the Chief of the Air

Staff, I understand that his 6-year contract expires in March.

Senator Drake-Brockman - It is 3 years.

Senator BISHOP - The period expires in March. I am told that he has indicated that he does not intend to seek an extension of the period. But the information I have only partly meets what Senator Drake-Brockman has requested. I shall ask Mr Barnard to give a further answer. I shall try to get it this week. In answer to the last proposition as to whether the Services are now under civilian control, I point out that recently the Department gave figures which indicated that at the top, where these matters are considered, there is a greater proportion of Service officers than there was before the reorganisation.

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