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Conscription by stealth: is cordite the new fragrance for the unemployed?

Photo: Our History - SMSA

Photo: Our History – SMSA

“I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.”

– Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.

Occasionally, the odd original thought dribbles its way across the vast empty basketball court that is the author’s mind.

Less than a week ago it was;

“If the government is going to deny benefits to anyone between 18 and 30 who is unemployed and not undertaking an ‘approved’ course of study for six months, then what are they going to do with them all?

Since taking office the Abbott government has worked hand over fist to destroy employment rather than create it.

From auto-manufacturing and allied industries, to Qantas, Alcoa, Olex Cables, the Shell Oil refinery in Victoria, and a raft of small to medium size businesses, the government has laid waste to the landscape of Australian industry like a drag line operator on speed.

Whilst many who are affected by redundancy and job closures don’t all fall into the 30 or under category, those who do account for a significant number.

With few chances to ‘earn’ and restricted opportunities to ‘learn’ save for saddling the student with an enormous HECS debt or undertaking an approved Job Network Provider ‘training course’, what happens to the overflow of semi or unskilled labour?

This set in motion a train of thought on the implementation of the Green Army ‘work for the dole’ scheme.


Of course, the Army! Or at least the Armed Forces.

Those between 18 to 30 who are, or become unemployed, face the unpalatable choice of  waiting six months while applying for 40 jobs a month under ruthless scrutiny before they are press ganged into the Green Army for the next six months and at the end of which they face another six month wait before they can receive benefits again.

The other choices are to either undertake tertiary study which leaves them with a sizable HECS debt or face the third alternative to enroll in a Job Network approved course in hospitality, aged care, transport or ‘traffic management’ – Stop/Go sign holder or similar…

As for Conscription itself, the notion has never sat well with the Australian public from WWI to Vietnam.

Arguably, this is why the Abbott government has taken this approach – the LNP don’t want to face the howls of outrage and the electoral backlash which would surely greet an open admittance of the reintroduction of  Conscription.

Ah, you say to yourself, even if this hypothesis is correct and Abbott is planning to implement conscription by stealth; where’s the money coming from?

According to Joe Hockey, we’ve got a budget emergency – discredited – and a ‘welfare emergency’, also discredited.

The money would, or will come from the same place that it would come from should Australia go to war.

The government would decide on the amount needed, and this is in addition to the current amount allocated to defence, and then somewhere in the bowels of the Treasury, a minion would enter a key stroke followed by a series of noughts and voila! Instant funds.

The government would also attempt to recoup much of this amount through the sale of bonds.

As it regularly issues bonds to control ‘cash overflows’ in the banking system and keep the interest rate steady, funding through bond sales would present few if any problems.

It would of course expose the deficit equals debt and ‘welfare emergency’ as a lie but these have already been largely debunked and would be glossed over by the MSM particularly in the Murdoch press as ‘Bold New Initiatives to Reduce Unemployment’

The hypothesis that the Green Army was linked to, or at least part of a plan for Conscription by stealth seemed somewhat fanciful if not totally implausible a week ago and even up until Tuesday.

Today, it’s a different story.

Wednesday morning on Melbourne talk back radio, the subject was – you guessed it, ‘National Service schemes’ which would extend to emergency services such as the Country Fire Authority and the State Emergency Services.

In tandem with this notion of ‘National Service’ for the unemployed, quietly, oh so very quietly, the Abbott government has resurrected the Australian Defence Forces ‘Gap Year’ scheme for school leavers.

According to the ADF web-site, Gap Year students are offered;

Job opportunities for Rifleman, Driver Transport, Administration Clerk, Supply Coordinator and Unit Quartermaster.

The Air Force has Gap Year job opportunities in Airbase Security Roles.

And that;

After completing basic recruit training and your specific trade training, you’ll be immersed in the Army or Air Force lifestyle while continuing to learn on the job.

You’ll learn valuable skills, meet new friends and may even receive recognised qualifications to help progress your future career. 

Those hoping to travel to exotic places and encounter new people and cultures – and kill them, will be disappointed.

Gap Year recruits will not be able to deploy on either national or international operations.

Not to worry though, they can always join the regular Armed Forces.

The disturbing thing was that most callers were in agreement with such schemes, arguing that they would give the unemployed ‘a sense of purpose and an ideal of team spirit and self esteem’.

While this may be all warm and fuzzy as far as sound bytes and slogans are concerned, the author would argue that best sense of self esteem and of purpose comes from full time employment with a living wage and the opportunity to further one’s education should one desire to do so.

Nonetheless, it is highly likely that you’re going to hear a lot more about the possibilities of ‘National Service’ in the coming months.

‘National Service’ in either of its guises be it with emergency services or with the military as a Gap Year, reeks of conscription by stealth.


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  1. Kerri

    And lets not forget the big campaign for enrollment in the Armed Forces Defence Academy?…
    At least, it’s a big campaign on my iPhone!!

  2. Graham Perham

    Of course that’s the plan. They have a general running the boat scheme, the Governor General is a ex military General and has been promoted to a Knight of the realm, plus all Conservative/Tory governments have had a war to their credit. It’s in their genes and it’s wonderful for the economy.

