Standing up for Canberra

Army Reserve Bands 2012

I applaud the member for Berowra for his commitment to the musical life of the military, but I rise to speak against this motion tonight because it is unnecessary and it is somewhat confused. I attend many, many defence events in the course of my job as the member for Canberra. At all of those events there is always a very strong musical presence. One of the highlights of my time in Canberra was going to Beating the Retreat at Duntroon—on a freezing cold night, from memory. It was an absolute highlight. There is a very strong musical tradition in the military, and I applaud the member for Berowra for raising our awareness on that, but I do rise to speak against this motion tonight.

I am not supporting this motion for the following reasons. The current draft of the private member's bill refers incorrectly to regimental bands as reserve bands. It refers specifically to the Royal New South Wales Lancers Band and similar bands. Such bands are in fact regimental bands, yet this motion calls on the government to continue to support Army Reserve bands. The government actually already supports reserve bands and will continue to do so. At present, the government supports six regional reserve bands and more than 20 Army Reserve personnel who work in four Army support bands. These personnel and bands are part of the Australian Army Band Corps. The matter of support raised in this motion by the member for Berowra is actually an administrative matter. What is more concerning is that this motion proposes to interfere with and reverse a decision taken by the Chief of Army.

I will go into more detail about these issues shortly but, before I do so, I would just like to talk a bit more about the current band structure in the Australian Army. As the member for Canberra, I am very appreciative of the role our Army bands play in our national discourse. The band of the Military College, Duntroon—often referred to as the RMC band or the Duntroon band—is based here in Canberra. The band is a respected and important part of Canberra's cultural life and is often called on to play at important events and ceremonies. So for me this is a pertinent issue.

There are two broad categories or divisions of bands in the Australian Army. The first category is the Australian Army Band Corps, which is composed of musically trained reserve and permanent personnel and was established to provide a musical service to the Army and the broader community. Our Australian Army Band Corps plays an important role. It provides music for ceremonial and training activities conducted by the Army and other services of the ADF. It provides music for ceremonial activities, including for royal and vice-regal events and federal, state and territory and local government agencies. It enhances morale and esprit de corps through entertainment for Army personnel in barracks and those deployed on operations or exercises and supporting civil affairs and psychological operations. It contributes to the attraction of quality recruits to the Army and—this is really important—it promotes the public image of the Army through musical performance.

The Australian Army Band Corps is organised as follows: it has one Army band of 43 Australian Regular Army musicians; four Army support bands of 22 Australian Regular Army musicians and 21 Army Reserve musicians; six regional Army Reserve bands of 40 Army Reserve musicians and three Australian Regular Army staff; a Defence Force School of Music —I have been to that school and met many of the players there—with 11 regular Australian Army staff; and a Director of Music Army with six staff. This structure is based on a 43-piece Australian Regular Army band in Canberra, the Royal Military College Band, and Army support bands each consisting of 22 Australian Regular Army personnel located proximate to formations in Townsville, in Brisbane, in Sydney and in Wagga Wagga. Each Army support band will hold an Army Reserve establishment of 21 in addition to the Australian Regular Army element. Regional Army Reserve bands consisting of 40 Army Reserve and three Australian Regular Army staff will be located in Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, Newcastle, Perth and Darwin. Perth and Newcastle will contain an Army Reserve pipes and drums component.

The second category refers to the regimental bands, which are composed of volunteers and are established to provide musical services primarily for a specific unit or regiment. As I mentioned before, the Royal New South Wales Lancers, referred to by the member for Berowra, is an established regimental band. Regimental bands are staffed by volunteers from both permanent and part-time Army personnel from the parent regiment. The members of these bands are already employed by the Army in other roles. For example, if they are employed by the army as a cook, they may volunteer to play in the regimental band. The motion we are debating here claims that associations like the Royal New South Wales Lancers are a reservist band. They are in fact a regimental band. The member also suggested that they consist largely of retired veterans without the financial resources to provide support. This is also incorrect. The Gillard government already supports Reserve bands and will continue to do so. As I said before, the Gillard government supports six regional Reserve bands and over 20 Army Reserve personnel who work in four Army support bands. These personnel and bands are part of the Australian Army Band Corps.

As I also mentioned earlier, following a review into Army bands in May 2011, a decision was made by the Chief of Army to transfer the resourcing of regimental bands from the Commonwealth to the associated regimental associations. This decision by the Chief of Army is an administrative matter that is delegated to the Chief of Army pursuant to the Defence Act 1903. Therefore, the member's motion proposes to interfere with a decision by the Chief of Army.

As I understand it, these resourcing changes were necessary to ensure Army's dedicated musical capability could be sustained in the long term. To ensure that resources were focused on Army's dedicated musical capability, voluntary bands such as the regimental bands were given the responsibility to repair or replace musical instruments, uniforms and other equipment. The Chief of Army made a decision to no longer replace the musical instruments, uniforms and other equipment held by the voluntary regimental bands in order to prioritise financial support to the dedicated members and bands of the Australian Army Band Corps. This decision was made to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Australian Army Band Corps. This decision was made with fiscal responsibility in mind as well as a determination to see the history and culture of our Australian Army bands continue.

Members of the Royal New South Wales Lancers in Parramatta who are listed in the private member's motion, will be offered part-time positions with the Australian Army Band Sydney, which is an Australian Army Band Corps band funded by Army. The Australian Army does not plan to disestablish regimental bands. Regimental bands will retain their current musical instruments and uniforms. All Army Reserve members who are currently volunteering in regimental bands such as the Royal New South Wales Lancers and who are qualified as Army musicians will be given the option of transferring to an Australian Army Band Corps band. It is important to note that the regimental bands reflect the heritage of various units and corps and perform duties primarily for their own regiment, which is why the responsibility should lie with the unit.

Ultimately this is an administrative matter which is delegated to the Chief of Army. I can appreciate the importance of our Army bands and I agree with the member for Berowra that they are incredibly important to the life of the military, to the culture of the military and also to the culture of communities such as Canberra. They are steeped in history and they are important to our national character, but this motion is simply unwarranted and unnecessary.

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