Downs Under #9

October 18, 2006

Leaving school? Join the army!
That’s the latest bizarre attempt by the Australian Government to boost flagging military numbers. Instead of taking a gap year and travelling the world, going to uni, or entering the workforce as school leavers currently do, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson this week urged students to don a uniform and serve in the Army, Air Force or Navy.

Billed as a ‘try-before-you-buy’ scheme, recruits would only be obliged to serve for one year, rather than the usual four or more. Colour me cynical, but I predict the government will be lobbying students pretty damn hard to stay beyond the initial period. Especially consider that they “could not rule out” sending the new recruits overseas to fight. What happens if the year expires with the new soldiers being stationed overseas in a never-ending conflict? Like, ooh, say, Iraq? “Right, mate, you’ve done your year, here’s a plane ticket. If you can make it to Baghdad airport in one piece, yer home free.”

I am quite disgusted by this move. It mirrors the current US Military’s recruitment program, where they send officers down to the poorest schools and try to entice young people with claims of travelling the world and being ‘paid to get an education’. Conveniently leaving out the whole getting-shot-at bit.

But don’t worry, it’s not conscription. In the Sunday Age, Brendan Nelson said that although he “believed conscription was popular in the community,” this program is not “a move towards it”. I daren’t ask where he pulled that opinion from, but I think I can safely say that your average Aussie doesn’t think that mandatory military service is a good idea.

It’s a shame, because many school leavers will be taking up the opportunity, subject to eighty days basic training and then dropped off in Basra or Kabul with a backpack and a gun. If they come back at all, more than likely it’ll be after a few years of being separated from their friends and family, and exposed to death on a daily basis for rotten pay.

There are already mechanisms in place for people who want to join the military, let’s not target the most vulnerable and easily-swayed in order to expand the numbers, at the expense of the economy.

Liberal leaver lambasts leadership
MP Steven Pringle, deafeated Hawkesbury candidate for the governing Liberal party stood up in Parliament earlier this week and alleged that the party was “controlled by an exclusive sect, an extremist right-wing group”. I might just be hopelessly cynical, but I thought that was common knowledge.

I jest… somewhat.

Pringle’s claims centre around the actions of upper house MP David Clarke, whom he dubbed the “Godfather”, for manipulating preselection campaigns. More specifically, the ousted candidate is referring to an investigation by The Australian newspaper, which revealed five hundred new party members being shunted into a Hawksebury ALP branch in order to skew the voting.

Membership skulduggery has long been practiced, and reforms are being considered by the party’s state council in order to prevent such things. I’ll keep an eye on this in future weeks.

Bracks emulates the Governator
Victorian Premier Steve Bracks yesterday promised to invest in stem cell research, even if the Federal Government votes to ban therapeutic cloning. This could be a considerable boost for the Victorian biotechnology industry, as the state holds some of the country’s eminent researchers in this area.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently invested $3billion into the area, and is reported to have created over two hundred thousand jobs in the sector. The mind boggles. Obviously, we’re not talking about the same scale here, but not only will there be economic benefits, but Victoria will be able to keep some of its top scientists here, and carry on doing sterling work in an amazing field. There will always be naysayers, and we need to await the vote on a private member’s bill later in the year, but I for one applaud Bracks for this decision. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the guy’s a slimy lunatic, but at least there will be winners all round if this latest policy comes to fruition.