DEFENCE: by Ken AldredNews Weekly
Govt spending cuts put Army Reserve at risk
, June 26, 2010
In today's Australian Defence Force (ADF), the Defence Reserves are an integral part of force structure. The present and recent widespread deployment of the ADF around the globe, from Iraq and Afghanistan to peace-keeping in some Pacific Island states, would have not been possible without the Defence Reserves.
|An army reservist on active duty.|
Corporal Mike McSweeney, ADF).
The largest Reserve component, the Army Reserve which constitutes 66 per cent of Defence Reserves and 39 per cent of the Australian Army, has since 1999 contributed 16,000 personnel to operations, most of them overseas. This is 20 per cent of the ADF total commitment to such operations.
Within Australia the Army Reserve has given direct support to border security operations, to special events security, including the Sydney Olympics and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, and more recently to indigenous assistance programs.
The nucleus of the Army Reserve's contribution to the total land force remains the High Readiness Reserve Combat Teams and the Reserve Response Forces.
All this demonstrates that the Army Reserve has come a long way from the "Stone Age" of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when the Army Reserve was neither used extensively on operations nor was part of the total force concept. Moreover, there existed then a negative "them" and "us" culture between the Regular Army and the Army Reserve.
Recent and possible proposed actions of the federal Labor Government have now seriously jeopardised the significant advances made to date and risk returning our defence to the "Stone Age".
In order to cope with budget restraints imposed on the Army at large and to facilitate an increase in the permanent ADF of 3,500 personnel (2,000 of them Regular Army soldiers), several punitive measures have been and are continuing to be directed at the 17,500-strong Army Reserve.
A 20 per cent cut in overall Army Reserve training is being implemented, with a 10 per cent cut having already been made during July to December 2009, and the full 20 per cent hitting over the period from January to June 2010. As some units are better off with their training allocation, some other units have, as a result, effectively had a 30 per cent cut in training time.
A range of destructive effects has resulted from these cuts. Parade nights have been reduced, weekend training cut and course lengths shortened. ANZAC Day support is now minimal.
In addition, some reservists completing the recruit course at Kapooka have been told, "Don't turn up for training until July as there is no money to pay you!" The number of Army Reservists undertaking continuous full-time service (CFTS) has been slashed from 1,600 to 550.
The combined effect of all these cuts will be to substantially weaken the capacity of the Army Reserve to support overseas operations. Obviously, for overseas operations, more, not less, training is required. Eventually, this will undermine the effectiveness of the Australian Army overall, let alone what it will now do to Army Reserve efficiency and morale.
Equally, if not more disturbing than the present cuts, are the secret plans to gut the Army Reserve in a proposed Army reorganisation.
It is planned to cut the Regular Army cadre in Reserve units, most of whom are experienced senior NCOs and middle-ranking officers, from 1,200 to 600 personnel. Also intended is the disbandment of the Army Reserve Artillery Corps and half of the Reserve Armoured Corps - the latter which today lacks current vehicles and equipment.
Likewise, university regiments - historically the core of officer-training for the Army Reserve - will be reduced in number and become only general training units.
It is proposed to disband the Monash University Regiment and merge it with the Melbourne University Regiment. Given that Monash University with its 56,000 students is one of Australia's largest universities and given its historical association with General Sir John Monash, this is an extraordinary proposal.
These plans are at this stage known to some senior army officers. Reportedly, the Defence Minister, Senator John Faulkner, has declined to sign off on implementation or release of these devastating proposals until after the coming federal election. A courageous decision, minister!
None of this would have come about if the overall army budget had not been put under pressure. Even $100 million directed from the Federal Government's economic stimulus package to the Army Reserve could have rendered the cuts and proposed force reduction unnecessary.
Given the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on so many of the Rudd Government's madcap schemes, such as the home insulation fiasco and duplicative incursions into health and education areas of state responsibility, it is time the Federal Labor Government adequately funded its principal responsibility - the defence of the nation.Ken Aldred is a former federal Liberal member of parliament and Army Reserve officer.