    Abbott is the man who decides which war we go to and he’s a fan of warfare, being the coward he is, so it’s inevitable that Australia will be involved in another war before long. Conscription is out, as you say, but Credlin has come up with a better way of saying Conscription.

    Lock up your sons people.

  3. Chris Crash

    And Graham, don’t forget your daughters!

  4. WendyJoy Smith

    If the government can ‘afford’ to pay those who cannot find employment to work in the green army or army reserves, conscript them to do so under any guise, it can afford to to do a great many things…

    It is a mere choice, a political choice of their making and we are all the poorer for their ‘choices’

    And their great many things while they are in government are mere tinkering with social justice

    They are social engineers, not a good or true government for the people, the citizens of Australia

  5. Florence nee Fedup

    I seem to recall. one can now join the forces for what they call gap year.

    Would not find it hard to believe this could be put to the unemployed as jobs being available. Yes, National Service or conscription in disguise.

  6. Lefty

    Abbott has Aries moon rules by Mars, Scorpio Sun ruled by Mars/Pluto – a very competitive and military birth chart. Wish he would go and fight somewhere else.

  7. archiearchive

    Boys to the army, girls to the brothels. The lower classes must learn their place!

  8. Graham Perham

    I did think about daughters but decided that they’re safe. Captain Catholic has three of them.

  9. Stephen Tardrew

    Wonderful point Edward:

    The new wonder solution for unemployment will be the green purple, blue, orange, yellow, emergency services and Shhh…. (with quiet calm and voice muted) military hidden under the lounge rug in the guise of personal betterment, personal responsibility and future employment. But what about all those manufacturing jobs and mining jobs and the others that are being lost? Well then if your voluntary it cold then (just sayin) become compulsory pseudo military job training that will become a little more militaristic and permanent for you mate. Given dire circumstances dear leader will just have to legislate you off to war as magically there goes the final protection of your citizens rights. Brought to you by the usual cowards who could not fight their way out of a paper bag or consent to send their own children off to fight their elitist wars. The little Johny, Bushy, Blairy thing worked a treat so more of the same is what’s needed. Of course they will not be allowed into action until the liar in chief (Re: Sir Tony the Warrior Rabbit [there has to be a knighthood in there somewhere hey]) decides its time to kill off a few of you bludgers.
    As noted: Money? no problemo just issue more bonds (you know the debt thingy) but as an upstanding patriot you will, of course, praise the courage of our fearless leader (who is genuinely fearless with your body and mind) to lead us too warfare nirvana thus fulfilling the compulsive need by conservatives for war and military style government.
    It's is a cunning plan worthy of Machiavelli or lets say um! George (weapons of mass destruction; destroyer of the Middle East) Bush. Tony is no shrinking violet when it comes to sending your kids off to war. Shit happens after all. What a great combination US Tea Party fundamentalism and LNP God given neoconservative victim blame and compulsive lying.
    Things are looking up.
    So much good stuff to look forward too.

  10. Terry2

    It seems that this government have decided that the Australian shipbuilding industry is dead in the water and will not even be permitted to tender for ADF contracts :


    Rather than explain why they will not support our shipbuilders and the apprentices they could be employing, this government resorts to insults and more lies.

    Before they are thrown out of office, the Abbott government will have done irreparable damage to Australian manufacturing capability.

  11. Jo

    I was only thinking this the other day but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the good ole Military is going to take on a whole bunch of unemployed just because there is no other jobs for them…my son was sworn in on Tuesday…it took almost 2 years for him to be accepted. Fitness tests, drug tests, motor skills, intelligence etc etc and more importantly commitment.. however Abbott’s Green Army may be an entirely different ball game. We will see..

  12. Susan

    Really, Edward Eastwood? It really took you THIS long to think of this scenario? The words “under 30 years of age” were enough to get my Spidey senses tingling.

  13. Stephen Tardrew


    There is so much crap labour to be done in the military that they could slot in as non combative support personnel with an option to complete basic training. Don’t trust this mob with anything they will simply lie and shift the goal posts. Don’t underestimate their love of authority, power and all things militaristic. Given the chance they would love to let off some big military fireworks.
    Remember Mr Shit Happens. This is no Freudian slip. It is the nature of the beast. The poor are just numbers to be shuffled on the deck of the good ship Venus as military deaths are so ho hum and civilians are simply collateral damage. As long as the banks are hugely profitable and the corptocracy ticks along (you know the military industrial complex) thins are cool.

    Wonderful thing to have the enemy within.

  14. Edward Eastwood

    When I started to draft this article on Tuesday, I had reservations about posting it for fear that I’d be laughed out of the blogosphere.
    Imagine my surprise when I turned on radio yesterday to find it the central topic of conversation on local ABC.

    Wendy-Joy Smith; You’re right of course, this or any government could do many things and that the constraints aren’t fiscal but as you point out – ideological. It’s part of their crazed scheme to bring about the Neo-liberal nocturnal emission of ‘small government’ which in effect does very little save to collect tax – especially from the low income earners – and very little else.

  15. John Kelly

    I suspect Tony Abbott has a deep seated wish to introduce Conscription similar to that which existed during our engagement in Vietnam. His preoccupation with things military convinces me of this. Perhaps he is secretly hoping for a major event, e.g. Iraq, to give him the excuse to do so.

