NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
Defence reserves crisis looms
, April 24, 2004
Australia's defence reserves will need to be doubled in size to cope with the greater responsibilities being placed upon them.
This is the view of the Victorian Liberal Party's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence.
In its recent paper entitled Revitalising the Reserves
, prepared by a special Defence Reserves sub-committee, it has argued that, despite the deteriorating global, regional and continental strategic situation facing Australia, the Commonwealth government has neglected to halt a serious decline in defence reserve numbers.Budget
According to the sub-committee chairman, former Federal MP, Mr Ken Aldred, although last year's Federal Budget increased the amount of money devoted to defence, "much of this was to pay the war bills from Iraq rather than beef up the defence budget as such."
The present defence crisis, Mr Aldred has argued, is largely the result of two decades of neglect. In the years 1981-2001, he said, the total strength of the Australian Defence Force fell by one third and total defence spending as a percentage of GDP fell from 2.6 to 1.7 per cent.
During this same period, the Army Reserve was halved from 31,125 to 17,227.
According to the executive director of the Australian Defence Association, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Neil James, Australia's current reserve strength is only a quarter of the size it was in the 1930s.The Review of the Defence Annual Report 2001-02
, published by the Commonwealth Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in September last year, identified many difficulties that personnel shortages are creating for the ADF.
The committee supported the view that Australia's defence reserves - especially the Army Reserve - should be doubled in order to cope adequately with all that was being asked of them then in the immediate future.
The Royal Australian Naval Reserve is reportedly similarly undermanned. It cannot support the active fleet with adequate replacement crews and services which would ensure that Australia's capital ships could remain at sea or 'on station' for any reasonable length of time.
Paul Grabham, in his submission to the Victorian Liberal Party's Defence Reserves sub-committee, emphasised Australia's vulnerable position "bordered by unstable northern and South Pacific Island states", and argued that a shortage of defence support personnel could seriously hinder Australia's ability to be a major "policeman" in the region, capable of maintaining or regaining law and order in these island states.
The sub-committee argued that the Commonwealth Government needed to commit itself to a far greater degree of long-term commitment to Australia's defence needs and that improved defence reserves could play an especially important role in this.
The sub-committee argued that Australia's defence reserves should be doubled - the Army Reserve from 16,000 to 30,000; the Naval Reserve from 1,750 to 3,500; and the Air Force Reserve from 2,600 to 6,000.
Sub-committee member Benjamin Jessop pointed out that, although army reservists now had longer-lasting training courses than ever before, they had very limited opportunities in which to put their training into practice.
He said: "It is quite common for a reservist to complete several weeks of courses in a training year, yet only one week on exercise practising the learnt skills."
He canvassed the idea that, as it was neither possible nor practicable for the Army Reserve to replicate all the roles and tasks of the full-time army, some specially created Army Reserve units might be assigned to tackle lower-threat-level domestic security.
The Defence Reserves sub-committee argued that the ADF should recognise, where appropriate, reservists' civilian skills, technical qualifications and competencies that could be used for military purposes.
It also called on the Commonwealth Government urgently to establish a comprehensive database on the location and status of army, naval and air force standby reservists, with an annual incentive for such personnel to remain involved and available.
This was to avoid the sort of experience Britain had in early 2003, when only 20 per cent of its standby reservists were available to be called up for the Iraq War, the rest of them being either uncontactable or unavailable owing to poor record-keeping, changed addresses and altered personal and medical circumstances. There were reportedly instances of pregnant women and one-legged men being called out.
The sub-committee also looked at financial and other incentives for reservists so that they were less likely to miss out on civilian employment benefits by way of pay or promotional opportunities.