Thank you for the invitation to speak today. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I’d like to begin today by acknowledging the Traditional Owners, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, on whose land we meet, and pay my respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
I would also like to acknowledge our distinguished guests here today.
Congratulations on your 50 years of service – it’s a great achievement.
Thank you for the contribution you make to policy development and for keeping us informed and honest when it comes to Defence Reserves.
It’s a great pleasure to be here today to talk about Reserves and the Opposition’s position on how the Reserve Forces can be used to build on the success of the total force.
I want to thank Major General Irving for the invitation to speak at today’s conference and discuss the issues that you are currently concerned about.
This is my first time attending this conference as the new Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel – with responsibility for Reserves.
We have a strong tradition of military service in Queensland, and I’m very proud to be attending this event in my home state.
As you know, we also have a significant Defence presence – from Amberley RAAF Base in my electorate, to Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera in Brisbane, to Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, and others – and we’re home to more than a quarter of Australian Defence Force personnel.
Indeed, here in Queensland we’re as much about the military as mining.
Historically, Queensland has contributed numbers to our ADF personnel significantly in excess of our proportion of the Australian population.
So it’s an honour and a privilege as a Queenslander to be appointed to this position and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work with the Defence community, which is a very important part of the fabric of life in our state.
I can assure you I’m making a point of listening to our current and former service men and women, including Reservists, about their needs and what they think is best for them, their families and their communities.
For me, today is about listening and learning – to understand the issues and gaps that need to be addressed. To get a sense of what is working and what is not.
Today’s conference and future discussions will help inform Labor’s Reserves policy over the coming years, with the next election around three years’ away.
So I look forward to seeing what the outcomes of today are.
I look forward to working with the Government, in a bipartisan way as much as possible, to ensure our Defence personnel have a strong voice in Parliament, and get the best possible care and support.
However, I’m sure we’ll have our points of disagreement from time to time – as you would expect in a robust democracy like ours.
As you know, for more than 100 years, Reserves have played a key role in the defence of the nation and continue to be a key part of our integrated Defence Force.
Australian Defence Force Reserve units have served with distinction in some of our most important military campaigns, such as the Kokoda Trail during World War Two.
Indeed, some of our greatest military leaders have been Reservists, such as the great General Sir John Monash.
Of course, the many benefits of Reserve service are well known.
Participation in Reserves is a real win-win for society and individuals – Reservists bring valuable civilian skills and diversity to the ADF, while themselves gaining skills in leadership, teamwork and self-discipline.
It might be a cliché, but these are ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things.
The Defence Force Reserves provides an important pathway to and from the full-time Defence Force also.
And it provides a valuable cultural link between the community and the military, helping to build valuable community support for, and understanding of, Defence.
I know that from my experience as a local Federal Member, having met with many Reservists in my electorate, who have told me of the excellent professional and personal development it provides them.
Just recently, I attended the funeral of Brisbane and Ipswich Rugby League legend Hughie O’Doherty, who some of you may have heard of.
Hughie’s father was a railway worker from Ipswich and served in a number of theatres during World War Two, including El Alamein, Tobruk and New Guinea.
Hughie himself served for many years in the former Citizen Military Force – a forerunner to the Defence Reserves – as a Gunner, continuing a proud tradition.
And he did it while playing Rugby League at the highest level and working full-time in various roles.
Hughie went on to play for multiple Grand Final winning Fortitude Valley Diehards teams in the halcyon days of the Brisbane Rugby League in the 1970s before the rise of the National Rugby League, and was one of the greatest Queensland hookers the game has seen.
Sadly, a Test jumper eluded him.
With his trademark bald head and small physique, he was unmistakable on the field.
He could dart like Alfie Langer, tackle like Trevor Gillmeister and strip the ball in tackles like no other, often three or four times in a match.
He would be a cult figure in today’s NRL.
But for all his many achievements on the football field, Hughie was just as proud of his CMF service.
At his funeral, his coffin was draped with the Australian flag and his slouch hat placed on top.
There were just as many of his RSL mates there as former Rugby League team-mates and supporters.
I just wanted to share that with you as an example of why, like Hughie, what you do in the Reserves is so important and why it should be honoured.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that your service in the Reserves is not valued by the community – because it is and it must be.
Always, Labor has had a strong commitment to supporting our Defence Reserves.
For example, the Hawke-Keating government introduced the Ready Reserve scheme in the early 1990s.
This innovative program involved one year full-time service and four years part-time, and covered the cost of tertiary study.