  16. Edward Eastwood

    Jo; Thanks for the comment, it made me smile. You’ve got to understand that I’ve only got an old 486 hard drive for a brain so it takes a bit longer to boot up.

  17. Edward Eastwood

    You’re quite right John Kelly, Abbott is looking for an excuse to deploy Australian troops and as soon as the current situation in Iraq began to escalate he was already rattling the sabre.

    While he would no doubt love to announce Australian military support for the US should Obama decide to put ‘boots on the ground’
    he would be far wiser to look closer to home.

    The real danger to Australia lies in the escalating tensions in the North-east Asia region between China and Japan, which if ignites spells disaster for Australia on a multiplicity of levels.

  18. James

    As an ex-ADF member still involved in the ADF community I have no problem with the gap year program. You only get people that were interested in the first place, it tend to separate out the ones that really shouldn’t have joined much quicker and provides an opportunity to serve your country that you might not have otherwise taken up. The Gap year was never intended as and has not been used as a punishment for being unemployed.

    I would point out a couple of things, the Military is a viable profession, that is full time, has abundant educational opporunities and involved jobes as diverse as dentist, infantry, fitter and turner, engineer, carpenter, armourer, catering, and a whole lot more. Add to that upon completion of training an ADF member is employed full time and earns around $43,766 before any allowances, service allowance or specialist pay. For a starting wage that is pretty descent, you also get a tax break for being in the military.

    I am pretty sure the 45,000 odd serving defence members would appreciate not having their service dismissed in such a manner.

    As for the national service option, I have found most ADF personnel, myself included find it inappropriate for a modern specialist military. After all, when you are in combat, you want the person next to you to be a committed professional, not someone who is more interested in “doing his time and getting out”.

    Perhaps treating the issue of gap year and conscription as two separate issues would have been more appropriate.

  19. Jo

    thank you James

  20. Mike Wilkinson

    ” It’s part of their crazed scheme to bring about the Neo-liberal nocturnal emission”
    made me smile.
    Tony Abbott’s wet dream… JSF A & B, Predator drones, new warships, shiny new guns and missiles, a nice juicy little war to use them all in. I think you are onto something there, he is like a little boy playing with his toy soldiers… but he wants a bigger sandbox to play with them in. 😉
    Not forgetting that unemployment is reduced by fatalities in wartime.

  21. Stephen Tardrew

    John Kelly:

    Not often you are right but you are right yet again.
    Knights and Dames sitting in the background.
    War prime minister and all that.
    Bitta Howard jealousy.
    Having a bit of a morning.
    I know it when there coming to take me away ha ha.

  22. Jo

    and thank you Edward :)) the subject hit quite close to home….there are many that apply for a place in the Military but not that many that get through…contrary to a lot of popular opinion it is a very competitive process and James is totally right re full commitment.

  23. Edward Eastwood

    James; This article is not and was not intended to disparage those serving in the military through choice.

    It is an hypothesis on the possibilities of re-introducing conscription through stealth using the military as an option.

    I find it interesting that the Gap Year program has been re-introduced with seemingly little fan-fare after it was dismantled by the Gillard government in 2011.

    As for your observation that “when you’re in combat you want the person next to you to be a committed professional, not someone who is interested in doing his time and getting out”; Conscripts served both in New Guinea on the Kokoda Track and also in Vietnam
    In both instances acquitting themselves admirably.

  24. Anomander

    In Abbott’s mind, we’ll need all those troops so he can commit them to even more fruitless wars in the Middle East and Asia.

    Of course that’s a necessary sacrifice he and his kind will always be prepared to make, so he can big-note himself in front of the US and their military machine.

  25. Gregory T

    One must keep in mind, that the UCMJ (uniform code of military justice) comes into practice, once the military is entered. If you thought Operation Sovereign Borders is a nightmare re. getting information, just think about all the new secrets that can be hidden.

  26. Kerri

    The other quite likely scenario, in my opinion, is that those refusing to enroll for the military will be hit with some trumped up charge and then be handed over to our private prison system for yet another opportunistic company to use as free/low cost labour. The US system has run for years on prisoners being used as a workforce. They get paid, but their pay can never catch up to the prison charges for food and accomodation. Like mice on a treadmill they will never get off, they will be used to make profits for unscrupulous gaolers. A similar scheme seems moot for the “Green Army” down the track.

  27. Bob Rafto

    A year ago I made enquiries with the ADF on what is the criteria needed to enlist, not for myself, of course.

    What I can remember is that it takes about 3 months for an applicant to jump through a number of hoops before he can join. It’s not easy.

    I stand corrected to the above but it’s the impression I was left with.

    Now if there was ever red tape to be slashed, the ADF recruiting is the place to start.

    For young people who are having difficulty finding a job, enlisting for 12 months where they get tax free wages and the opportunity of learning some skills would in my opinion would be a springboard to new job opportunities, a reference from the govt. wouldn’t go astray. But of course it should be voluntary as it is now.

  28. Graham

    I agree 100%, James. Too many folk think that the ADF and in particular the Army is a dumping ground for drongoes. The army personel are highly trained , dedicated men and women. The are professional people and are not to be considered as a way to discipline dropouts. Sure there may be a few that don’t fit, but they are soon sorted out.

    I recently had a look at the standard required to join the Victoria Police Force. That’s pretty low, Year 11 and under 21, and special entry if over 21 from memory. Maybe that’s the place for misfits.

