Letter: Defence solutionby N. MedcalfNews Weekly
, November 3, 2001
In view of the uncertainty and instability currently affecting much of the world, as unquestionably demonstrated by the events of September 11 in the USA, it cannot be denied that some major and urgent upgrading of Australia's defence effort is absolutely essential.
Attempts to increase recruitment into our armed forces, as outlined in the recent Defence Forces White Paper, have failed completely.
In fact, the Chairman of the Senate Reference Committee into recruitment reported on the alarming inability of the defence services to recruit and retain personnel as "abysmal".
The uproar in sections of the media to the Prime Minister's comment, that in future a worst-case scenario might mean reintroduction of conscription, clearly indicates how totally out of touch are the media and a large section of the public, yet a former member of the Army Reserve told the Committee that our defence forces are in a worse state of preparedness than before World War II.
We have a Navy of only nine combat vessels to protect our huge coastline, and we can raise at the moment, barely 5,000 combat troops (or one full-strength brigade), which, with commitments to East Timor, Bougainville, etc. in effect, leaves Australia unprotected.
This, in a nation of 19 million. In 1944 only seven million Australians fielded six full strength infantry combat divisions, (i.e., 18 brigades plus a fully-equipped armoured regiment and a navy of over 36 combat vessels.
Additionally, there were tens of thousands of RAAF personnel in Australia and overseas.
A logical system of ensuring adequate recruitment levels is available, without resorting to conscription as such.
Taxpayers are currently supporting an estimated 100,000 young Australian aged between 18 and 25 with unemployment benefits, with a number supposedly "working for the dole".
The Government could extend "work for the dole" to include service in the defence forces, by arranging medical tests and assessment for unemployed, with those accepted to serve a minimum of two years.
The cost in real terms would be far less than full conscription, as the saving of unemployment benefits would affect this.N. Medcalf,