It gave Australian school-leavers the opportunity to experience full-time military training without the obligations of longer term initial periods of service.
The initiative was designed as a cost-effective means of increasing the ADF’s capability and flexibility in its personnel requirements.
While the program had its challenges, and was subsequently abolished by the Howard government, had it been continued, it may well have helped prepare the ADF better for the significant rise in operational tempo since the East Timor deployment of 1999 and onwards.
Moving forward, in 2011, the former Labor government launched Project SUAKIN.
This was a whole-of-Defence Total Workforce Employment Model designed to contribute to capability by giving Defence more flexibility in managing the ADF workforce.
The project aimed to move flexible employment arrangements to a longer term solution, offering ADF members casual, part-time and full-time work options, in keeping with the modern workplace.
I’m pleased to hear this project is broadly on track but I would be interested in your feedback.
The previous Labor government adopted Plan BEERSHEBA, which was a significant evolution of the Army Reserve as an operational reserve.
The plan meant a Total Force, with the integration of Full-Time and Part-Time elements.
This has helped deliver an Army Reserve with a level of experience in terms of generating soldiers for ADF operations that is unprecedented since the end of WWII and certainly since the ‘long peace’ of the 1980s and 1990s.
Indeed, in recent years part-time forces have deployed to a number of overseas warfighting and peacekeeping operations, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Solomon Islands, as well as Border Protection operations.
I’ve seen this first-hand as a former Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
And they have brought a ‘can-do’ attitude to the role.
As the former Canberra Press Gallery journalist and Army Reserve officer Peter Charlton once said, “we’re here to do a job, not get a job”.
But how do we build on that to provide better surge capacity and ensure the Reserve Forces can be used to build on the success of the total force?
Of course, Reserves service relies very much on the continued support of the community, including families and partners, employers and educational institutions – and for that we thank them sincerely.
But that’s why it’s vitally important to have structures and systems in place to facilitate this through flexible workplace arrangements.
The Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 compels employers to release Reservists when they are required to undertake periods of service and training.
However, as others have highlighted, this is not always reflected in terms of the reality on the ground – with many workplaces still not required to have a Reserve leave policy, or where policies do exist, they are not consistent.
So there is room for improvement in this space.
More broadly, at a more strategic level, perhaps we need to consider the option of revisiting the benefits of the former Ready Reserve Scheme that I mentioned before to support our growing regional responsibilities.
People have raised this with me since I have been in this job, so I would be interested to hear your views on the merits of this.
In addition, when it comes to logistical or support roles, it may be worth considering investigating the merits of a Sponsored Reserves scheme, as exists in some other defence forces around the world.
This was an idea put to me by several people when I participated in the ADF Parliamentary Program recently, and indeed since then.
This concept would enable contractors, particularly in the Combat Services Support environment, to actively recruit individuals with specialist skills, who are willing to undergo military training with the potential to deploy on operations.
The Sponsored Reserves process is suited to a contracted environment where there is a niche skill requirement and the individual’s civilian role can seamlessly transition to a uniformed one.
Both the USA and UK armed forces actively deploy contractors both at home during field training exercises and on overseas operations.
Examples from the UK include Heavy Equipment Transporters, marine port enablers and support staff, aviation ground support, fuels storage and distribution personnel, and vehicle maintainers.
It may be possible to apply to some medical and other roles.
In the case of the UK, the British Ministry of Defence has introduced what is now referred to as a ‘whole force approach’, providing a sustainable, balanced and integrated workforce that provides a capability at the required readiness in a more cost-effective way.
This could help make better use of Defence contracted employees utilising the available multi-skilled workforce to its full potential.
Again, I would be very interested to hear your views on all of these ideas as Labor reviews its policies going forward.
Finally, whatever we decide to do as a nation, in considering force design and planning and investment for the future, it is vitally important to ensure the capabilities, skills and requirements of a well-resourced Defence Reserve are taken into account.
In closing, I look forward to working with you closely and continuing the discussion so that together we can deliver better outcomes for our Defence Reservists and bring out their best.
My door is always open.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have served, and who continue to give of their time to serve.
I want to assure you that Labor has your back and we will always fight for a fair go for our Reservists.
We will play a constructive role in Opposition and work as closely as we can to ensure bipartisanship in policy development.
We want to work creatively to enhance and support the Defence Reserves both in Australia and on deployment overseas.
I look forward to your feedback and will value your contribution to policy development going forward.