  29. Margaret-Rose Stringer

    Good one, Edward ! – it hadn’t occurred to ME (not that that’s any standard to go by) for a moment. And now that I think about what you write, it has a certain … ring of likelihood about it.

  30. Kaye Makovec

    Apparently it’s not just conscription of the young as I heard them talking about compulsory volunteering for everybody, including those on the aged pension who should also be pulling their weight, which won’t be much with GST on food 🙂

    It shows they really do not do any research before making these ridiculous assumptions. There are only so many places where ‘work for the dole’ volunteers are accepted now due to the amount of paperwork having to be done by the volunteer managers, and most of the Meals on Wheels are delivered by retirees, most of them are on the aged pension.
    With the reduced funding for Landcare I suppose they may pick up a few volunteers from there.
    Perhaps some of the Chaplains who thought they were going to be employed could be conscripted?

    I read somewhere that 20% of people are on welfare of some sort, is that right?
    Am I the only one to realise that if that is true it means 80% of people are NOT on welfare 🙂

  31. mars08

    Oh, good onya James!

    Never miss the opportunity to recruit some young blood!

    …most ADF personnel, myself included find it inappropriate for a modern specialist military. After all, when you are in combat, you want the person next to you to be a committed professional, not someone who is more interested in “doing his time and getting out”.

    But you are happy to accept desperate economic refugees???? That’s great!

  32. corvus boreus

    James is absolutely correct on the philosophy of the ADF being strongly in favor of willing, multi-skilled and above all committed volunteers, and shunning the idea or prospect of conscription. Willing soldiers make better soldiers is a general truism in military thinking.
    The trouble is that the current government is deaf to the advice and protests of the relevant experts in all the other fields they are impacting, from scientists, through educators to economists, so why should they listen to the top brass about military matters?

  33. mars08

    Oh… and FFS!!!! Can we please take it easy on the “serve your country” stuff?

    Of all the young ‘uns I known who have enlisted in the past decade…. NOT ONE mentioned they they were doing it to “serve” their country. It was either economic, a chance to travel, adventure, love of the outdoors, chance for an education or whatever. I must have spoken to over 20 of them… and NOT ONE of them told me they joined to serve! And, as far as I know, none of them were were weeded out for being insufficiently “committed” to wearing a uniform.

  34. Dan Rowden

    Kaye Makovec,

    I read somewhere that 20% of people are on welfare of some sort, is that right?

    That rather depends on how “on welfare” and welfare itself is being defined. And that’s half the problem in politics – everyone wants to define the term to suit their political purpose. I would have said that 100% of Australians receive welfare of one sort or another.

  35. Gregory T

    I seem to recall, that the most successful TV advertisements for the ADF, were the ones that portrayed the military life, as one of travel, adventure, sports etc. Where as the ones with any hint of danger, turned people off.

  36. DanDark

    A few years ago I was friends with a woman in 2007, I think it was Iraq,
    I can’t keep count, there has been so many wars over past years
    Her husband was in the special forces, the last time he came home not long before I met her
    He was stuffed, “a shell of a man” his wife’s words “that’s all that came back” and he could not tell her what had happened to him, it was very sad
    He lost his wife his only young son, and his life, after they had separated
    She was fighting for compensation for him to get help he needed which was not easy
    His life was confined to a small flat, sitting in a chair all day, with severe post traumatic syndrome
    To the point, his life was nothing, and the Gov and ADF did everything they could to deny this man
    what he deserved, a half decent life, he had lost everything else because he “served” this country,
    and paid a huge price, he was only 32yrs of age.

  37. corvus boreus

    There has been no mention of ‘serve your country’ type patriotic, altruistic idealism expressed by any poster that I nave noted.
    I think James, Graham and myself have an accord on the opinion that the Australian military doctrinally opposes any idea of conscription, on reasons of operational efficiency.
    For myself, by “willingness”, I mean voluntarily signing up for the job of a soldier. By “commitment”, I mean willing to repeat/long term enlist, which gives the bonus of experience and cost efficiency(initial expenditure on a soldier is notoriously taxing).
    I suspect they both probably have a rosier view on the attitudes and motivations of the average soldier than myself.
    There are a few dark motivations in your “whatever” category, and whilst the ADF is not the foreign legion, realities of filling quotas mean psychological evaluation and other assessments can be cursory.
    There is, by report and personal experience, a culture of misogyny and contempt for the non-combatant population within the ranks.
    There are, I believe, psychological and social cost in military training. It is a deprogramming of our inbuilt/conditioned aversion to making the decision to end another human life.
    I recommend watching/reading the works of David Grossman, a retired US Military psychologist, on the impacts of training and combat.
    For a taster, he refers to first-person shooter video games as “murder simulators”.

  38. mars08

    … the ones with any hint of danger,turned people off

    Hardly the stuff of Kakoda diggers is it? What… with total air supremacy, night vision, reliable comms, fast transportation, body armour, modern field hospitals etc… the risks really are minimal. compared to wats of last century.

    Considering how many military personnel we’ve had collecting combat pay in recent years … we’ve gotten off lightly. This is not to diminish the tragedy and suffering at an individual level. But the odds could be much worse.

  39. corvus boreus

    Ps, for those interested, typing in “Lt Col David Grossman” helps.

