COMMENT – Reinforcing Australia’s National Security: A Case for Universal National Service

ED: The following comment from John Clarkson was in my inbox this morning.

Hello Ray,

I enjoyed reading your article on Australia introducing National Service once again.  I agree that in some circles, the name ‘National Service’ may conjure up unpleasant thoughts and memories.  But I believe they would be in a distinct minority.

As I completely agree with your essay on the topic, I won’t go any deeper on that issue.  My input is to describe in some detail just how it might work, beginning from the time these 18-year-old men and women register for National Service.  As you would be aware, the last time it was introduced it was for 20-year-old men, and it was for the Army only, and it was through a ballot.  Yes, there were many complaints about how it was administered and most of those complaints were legitimate.

However, I suggest that ALL 18-year-old men and women should register for National Service, and that it be shared with all three services, Army, Navy and Air Force, and that it be for a term of two years full time service, plus a ten-year term of Reserve.  Also, at any time during their full time or part time service, if a National Service person were to volunteer to become a permanent member of the that service, then he/she would be welcomed into full time service.

I also agree with your proposal that if a young man or woman did not pass the medical examination, then they could very well be offered to several other excellent services such as the SES, Bush Fire brigades, St John Ambulance Service, Coast Guard, and several other worthwhile groups.

However, back to the training programme.  Upon enlistment into one of the three services, each would undergo the same recruit training programme as those who enter for full time service.  Upon completion of the recruit training, they be allocated to undergo training into any one of the many service elements.  These would include for Army, infantry, Artillery, transport, Aviation, both maintenance and operations, Engineering, and many others.  Likewise, for Air Force and Navy, upon completing their recruit training, each one would be offered entry into one of the hundreds of vocations within the service.

I think one of the contentious issues during the last programme was the fact that National Service personnel were eligible for posting to Active Service.  It is true that many of these did serve in Active Service areas and many served with distinction.  However, back home, that topic was one of the most contentious.  Therefore, I suggest that any National Service member not be eligible for Active Service unless he/she openly and genuinely, officially applies for such a posting.

I realize that there would be many other topics which would need to be addressed prior to the introduction of such a service, but I think I have outlined the backbone of the issue.  To finish my little essay, I shall attach a little story, which I included in my book “War Stories and other Tales”, written in 2005/06.  This is a story about an Army fellow who befriended we RAAF fellows at the Re-Arm pad at Nui Dat during the 1971 period.

Reference has been made in previous chapters about the Anti-Vietnam marches. Well on one occasion I saw the result of one of those marches during one of my tours in Nui Dat.  One young Army fellow became a regular visitor to our Re-Arm pad and we enjoyed his company over a can or two.  He was with the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) unit and had befriended us over a period of months.  On one occasion, this fellow came down to see us at the Re-Arm area in a very depressed state to have a chat with us.  We began to worry about how or what we should say, perhaps he may have lost a mate??  However, this day he was really down. He showed us a copy of the Melbourne Age newspaper, which would have been about ten days old by this time and showed us the front page.  On the front page was a very large photo of three women displaying a sign, “Save our Sons!”, whilst taking part in an Anti-Vietnam rally.  He identified one of these ladies as his mother.  He said as soon as he saw the paper he wrote to his mother telling her NEVER to do that again. In his letter he told her that before he was called up to the Army, he was a bum!  Now, he told her, “I have a trade”.  Also, he told her that he had just signed up to transfer from being a National Serviceman to a Regular Soldier and a fully trained Electrical Fitter.  He emphasised that he had progressed from being a 20-year-old uneducated bum to a responsible person who had a trade as well.


It is stories like this which need to be told far and wide.

Kind Regards – and keep up your good work.



ED: If you would like to comment please send to my email [email protected]



You may also like


  • Richard Barry OAM February 26, 2024   Reply →

    Thank you for the latest discussion regarding NS. Yes, the name has certain implications. Maybe call it Civilian Service so they can be called on in times of floods, droughts, bushfires etc. They can still learn a trade and be eligible for easy entrance into the ADF after twelve months not two years.

    There is one glaring factor besides it being for all not just males and it has to be compulsory in the gap year after school. That factor pertains to the massive differences from the 1960s NS Scheme to today. In my opinion the Army is far too woke, its top heavy and the discipline we encountered would not be tolerated by today’s kids.

    Still, it’s a good idea and requires more discussion. Regards Richard Barry OAM. Conscript and Forward Scout with 6RAR South Vietnam 1969.

  • John Maclean February 26, 2024   Reply →

    I was a 20 year old nacho callup. I went in at 22 yo as I had to finish university. A completely unfair and basically unworkable system.

    Has the writer Clarkson any infomation on how many 18 year old men and women there would be in any 1 year? I suggest far more than the number already in the forces and far more than could be housed and trained with existing facilities. What the hell would the majority do in the forces for 2 years? By today’s standards 18 yos are basically uneducated. The earlier 1950s basically part-time national service would pehaps be a better model and that was pretty useless and didn’t involve women. At least it allowd the soldiers the opportunity to complete their education/training. A selective well paid short term national service which only recruited needed skills might be a better option. Regards 5715126 John Maclean

  • Joe February 26, 2024   Reply →

    Hi John,
    I am a former “Nasho”. I was balloted and served from 1969 to 1971. Although I did not deploy to South Vietnam, in fact I served the whole two years at Puckapunyal. First as a “rooky” then Corps training at the Armoured Centre, Pucka., and then posted to the Armoured Centre as a Gunner/Sig, Centurion Tanks.
    Your comments are very interesting and to start off I must say that I agree with most of what you have stated. The story of the young lad who put it very plainly and succinctly, when he stated that he went from being a 20 year old uneducated bum, to a respectable person who had a trade as well. This speaks volumes of what may be achieved through the services. I would also add the the mate ship and the feeling of belonging to a huge family was to me such a benefit. Yes, the discipline is hard to adjust to at first, at Rookies. You eventually “get over it” and I can honestly say, it did me no harm at all, in fact! it made me what I am today.
    The only gripes I had where:
    1. The ballot itself, I believe it should have been all or none.
    2. Before I was “balloted in I was a Learner Shearer earning three to four times what an adult labourer received in wages. So I
    actually had to “put up” with a huge cut in my salary/wages. When I returned to civilian life I had lost two years when I could
    have been so much faster (after my learning period), and therefore earning more, as shearers being on contract, earn more ,
    the more sheep they shear daily. So this may be another aspect to think about when selecting all 18 year olds. (Although having
    said all this, the Army put me through a Woolclassing course at TAFE. When I graduated, I was on a very good salary and I didn’t
    have to break my back to earn a very decent wage).
    In essence both Ray Payne, and your good self have raised some very good points for re-introducing National Service, but again,
    it must not be balloted in my view. It is especially urgent when you see the state of World affairs at the moment. This leaves
    Australia, I believe very vulnerable. Blind Freddy can see that the services are not keeping up numerically, through normal
    recruiting channels. Yes! that in itself is a very good reason for Compulsory National Service. We are spending billions of dollars for
    future weapons, but whom is going to man /or woman them?
    anyway, for what it’s worth, that’s my own opinion of course, others may very well see it differently.

Leave a comment