  40. mars08

    …the Australian milirary doctrinally opposes any idea of conscription, on reasons of operational efficiency…

    Yws. I totally understand. And it breaks my little heart.

    But I think conscription would be very useful. Mainly because maybe… just maybe the yobs and knobs who cheer the politicans and their war cries… would start paying proper attention. perhaps thir stiffies for blowing up brown people might droop a bit if their kids are at the nasty end.

  41. corvus boreus

    Yeah, true that, and I also fear for short term future of the planet on account of a surfeit of hominids,
    and war is a proven thinner of that particular breed of mammal, even if very heavy on collateral to other biology.
    Cup half full 😉

  42. mars08

    There may be a ” surfeit of hominids” bur hopefully the knuckle draggers will continue to play with their own kind.

  43. corvus boreus

    Seriously, mars08, you support conscription,
    the wholesale press-ganging of society’s unwilling and often blameless youth,
    exposing them to brutal military indoctrination and training at killing,
    and potentially throwing them into the horror and carnage of war,
    on the off chance that it will provide ‘aversion therapy’ or erectile disfunction,
    for some theoretical/fictitious straw-person parent with an erection for destruction?
    To use your own TLA ; FFS!

  44. Judith

    So – what if you’re one of those people who don’t respond well to bullies?

  45. Graham

    Bullies? There are no more bullies in the ADF than there are at the three levels of schooling, church groups, shopping malls, drivers, political parties, Sunday school, work places, public transport or any other place where people congregate. Perhaps the worst place to find bullies is any Police Force.

    Where do people get these ideas?

  46. SirJohn Ward

    On the 7 April 1939, Prime Minister Joseph Lyons suddenly died.
    On the 20 April 1939. in the House of Representatives, Page said the Country Party could not serve in a coalition government headed by Menzies. He claimed was unfit to be Prime Minister. With World War II threatening, he claimed that Menzies was particularly unsuited to leading the nation. Page implied that Menzies was a shirker and a coward, asserting that in World War I he had resigned his commission to avoid overseas service. Such a person, Page claimed, would ‘not be able to get the maximum effort out of the people in the event of war’.
    It was with this background, in 1951, that Menzies introduced National Service to provide partially trained soldiers to send against the Russians in the Middle East or Europe as cannon fodder.
    Right from the start it was a sad joke. I had to keep my earnings up to send home to my mother and sisters who by this time were living in Drouin east of Melbourne.
    During the time from leaving school at 14 till I was swept up in Menzies Nasho system I was learning to be a Wool classer and spent most of my time in shearing teams around Merriwa and New England, out at Booligal and Hay on the western plains and then back to Crookwell in what was known as a ‘Run’.
    Most of that time working as a shed hand I earned adult wages plus my keep. This meant almost all my money went home to mum, Rhonda and Joy. So the girls had a rented house in Gippsland and were able to go to study at school in peace for the first time in their lives.
    I felt it was my duty to see my family through these hard times till mum got her health back. I literally was the bread winner from 15years of age on. So when conscription finally caught up with me in 1954, our income dropped through the floor.
    I found myself climbing aboard a train leaving Warragul heading for an army camp just outside of Seymour, north of Melbourne, called Puckapunyal. An aboriginal name meaning “Valley of the Winds”.
    Like almost every soldier before me I found the army had a specially focused talent finding the hottest, dustiest coldest, muddiest, and most windy and flyblown places across Australia to build a training establishment.
    By the time we pulled into the siding at Seymour many other young blokes are getting off trains and being assembled by soldiers in slouch hats with chin straps and red faces, stamping around bawling out orders that seemed to add to the confusion. We are soon very hot and dusty by now in the February sun. We’re lined up in long ranks over a hundred yards long and three or four paces apart. We’re standing with our belongings at our feet. A general grumbling was growling its way around amongst our shambling ranks, when to our surprise we are told to drop our trousers around our ankles. Jaws dropped and “What the Fs” exclaimed, “What for”? When the Sergeants begin letting us know precisely who is in charge. The air is full of their unbelievable bellows and curses and trousers begin to fall around white legs all about.
    Some Nursing Sisters in starched uniforms accompanied by a Doctor in a white coat comes from around the side of the shed in front of us. The order is now drop your jocks and bend over. I did that straight away so I couldn’t see the nurse’s faces as they move along the line inspecting our sphincters for piles.
    So bloody embarrassing and as the time dragging on, backs start to ache and sweat is dripping off my nose. Just when I am thinking this couldn’t get worse, the main line just some 80 yards away behind us roars into life as the passenger express thunders past and the people on board got an eyeful of acres of acres as white as the day they were born. I thought to myself if there are any queers from King’s Cross on that train they will be thinking ‘Smorgasbord’!

    Pondering what this is all about I came to the conclusion that with timing of the express train and the dominance this exercise demonstrated, put all of us immediately in our place and under the thumb of the Non- Commissioned Officers ( NCO’s) the Corporals, Sergeants and Warrant Officers.
    It did not end up being too bad an experience. After my first week of resentment my corporal explained to me that there are many more people like him and my bucking the system would only have me feeling unhappy so I should just “SHUT YOUR F MOUTH”!
    Having things explained to me so succinctly, and grateful for the early advice, I got into the swing of the thing and within weeks I was a Gun Layer on the twenty five pounders of the 14th National Service Battalion. Putting the data relayed down the communications system onto the gun’s range and elevation instruments and the bubble, line, bubble, line, bubble. Fire!! And CRACK that brilliant little gun would propel 25 pounds of HE (high explosive) some nine miles down range. We felt pretty smart when we hit what we aiming at.
    Throwing a 303 Lee Enfield rifles around and simultaneously shouting ‘one two three, one two three, one’ over and over at the top of our lungs.
    We drilled and drilled until at some time we were all doing the same thing at the same time . We got to be quite pleased with ourselves as we got closer to being some-what competent. I must say once you heard the WHACK as one thousand Rifles crash down in unison when we ‘ordered arms’ the hair had to stand on end at the back of your neck. That is, if the barber had left you any.
    If one of us messed up we all copped the punishment. For instance, there is always a hill in these camps with a Trig Point on top and a road going up and up, getting steeper as it climbed. There is also always some bugger who has to open his big trap. One day, the Physical Training Instructor (PTI) took us off in our horrible baggy shorts and Dunlop sand shoes, on a five mile run up that bloody hill. We would do a double march, all running in step sort of twice as fast as the marching pace. Being first unfit as a group we slowly were lifting fitness levels, but still a ways to go. So on coming to a halt outside our barracks and busting to get a shower before knocking off for the day, we are breathing hard when a voice within our ranks pants in exasperation, ‘f me’.
    The PTI who is that army fit, that is a really hard fitness, not athletic more a relentless fighting fitness that just doesn’t seem to stop.
    The PTI on hearing the gasped exasperation says “soldier I wouldn’t f you with a rag cock. But what I will do is take you all back up the hill”. “ About turn , double march”, he growls and we learn yet another trick the army has up it’s sleeve.
    Fairly quickly they can turn we individuals into an organism that we might call a team, but the laughing and sweating and striving together means that when you’re swinging down the road all in step and with an Australian Army swagger you feel you’re part of some thing that has a great purpose not just to work as a unit but that lives closer than a family would, because the group finds it must operate in a way that it will prevail. Because the people involved appreciate the character of the group and the character of each individual as valuable to it’s purpose and it’s survival.
    Besides that, marching along covering the miles feels pretty damn good. When you finally cannot be a part of that entity anymore you have lost something you won’t get back. Not once you’re back in civvy street..
    What a fantastic experience, closer than a family.

    We drilled with the Bayonet till our hands bled. We always had the rifle cocked with a round supposedly up the spout. This was in case the bayonet jammed between your enemy’s ribs, you could fire the shot and get clear quickly as another nightmare came at you. I always thought ‘I’ll aim the bayonet straight at him, fire first, the stick the poor bastard and then reload’. The shock, the impact of hitting the dummies meant that no matter how hard your grip, your right hand behind the bolt of the rifle went forward and up under the cocking mechanism. This caused the bleeding of the web between your thumb and forefinger. My fury with my father dissipated as I took my anger out on those straw dummies.
    Often the bayonets snapped like carrots, yet Menzies wanted us to kill Chinese or Russian commies with these things and they (bayonets) don’t survive a fight with a straw bag.
    Many of the nashos had never been away from home until they got to Puckapunyal. It is amazing to see the transformation as self confidence grows and kids who have never ironed a shirt are within days are doing a credible job of ironing their uniforms. I can imagine their mothers spitting chips when the rotten little sods had never even tried to do washing and ironing for themselves.
    There they go, sitting on the side of the bed Polishing boots till you can see your reflection in the toe cap. What’s more these boys seem to be getting to be proud of achievements as they add up to growing competence.
    I got leave over a long weekend half way through the intake and caught the train up to Goulburn and when I came into Crookwell it felt like I was coming home to a real family. Your mum and Dad made me feel so welcome. You were so gorgeous and quiet within yourself at 15 your figure was already full and lithe, I remember the smell of your hair and how it was so easy and natural just to be with you, to stroll, to talk and laugh with you and for the first time I knew I wanted to be with you all my life, if you would have me once you came of age. When I got back to camp I felt happier than I had ever felt in my life before, yet I kept my thinking to myself ‘wait until a few more years go by. There was plenty of time.

    Besides the training and drilling and firing range activities with Lee Enfield
    , Bren Light Machine Gun, and the Owen Machine Carbine, we also prepared to play a part in the First visit of Queen Elizabeth to Australia in Melbourne.

    This was the time when Menzies and ASIO were whipping the electorate into a frenzy over the “communist threat” leading up to an election and right on queue ASIO made suspects and targets of anti-war activists, and homosexuals among many others. Even the wearing of a red tie caused government employees to be suspect –
    The Queen’s visit offered Menzies the opportunity to denigrate the Red Ensign as the peoples flag by declaring the Blue Ensign as Australia’s National Flag
    saying he would not have red in his flag. Many who had fought in both world wars saw the Red Ensign as the flag they fought under because the Blue was only used on official government business. So any person who protested were automatically labelled fellow travellers with the Communists.
    When the Queen drove through the streets of Sydney she was waved on her way by thousands of school kids at the showground and crowds elsewhere waving red ensigns. Next day she was down in Canberra signing the Act that made our flag “Loyal” blue. I still call it Menzies Flag.
    Now we know even more about the Petrov Affair, and ASIO’s role in it. Charles Spry, the founding director of ASIO, Went to extraordinary lengths to watch what suspected Communist sympathisers were doing.
    The Queens visit and Petrov’s defection made for a perfect run up to an election. Bob the great toady was in his element

    We rehearsed over and over again, till we had the lining of the route into Melbourne just right.
    We were all decked out in our battle dress. Our 303 rifles, (some would have seen service in the world wars and Korea), were polished our Bayonets flashing brilliant in the sunlight our boots could compare well with guardsmen outside Buckingham Palace.
    We were to de-train at Spencer Street. March proudly up Elizabeth Street and take position in front of the Hospital where the road comes into town from Essendon Airport, where Her Majesty would Deplane blah, blah, blah!

    Finally the great day arrived and we De-trained as planned, everything going like clockwork. Big crowds were lining the streets. The people got out early and were in a great mood for the occasion. We formed up on the road
    in columns of threes.
    ‘Right Dress’ is barked out by the Regimental Sergeant Major and a rattle of steel heeled boots on the pavement as proper intervals are established between us. We are ready to go. ‘Right turn’ a long pause and that deep down from his bass diaphragm this large resonating Aussie voice, ’By the left quick march’, we’re off swinging along an d the crowd begins to cheer us on. Applause rolls like waves around us as the speaker system along the route springs into life playing martial music and click slam boots down with a skip to get us into step with Colonel Bogey or something like it. We are now up near the top of Elizabeth Street as it is such a sight of flags and bunting with columns of flashing silver bayonets out there in front us as far as one can see.
    The crowd is enthusiastic and enjoying the spectacle when as always happens , some idiot in the control centre changes the record and bungs on ‘ The Teddy bears Picnic’ and a thousand pairs of army boots of the 14th National Service Training Battalion go out of step and such changing of step and banging of feet, the clashing of steel boot heels and hob nails on tram tracks, the slipping back on heads of slouch hat like Sunday bloody bonnets, chin straps in mouths and flashing bayonets no longer in unison but wobbling everywhere. What a shambles!!
    Worse still the Melbourne football crowd began jeering and cheering taking the piss as only they can. That is when I said to myself , “John, there goes three months of your life shot right up the ass”.
    The Queen went past in a flash. We saw her around our Presented Arms and then we marched back to en-train. This time without the ‘Teddy Bears bloody picnic’ and laughed a lot and hoped no one recognized us individually or took our photo.

    In the end Nasho for us ‘Bob Menzies Cowboys’ was only a hundred days plus a fortnights camp each year for three years and lots of curries sausages.
    We did not go into battle like the Vietnam young men did, and each Anzac day I think of all those young dead .
    The third verse of the ode to the fallen seems to fit well with the young conscripts and those young faces we see on TV reporting yet another loss from today’s more mature and volunteer professional men and women, who serve Australia so well . Perhaps at 75 I feel their loss too keenly.
    They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
    Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
    They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
    They fell with their faces to the foe.
    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.
    Lets not do this again!

  47. Fiona Shelley

    Hi, I’m sorry to say that I’ve been waiting for this “national service solution” to be raised since day one of this ‘government from a brave old world.’

    One of the next bombshells will be saving Australias’ energy future with clean, efficient nuclear power.

    Another will be reopening our oceans to japanese whaling, due to abbotts’ extreme cultural respect and sensitivity.

    I see another round of chest beating and one- upsmanship regarding drug laws, focusing particularly on cannabis possession.
    Too easy to get arrests there.

    We may see a widening of the NT intervention, to all people on benefits, so that they’re given vouchers for transport, a neat as a pin interview outfit and food. As long as there’s no money for drugs and they can line up, 40 deep for any job vacancies that come up. Food? A luxury you say? Research has found employers are less likely to hire an emaciated applicant. Apart from that, I agree, providing food vouchers IS a luxury, when there’s so much free fine dining in the bins of our CBD’s. Get out there, show some initiative, dive those bins!

    Money for rent and utilities? Look, after you’ve been unemployed without pay for six months, I doubt these costs will be a factor.

    Live with the parents? I’d like to see what happens at tax time, when they try to claim their 29 year old offspring as dependents!!
    Gees, what if you have half a dozen adult kids under 30 in a rural area? Those mums and dads better sign their kids up for unemployment insurance early. Mmmm, come to think of it, you need to have a job to get that…

    And I see another upcoming bombshell. A US style, compulsory payroll deduction for private unemployment insurance for all workers. Not only a cost shifter for abbott, but a tidy fund for insurance companies and investors.

    And what’s all this fuss about attending these job centre created courses? Well, you try learning say, to cook, in a room crammed with people hacking up phlegm and jabbering on, no handwashing facilities outside of the toilets, no tea and coffee and, wait for it, NO KITCHEN! Yes, this is happening to a friend as we speak and he had to BEG to get into that course. Add to that, the job centre paying full TAFE charges for people attending yet no petrol allowance to attend. Yes, an added $120 a fortnight in petrol to attend a cooking course without a kitchen, nor respect for the principles of cross infection.

    Sadly, this is not the worst course he has attended. The first was three full days. It was compulsory. It was run by a nobody, who spent half the time congratulating herself for changing her expectations of working, thus magically getting a job. The other half was spent discussing at length, how to apply for jobs, do interviews and to follow your dreams etc. All fine except my friend is over 60 and has found his own jobs since being a teenager, yet when he tries to open his options up by doing a cooking course, he has to beg to get in, is threatened with a ‘fine’ if he doesn’t attend, is hit up for a $200 uniform fee (pants and a cook shirt, maybe an apron) and there’s no kitchen!

    I remember when the word ‘benefit’ had meaning. Back then say in the late 70’s, for a start one could survive modestly on unemployment benefits in a shared rental. It was not considered a free handout, rather a ‘benefit’ provided to the people for paying taxation, for being a citizen. Workers had a small safety net and the folks who couldn’t work, were kept by that safety net.

    The Department of Social Security also meant something. Back then, most Australians realised that nothing undermines our overall living conditions quite like mass poverty and homelessness. It felt safe, secure and right to have a universal safety net, should I have become unable to work and I’ve never quibbled about paying enough tax to make this a universal right.

    Conscription… Oh yes. Interesting how the fundamental principle of occupational health and safety, ie provision of a safe working environment, don’t apply to the unemployed. Where’s the legality of forcing people into the ADF, known hotbeds of rape, sexism and homophobia, with a culture of the deliberate breaking in of new ‘recruits’, including humiliation and hazing, all in isolation from family and loved ones On top of that, you can be sent off to war, where conditions are unlikely to improve. There’s no other workplace where these conditions would be tolerated, oh except for nursing of course.

    Ooh, Ooh, next bombshell, abbott announces great new infrastructure program….private prisons!! Where else ya gunna thro them pot smokin draft dodgers if ya dont got private prisons?

    I sincerely apologise for the length of this rant. My belief that, “given a modicum of intelligence and goodwill, our world situation will slowly improve”, has been so undermined by the mere presence of the abbott govt., I had to let it out. It won’t happen again.

  48. Graham

    I blanched when I read your second sentence, Fiona. In another life when I worked in The Victorian Public Service I was gathering material for a field trip to French Island in Westernport Bay at the Public Records Office when I came upon a map of the island with the eastern section clearly marked, “Reserved by the SECV for a future nuclear power plant.”

    It may be closer than you think.

  49. Edward Eastwood

    Fiona Shelly; Thanks for ‘letting it out” as you’ve raised some very good points. No, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised that if the next move is the selling of ‘clean efficient nuclear energy’ either.

    As for the Job Network Provider ‘courses’ see the article on ‘Earn or Learn’ posted on Monday in the politics section of the AIMN.

    No surprises about your friend’s experiences either.

    Private prisons? Not far off the mark either.

    In fact in Victoria in 2012, Premier elect Ted Baillieu announced the building of several new private prisons and boasted about ‘a prison led economic recovery’ for Victoria.

    Fortunately, Baillieu is no longer Premier but no doubt the construction work is still going on.

  50. Edward Eastwood

    Sir John Ward; Reading your reminiscence took me back to Site 4, Scrub Hill Puckapunyal. Thanks for sharing.

    For an article which was intended to ask the question; Are the Abbott government’s changes to Newstart and the implementation of the Green Army scheme underpinning a ‘Conscription by stealth’ policy?”, its certainly raised a lot of discussion about Conscription per se.

    As I wrote in the article, Conscription has always been a contentious issue in Australia and one that most Australian’s find abhorrent.

    As you rightfully conclude, let’s not do this again.

  51. trevor

    PM Abbott; the boys own Militarist.

    Abbott the PM likes engaging with language based in Militarism.

    Abbott the lying mongrel disingeneous discombobulating three word sloganeering globalised embarrasment of a PM has enacted his first true military decision to send troop to Iraq with the cover that he is/we are/ reinforcing the Australian Consulates protection force..

    Same Lies ..Different day as Howard”s Pacific Agenda..

    Now the true agenda of LIAR Abbott is coming into play..

    Abbott PM Boys own Militarist at Play . F*WIT in Charge.

  52. Edward Eastwood

    Really Jay? I think that you may be the one struggling with reality.

  53. Rosa

    As a recent school leaver (2013) starting a uni degree this year, I can understand where the writer is coming from. In careers lessons throughout school, the ADF are frequently mentioned. Whenever a career comes up that is covered under the ADF’s university sponsorship scheme, we were reminded of the benefits. This may have just been my school, but I doubt it.

    I am planning to qualify in Psychology due to a desire to make a difference in the field of mental health. My current career plans after that – hoping to find a position in the armed forces. Is part of that because I genuinely believe there is a strong need, particularly with returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans? Absolutely.

    Does the other part of my incentive to join the ADF involve an interesting career, stable work, reasonable pay and benefits and the chance of paying off uni debts and eventually a house before I’m 80? Oh, yes. And when I’m balancing that against searching for work with no NewStart and currently rising difficulties for young jobseekers? Sign me up, Mr/Ms Recruiting Officer.

    This is my individual thought process. However, in the current climate, I will bet that if it has crossed my mind, it’s crossed that of my yearmates and those exiting uni into the current job climate. Further food for thought.

  54. flrpwll

    So. Any particular thoughts on this, given events over the last few weeks?
    Anyone surprised?
    Not me.

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